Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue 15 has the team battling an evil genius, a giant android, and their own ennui.
On the first page, the caption states, “You are now experiencing one of the most exciting moments in magazine reading: The start of an all-new Fantastic Four adventure.” Tall order. The action begins when Reed fires the “4” signal into the sky, altering his teammates to come running. This of course kicks off this issue’s the-characters-have-an-excuse-to-show-off-their-powers-for-a-few-pages routine. Sue is in the middle of getting her hair done, Ben is getting pranked by the Yancy Street Gang, and Johnny is in a parked car with a girl (hubba-hubba). Back at HQ, Reed informs the others that something big is going on. Police have informed him that all the mobsters and gang leaders of the city are up to something.
Cut conveniently to the secret hideout of our villain du jour, the Thinker, where all the mobsters are arriving on schedule, just as he predicted. That’s his thing – he uses his high-tech computers and advanced mathematics to calculate all probabilities in any given situation, eventually giving him the most likely outcome, which he then uses to his advantage. So, basically, he can see the future. He does so not with magic or with time travel, but with math. Get this: The Thinker’s plan is to use all the mobsters to take over New York and declare it an independent nation with him as its ruler. Before he can do that, though, he’s got to take out the Fantastic Four.
The FF, apparently having forgotten that business about mobsters gathering, find themselves unknowingly falling into the Thinker’s traps. Reed is offered a job from a high-tech research group, Ben is offered a part in a pro wresting circuit, and Sue lands a role in as an actress. Then there’s Johnny who is contacted by his “cousin Bones” who runs a circus, and asks Johnny to join him. Calling it a “vacation” the four go their separate ways. Then, a meteor lands just outside New York, knocking out the power. The Thinker predicted this would happen, and the power outage gives him the opportunity to break into the FF’s now-empty headquarters.
The private sector/wrestling/Hollywood/circus thing ends up being a disappointment, so our heroes reunite, only to discover a crystal shell has been erected around the BaxterBuilding. Here’s where the issue stops being silly and starts being genuinely exciting. They fight their way inside, with the Thinker taunting them the whole time. The Thinker uses Reed’s inventions against them, and every time they defeat one, the Thinker is on hand to say he knew that would happen, and that it was all part of his plan.
Hey, what about that android? It’s here, all right. As it shows up, Reed exposits that it’s actually his android, that the Thinker it created from Reed’s notes. The android has mimicry abilities, able to recreate Reed’s stretching and Ben’s rocky exterior. Reed manages to slow it down, long enough for Sue to invisibly subdue it by using her “sensitive touch” to press the “motor nerve terminal” under its arm. So… she tickles it? Well, it works, and the android is out for the count.
The FF reach the Thinker, who has a bunch of weapons aimed at them. Weapons of Reed’s invention, which could rob the FF of their powers. The weapons unexpectedly blow up in the Thinker’s face, allowing the team to capture him easily. Reed explains that before the team’s assault on the building, he left a message for their mailman, Willie Lumpkin, to press the doorbell outside at a specific time. This, Reed says, activated a “circuit breaker,” which rendered the weapons useless. The human element, Reed says, is the one thing the Thinker couldn’t predict. The police arrive to haul off the Thinker, and the FF are back together again.
Unstable Molecule: This issue raises a lot of questions about what, exactly, goes on in Reed’s lab. In the first few pages, we see him creating a new life form in a Frankenstein-like DNA experiment. Then, we see that his lab is full of deadly weapons the Thinker can use against our heroes.
Fade Out: Sue is the one who defeats the monstrous android. Earlier in the book, there’s a scene with her volunteering to help orphans. She stays busy.
Clobberin’ Time: The Yancy Street gag is a good one, with them sending Ben a picture of him in a tu-tu. This issue has what I believe is the first reference to Ben as a pro wrestler, something that will come up again and again throughout his history.
Flame On: OK, who is this “Cousin Bones” who has a relationship with Johnny? Is he also Sue’s cousin? Is he working with the Thinker, or did the Thinker merely predict his arrival? Too many unanswered questions here.
Trivia Time: Our two villains, in their first appearance, are only called “The Mad Thinker” and “The Awesome Android” on the cover and the splash page. Throughout the rest of the comic, they’re merely “Thinker” and “android.” Future appearances, though, will have them both using the longer monikers.
Making return appearances are the Yancy Street Gang and Willie Lumpkin. It could be argued that Willie is the one who saves the day in this issue, and he didn’t even need to wiggle his ears to do it.
Fantastic or Frightful: We get some good character development in this issue, as the four heroes go their separate ways, only to learn they really want to be back with their teammates. Other than that, though, the first half of the issue is pretty ridiculous. The second, with the FF breaking into their own headquarters, is really solid – classic Jack Kirby action at its best.
Next week: The Microverse!
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