Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #20, we meet a nerd… with the power of the gods!
The fun begins in Reed’s lab, where the team is investigating a meteor recently fallen to Earth. Ben breaks the rock apart, only to discover dehydrated living matter inside. Reed says, “This proves some form of life must exist in outer space!” How many aliens have they met by now? There’s the skrulls, Kurrgo, the Impossible Man, the Watcher – who have I left out? (The Ovoids don’t count, because the FF didn’t actually meet them.)
The science lesson is interrupted when a glowing ball of energy shows up outside. The FF fight it, but their powers are mostly useless against it. They’re sucked into the ball, which transports them to another dimension, where they reunite with the Watcher. He gives his usual speech about how he wouldn’t be interfering except that the need is so great. He shows the FF an image of a laboratory tech how has the power to destroy worlds, galaxies, even the entire universe. There’s a lab accident, and this lowly guy ends up with lightning-shaped scars on his face. His boss tries to fire him, but, with a wave of his hand, the man covers his boss with ice. Knowing he can mentally control the shapes of molecules themselves, the guy renames himself the Molecule Man.
The Watcher returns everyone to Earth, where they discover their headquarters has disappeared. The Molecule Man has relocated their building to the center of Times Square. A fight breaks out. Molecule Man stretches Reed to his breaking point, and uses a shield to protect himself from Johnny’s flames. Ben fights though a number of Molecule Man’s obstacles, only to be forced underground, where Molecule Man makes the sewer pipes come to life and trap him. Johnny rescues Ben.
All this time, Molecule Man has been using a wand to control his powers. Sue tries to snatch the wand while invisible, but Molecule Man is too quick for her, wrapping her in newspapers (!?!) so she can be seen. With no other options, the FF flee the scene, in the hopes of finding a solution. With them gone, Molecule Man really goes nuts with his powers, trapping all of Manhattan in a huge force field.
The FF hides out at Alicia’s place, where Reed deduces that Molecule Man can only manipulate the molecules of inorganic matter, and not organic. Reed comes up with a plan. Out in the city, Molecule Man sees the team’s “4” signal in the sky and follows it – via a fun-looking slide made from dust particles in the air – to Alicia’s apartment. Inside, Molecule Man spots four sculptures of the Fantastic Four and immediately knows it’s them in disguise, except that his powers don’t work on the sculptures. Realizing that Reed has figured out his weakness, Molecule Man drops his wand. The Watcher’s energy sphere returns and takes Molecule Man away.
The Watcher reappears and explains, “I could not interfere with the battle, but now that you have won, I shall take the Molecule Man away.” If you think you can figure out the Watcher’s logic behind his interference/non-interference thing, you go right ahead and try. The Watcher also miraculously returns the FF’s headquarters to its rightful place, leaving them to discuss what they’d have done with the Molecule Man’s great powers.
Unstable Molecule: Reed is all about the science this time around, figuring out Molecule Man’s weakness.
Fade Out: Sue makes a good attempt at defeating the Molecule Man, but unfortunately it doesn’t work and she ends up having to be rescued.
Clobberin’ Time: Ben’s fight through the sewer is really exciting. Later, there’s some great comedic bits where the Yancy Street Gang helps him and the others get to Alicia’s place in secret.
Flame On: Johnny first rescues Reed from the Molecule Man’s attack, and then rescues Ben from the sewer. He’s also the first one to jump into action when Molecule Man makes his presence known.
Trivia Time: Personality-wise, Molecule Man is sort of a stock villain in his first outing. In future stories, he’ll become much more interesting. He turns his back on using his godlike powers in hopes of living a normal life. The fact that needs a wand to use his powers isn’t something that stays with him.
The Watcher last appeared in issue #13, establishing his home on the moon. His existing in another dimension in this issue can be explained how the inside of his home is beyond human understanding.
Fantastic or Frightful: Another action-heavy issue filled with eye-popping Jack Kirby art. Molecule Man is a great character, but his intro isn’t really him at his best.
Next week: Atlantis… found!
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.