Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #22 introduces big changes for one of our heroes. (Note: I’ll be doing a bunch of these FF posts throughout February to make up for weeks I’ve missed. If all goes according to plan, that’ll put the blog on track to reach Galactus at the one-year mark!)
The story in #22 begins in Reed’s lab (I’ve been saying that a lot lately, haven’t I?) where Reed says he suspects Sue’s powers of invisibility are greater than anyone suspected. After a little experimenting, Sue discovers she can create invisible force fields, strong enough to withstand Ben’s punches and Johnny’s flame. A little more experimenting, and Sue finds she can turn other objects besides herself invisible as well, including her teammates.
While this is going on, the FF are also being bombarded by local cops, neighbors, and more, all based on the ordinary inconveniences of trying to live with a superhero headquarters in the neighborhood. Zoning regulations have a problem with the team’s personal ICBM transport missile, while others complain about the noise, random damage, and more coming from the Baxter Building. Seeing the need for a more secluded place to conduct his experiments, Reed reads (heh) about an island for sale off the coast of New Jersey (!). The team hops aboard the amphibious U-Car and checks it out.
There’s a lot of strangeness on the island, such as an “impenetrable” barrier reef, and an unknown force pulling the U-Car into the ocean. A mysterious stranger is behind it all, revealed to be the Mole Man, last seen way back in the first issue. He says he’s there on the island to start his new kingdom, Subterranea. With the help of his alien-like subterranean subjects, the Mole Man traps the FF on top of some sort of futuristic netting surrounded by a radioactive field.
Villain monologue time! The Mole Man explains that he survived the events of issue #1 by escaping deeper into his underground tunnels. He and his subjects then started building giant hydraulic platforms under the surface of the Earth’s largest cities. He plans to suck all the cities down to the center of the Earth.
As one of the Mole Man’s subjects approaches with a detonator, Sue acts quickly, surrounding it with an invisible force field. She uses another force field to escape from the netting. Check it out: This isn’t just a historic issue for Sue, but it’s one for the Thing to — the very first time he ever says “It’s clobberin’ time!” (He also adds, “Yay bo!” which didn’t catch on as much.)
The escape is short-lived, as all four heroes fall into trap doors. While Reed, Ben, and Johnny face the usual death traps, Sue finds herself in what appears to be an ordinary living room. It’s all illusion, though. Thanks to her new powers, Sue is able to make the illusion mechanism visible the escape. Ben, Reed and Johnny escape from their traps as well, and there’s several pages of running and fighting, as Ben dukes it out with more subterraneans and the others escape more traps. Reed insists everyone retreat back to U-Car, and Sue can’t figure out why. As the team flees, the Mole Man makes his way back to the detonator and presses it, only to discover that Reed reprogrammed it so that the island is the one sucked to the center of the Earth, and not the world’s cities.
Unstable molecule: Reed uncovers Sue’s new powers. He says it was actually the radiation from his nuclear testing device that did it. He also pulled the switcheroo on the Mole Man at the end.
Fade Out: Sue gets her new powers, and immediately finds uses to use them. I was hoping she’d use them to be the one who stops the Mole Man, but I guess saving her team will have to.
Clobbering Time: In his death trap, the Thing finds himself sinking in a soft, cotton-like substance, which threatens to suffocate him. Instead of fighting his way out, he thinks his way, by following the goop to its source.
Flame On: Johnny’s trap is an ice-based one, which prevents him from using his flame. He too thinks his way out, using a piece of ice to disrupt the machinery.
Trivia Time: In later years, most notably on John Byrne’s run on the title, it’s often speculated that Sue’s force fields make her the most powerful member of the team. But this issue, the one in which her powers are introduced, Reed says much the same thing.
The Mole Man’s subterranean servants will become part of pretty much every Mole Man story from here on out. Later, we’ll learn they’re called Moloids.
Fantastic or Frightful? Stan Lee often gets credit for bringing “real world problems” into superhero tales, and we get a huge dose of that in this issue, with about half the issue taking place with our characters hanging out headquarters dealing with everyday stuff, so that the Mole Man’s threatened apocalypse seems almost tacked-on. A quirky issue, but a fun one.
Next week: The Master Plan Committee.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.