by Gideon Marcus
There’s no question that we are in the Space Age. Our headlines are dominated with space flights, the movies feature missions to the Moon and invaders from other planets, and our comic books incorporate the very latest scientific discoveries delivered from beyond our planet.
Not that comics employ the most rigorous application of science, but it’s the thought that counts. If you follow my column, you know that I am an unabashed fan of these junior pulps. Call me a kid if you like, but I dig these mags. The Westerns, the romances, the science fiction anthologies.
But what I fondly remember from the War Days are the superhero comics. Though Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman are still around, it seems caped crusaders have fallen out of vogue with the populace.
The other day at the local newsstand, a new comic book caught my eye. It was a brand new one from Marvel Comics, the spiritual successors of Atlas Comics, which went under late last decade. Called The Fantastic Four, and brought to us by the creator of Captain America (Jack Kirby), it features the first superheroes I’ve seen in a long time – four, in fact! We are introduced to the quartet in media res on their way to answer a call to assembly: Sue Storm, who can turn invisible at will; her brother, Johnny Storm, who bursts into flame and can fly; Ben Grimm, a hulking, orange rocky beast; and Dr. Reed Richards, who possesses the power of extreme elasticity.
Whatever crisis they may be meeting to fight, it’s hard to imagine anything more destructive than this team, which manages to demolish just about everything in their way! Once they are all together, we are treated to an expository interlude in which we learn how these four formerly normal humans became super. They had been an ordinary set of astronauts out on an investigatory mission into orbit. There, the savage radiation of the Van Allen Belts suffused their bodies, altering them irrevocably. Upon their return to Earth, their powers manifested.
They quickly determined that they must use their powers only for good (the above-described collateral damage notwithstanding). Each chooses names appropriate to their talents – Sue becomes “The Invisible Girl,” Johnny dubs himself “The Human Torch,” Ben ruefully takes on the moniker of The Thing… and Reed Richards, for no apparent reason other than his expanded ego, chooses “Mr. Fantastic.”
The story proceeds from there, introducing the Fantastic Four’s first villain: the Mole Man. This sinister subterranean has developed complete control over the beasts beneath the Earth as well as a suite of advanced technologies; these allow him to terrorize almost any point on the globe with impunity – at least until the Fantastic Four arrived to put paid to the menace.
I note several points of interest. First, the featuring of the deadly belts of radiation girdling the globe, which are quite real (though they likely won’t have quite the same effects on humans as shown in the comic). Second, I was happy to see a woman member of the team. Of course, her talent is already shared by most of her gender – that of being invisible. On the other hand, it’s nice to see a female character who, by definition, cannot be objectified for her appearance! Third, I liked the rationale for the Mole Man’s powers – plunged into the lightlessness of the Earth’s interior, he developed acute senses to replace his vision, much like the cave-dwelling humans of Daniel Galouye’s recent book, Dark Universe.
The Fantastic Four #1 is not great art by any means, but I enjoyed it. It took me about 24 minutes to read, cover to cover. At a cost of 12 cents the issue, that’s a half cent per minute of entertainment — more expensive than a book, but cheaper than a movie. I’d say it was worth it!
Next up – a report from Seattle’s latest science fiction gathering!