The Fantastic Four in their long and storied career have had several arch nemesis. Dr. Doom is probably the most famous of these but they have met their share of colorful characters. The Puppet-Master is introduced in this issue but it will be far from the last time we see him. He’s also a bit of an oddball who has a power that is quite dangerous and destructive.
At the start of the issue we see Ben “The Thing” Grimm trying to enter Reed Richards’ lab. Reed, Johnny, and Sue all try to stop him from coming in. They are successful but Ben is pretty put out and feels the group doesn’t want him around. He goes out for a stroll but The Invisible Girl follows along. Ben gets into a tussle with a couple of thugs and they get a kick in the rear from Sue. As soon as that’s over Ben notices someone climbed to the top of a bridge and looks like he is preparing to jump off.
Here we get the introduction of the Fantasti-Flare. This is a flare gun that writes a giant four in the sky to signal the group. It’s straight up ripped off from Batman’s bat signal but it’s still kind of fun to see. Reed and Johnny both try to save the man but only Johnny is fast enough to get there. We see there are some limits to Reed’s ability to stretch in this issue.
The person on the bridge was being manipulated by none other than The Puppet-Master. This villain has come upon some, “radioactive clay”. And like any good villain he immediately had the idea to carve the clay into the shapes of humans so he can manipulate them as if they were hypnotized. Yeah, pretty impressive clay. The Puppet-Master figures out the Fantastic Four stopped him from making someone jump off a bridge. To stop that in the future he decides to lure them to him, starting with Ben Grimm. Sue follows but is of course invisible.
When Ben gets there he meets one of the most important characters in his life. This is Alicia Masters who also happens to be blind and the stepdaughter of The Puppet-Master himself. Immediately she senses that Ben is a kind and caring soul and she finds his face rather interesting when she touches it. Puppet-Master successfully hypnotizes Ben and captures Sue. He then sends Alicia, dressed up as Sue back with Ben. It wasn’t very clear what this would accomplish but I guess radioactive clay may go to your head after a while. Ben attacks Reed and Johnny but he is stopped when Reed gets him to break a chemical container. Ben then changes back to human form. Of course Ben is happy about this but Alicia actually prefers him as the Thing.
The rest of the issue is a fairly standard story of the FF trying to defeat a villain. They also have to deal with a prison breakout Puppet-Master has caused. They mostly do it but The Puppet-Master, in the end, is truly defeated because of Alicia who trips him accidentally at exactly the right moment. It’s obvious Puppet-Master and Alicia are going to have huge roles to play in the lives of the Fantastic Four but especially in Ben Grimm’s life.
The final page of the issue has a neat little feature page where Johnny Storm answers questions about his costume and how he keeps from, you know, lighting everything on fire all of the time. Marvel does this somewhat frequently when they want to fill a little space. I think the unfortunate thing is these pages are more or less meant to be ripped out and pinned up so a lot of the original prints tend to have this page missing. But, it’s not like anyone knew these comics could become valuable at the time.
This is a key issue, mostly for the introduction of Alicia and The Puppet-Master. It also continues the ongoing struggle of Reed trying to cure The Thing, something he spends most of his life feeling guilty about.
Next up on the reading list, we are going back to tiny town as we get small with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #37!
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