There were times when the early Marvel 616 comics could get a bit out there and experimental. Issue eleven of the Fantastic Four is one of these instances. There are two stories in the issue. For some reason the second story, the “B” feature, if you will, is listed in the Complete Marvel Reading Order is listed as happening first. I’m not sure if there is an actual story reason for this but I’m going to go through the features in the order listed on the website. Both stories do some sort of groundbreaking things and the end of the issue has a major tease which helps propel Marvel 616 into a more unified universe.
The second story in this issue is called The Impossible Man! It’s about an alien who lands in what is described as a “hobo jungle” where a bunch of vagabonds are having dinner. The green skinned alien with the pointy head asks for some food but is told he needs to pay for it with cash. The alien asks where to get cash and is told you have to ask for it at the bank. Not realizing what that means, the alien transforms into an airplane and pops into a vault at a bank. This freaks out the bank attendant enough for him to leave and the alien grabs some money. The cops immediately arrive on the scene and start firing at the alien but he turns to steel and the bullets bounce off of him.
The police realize this is more than a match for them and they can call the Fantastic Four to come help deal with the situation. They hop in the Fantasti-car and find the alien chowing down on a bunch of food in a restaurant. The FF demand to know what the deal is with this guy and he tells them he comes from “the planet Poppup!” The evolutionary processes on Poppup are so swift the inhabitants can change themselves into anything whenever the need arises to survive the constant attacks from predators and environmental hazards.
This idea of constant evolutionary change is actually a precursor to what we will see when mutants are revealed in the pages of The X-Men in the future. For now it’s a bit of a silly joke and an excuse for Jack Kirby to just draw whatever he wants to.
After his little backstory the Fantastic Four tell him he can’t just take money from a bank and it escalates into a skirmish pretty quickly. The alien, who is dubbed The Impossible Man by The Thing is able to evade capture by changing forms whenever he is attacked and negates all four of the member’s powers. Individually and collectively the team is not able to do anything to stop The Impossible Man.
Reed Richards is no slouch though and he has some ideas on how to deal with this guy. After Impossible Man does a few stunts and some major property damage, Reed tells the police and all the world to simply ignore the Impossible Man.
The Impossible Man first came to Earth because he was bored of his own planet. Reed figures giving him the silent treatment might just be enough to get this guy to leave. It takes a while but it works.
If you were to think of something else in comic books to compare this to, The Impossible Man is the analog of Mr. Mxyzptlk in DC comics who comes around to harass Superman every once in a while. Impossible Man is not quite as fun as Mr. Mxyzptlk but he showed the Fantastic Four are able to use their heads instead of their powers when needed. Also, for a while in the issue the world started to think Reed Richards was a coward but he didn’t seem to care. Instead, he just sticks to his plan, never bothering to explain his strategy or solution to anyone. This is a very typical Reed Richards move which sometimes lands him in hot water.
The last panel of this story teases a major milestone in Marvel 616. It tells readers to come back to read a “surprise-packed full length thriller– The Fantastic Four meet– The Hulk! Don’t miss it!”
This is the first major crossover from one Marvel 616 book to another. There were always suggestions and rumblings, including some pretty solid evidence in the way of newspapers and dialogue that these characters existed in the same reality. But to have a major Marvel character appear in the Fantastic Four will be a landmark event.
The first story in issue eleven of The Fantastic Four is in some ways much more interesting than the “B” story. While most issues of the FF deal with supervillains in some way or another, this one shows us a slice of life for the superheroes in a story titled, “A Visit With the Fantastic Four.”
Stan Lee proves once again here that Marvel is not afraid to try new things in comics. He breaks the fourth wall a bit when the FF meet some fans who are eagerly awaiting the next issue of a comic book magazine called The Fantastic Four. We also meet an important figure in the annals of Marvel history, Willie Lumpkin, the mailman who delivers mail to the Baxter Building for the Fantastic Four. In time he will become an important figure to the series who plays integral parts in multiple stories. Willie even tries to join the FF in this issue, telling Reed Richards that he doesn’t have any super powers but he can, “wiggle my ears real good.”
The story shows off a few secrets of the Baxter Building. The FF have special belt buckles which can send a signal to their personal elevator allowing them and only them access to their apartments at the top.
The team then spends some time opening their fan mail. The Thing gets a gag gift which is a boxing glove extender that punches him in the eye. He’s not real happy about it. Thing is convinced it’s from the Yancy Street Gang who we already know he has some beef with but this is the first time Thing has really called them out by name.
Reed gives Thing a serum and he once again turns back to the human form of Ben Grimm for a while. We then get a few flashbacks from before the heroes flew into the cosmic rays. We find out Ben and Reed were college roommates. Reed is the smart one but Ben was the football star. Reed made a name for himself by winning lots of prizes in the field of science and it probably didn’t hurt that he was the son of a millionaire. Ben becomes a marine fighter ace pilot and gets nationally known as a hero for it. It’s also revealed Reed worked underground for the O.S.S., the first independent U.S. intelligence agency.
While Reed was at the front of the war he would dream about the girl he left behind, Sue Storm. As soon as Reed brings this up Sue is conflicted. She has some mixed feelings due to her emotions about The Sub-Mariner. Reed gives her some space but of course, he’ll bring this up again in later issues.
After returning from the war, Reed decides, “We’ve got to reach the stars before the reds do!” and the fateful events are put into motion which result in the first team of superheroes in Marvel 616 continuity. This origin will get refined over and over again in later issues but this one shows us why Reed was so eager to have Ben pilot the spacecraft. He was a famous war hero pilot so it made sense and Reed knew he could trust Ben.
It’s ultimately Sue who convinces Ben to be the pilot. She and Johnny have agreed to come along and implies Ben is afraid to go. Ben is not one to back down from a challenge so he decides to go.
The rest of the flashback is the standard rehash of how they hit cosmic rays and got their powers using panels we’ve already seen several times in these first eleven issues.
Sue then tells Reed and Ben she’s been getting letters saying she isn’t contributing enough on the adventures of the team. Ben and Reed reassure her she is vital to their success and we get some more re-used panels of several times Sue has helped the team get out of different situations.
Ben suddenly turns back into The Thing. The serum lasted longer this time but nothing seems to be permanent with curing him. An alarm goes off and the team rush into the spaceship they kept as a memento of their adventure on Planet X. Turns out it was just a surprise birthday party for Sue. Still, small gestures like this show this team is more of a family than a superhero team. The story concludes with Willie Lumpkin complaining about his heavy mail bag full of comic magazine heroes and letters to the editor pages.
While you could argue this story isn’t super interesting, it does show more sides to the characters than most comic books at the time were showing. For all we know about Clark Kent in the pages of Superman there wasn’t ever just a story about him having a day with friends where no actual fights break out. This kind of storytelling is what makes Marvel stand out from the competition.
Make no mistake, no matter what you think of the story and issue itself, this is an immensely important moment in the history of Marvel 616 and comics in general. It just begins to scrape the surface of what superhero storytelling could be. There will be more slice of life stories to come but this is truly the first.
Next up on the reading list we’ll be shrinking down once again to catch up with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #40!