The last time we checked in with The Fantastic Four in their own series, they had defeated and enemy on the moon known as The Red Ghost. The FF are heading home expecting a heroes welcome as they’ve become the first people to successfully land on and return from the moon. This was years before it happened in reality so it was still anyone’s guess what would really be found there.
The first page gives us a small recap and then Ben Grimm says he wants to take over the controls of the ship, although Reed Richards brags he designed it to practically land itself.
Sure enough, as they land in New York, there is a huge mob of people there to cheer on the team. They were already notable as heroes and explorers in New York City but it seems this return trip solidifies their status as not only heroes but super celebrities. It’s depicted in the way one might expect The Beatles to have been greeted at the height of their fame. Reed Richards even has two rival fan clubs both desperately trying to touch him or maybe get a lock of his hair. Meanwhile, a super star wrestler named The Golden Angel challenges The Thing to a fight to the finish. The Thing just tosses this dude in a trash can and walks away. Sue Storm is badgered by people wanting her to sign Hollywood contracts or sell their deodorant on television. Lucky for her, she can just turn invisible. Johnny Storm sees the problem with the crowd here and makes a whirling tunnel of warm air which creates a vacuum of suction to get the team back to the Baxter building. This is clearly one of the sillier powers Johnny has displayed but I think as an audience we’re past caring about that sort of thing now.
The team goes back to their penthouse apartments and tries to get in a bit of relaxation time. Although, in the fashion of the day, Sue Storm says she’s going to, “do a little housecleaning” instead. Reed dictates his notes on the rocket fuel he invented for the trip and goes to find Sue to have her type them up. When he finds her, she’s taking a look at some of Reed’s cameras on the bottom of the sea. She immediately switches it off when Reed enters. Reed knows she’s hoping for a glimpse of The Sub-Mariner and then goes off feeling kinda sorry for himself. Sue brings the roving camera back to the Baxter Building.
Meanwhile, we see a mysterious man speaking with a doctor who says the man is cured. This man says he knew he was cured long ago but was waiting for the world to forget him. The man seems to have a vendetta against our heroes after he experienced a fall that people seemed to have thought killed him. He’s also planning to get a scapegoat to do the job for him. This person goes through a list of enemies The Fantastic Four have defeated before until he thinks of The Sub-Mariner. It turns out our mystery man is The Puppet Master. This is a person who can control others simply by making a clay sculpture out of them with his magic clay. And of course, he’s ready with a sculpture of Sub-Mariner.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner is looking for his lost people under the sea when he’s pulled away by a powerful force. It seems he’s compelled to do as Puppet Master asks. Namor then uses something called a, “Mento-fish” which can sense human thoughts ad transmit them to any point on earth through, “mental electro waves!” Yeah, I dunno, doesn’t make much sense to me either. Anyway, Namor uses this fish to call to Sue Storm. Thinking Namor is in distress, Sue goes to him. She sneaks past her team while invisible to do so, and thinks this meeting will at long last decide her feelings for Namor.
Sue meets Namor at a pier on the lower east side of New York. Namor uses a, “hypno-fish” to hypnotize Sue. The fish puts Sue in an air bubble and they go under the sea. Puppet Master decides not to put the FF under his control, figuring his revenge will be sweeter if they retain their free will. Namor then transmits a mental image to the remaining members of the superhero team to tell them he has Sue Storm. He basically dares them to come after her, which, of course, they do. Before setting out, Reed and Johnny go to deliver their secret files to the police commissioner and Ben goes to let Alicia know where he’ll be so she doesn’t worry.
When Ben gets to the building, he’s overcharged for parking. He agrees to let Alicia come along with him, and then Ben stacks up the cars in the parking lot so he can fly outta there. But off panel he says he put them back so I guess no harm done?
Reed has gotten the loan of a deep water diving vehicle so he can search for Namor and the group piles in to go find him. They have to evade some attacks set up by Namor, including sharp quills shooting at their vehicle and a whirling tornado of water. Johnny flames on with white hot flame to dissipate the tornado and nearly drowns until Reed saves him. Namor springs a final trap where the heroes get trapped in a giant clam and knocked out with chloroform gas the clam naturally produces. Yeah, not sure I believe any of that but we’ll just go with it. Namor brings them back to his headquarters.
Namor has a giant octopus guarding Sue who is inside a glass globule the octopus could probably crush. Reed realizes pretty quickly this behavior is not typical of Namor. He’s always professed his love for Sue so putting her in this kind of danger seems extreme even for him. Namor then challenges the heroes to fight him one by one. First up is Johnny. He’s defeated because Namor has a strange living undersea weapon that absorbs any kind of heat. The Thing sees the use of this weapon as cheating so he grabs Namor who easily gets away. Namor throws some kind of sea foam on Ben which hardens and traps him in place. But The Thing breaks out anyway. Reed Richards tangles Namor up in his stretchy arms, trapping him, as Ben goes to save Sue.
Ben Grimm tosses the octopus by the tentacles and saves Sue. He tells her to hold her breath as they swim through the water. And we get this super sexist gem from Stan Lee, as The Thing thinks, “First time I ever saw a female who could keep her mouth shut so long!” Yeah, I mean I know it was different times and all, but there are some real sexist gems dropped by Stan the man in these days.
The Puppet Master has been watching from afar in his own submarine. He ups the stakes by telling Namor he has to do more than defeat the FF, he has to slay them. Alicia seems to sense Puppet Master’s presence and lets Reed know what’s going on. Sub-Mariner grabs some deadly sea tubes which will release a poisonous gas but still hesitates because he doesn’t want to harm Sue. Namor does eventually release the gas but also realizes he’s being controlled. Luckily for everyone involved, Reed put on special, “flex-o-gen” masks on the team and Alicia so they wouldn’t breathe in the fumes. Reed, Ben and Johnny all want to clobber Namor but Sue stops them, telling them she knows he’s under some kind of influence.
Remember the octopus The Thing threw? So that finds The Puppet Master’s submarine and attacks it. Puppet Master tries to carve a clay sculpture of it to control it but apparently the octopus doesn’t have enough of a brain for it to be controlled. This breaks the control on Sub-Mariner and the team have to escape because a hole in the dome of Namor’s place is letting in water. Johnny fixes it and Namor thinks he’s been invaded by the Fantastic Four. He sees Sue and asks if she’s come to share his underwater kingdom. She tells him no, that her loyalties are with Reed. But she keeps open the love triangle by saying her heart has not made a final choice yet. It honestly makes you feel a little bad for Reed here since he’s made it pretty clear he is in love with Sue. Namor does let them go because he wants to go back to looking for his lost people. Sue still hopes he’ll someday be their friend and we end the issue with the promise that the Fantastic Four are about to head for one of the most bizarre adventures of all time in the next issue.
With an issue about telepathic fish, people who live under the sea, and a dude who can control minds through clay, saying the next issue will be bizarre is a pretty bold statement here.
It’s still early days in the Marvel 616 universe here but it’s always great to see a good villain come back. And in this one there are two worthy villains. For one, the team isn’t certain Puppet Master is actually back, although we as the audience know he is. And secondly, the love triangle between Namor, Reed and Sue is always interesting. Namor is a compelling character in that he never quite crosses the line to total villain (at least in the eyes of the Fantastic Four) but he’s not an outright hero either. One gets the impression with him that if Sue Storm was not around, the Fantastic Four could be in real trouble from him.
The way villains keep returning in Marvel 616 comics really helps build out the universe and makes it feel like things are happening all over even when we’re not reading the comics. It takes a while before there’s a great connection between everything but the building blocks are definitely starting to shape up.
Next up on the reading list, we’ll be getting small again with Ant-Man in the pages of Tales to Astonish #43!