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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

X-amining Fantastic Four #28

"We Have To Fight The X-Men!"
July 1964

In a Nutshell
The Mad Thinker & Puppet Master team-up to pit the Fantastic Four against the X-Men.

Written by: Stan Lee (the Leader!)
Drawn by: Jack Kirby (the King!)
Inked by: Chic Stone (the Master!)
Lettered by: Art Simek (the Letterer!)
Colorist: Steve Buccellato

Plot
As the Fantastic Four discuss a news report involving the X-Men, the Mad Thinker enlists the Puppet Master to take control of Professor X. Once under the Puppet Master's sway, Xavier sends the X-Men to attack the Fantastic Four, telling his students the FF are plotting world domination. After arriving at the Baxter Building, the X-Men pick a fight with the Fantastic Four in order to lead them to a plateau outside the city where the Thinker has set a series of booby traps. With the FF captured, the villains reveal themselves, and Puppet Master orders Xavier to make the X-Men sleep. But with his control spread over five individuals across miles, Beast is able to resist his control long enough to shatter the radioactive puppet used by the Puppet Master to control Xavier. With the FF having freed themselves, the Mad Thinker unleashes his Awesome Android, which overpowers both teams until Xavier is able to use his telepathy to shut the creature down. Though the villains escape in the confusion, the two teams part as friends, with Mr. Fantastic considering the X-Men worthy representatives of the day's youth.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the first meeting between the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in full (Iceman & Human Torch previously teamed up in Human Torch's half of Strange Tales). While the history between the two teams isn't quite as deep and interwoven as between the X-Men & Avengers (who share a publishing anniversary and, through the years, pass a handful of team members & adversaries back and forth amongst themselves), the two teams do cross paths in a few significant ways after this, including the X-Men vs. Fantastic Four miniseries, Wolverine's stint as one of the new Fantastic Four and his rivalry with Thing, their shared involvement in "Days of Future Present", and Storm's stint as a member of the team post-Civil War, amongst others.

It's not as germane to the X-Men, but this also marks the first team-up between the Mad Thinker and Puppet Master, a villain pairing that will stand the test of time. 

The Chronology Corner
This story takes place between issues #5 and #6 of X-Men.

A Work in Progress
Reed notes that it’s amazing how quickly the X-Men have become famous, which doesn’t quite gel with the later depiction of the X-Men as more of an urban legend amongst the general populace.


There’s a great bit where the Thing asks who the X-Men have beat, anyways, and the rest of the team respond with a long list of their villains (though in Thing’s defense, four of them could just be listed under “Brotherhood if Evil Mutants”. Also, it’s said the defeated the Space Phantom, which isn’t true. Based on the order of villains listed, Stan likely meant the Vanisher, and confused him with the Space Phantom (whom the Avengers fought in their second issue).


The X-Men travel in this issue via jet copter, the same one the Juggernaut will later destroy in issue #32.

Lee seems to lose track of the plot at one point when Cyclops makes a reference to the Thinkers plan in his thoughts; at that point in the story, the X-Men believe they are acting simply at Professor X’s direction.


I love that the Thing is too busy admiring a statue of himself to investigate the X-Men’s (false) claim of an alien landing.


Thing’s statue is too heavy for Marvel Girl to suspend telekinetically.


Ah, the Silver Age
The Puppet Master’s schtick is that he can control whomever he sculpts using his special radioactive clay. But the resulting figure needs to resemble the desired target (ie he can’t just make a generic figure and say it’s a specific person). In this issue, the Mad Thinker, based solely on news reports, is able to describe Professor X in enough detail to the Puppet Master that he can craft a good enough likeness to meet whatever criteria governs the way his clay works.


Also, you know, radioactive clay.

*sigh* Invisible Girl is used as a hostage to assure the FF’s cooperation.


The FF are able to track the “vibration frequency” of the engine of the X-Men’s vehicle.


And now Human Torch & Invisible Girl have mesothelioma.


This panel of the FF and X-Men battling the Awesome Android, Mad Thinker and Pupper Master is just pure Silver Age goodness.


Artistic Achievements
There’s a great example of the art telling a story when the X-Men meet the FF: earlier, it had been established that Iceman & Human Torch had met earlier. In the panel, the two are shown interacting, but because their past interaction had already been established, we’re spared based word balloons reiterating it.


"Professor Xavier is a jerk!"
The notion that the X-Men are so named due to their “Xtra” power (and not Xavier’s ego) is repeated here.

Austin's Analysis
The "superhero misunderstanding fight", in which two or more heroes battle one another following some kind of misunderstanding in which one or both believes the other to be evil or ill-intentioned in some way, is a staple of Marvel's Silver Age, and this issue is a great entry in that proud (if eventually overused) pantheon in a number of ways. For one, it's just wall-to-wall Jack Kirby action. For another, it's packed with not just the FF and X-Men, but also, Silver Age staples like the Puppet Master and the Awesome Android. And for another, Stan Lee, to his credit, avoids some of the more obvious FF-on-X-Men matchups, like having the team's respective Girls fight one another, or a fire-meets-ice Iceman/Human Torch battle, or even a basic "strong guy" Thing/Beast contest between each team's brusier, such that the resulting battles (like Beast & Mr. Fantastic trying to out-vocabulary each other) are much more interesting.

The other interesting thing about this issue is how it presents the X-Men, in that, for the most part, they acquit themselves well. Often in these kinds of crossovers, the visiting character/team ends up playing second fiddle to the title characters. But here, the X-Men more or less hold their own against the FF before teamin up against the villains, and in the end it is Professor X, as he so often did early in the run of X-Men, who serves as the telepathic ex machina and saves the day, rather than the Fantastic Four. As much as anything, the creation of the Marvel Universe was a marketing ploy: by setting all the books in the same general area, the characters are capable of easily crossing over from book to book, turning any given issue of any series into a potential commercial for another. If, with this issue, Lee was simply trying to use the Fantastic Four - Marvel's flagship and most popular series of the time - to get some eyes on the still-nascent X-Men, he put their best foot forward in terms of presenting the X-Men in a positive light, at least in terms of their competency, theoretically making them more appealing to potential readers.

Next Issue
Next week, the X-Men encounter another venerable Marvel team in Avengers #53.

12 comments:

  1. The FF are able to track the “vibration frequency” of the engine of the X-Men’s vehicle.

    This is legit. A tower legend has it that that our domestic military persons responsible for underwater listening can easily recognize the individual Baltic Sea cruise ships from the propeller sound they make alone. One conscript supposedly earned himself free journeys for the rest of his life after he recognized a deviation in the usual propeller sound and contacted the ship in question, and when the divers were sent to check it up in the next harbor they found out that the propeller had broken loose from the fastenings and was about to come off, which would have been Expensive had it happened.

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  2. "The other interesting thing about this issue is how it presents the X-Men, in that, for the most part, they acquit themselves well."

    Reminds me of the Avengers fighting Magneto in that one NEW MUTANTS issue. They basically win, as I recall.

    (I have to say, an honest-to-goodness supervillain Magneto vs. Avengers battle is something I would've loved to have seen in the Bronze Age. Could you imagine something like that during the brief period where John Byrne was drawing AVENGERS in the late 70s??)

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    1. I mean I know Byrne actually did Magneto vs. the Avengers during his WEST COAST AVENGERS run, but I'm talking about Magneto taking on the full group that battled Count Nefaria -- Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Wonder Man, etc. Iron Man would be basically useless against him. He could use Cap's shield against his own teammates. Could he levitate Thor's hammer? (Pretty certainly not, but it'd be fun to see him try!)

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    2. Well, he fought... the Defenders...

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    3. Magneto did fight Thor in an early Journey into Mystery issue by Stan Lee.
      I know he tried to use his powers on Thor's hammer, but I forget if he succeeded or not.
      I think he might have managed to accomplish the feat.

      Also, Magneto did fight the Avengers a few times. I'm especially thinking of a story during the Englehart run in the early-1970s.
      Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and the Vision were on the team at the time.

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    4. Hmm... my desire to see a proper Avengers vs. Magneto fight is now in direct competition of my dislike of Steve Englehart's writing! Which will win out...??

      (And thanks for letting me know about that!)

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    5. I read the Journey into Mystery mentioned by Anonymous, #109, a few years ago for an aborted article on X-Men/Avengers crossovers.

      To Matt’s question: Magneto is able to stop the hammer in its tracks as it flies towards him, but we don’t see him repel it. Thor is distracted and reverts to Don Blake when a minute passes, unseen by Magneto, who comes across the walking stick that the hammer becomes. Magneto has no opportunity to try to lift it in its actual Mjölnir form, so nothing conclusive, although we’re so early in the era there’s a lot that counters later established continuity.

      Some other notes: Magneto doesn’t know where the X-Men are headquartered but he’s “long suspected they were based somewhere in the [NYC] metropolitan area” and is using instruments to home in on them via “mental emanations”. Thor uses Mjölnir’s Uru metal to trace the “flow of magnetic force” bombarding the city to Magneto’s “camouflaged submersible fort” in the harbor. During Magneto and Thor’s battle the rest of the Brotherhood is out looking for the X-Men, who intriguingly only appear off-panel apart from an optic blast, Beast’s hands, Angel’s shadow on a wall, and ice freezing Magneto’s thermonuclear “proton bomb” in place, although we get a couple of word balloons as they close in on Magneto and then see part of an underwater craft branded with their insignia giving chase when he escapes.

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  3. Pssst… You should check those last few credits, Teebore. Or as Mighty Marvel might’ve put it back in the day, “If a Template Betray Him!”

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    1. By a template betrayed!

      Thanks Blam. :)

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    2. Anytime.

      … Does now work for you? 8^)

      — Steve Buccellato’s name is still up there, which you probably glossed over because the issue had no colorist credited itself.

      — Plus, I just took a look at your list for the back half of the year again to plan upcoming reads and noticed that the issue numbers for the second week of September are wrong.

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  4. the two teams do cross paths in a few significant ways after this...

    There's also the grandchildren that Reed, Sue, Scott and Jean share in various versions of the future. Although one them seems to be the most despised FF villain going.

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  5. I’d been looking at some early X-Men not long before reading this issue and noticed that, as here, what’s gotten referred to regularly since at least the ’70s as Cyclops’ “optic blast” was back then called his “power beam” or “force beam”. None is more appropriate than the others — although the first specifies where it comes from and the other two, especially the last, make clear that it’s a concussive ray and not heat vision, Corsair — but “optic blast” is so familiar now that I’m taken out of the story even more so than by other stilted elements of the early Silver Age dialogue.

    // Stan likely meant the Vanisher … Lee seems to lose track of the plot at one point //

    Yeah. Those both jumped out at me, with the latter particularly (if only momentarily) confusing. And later a caption mentions the Thing smashing the Professor X puppet when it was actually the Beast.

    // the Mad Thinker, based solely on news reports, is able to describe Professor X in enough detail to the Puppet Master that he can craft a good enough likeness //

    He even knew that Xavier was wearing a purple pinstriped suit.

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