“The Merciless Puppet Master”
Cover Date: May 1963
Plotters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Script: Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko (See bottom for more info)
Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers
What’s Going On?
Having survived falling out of a building, the Puppet Master has healed enough to take his revenge on the Fantastic Four! This time, he opts to manipulate someone else into fighting in his stead: Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
Under the Puppet Master’s control, Namor kidnaps Sue and lures the rest of the FF to his undersea base for a final battle.
Is It Good?
Yes, this is fun, even though the Puppet Master is a crap villain. There are a lot of little moments that work well, and there are a lot of goofy-ass moments that keep things entertaining.
- The Fantastic Four receive a heroes’ welcome when they land after their trip to the moon last issue.
- Sue is still not sure if she loves Namor or Reed.
- Alicia correctly senses that the Sub-Mariner is being controlled. Despite her mentioning the Puppet Master, no one actually concludes that he is responsible.
- The Puppet Master appears to die when his submarine is crushed by a giant octopus. Where he got his own sub, how he knows how to operate it, and why he needs to be this close to the action is all left unexplained.
- For the time being, Sue will not promise herself to Namor, even though he fascinates her.
- This is credited as the first Marvel comic to feature the classic “corner box” on the cover; it’s missing the Comic’s Code seal and the issue number, but it’s the basic idea. Really, all of Marvel’s superhero comics received the corner box treatment in the same month, but this is the accepted “first” one. This is also the first time we see something approaching a Marvel logo; until now, there has just been a “MC” in a small box on the cover.
- Alicia once again displays an ability to “sense” things about people. I don’t think this is supposed to be a super-power; I think this is Stan Lee showing that she is an empathetic person.
Comics Are Goofy:
- Stuffy Mr. Fantastic has not one, but two rabid female fan clubs.
- What makes that funnier is that the young and popular Human Torch apparently has no fan clubs.
- “Why be an actress when you can be paid to talk about sweaty armpits?”
- How did the Puppet Master escape after his last appearance? He fell out of a building and landed on the street below. Was there no follow-up? Did the FF just assume someone would deal with the corpse?
- Puppet Master gives a typical villain reason for not taking direct action against the Fantastic Four. It is also worth noting that the last time he took action against them, he almost died. There’s no shame in admitting the truth, Puppet Master.
- That is a peculiar evolutionary adaptation, especially for a creature that appears to not interact much with humans.
- Honorable mention in the “peculiar evolution” awards: the underwater plant that has evolved to absorb…fire?
- Remember what? When has Namor ever done this before?
- Thinking that they may die fighting the Sub-Mariner, Ben goes to say goodbye to Alicia. He then makes the bizarre choice to bring her, his non-powered blind girlfriend, into what promises to be an underwater death trap. Reed’s reaction was…not what I expected:
- Remember in Strange Tales #107, when Johnny could flame on indefinitely underwater? This is better. Still kinda dumb, but better.
- They were captured by a giant clam that does…what? That is yet another bit of peculiar evolution.
- Yes, Reed, calling Namor “inhuman” is likely to diffuse this situation.
- Oh, you used Flex-O-Gen packets? That explains everything nothing! What the hell are Flex-O-Gen packets? I mean, they are obviously gas masks, but why isn’t that explained at all? Why treat it like the name is enough to convey what happened?
- Being “blankety-blanked” sounds super dirty.
Well, That Aged Poorly:
- Reed, you’re a dick. Johnny, flame off when you’re napping.
- Ben, you’ve gotta work on your compliments.
Behind the Scenes:
- I honestly don’t know who inked this issue, or the cover. The credit in the issue (and the Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 reprint) indicates Dick Ayers, but several online sources (My Comic Shop & Marvel Wikia) credit Steve Ditko instead. Personally, I can’t tell if there were multiple inkers, but I figured that it’s better to mention the credit than ignore it.