Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #20

Credits:

Cover Date: November 1963

Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, George Roussos

“The Mysterious Molecule Man”

Plotters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Scripter: Stan Lee

Penciller: Jack Kirby

Inker: Dick Ayers

What’s Going On?

The Fantastic Four are alerted by the Watcher to a new, cosmic-level threat: the Molecule Man!

The Molecule Man has the power to destroy the universe, but settles for conquering New York City first. How can the Fantastic Four defeat an enemy that can destroy entire universes?

Is It Good?

This is pretty good. I liked the portrayal of the pre-superpowers Molecule Man as a sympathetic nobody. The Watcher’s inclusion was a little too much, though; he introduces the problem and solves the question of “what’s next” when the FF eventually win. The loopholes used to overcome the Molecule Man were sketchy, but it is fun seeing the FF take on someone who dwarfs their power. I liked that —- while not expressly stated in the comic —- the Molecule Man’s greatest weakness was his simplicity/lack of imagination.

Sub-Plots:

  • The Molecule Man gained his powers in a one-in-a-trillion chance atomic accident.

  • The Molecule Man opted to conquer New York City.

  • The Fantastic Four try to fight him, but are horribly outmatched. Defeated, the team scrambles to regroup and strategize.

  • The Molecule Man commands the locals to hunt down the heroes so they can be captured. With ordinary citizens determined to turn the heroes in, the Yancy Street Gang steps up to smuggle the team to a safe location: Alicia Masters’ studio.

  • Reed noticed that Molecule Man’s powers cannot affect living, organic molecules, so he has Alicia cover the Fantastic Four with a bit of plaster so they can pose as statues. When the Molecule Man tries to change the “statues,” he receives some painful feedback for trying to alter living things, and that allows the FF to press the attack.

  • The Watcher then takes the Molecule Man into his own custody, and fixes the things that Molecule Man had changed in the city.

Continuity:

  • This is the first appearance of Owen Reece, the Molecule Man (his real name is not mentioned in this issue).
  • The Molecule Man can control molecules, which means he can alter anything and create something out of nothing. He uses a control wand to direct his powers.

  • The Molecule Man has one limitation: he cannot alter organic molecules.

  • This is the first time the Watcher has expressly broken his vow of non-interference. You can argue that he did that in Fantastic Four #13, but the FF and Red Ghost wandered into his backyard, more or less, so I’m letting that pass.

Comics Are Goofy:

  • “This proves that some sort of life must exist in outer space”?!? YOU’VE FOUGHT ALIENS AND VISITED AN ALIEN PLANET, REED! THE WATCHER — WHO MAKES HUS SECOND APPEARANCE IN THIS ISSUE — IS FROM AN ALIEN RACE!!!

  • The Watcher observes everything, so he clearly knows where and when to find the FF. And yet, he went with the most convoluted way he could think of to bring the team to him.

  • Normally, I would argue that this sequence makes Sue look especially useless. However, it is clear that the entire team is outclassed against the Molecule Man. Still…she was defeated by newspapers.  Not very impressive.

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