Sat, 28 August 2010
Where, oh where, has the summer gone? I tell you, I thought I would have no problem getting this blog all caught up to be in sync with the Spidey podcast by summer's end. But here we are with the butt-end of August staring us in the face, and I'm still several months behind. Ah, well. I'm trying. And hopefully, you're reading.
Today's fare is another crossover book. Around this time, I guess Marvel decided that their flagship title would be a good place to showcase their two new superteams, and so The Fantastic Four played host to both the Avengers (in issue 26) and the X-Men (in issue 28). It is, of course, the second of these that interests us today.
The Fantastic Four 28 was published in the off-month between The X-Men 5 and 6, as the comic is still bi-monthly at this point. The cover features the two teams in the grip of the Mad Thinker's Awesome Android. And I have to say, that cover doesn't do a whole lot for me. The art on the people looks good. There are some good poses as the X-Men and FF don't know whether to help each other or kill each other. But the Android is this big blob of gray. And it just throws the whole thing off for me. Also, the captions advertise that our villains this month will be the Mad Thinker, the Puppet Master, and the Awesome Android, common enough antagonists for the FF at this time. The lack of an X-Men villain makes me think this will be primarily an FF-centric story, but I'm sure we'll get plenty of mutant madness along the way. (Also, admittedly, there just aren't many X-Men villains to speak of at this point.)
The opening splash page is dominated by the title at the top: "We Have to Fight the X-Men!" Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is silver age Marvel. So if superheroes from two titles are going to meet, there's going to be trouble. The image here is rather pedestrian, I have to say. The Thing is carrying a statue of himself, freshly sculpted by girlfriend Alicia Masters, who is walking beside him. Reed and Susan are...erm...reading a newspaper. ...right. The Torch is the only guy doing anything interesting by flying around in flames, but then he loses points for sounding like an idiot: "Hi, sis! What are you and Reed looking at? The FUNNIES are in the other section!" Johnny. Just...just go away.
(pages 1-2) Everyone talks about how cool the X-Men are and the Thing hurts Alicia's feelings.
Short, sweet opening scene. Stan's talking up how cool the X-Men are by describing how famous they've become and listing off their awesome villains. Johnny pipes up, bragging how he and Iceman beat the Barracude a few months back. Johnny, I wouldn't brag about that if I were you. And then the Thing mentions how much better Alicia's work is than the Puppet Master's. Then he's all, "Oh man, I forgot he was your stepfather." Really, Ben? You forgot your girlfriend's only parent?? That's pretty lame of you. And it's even lamer of Alicia to let him get away with such a crummy story.
(pages 2-6) The Puppet Master arrives at the Mad Thinker's hideout. He doesn't want to team up, but the Mad Thinker points out that not teaming up is dumb, so he agrees to team up. The Puppet Master makes a clay statue of Professor X and uses it to take over his mind. He then has the Professor order the X-Men to trap and destroy the Fantastic Four, because they allegedly are plotting world domination.
Okay, this story is not exactly starting out well. We're only six pages in, and I already have sooo many problems.
First, the Mad Thinker is annoying. The very notion that someone could plan out all the variables of life to predict exactly when things would be happening, down to the second (sometimes the fraction of a second) is just bad. It's an annoying idea for a villain because it tries to be real-worldly and completely fails.
Next, the Puppet Master shows up so that he can refuse to help. If I got a request for a super-villain team-up that I wanted to refuse, I'm pretty sure I'd just not go. Then it's basically, "I don't want to join you." "But see how AWESOME I am!" "Wow! You're even AWESOMEr than I thought. Okay, I'll join you and your AWESOMEness."
Not only does the Mad Thinker posit he is able to deduce what the leader of the X-Men looks like based on publicly available information about the X-Men. But the likeness he fashions is a COMPLETELY FEATURELESS HEAD!!! Oh, let's see, I think I know what he looks like. So I'll make a human head without an effing face!
Oh but it gets better. Then the Puppet Master makes a statue that also has no face, but he gives it clothes. Couldn't the Mad Thinker have done that? Supposedly, the power here is not in the Puppet Master but in the clay, and if you don't need his awesome sculpting skills to make a lifelike face, then why is he there in the first place??
And then! (No, I'm not done.) This faceless approximation of humanity actually works on Xavier. But isn't strong enough, so the Thinker says to add a precise amount of clay to the statue. Now, if you have worked with clay, you know that adding clay to a sculpture means you have to RESCULPT IT! out of the new lump of clay! Probably would have been a thousand jizzes easier to do if he had said, "Here's the amount of clay you'll need. Use all of it." Right?
Sigh... And let's not forget that when Xavier says to DESTROY the Fantastic Four, the X-Men are okay with it. Sure there's some cursory protest, but they quickly accede to the Professor's insane commands, as we see in the next scene.
(pages 6-12) The X-Men pay a visit to the Baxter Building. After socializing with the FF, Cyclops requests Reed's help with "an alien space ship sighted on a remote mesa west of here". Reed respectfully declines. Cyclops was expecting this as the Thinker had predicted it, so he attacks. In the other room, a similar interaction happens between Jean Grey and the Thing, and Jean accidentally breaks the Thing statue. When Sue tries to enter the fray, the Angel and Iceman subdue her and bind her with ice. The fight continues and the result is that the X-Men leave with Susan as captive, and the rest of the FF prepare to follow with Reed convinced the X-Men's motives are noble.
You know, if I'd made this plan, I would have removed the "socialize" part of the plan. You get into the building on their good graces and immediately get the drop on the FF.
That aside, once they're in and following their plan in separate rooms, I sure am glad that Cyclops and Jean were able to attack at the same time without communication between them. It would have sucked if Reed had agreed to help and Jean had attacked the Thing, or vice versa. Oh wait, that's right, the Thinker knew this would all happen as it did.
The Invisible Woman got force fields at some point. It wasn't super early, but it wasn't that long either. I can't remember if she has them by this point. If so, then her not using them is a terrible use of her power set in the story. If she doesn't, then this scene proves why she was the most useless member of the team until she got them.
Wait. Back the truck up. Did Ben actually threaten to SPANK Jean Grey? And it wasn't just an idle threat. No, he actually grabs the girl and puts her under his arm, butt out front ready for the swats. Oh, this reminds me of a similar event in The Wheel of Time, and Leigh Butler's excellent tirade about it on Tor's website. If I could just borrow a salient bit: "I just want to say that there is a difference between FIGHTING, and goddamn SPANKING. The latter is something you do to a recalcitrant child, not an adult human being you supposedly regard as an equal." Yeah, she basically says it all.
And finally, Reed's supposedly altruistic approach to the whole thing. "Oh, I just wish I knew their motives." Reed. They came into your house and assaulted you in your living room. I know this is an action comic book, but still. It doesn't matter what someone's motives are when they assault you in your own house. That makes them criminals. You hear that, X-Men? You've just become evil.
I seriously have the feeling that if Xavier told them to jump off a bridge, they'd do it.
(pages 13-22) The showdown occurs on the mesa Cyclops mentioned earlier. The X-Men arrive with Susan Storm and await further mental orders from Professor X. Susan realizes they don't know what they're doing. Xavier commands them telepathically to subdue the Fantastic Four when they arrive, which happens almost immediately. Fighting ensues, but the mesa seems to have been rigged to trap the FF. A hole opens below Ben. A revolving reel device catches Reed and wraps him around it (like that girl's hair in the one of the Saw movies). And two missiles launch from a hidden launcher, wrapping the Torch and Susan in elastic straightjackets. Once they're all down, the Thinker and Puppet Master emerge from a hidden doorway, revealing their control over Xavier. The Puppet Master then uses his puppet to make Xavier put the X-Men to sleep telepathically. The Beast has enough wits about him to react before losing consciousness, knocking the puppet from the Master's hand and crushing it beneath his feet. The rest of the FF extricate themselves from their traps and both teams together take on the Thinker's Awesome Android. With the Xavier puppet destroyed, the Professor recovers and mentally halts the Android's brain. The bad guys get away, and the two superteams part on good terms.
Well, the ending wasn't as crazy as the rest of the story. A bit contrived perhaps, but not so full of plot holes I could strain my macaroni through it before adding the milk, butter, and cheese sauce mix (mmmm). I had completely forgotten the Android's ability to mimic superpowers. It's been a very long time since I read a story with him in it. I thought it was just big and strong, so that was actually a refreshing surprise.
So, the Thinker knew from the start, I guess, that the X-Men wouldn't be able to take out the Four, so he had this whole plateau dug out and rigged with traps. I bet if I tried I could think of several more efficient ways of luring the FF to that plateau that wouldn't involve another superteam getting in the way and destroying the magic puppet.
I find it interesting that the puppet was smashed. In the first Puppet Master story, the story ended with the puppet falling off a table and breaking, with the story strongly implying that the same had happened to the Puppet Master himself. But it makes sense for them to retract that kind of device. Otherwise the puppets, once formed, could never be destroyed for fear of killing their victims. Of course, it might not have killed the professor because IT DIDN'T EFFING LOOK LIKE HIM!
My last critique would be that Androids are governed by printed circuits, not by a mind. I don't like when telepaths are meant to be able to influence machinery. It doesn't make sense, and it bothered me here.
Well, this issue was a bit wonky, I have to say. It could be that I'm not a big fan of the Mad Thinker. Like, at all. And while I think the Puppet Master is a good concept, there were so many problems here with the execution of his character. Donovan likes to say the FF are jerks, and while that wasn't a dominant theme to this story, there were definitely a couple of jerky moments (Thing, I'm looking at you and your treatments of Alicia and Jean).
But hopefully the issue served its purpose in pulling people over to the main comic, increasing sales for Lee's and Kirby's good works being done there. And we shall be returning to those stories in short order, bringing a bit of the FF world with us as we go. Next time, The X-Men Blog will see Namor, The First Mutant, join the ranks of the Brotherhood in The X-Men 6. See you there.
Category:X-Men blog -- posted at: 1:40am EDT