I had thought at first that this was another comic that I got out of a 3-Bag, but looking at my copy closely, I think that rather I must have gotten it from my friend and classmate Donald Sims. Don was the first other kid I knew who regularly read comic books, and while we were only close friends for a couple of years–we each moved into different circles once we hit Junior High School–he was still an important player in my personal saga. I think that almost every comics fan can relate to that desire to talk about and share what you love about these stories and this medium with other people, and Don was the first person I was able to do that with to any real extent.
MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS continued to reprint Fantastic Four stories from earlier in the life of the series, a fact that I was quite pleased about, as it gave me an opportunity to get caught up on these earlier masterworks. By the time this story appeared in FANTASTIC FOUR #88 in 1969, though, Jack Kirby was actively looking for an exit from the company. While he was doing the lion’s share of the plotting and creating on the strips he worked on, he was unable to get any contractual assurances from the recently-sold company, and he was frustrated as well by the way his stories and characters would sometimes be changed by others. This all partly goes to explain why Jack was so checked out while drawing this splash page that he gave Reed Richards a left hand at the end of his right arm. I must admit, it’s a snafu that I didn’t notice as a reader, but now that I know it’s there, it’s just about all that I can see looking at this page.
So many of the 1960s Marvel stories turn on coincidence in a way that wouldn’t be accepted by the audience today–there’s one earlier FF story, for example, where, wanting to take a vacation, the Thing throws a dart at a map, and they wind up on a remote island where a Kree Sentry just happens to have been reawakened. In a similar fashion, in this story, Reed and Sue are househunting for a more remote and secluded home now that they have a child (the still-as-yet-unnamed Franklin Richards) and they wind up buying a mysterious home that just appeared–nobody knows who built it or why. Yet, somehow, the real estate agent feels comfortable stealing it and selling it, and the FF feel comfortable buying it. None of that makes a whit of sense, but you just need to roll with it.
Speaking of rolling with it, despite the fact that he’s concerned about the odd material the strange house seems to be made out of and the persistent and constant low-level hum it emits, Reed decides that they can move in right away. Clearly, Sue’s got him wrapped around her finger. From there, we cut to a few days later, where the Thing is visiting an optometrist complaining that his eyes have begun to ache. The eye doctor doesn’t bother to tell him that the other members of the FF have also come in with the same complaint, as have a number of other people in the area–that couldn’t be relevant, could it? And nobody makes a connection with the new house, as obvious as it all is. I must say that I do and did love all of the ordinary domestic scenes in the book–there’s something fun about the Thing doing something as mundane as going to see a doctor that is really appealing and humanizing.
Chickens come home to roost back out at the house when Reed starts trying to drill holes in te wall to hang pictures for Sue. Out of nowhere, he’s attacked by a sudden defense system. He’s skillfully about to escape harm, but he decides that he doesn’t want to alarm Sue, so he doesn’t tell her about what just happened, instead permitting both her and his family to remain in a structure that is clearly a death-trap. Smartest man in the world, indeed!
Deep below, in the bowels of the Earth, a shadowy figure who has been monitoring the goings on at the house receives the latest report of Reed tripping the defenses, and decides that he has no choice but to act. Shuttling towards the surface, he is revealed to be the Mole Man, the FF’s old enemy. That’s right, by sheer coincidence, the FF have moved into a house that’s actually a secret weapon that the Mole Man has been building–what’re the odds? The Mole Man’s plan here is actually quite brilliant: he’s going to bombard the world with rays that will cause every living thing to go blind. Then he, with his radar sense developed from years of living underground, will rise to the surface and rule over everyone. This page is also about as cool as the Mole Man has ever looked–he seems genuinely formidable here.
Strangely, I had heard a recap of this story in the Power Records Fantastic Four book, which made this seem like a truly seminal adventure when I got to it. In any case, the issue is wrapping up, so the Mole Man sets his plan in motion, beginning with the inhabitants of his House (which isn’t actually a house but rather the aperture of the device with which he’ll broadcast his blindness rays.) So, suddenly, the foolish Fantastic Four are all struck blind, and are at the mercy of the Mole Man. I remember feeling as though this was a really good cliffhanger–but it would be a while before I’d be able to see how everything turned out.