Lee & Kirby: The Enigmas and Non-Enigmas of FANTASTIC FOUR #8

I suspect that this post is going to put some noses out of joint. How can it not, given the subject matter that we’re about to get to? So I want to state right up front that I’m not looking to give any insult to anyone. As always, I’m looking to try to ferret out the truth of the situation when it comes to these early Marvel stories. And so, while I’m about to rebut a recent theory that’s been floated concerning this issue, please understand that I’m trying to do so with respect. Anybody can put forward a conjecture that turns out to be false–I wrote a few thousand words on STRANGE TALES #119 on this very page before having to go back and write another thousand to refute much of what I had speculated. This is all par for the course when it comes to try to put together these long-ago pieces. And we’ll never have the full story of any of this, not in total. All right, Here we go.

Recently, a very prominent Jack Kirby fan posted a theory that aspects of the story in FANTASTIC FOUR #8 had been lifted whole cloth from the 1959 episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE entitled “The Lonely”–and that, as in the TZ episode in question, the character of the Puppet Master’s daughter Alicia hadn’t been intended to be blind at all, but rather she was an automaton created in the image of a girl by the Puppet Master to serve him. This was a fascinating notion to me. As with the earlier questions regarding the scripting of FANTASTIC FOUR #6, this was a story that I had read a million times, and I’d never found evidence of such a connection. But this line of discussion made me go back and take a much closer look at the issue in question, and in this instance, while there may have been some inspiration in general (it’s pretty impossible to prove otherwise) I don’t find any direct evidence in the book itself that would signal to me that Alicia was intended to be a sighted girl.

To begin with, some particulars about “The Lonely” for those who may never have seen the episode. Wikipedia summarizes the plot thusly:

In 2046, an inmate named Corry, convicted of murder, is sentenced to fifty years’ solitary confinement on a distant asteroid. On the fifteenth day of the sixth month of the fourth year of incarceration, he is visited by the spacecraft (flown by a Captain Allenby) that brings him supplies and news from Earth four times a year. While Corry expects that perhaps he and Allenby will have time to play cards or chess, the captain informs the inmate that the ship and crew can stay only fifteen minutes this time; the asteroid’s orbit is such that they would otherwise be stuck fourteen days at least, awaiting favorable orbital conditions to depart. Allenby’s crew resent being away from Earth because of the likes of Corry.

Allenby has been trying to make Corry’s stay humanely tolerable by bringing him things to take his mind off the loneliness, like the components to build an old car. He believes Corry that the killing was in self-defense and sympathizes with him. On this particular trip, the transport crew delights in bringing news that Corry’s pardon was rejected and that murder cases are not even being reviewed. This causes Corry to feel that there is no way he is going to last out the years and the loneliness. Before leaving, Allenby orders his men to fetch a large crate which the captain instructs Corry to not open until the transport crew is out of sight—they have no clue what is inside the box.

Upon opening this special container, Corry discovers that Allenby has left him with a gynoid named Alicia to keep him company. Alicia is capable of emotions, memory and has a lifespan comparable to a human. At first, Corry detests her, rejecting her as a mere machine; synthetic skin and wires only capable of mocking him. However, when Corry hurts Alicia and sees that she is in fact capable of crying, he realizes that she has feelings. Over the next eleven months, Corry begins to fall in love with her. Alicia develops a personality that mirrors Corry’s, and the days become bearable.

When the ship returns, Captain Allenby brings news that the murder cases have been reviewed and Corry has been pardoned. He can return home to earth immediately but they only have twenty minutes before they must leave; the crew has been dodging meteors and are nearly out of fuel. Corry learns that, because there are seven other passengers from other asteroids on the ship, there is only room for him and fifteen pounds of luggage. He is initially unconcerned as he doesn’t have fifteen pounds’ worth of possessions that he cares about; then he realizes that Allenby does not consider Alicia human. The fifteen-pound limit is far too small to accommodate her. He frantically tries to find some way to take Alicia with him, arguing that she is not a robot, but a woman, and insisting that Allenby simply does not know Alicia as he does. At that point, just as the transport crew is surprised at the sight of Alicia, the captain suddenly draws his gun and shoots her in the face. The robot breaks down, malfunctioning, her face a mass of wire and broken circuitry which repeats the name “Corry”. Allenby then takes Corry back to the ship, assuring him he will only be leaving behind loneliness. “I must remember that”, Corry says tonelessly. “I must remember to keep that in mind”.

“The Lonely” first aired on November 13, 1959, three years before FANTASTIC FOUR #8 was released. It was rerun during the summer break between Seasons One and Two of THE TWLIGHT ZONE on September 23, 1960. And it’s worth remembering that TWILIGHT ZONE wasn’t in syndication yet at this point, it was an active prime time series–so if that episode wasn’t watched during one of those two showings, one wasn’t going to be able to easily see it.

That said, I think it’s possible and even likely that both Lee and Kirby may have watched the episode in question. Kirby was reportedly an avid viewer of science fiction programs, and Lee has spoken often in the past about his admiration for Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE. And so, remembering this episode of television that would have been at least 18 months if not two and a half years old, it is possible that either man was inspired to name the Puppet Master’s daughter after the gynoid in the episode. But it’s at least as equally likely that this was a total coincidence, that there’s no connection between the two similar names at all.

So now it’s time for us to start looking at FANTASTIC FOUR #8 itself, to see if there’s anything in the art that indicates that Alicia is in fact not blind, but sighted. It’s worth keeping in mind that, if this had been the case, art would possibly have been altered by the time the final book saw print in order to fit with the new narrative. But in theory, there might be some evidence of those art changes as well.

Alicia first turns up in the story on Page 6, the start of the second chapter. In her appearances on these first four pages, there isn’t anything that overtly speaks to her blindness save the panel of her touching the Thing’s craggy face on Page 9. And yet, in virtually every instance, Kirby depicts Alicia with her hands extended, her palms displayed, as though she is feeling her way through the world. Kirby tended to have his characters act through body language in the manner of a silent film, and so I believe this is him getting across the idea that Alicia is blind.

(The Kirby fan in question got one point correct here, though–despite what the copy says, the Puppet Master clearly cuts Alicia’s hair and dyes and styles it so that it resembles Sue Storm’s ‘do. There’s no wig involved. But given that we see Alicia again with long hair by the end of the story, this could have been Lee covering a Kirby gaff.)

ADDITION: Chris Tolworthy correctly points out that on the last few pages of this story, Alicia does still seem to have short hair, despite it being back to her natural color. So Stan’s decision to say that she’s using a wig can’t be to cover for a Kirby mistake.

There’s one other bit of evidence that we have to consider for this story, both in terms of the question of Alicia’s blindness and in thinking about how it was put together in the first place. And that is the above plot fragment which was sent to Dr. Jerry Bails by editor Stan Lee at some point in 1962 or 1963 and which Bails reproduced in his section of the APA CAPA-Alpha #2, dated November 1964. Lee sent this page along to Bails after the latter had requested any scripts that he could provide; Bails had done this, with some success, with Julie Schwartz at around the same time. This is the earliest piece of corroborating material that exists in the public forum indicating how Lee and Kirby were working at this early point.

Some of the more Kirby-passionate fans have decried the existence of this synopsis in recent years, saying that it must have been written up by Lee after the fact as he attempted to steal credit for this story from Kirby. But looking at it, when it was done, and the manner in which it does and does not resemble the final book, I don’t think that notion holds water. Certainly, in 1964 there wouldn’t have been any need to try to obscure Kirby’s contributions and to take credit for the FANTASTIC FOUR–there wasn’t any money or prestige on the line.

That said, I don’t think this synopsis is the work of Lee by himself, dictating the story to Jack Kirby. Rather, I believe what it represents is the notes taken during a plotting conversation between Lee and Kirby in which they worked out the story for this issue of FANTASTIC FOUR. There’s no evidence at this date as to who among the two men might have come up with which notion, but I believe this was arrived at together. Bails has reported that the synopsis he was sent ends at this point,. and it is entirely possible that this was all that there ever was–that having talked through the opening portions of the story, Lee left it entirely in Kirby’s hands to complete the tale. This might explain in part why the close of this adventure lifts an entire sequence from a mystery story Kirby and Joe Simon produced for BLACK MAGIC #4 in 1951. It is also probable that Kirby may have begun drawing FANTASTIC FOUR #8 before he had the synopsis in hand, relying on his own memory for the details–and that he may not have looked at it much when he received it (assuming he didn’t take a copy with him when he left the meeting.) But looking over the first ten pages of FANTASTIC FOUR #8, it is clear that the finished book follows the events laid out in the synopsis closely, though not without some variance.

Most critically for today’s discussion, the synopsis indicates in several places that the Puppet Master’s daughter (still unnamed here) is blind.

I think it’s pretty clear from the evidence both within the book and in the synopsis written before 1964 that Alicia was intended to be blind all along, and not an automaton in the manner of the Alicia of “The Lonely”, for all that her name may or may not have been inspired by that television episode.

But there is one other question that I haven’t been able to answer concerning FANTASTIC FOUR #8. It’s something that’s bothered me since I first read the story, and looking back over it again brought it back. So let me lay things out here. Towards the back portion of the story, having discovered the Puppet Master’s ruse and freed the Thing from his control, the Fantastic Four race to the Puppet Master’s apartment to confront him and to rescue the Invisible Girl. There, they are attacked by a gigantic puppet like those used by artists when sketching the human figure, while the Puppet Master and his hostage attempt to escape out the window on a flying horse puppet. Everything tracks here, except for one moment.

And it’s right here in this sequence. In Panel Three of Page 16, there’s a sudden close-up on Alicia–but what’s she doing here? And in particular, why is she so prominently placed in this panel yet has no dialogue? It’s definitely confusing, especially since she’s still attired to look like Sue. In the past when we’ve seen instances such as this, it’s been an indicator that something has been changed. And indeed, looking at the manner in which that panel has been laid out and the conspicuous dead space at the top next to Johnny’s balloon, I’d be willing to be that some copy had been there that was edited out. But what was it?

My best guess here relates to the two panels immediately preceding this moment. Lee has placed a huge POW! sound effect over the gutter here, indicating that the Thing has successfully clobbered his opponent, the puppet. But if we look only at the art, it appears as though the puppet had been fighting and then simply keeled over on its own accord, with no help from Ben. And Alicia’s hands to her head in the follow-up panel signal to me that she was responsible–that she may have been able to shut down her step-father’s puppet creations mentally in the same manner that he was able to animate them. But for some reason–either because he didn’t like giving Alicia a power of her own or because he felt it would be better for the Fantastic Four to solve their own problems, Lee changed direction here, eliminated some copy and added that sound effect, and changed the intention of the moment.

Why is Alicia probing her brow as though using psychic powers and what is Reed musing about?

Sadly, the only original artwork for FANTASTIC FOUR #8 that I’ve ever run across has been for the Human Torch feature page in the issue–no story pages have crossed my path. So it’s impossible to know for certain what might have been tweaked here and in what way. All we can do at this point is to speculate.

I don’t want to skip past it, largely because the Kirby fan in question made a big point of this panel on Page 21 of Alicia siting by the window, seemingly staring out of it despite being blind. And sure, that is a slightly odd choice perhaps. But I chalk it up to Kirby focusing on the acting here, of communicating a mood and a scene through body language, more than anything else. Plus, it’s not like blind people don’t sit by windows. But it’s possible you feel differently concerning this point.

And just to say it: I’m not naming the Kirby fan in question because I’m not looking to start any conflict with him. He’s entitled to his opinion on these matters for sure, and his line of thought was quite interesting to me. The notion that Alicia has been intended to be one of the Puppet Master’s creations is a really cool idea–and while I don’t believe that is actually the case having gone over all of this stuff, it still remains a compelling notion.

9 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: The Enigmas and Non-Enigmas of FANTASTIC FOUR #8

  1. Wasn’t every issue of AMAZING ADULT FANTASY — “The Comic Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence” — not only a showcase for Steve Ditko’s mastery of the short and weird story, but also Smilin’ Stan’s version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE? The date, the “intelligence” reference, and even the font design of the logo, all seem to support my theory.

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  2. Tom — Just as an FYI, the APA Bails created and contributed to is CAPA-alpha. The CAPA stands for Comic Amateur Press Alliance, and the alpha part just designates it as the first. Back when Bails created it, he was leaving room for possible expansion (i.e., CAPA-beta, et al).

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  3. I can’t really see any link between the sci fi story and FF 8 other than the name, so it seems quite a reach to me.

    Joe Sinnott and others have said in the early days, that they would pick up scripts from Stan to work on:

    “Up until, I’d say, 1960 I used to go down to the city once a week on a Friday and bring [my work] and Stan would look at it and then give me a script and it could be anything [Westerns, monster stories, science fiction, etc.].”

    In the pre hero days It wasn’t unusual for plots to be recycled after a while as one artist (can’t remember which one) said they had asked about it (I believe a western story) being one they’d had before – it also wouldn’t be unusual to use things they had drawn before to fit the story they’d been given. Of course that did change as things became more popular/busy and the artists were given more freedom. They were writing new stories now and not recycling, and plots were usually derived verbally between Le and the artist, sometimes in the car (Romita says Stan and Jack would often discus plots for the next issue that way while he was sat in the back).

    With respect to Alicia holding her hair, it looks to me as if she’s adjusting her wig In that panel, and maybe Reed is wondering where Sue is, as per The Torches comments.

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  4. While I agree that Alicia staring out the window is an art-driven pose, I don’t find any conflict in it with her being blind. It’s entirely reasonable that, e.g. she likes the feel of the sun and a breeze at times, so being in front of that window is her habitual spot to sit and think about things.

    The sequence on page 13 where she keeps her hand on Ben’s face as he transforms back into the Thing, and doesn’t seem to react much, makes complete sense if she was intended to be blind there, and would be very strange if she was originally thought to be sighted when it was drawn. Though I’ve got to say there’s a bit of “fridge logic” here. Even through gloves, she should be able to feel that his face is *not human* (note her dialogue implies his voice is the same in human and Thing form, or at least reasonably close).

    Also, page 8, panel 1 – if Alicia was originally intended to be a robot, she wouldn’t need a gas mask (By the way, why is Sue standing around as the Puppet Master puts gas masks on everyone? Why not try to grab his mask and put it on herself, taking him out that way? Or just give him a solid kick in the right place.).

    Those could be from redraws, of course. But there’s no reason in the story for Alicia to be a robot, while having her be blind is driving the love-interest part of the plot.

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  5. Someone once suggested on the Super Mega Monkey Marvel Comics Chronology website that the final page of this story had Jack Kirby plotting & penciling one thing and Stan Lee scripting something else. I’ll quote their full hypothesis:

    “Kirby drew Alicia reaching for the puppet, which fell face up. Then Kirby shows the Puppet Master fall out the window. Then the final scene shows the puppet face down. I think the idea was supposed to be the puppet was made out of radioactive clay and Alicia used the puppet to force her stepfather to fall out the window. But Stan’s script had him tripping over her arm by accident.”

    My own response was that it was certainly conceivable that when Kirby brought the artwork for the story in to Marvel’s offices Lee decided that Alicia killing her stepfather was too intense (or maybe the Comics Code Authority would reject it) and so scripted it to indicate the Puppet Master tripped by accident. But all these decades later, who knows?

    In any case, interesting and insightful blog post.

    Fin fact: Alicia from the Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely” was played by a young Jean Marsh.

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  6. As a kid, I always thought Alicia was straightening the wig that I assumed PM put on her to disguise her as Sue. What I find interesting here are what I think are two contradictory notions, that Alicia might be both psychic and a gynoid. Further still, PM displays a dislike for Alicia, which would not make much sense if he had created her. If he did so, to stave off lonliness, why would her refer to her as a step-daughter? So much fun to speculate about on of my favorite FF’s.

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  7. Thanks for a fascinating piece. I reckon Reed Richards would be proud of the stretch linking this issue to that Twilight Zone episode, but you’re far more of a gentleman than I am, Tom.

    I wonder if Marvel removed that extra Sue/Alicia in any of their reprints.

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