Here’s another issue of MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS that I got in trade with the one and only other person I knew at this point who liked and collected comic books, by school friend Donald Sims. As the years went by, it became more and more socially dangerous to be overt about one’s interest in such childish matters, and so finding other like-minded people was fraught with a certain amount of peril. Not that anything could have stopped me at this point–much of my identity was bound up in my never-ending pursuit of these four-color masterpieces. This issue of MGC doesn’t use the original cover art from FANTASTIC FOUR #88 but rather has Joe Sinnott re-create it with certain elements shifted around to accommodate both the UPC code which was now required to run on the covers of comic books, and the larger logo.
The story in this issue was done at around the very start of the final year of collaboration between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the series, and Kirby had emotionally checked out. He was actively trying not to give Marvel any valuable ideas at this point, and also trying not to work too hard on his Marvel assignments (though his work-ethic was such that you really couldn’t much tell in the finished product.) This may help to explain the massive gaff made on this opening splash page: Reed Richards is sporting a huge left hand at the end of his right arm. Oops!
This is the first half of the two-part-plus storyline in which Reed and Sue, now that they are new parents, attempt to move out of their Baxter Building headquarters so as to be able to raise their still-unnamed child in relative normalcy. Of course, this being a Marvel story, the house Sue finds is a strange structure that just sprung up out of nowhere (and let’s not think too deeply about the ethics of a Real Estate agent finding a building in the middle of nowhere, having no idea where it came from, and then selling it as a place of dwelling to some unsuspecting suckers.) The fact that this building is part of a master plan by one of the FF’s oldest enemies makes the coincidence of the fact that Sue finds and decides to purchase it a stretch of coincidence that would never fly today. A bunch of Fantastic Four adventures in the back half of the 1960s worked that way.
No sooner do the members of the Fantastic Four begin hanging around that house than one by one they each begin to experience severe eyestrain–bad enough for them all to see an eye doctor about it. From what the doc says, it’s not just the FF who are experiencing this, there’s been an influx of people from all over the area. Wonder if that means anything. While they were maybe not the most exciting sequences in a given story, these sorts of moments of regular domesticity were a big part of the appeal of the series–the juxtaposition of the mundane and the mind-blowing. And Kirby was such a master at composition and character acting that these pages are always visually interesting in some way or another. Here, he moves the camera all around to create some energy, and fills the doctor’s office with all manner of details that make it seem like a real place. Even Ben’s street attire is pretty charming.
So ultimately, Reed gives in to Sue’s wishes and the couple begins to relocate their lives and their possessions to the new house. Except that, as Reed tries to drill some holes in a wall to hand pictures from, he’s suddenly attacked by defensive systems built into the building. In a fast-moving action sequence, he’s able to contort his elastic body so as to dodge the stun bolts that threaten to flatten him, and the mechanisms have retracted back into concealment by the time Sue gets there in response to his outcries. In a bit of mischaracterization, Reed decides not to tell Sue about what just happened, but rather to allow here to remain in the dangerous house with him while he tries to surreptitiously get to the bottom of what is going on. It’s an out of character moment that the plot requires. He and Sue are also being bothered by a persistent humming which is giving them headaches. You’d think that all of these events would be enough to drive the Richardses back to their Real Estate Agent to demand their money back, right?
Meanwhile, deep below, the true builder of the house receives yet another update about the activities of his unsuspecting tenants. He’s been hidden in shadow and with cropping for the issue up until this point, but the moment has arrived to bring our villain on camera. And so, the Mole Man steps forward, and informs us that the purpose of his house is to blanket the globe with rays of his own devising which will render the whole of humanity as sightless as he is. Thereafter, as the proverbial one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, he will be able to step in and take over–no more hiding in subterranea for him!
But before he can carry out his fiendish plan, the Mole Man must first get rid of his old adversaries. And so, he increases the power to the mechanisms built into his house, causing the members of the Fantastic Four to suddenly become blind. It’s a pretty good cliffhanger and a pretty unique dilemma for a super hero comic book. Of course, the Mole Man himself isn’t especially physically formidable, but still, having to wage battle while stricken in such a manner makes for an effective handicap. To Be Continued!