Second Union

Second Union


Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Sol Brodsky
“The Menace of the Miracle Man” 
December 12, 1961

The releases of The Fantastic Four were sporadic in its initial year.  The comic debuted in August of 1961.  The second issue was nearly two months later and this third one was three months after that – but the wait was worth it.

The cover sports the team in their new costumes, flying their Fantasti-car as well as a blurb for the team’s “skyscraper hide-out”.  There is even a box at the top proclaiming “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!”  That’s quite the boast for a new comic with a staggered release schedule when you consider all that DC Comics was offering at the time.  

We get right into the story as the Four are seeing a performance of the Miracle Man, an illusionist who floats above the audience in the theater; he spots and calls the FF out.  He mocks them and demonstrates his ability to become giant-sized or gaseous.  He also shows off his control of the elements.  It upsets Ben who wants to fight him, as is his nature.  

He laughs it off and challenges Ben to a test of strength.  Ben struggles to pulverize a giant tree stump while the Miracle Man is able to slice through it with one finger.  In anger and frustration, Ben throws a punch at the Miracle Man, which doesn’t connect.  The three pull Ben off stage as the performance comes to an end.  On the ride home in the “air-powered Fantasticar” (How it is air powered, I can’t explain as I can’t explain how it has a hyphen on the cover, but is now without one in the story.)

How the other tenants didn’t know any of this construction or equipment movement was going on is beyond me.

The Miracle Man, now alone, declares that he is ready to reveal himself to the world.  He plans to strike fear in the public’s hearts by bringing a statue of a monster outside the theater to life.

Meanwhile, the Four return to their headquarters, not yet named the Baxter Building.  According to Ben, the tenants are unaware of the fact they are even there.  In what will be the first of many such splash pages, we are given a cross-section look at the various floors the Fantastic Four occupy.

Chapter Two opens with the premiere of the movie featuring the statue of the monster.  As Johnny and Reed watch the event on television, Sue shows them the costumes she has made.  She states that if they are to be a crime-fighting team, they should look like a team.  Ben scoffs at the idea, but with this moment, we are truly moving this comic into the superhero genre.  Before this, one could merely say this was another in the line of science fiction comics like the anthology ones Marvel produced at the time.  The one question I had when reading this was how did Sue treat the costumes so that they were safe to use for Johnny and Reed?  They never really get into that.

Suddenly, the statue at the event comes to life and the Miracle Man reveals he plans to take over the world.  The police commissioner asks the Four to stop him.  They head out in their Fantasticar, which can split up into separate components, allowing them to cover different sections of the city in search of the Miracle Man. I always thought this was a cool concept, especially when I saw it for the first time in the old Hanna Barbara FF cartoon of the 60s.

Reed is the first to spot the monster and stretches his body in a lattice between two buildings in an attempt to stop the monster’s advancement.  But the Miracle Man sees him and is able to knock Mr. Fantastic out with a simple thrown brick to the head.  A bit of a surprise considering the punishment he will shrug off from much more powerful villains in future issues.  Even more so, Reed takes a tongue-lashing from the commissioner who is upset that Reed failed to stop the monster.  But the others are out there searching.

The Torch is the next to find the monster and engages it.  While doing so, Sue and Ben spot the two and fly toward them.  It’s funny how Ben is given a full costume at first, complete with a helmet covering.  But when it’s time to fight, he rips the top of the costume and removes the helmet.  I don’t think we will see that look again in future issues.

The Torch stops the monster, which is primarily made of wood, by burning it to ash.  He is brought down by the Miracle Man.  Ben engages the villain and finds himself being dragged into the ground with a simple gesture.  The Miracle Man escapes with Sue sneaking aboard his truck and following him back to his hideout.

The third chapter opens with the three remaining members bickering over Sue being missing.  Johnny and Ben get into a scrap when Johnny makes a joke about Ben’s looks and then he leaves in a huff.  Reed wonders why they are always fighting after we get once again, another look back on how the team came to be.  (Most likely included considering how sporadic the releases have been to date, so it needed to be done to help new readers know the origin.)

Sue meanwhile is captured by the Miracle Man and forced to signal the others to come to her.  Reed and Ben take a helicopter to her rescue.  Meanwhile, Johnny sulks in a nearby soda shop (a very sixties thing).  His friends see the signal and he takes off to save his sister.  

Ben and Reed are met by the Miracle Man who uses a machine gun to try and kill the two.  He snatches Sue and takes off in a stolen atomic tank.  The three use an old roaster to pursue it, with Reed having to stretch himself into a spare tire when one is blown out by the machine gun.  The Torch stops the vehicle by blinding the Miracle Man with a flash.  

In the end, the Miracle Man is just a master of hypnotism and not some great wielder of magic.  As he is taken into custody, Reed congratulates Johnny on stopping the tank and saving Sue, which enrages Ben who feels the credit should go all around.  Johnny storms off again in anger, saying he quits the team, leaving Reed to wonder what if Johnny should ever turn against them?

This was a great issue, the new features of the team notwithstanding.  In addition to the story, we also get the first letters page and one of the first of many pinups, this of Johnny Storm as drawn by Jack Kirby.  Let’s hope it’s not too long before the fourth issue.

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