Second Union

Second Union

THROWING POPCORN FROM THE TRAIN: The Fantastic Four #8/Strange Tales #102

Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Dick Ayers
 “Prisoners of the Puppet Master” 
August 9, 1962

I have never been a fan of the Puppet Master. He offers a great deal of story potential that in my reading, has never been realized. Who knows, maybe in this read-through, I’ll find that story where I can say, “They got him right!” That said, we have to deal with this month’s entry, the Puppet Master’s introduction.

The story opens with Ben returning to the Baxter Building to find he cannot enter Reed’s lab. He flies once again into a rage and gets into it with Johnny. Reed comes out and tries to calm the situation, but Ben isn’t having it. He storms off. In reading these panels, it struck me how monstrous the Thing is in these early stories. In time, his facial features would become more “rocky” with the brow above his eyes sticking out more. Certainly a much more marketable figure in terms of merchandising. But here, he’s just a lump of yellow, and even when he is relaxed, he’s still one ugly dude.

Sue tries to talk to him on the streets below, but he won’t hear it. They spot a man climbing a nearby bridge, preparing to jump. She signals Reed and Johnny, the latter, snatching the man away from his fate. Meanwhile, the Puppet Master finds his fingers burning as he touches the small figure he crafted of the man who is under his control. He decides that his next target will be the Human Torch.

Alicia Masters, the girl without fear (even though she’s looking fearful here).

One might think that means he will create a Torch figure, but instead, he creates a Thing one. Mind you, considering the lack of details in the Thing’s form at this point, it’s much easier to create, I would imagine. The Thing walks away from Sue. She follows him to the Puppet Master’s home. She is quickly discovered by Alicia, the Puppet Master’s blind daughter, who senses Sue’s breathing and heartbeat (inspiration for Daredevil?).

The Puppet Master captures Sue by knocking her out with ether. He then realizes Alicia and Sue have similar looks. He disguises her as the Invisible Girl and sends her and Ben back to the Baxter Building. He then prepares a puppet of the state prison warden. Meanwhile, Alicia has been feeling Ben’s face. She senses his strength, but she also senses his despair, even in his mesmerized state.

And that is one thing about the Puppet Master’s control. The controlled have some awareness of what they are doing, but they cannot stop themselves. With his control of the warden, he has the master keys to the cells removed from the warden’s desk.

Meanwhile, the Thing and Alicia return to the Baxter Building where the Thing attacks the two. In his rage, the Thing knocks over a chemical that Reed is working on. It bathes him and instantly changes him back to his human form. With that, the connection with the Puppet Master is broken. Reed explains that was why they got Ben away as Reed wanted to make sure it would work and not disappoint the man.

It is then that Alicia speaks up asking where she was and who everyone is. Ben holds her and she is confused for a moment as she recognizes the voice, but Ben is now human. After a moment, he reverts to the Thing.

Meanwhile, Sue attempts to escape as the Puppet Master appears distracted with his freeing of the convicts in the prison. He manages to trip her, but she sends a signal to Reed and the others. They quickly make their way to the Puppet Master’s home where they are confronted by a giant puppet robot.

The Puppet Master escapes in the confusion. Before the four can wonder what his next move is, they hear about the riot at the prison. They head there and bring it back under control.

Meanwhile, the Puppet Master returns to his home to claim his ultimate puppet of himself. He realizes with his power, if he controls his own puppet of him as an emperor, he will be able to control the world. But Alicia struggles to take the puppet away from him. He trips over her at one point and crashes through a window to the street below where he dies.

I never read this origin story, but I liked the idea of people still being aware of their actions, even if they couldn’t control them. Puppet Master didn’t control the mind as much as he controlled the body. I don’t think this is something that will continue. Which brings up the next question, how will they explain the Puppet Master’s return?

Writer: Stan Lee
Scripter: Larry D. Lieber
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Artie Simek
“Prisoner of the Wizard”  
August 9, 1962

I have to wonder how the credits were handed out in these stories. Because we didn’t appear to have as many people working on a full issue of the Fantastic Four above as we do in this short in Strange Tales. It makes sense, I guess, to release this comic on the same day as The Fantastic Four.

The story opens with folks watching a newsreel in a movie theater of the Torch saving folks from the roller coaster from the Destroyer in the last issue. On the one hand, we’re starting to see a continuity being woven as we get these reminders of the past, a hallmark of Marvel where they tried to tie stories together rather than contradict what has happened in the past for the story’s sake. On the other hand, I have to wonder if such newsreels were still common in 1962.

And then we are introduced to The Wizard. I never understood the appeal of the character, to be honest, and this introduction makes him even more laughable as he thinks about his accomplishments which are many from being a chess pro to an escape artist to an inventor. He decides his ultimate accomplishment will be to defeat Johnny Storm. Not Reed Richards, who might be his intellectual equal, but a teenager with the ability to burst into flames. It’s ridiculous.

We’re at the stage still where Johnny is trying to keep his identity a secret and so the Wizard determines he must lure him out in order to learn it. He comes up with a publicity stunt where he will dig a path to the center of the earth and get himself trapped. The Torch saves him and is invited back to his home where he is given a tour. He remains on fire the entire time, save for his arms, which just looks weird. He captures the Torch by shooting him with a substance that douses his flame, save for his face. (Right…)

The Wizard then goes on a campaign to ruin the Torch’s name by committing crimes as the Torch. Meanwhile, the Torch escapes from his prison by increasing his flame. The world is against him, save for the rest of the Fantastic Four who seem to be away or something (or perhaps they are just thinking, “Kids will be kids”). The Torch finds the Wizard who challenges him to a final test of power. The Torch agrees.

The Wizard challenges him to get a group of pictures he has that will prove his innocence. But the Torch called the Invisible Girl to help him. (No comment from her about his actions, just call her in.) She yanks the photos from the Wizard. He gives up quickly and the story ends.

This has to be the dumbest comic I’ve read to date. Honestly, I hope the Torch gives up on the idea of an identity soon. I get it was a thing back then with all of them to create drama, but we don’t see enough of Johnny’s private life for it to be a concern.

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