Fantastic Four #3: December, 1961 Pick of the Month

Fantastic Four #3
“The Menace of the Miracle Man”
Written by Stan Lee, Art by Jack Kirby, Inked by Sol Brodsky, Colored by Stan Goldberg, Lettered by Artie Simek
Cover dated March, 1962

Recap: This issue is full of firsts, as the team finally get their iconic costumes (designed by Susan Storm) and we are introduced to their headquarters (The Baxter Building). Along the way, the Fantastic Four meet The Miracle Man, a magician with apparently limitless abilities. The Miracle Man later brings a movie monster statue to life to terrorize the city.

After getting their butts thoroughly kicked the first time, the team regroups at the Baxter Building. There tempers fly, and The Thing and Human Torch get in a fight. The FF finally track down The Miracle Man and Reed deduces that Miracle Man’s powers aren’t as limitless as they initially seemed, merely all illusions. He’s easily defeated after this revelation, but things don’t end on a happy note as Human Torch quits the team out of frustration.

Okay…so, this is admittedly, probably, the worst pick of the month selection we’ll ever have. It’s not even a “pick” at all, it’s just what we were stuck with as no other Marvel superhero comics came out this month. But, even if it was a default pick, there’s still plenty of good to be found in these pages.

This issue marks the debuts of the Fantastic Four’s costumes, the Baxter Building, and the Fantasti-Car – making this a somewhat important issue for continuity, if not necessarily for story.

Speaking of story, let’s finally dive into that. The Miracle Man is just not a very compelling foe here. For a villain who can seemingly do anything, his imagination is quite lacking in inventive things to do. Of course, this can be explained away by the reveal at the end that his powers are just illusions, but there’s no real level of threat in the storytelling leading up to that.

As always with early Fantastic Four comics, even when the story fails, the art is more than enough to make for a compelling read. Jack Kirby gets to show off his design prowess in this issue, first by designing a timeless team look for the FF’s costumes, and then by going above and beyond the call of duty by giving us a full schematic of the Baxter Building. That schematic is the kind of thing that’s just so much fun to pour through.

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Kirby also gives a great energy to the action scenes here. The car chase near the book’s end is a particularly well drawn sequence, bursting with fun. The men of the Fantastic Four riding around in an old race car is a goofy enough sight, but it’s really taken up a notch when The Miracle Man blasts off one of the tires, forcing Reed to use his elastic body as a temporary spare.  

The issue’s end is also an important development in early Marvel storytelling. The dissolution of the team this quickly is actually a surprising development, and sets up the era’s first “to be continued” cliffhanger.

Despite a weak villain, there’s just enough character drama and strong artistic moments to make this “default” pick something still worth checking out.

 

Stray Observations

-          Susan gets captured and brainwashed by the villain in this issue. It’s just the first in a long, sometimes embarrassing trend with this character. That being said, there’s plenty of good/great to come for her, even over the often bad next few decades.

-          But, before getting captured, she gets her first standout moment when she takes the initiative to track down The Miracle Man by hitching an invisible ride. You take the good with the bad in this era for female characters.

-          The origin of why The Thing doesn’t wear a full costume like the rest. Have I mention lately how much I love Ben?

-          “I want to be Ben Grimm again! I want Sue to look at me the way she looks at you!” – A plot point that is, thankfully, completely forgotten about. The FF are a family, this reads so wrong to these characters from a modern context.

 

Other Notable Comics This Month

None, but the gates to Marvel comicdom are just about to burst open!

 

Merry Marvel Years’ Message Boards

Welcome to week 2 true believers, thanks for sticking around!

We wrap up 1961 tomorrow by taking another look at this issue’s lame brain villain, The Miracle Man. I have a deep love for terrible villains, and The Miracle Man certainly fits that bill. One “Hit”? I Wonder… will be a semi-regular feature where we spotlight a terrible villain, and figure out if that oddball has actually made any more appearances in Marvel history and how the character has been revamped in the years since.

Then, we continue our accelerated Pick of the Month schedule on Wednesday when we take a look at February, 1962. We only have two books to look at for that month, but it’s going to be a heated contest to make a choice between Fantastic Four #4 (featuring the first reappearance of Namor since the Golden Age) and Hulk’s debut in Incredible Hulk #1.

We’d love to hear your opinions on this site and this issue, so make sure to leave us a comment or send in an email.

And as always, thanks for joining us on this fantastic adventure through The Marvel Years.