Monday, May 15, 2017

Willie Lumpkin: X-Factor!

When it comes to recycling, it looks like comic books had a head start on environmentalists, though for comics writers it was more a matter of successful concepts that were dusted off and adapted to later stories. Take the opening pages of the Fantastic Four issue which featured the team's first clash with the mad Thinker, in a sequence that can't help but take you back to issue #1 and the introduction of this famous foursome. It's a dramatic opening that still works, over a year after it was introduced.

Here, however, we have the advantage of knowing all about the characters who are responding to the alert and converging to meet--and there's also the familiar presence of the Baxter Building anchoring the scene, the official headquarters of an established team that's now riding high in comics circles and can still generate excitement and interest in being summoned by a flare gun.

There are other elements in this story that are the result of being tweaked to one degree or another and reused--such as the team leaving their headquarters and striking out on their own, as they did when they went bankrupt. This issue would also get the ball rolling on other concepts that would be retooled and used later, such as the invasion of FF headquarters by criminals or villains, or the team having their own devices and weapons used against them.

But in this classic issue, it's the Thinker that the story has us focus on, the calculating planner who makes use of his computers to deduce his next move down to the second and take into account anything or anyone who would seek to stop him. The Thinker's ability to advance his agenda is really dependent on collating the data that his computers gather and mapping out the steps he needs to take, based on certain things taking place at a certain time (or not taking place, as the case may be). Yet the whole point of uncertainty is that you cannot eliminate it or predict it, however careful and meticulous you are in your calculations--but just try telling that to the Thinker.

It's quite a claim the Thinker makes: "Nothing has been left to chance!" That's presuming that he's isolated the uncertainties involved and based his calculations only on the events and incidents that will occur without fail. Credit where credit is due: if he can pull that off, his programming skills are far ahead of his time.

Yet, all things considered, the Thinker comes off as a third-rate villain in this tale, in spite of how far his planning takes him in going up against the FF. We know in hindsight that the Thinker will go on to become a deadly threat to be reckoned with--and while it may not seem like it, his first clash with the Fantastic Four will open many doors for him in that regard.

Speaking of our foursome, we'll see in this story their first exposure to battling organized crime, a theme that Amazing Spider-Man would be more successful at integrating into its plots but which the FF would be bound to encounter in their line of work. We'll also get our first look at the Thinker's talent with androids, which would make him quite formidable against the FF as well as other super-powered beings he would later come into conflict with. But what's his immediate goal here and now? He doesn't exactly mince words with the crime bosses he's gathered to hear his plans.

I can guess what some of you are thinking: It's amazing that the Thinker could find a crown big enough to fit that head of his.

The crime bosses are naturally concerned with interference from the Fantastic Four--but to placate his new associates, the Thinker reveals he has a two-pronged approach for dealing with the team. First he plans to see that each of the FF is offered some personal career enticement that will tempt them into pursuing time away from the team, which breaks down as follows:

  • Mr. Fantastic: A new position in a New England electronics firm as part of their R&D division.
  • Invisible Girl: Starring in a Broadway production after being approached by a producer who's been on the lookout for his next star.
  • Human Torch: Becoming a circus performer, thanks to one of his cousins who's fallen on hard times and asks him as a favor to become the star attraction in his show.
  • The Thing: A new star in the wrestling ring--his first exposure to the professional wrestling circuit, which we know would later become a fallback career he would turn to in many future stories.

It so happens that all of these decisions are mulled over just as the FF have hit a lull in their activities--and so they all treat their offerings as a vacation of sorts, and off they go.

The second part of the Thinker's plan involves a meteorite that crashes into the New York bay (those are some computers--are they linked into NASA?), causing a tremor that damages the city's power grid and wreaks havoc with repair crews. While the city is in crisis, the Thinker and his men are ready to take advantage of the situation as they penetrate their foes' headquarters.

Meanwhile, checking in on the FF, none of them are exactly thrilled with the choices they've made. (For whatever reason, Sue's choice has been revised to replace Broadway with a trip to Hollywood and have her starring in a sci-fi film.) But, returning home, they're greeted with quite a site, as well as a deadly challenge.

The Thinker is true to his boast, utilizing the FF's own building defenses as well as the many devices found in their labs to halt the FF's approach to the 35th floor--but the team makes its way through, while also dealing with the crime bosses who were armed with weaponry from Reed's armory. That leaves one piece of research which Reed was just getting started on--research notes that have now been realized in a hulking android that will also go on to make future appearances.

So far, it doesn't look like the Thinker's plans are panning out, does it? Things look especially dicey for him when the FF confront him--after all, if you boast that your calculations take into account the smallest detail and leave nothing to chance, why would you need a contingency plan? For all the good it does him. It seems Mr. Fantastic isn't such a slouch in the planning department himself--and all he needs for his calculations to come off without a hitch is a fellow professional whose motto is "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor super-villain..."

It's off to the hoosegow for the mad Thinker--who might want to give some thought to all those crime bosses who are going to insist on joining him at his table in the prison cafeteria.

Fantastic Four #15

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Art Simek


Anonymous said...

"Quiet you guys! The Thinker is thinkin'!"
Yeah, hold it down, for cryin' out loud. I haven't seen this one before, so this is a treat. I love the Awesome Android! He can create a windstorm just by opening that big yap of his. He cracks me up.
I get the impression that Kirby was enjoying himself a bit here.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., to me the fact that "The Thinker is thinkin'!" was said in all seriousness by that goon makes that panel priceless.

B Smith said...

The bit that irked me was that Reed fired the "this is an emergency - come a-running!" flare, and when the rest of the Four arrive (at no small inconvenience), tells them that the chief of police is worried about something. If I was Ben, Sue or Johnny, I'd be mighty annoyed and lock the flare gun away somewhere so Reed couldn't use it again.

Comicsfan said...

B, yes, that info could have waited, at least until everyone returned to the Baxter Building of their own accord. After all, it wasn't like the gang members were hitting banks on their way into town!

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