Sunday, August 11, 2013

Miracle Whipped

In only their third issue, the Fantastic Four would meet one of their deadliest enemies. At least, as far as hypnotists go:

You don't often meet villains who courteously leave a note to local law enforcement warning that they're going to conquer the world. Fortunately, the police commissioner held off on placing any calls to mobilize the armed forces of the world. Because although the Miracle Man gave the FF a rough time of it, it turns out that his abilities weren't quite up to Kang level. On the contrary, he was more like a combination of the Ringmaster and Mysterio:

Yet the Miracle Man, arguably one of the most forgettable villains in Marvel Comics this side of Megatak, still earned a place in the famous FF rogues' gallery:

Was there any hope for a comeback for this guy? Or was he fated to spend his days hypnotizing his fellow prison convicts out of their cigarettes? We'd have to wait 11 years for our answer, but the Miracle Man got quite a makeover.

Given that the FF were still pretty green when they first took on the Miracle Man, it's easy to give them a pass for this guy making them look like idiots for most of the issue. But the Miracle Man would later set aside his talent at hypnotism and grow into a foe more worthy of his stage name, becoming more deadly to the Fantastic Four than ever. Though it looks like he was going to have a tough time convincing the FF of that:

Scoff though they would, the FF were about to learn that the abilities of the Miracle Man were no longer just a combination of hypnotism and special effects. This time, his "miracles" were all too real:

So how did the Miracle Man come by this upgrade? It turns out that when he left prison, he went to investigate stories he'd read of a native American tribe's mental abilities to control matter. His journey brought him to members of the 3000-year-old Cheemuzwa tribe, who knew nothing of his deceptive nature and took him on as a sort of protégé:

But once the Miracle Man mastered the mind-over-matter abilities he had sought out, he repaid the Cheemuzwa with death, and began testing his new powers on Oklahoma reservations. Soon, the bizarre incidents of mysterious forces and destruction reached Wyatt Wingfoot, friend and former roommate to Johnny Storm--which brought the FF into the picture to investigate (minus Reed Richards, who was staying put at the Baxter Building hoping his estranged wife Sue would return).

And the FF are told of the origins of the new "Miracle Man," once Johnny has dealt with his immediate threat:

Yet the Miracle Man's power proves formidable--and, demonstrating that his powers are no longer illusion, attempts to dispose of the FF and Wyatt's tribesmen in a chasm-freefall, then moves on to indulge in his new power:

Unfortunately, he finds there are some miracles beyond his reach:

The FF, meanwhile, are able to return to battle the Miracle Man in his new city. And again, the Miracle Man seems to have little trouble disposing of them:

Yet, where is all this power really coming from? Manipulation of matter is one thing, but I doubt the Cheemuzwa envisioned the Miracle Man performing energy-to-matter feats on this kind of scale. Unfortunately, the Miracle Man is unknowingly drawing on levels of power more man-made in nature, with worldwide destructive results:

So without their realizing it, it falls to the FF to prevent the world from going up in a nuclear holocaust. And in their third attack on the Miracle Man, they have something of a plan in mind, beginning with a tried-and-true tactic from the Torch:

From this point, it falls to Johnny, Medusa, and Wyatt to keep the Miracle Man's android army occupied while the Thing deals with the Miracle Man. And while Medusa's time with the Fantastic Four wasn't as distinguished as her standing within the Frightful Four, at least this one issue seeks to make up for lost time:

As for the Thing, he finds that even a near-sightless Miracle Man shouldn't be counted out until he's out:

But the Miracle Man makes the mistake of trying to match the the Thing in brawling, rather than handling him by proxy. And as many others before him have discovered, going one-on-one with Ben Grimm involves a certain level of risk:

One whipped Miracle Man--down for the count, but not out. Yet as the Miracle Man rises and vows to wipe his foes from existence, the Cheemuzwa intervene to right a wrong:

As you can tell, writer Gerry Conway has given little dimension to the Miracle Man other than the standard world-conquering/ruthless ambition/supreme-in-his-own-mind characteristics that practically any villain with a high power level would exhibit. Even the Miracle Man's new appearance is worthy of a generic villain pin-up: a black form-fitting outfit with regal cape, self-contained power delivered by hand gestures, and complete with your standard evil-doer twirling moustache, all enhancements of his original stage garb but highlighting his more maniacal demeanor. There's nothing particularly interesting about the Miracle Man in this "any-villain" guise, save for his time with the Cheemuzwa--though again, his duplicity would have suited the Melter, or the Sandman, or the Grim Reaper, or any criminal willing to appear other than his true self in order to swindle his benefactor and gain an edge.

As for the FF (three of them, anyway), it was interesting to see how well this threesome operated in the field, with Ben's natural leadership abilities giving us a taste of *ahem* "things" to come when he would one day lead a Fantastic Four of his own. How about that scene with the makeshift raft, where everyone lets down their hair and wah-hoos their way back to the Miracle Man?

Who needs Reed to put a damper on this team?

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