Thursday, November 13, 2014

Assault of the Androids of Death!

It's interesting sometimes to see how heavyweights like the Fantastic Four are given such trouble by villains such as the Puppet Master and the Thinker (who have also combined their talents occasionally, eliciting the same collective shrug from readers as when Mr. Hyde and the Cobra formed their odd little team). The Thinker was eventually given a little more bounce to his villain step by calling him the "Mad" Thinker, when the hook of posing him in the same fashion as Rodin's sculpture never quite caught on (and hardly made him seem dangerous). He also became a more ambitious and daring schemer--locating and reprogramming the original Human Torch on several occasions, as well as having a knack for getting to the FF from the inside, by either capturing colleagues to use against them or worming his way into their headquarters.

But it's the Thinker's--sorry, the Mad Thinker's talent for creating specialized androids that usually presents the greatest danger to his foes and allows him to strike from afar. Incredible as it sounds, his attacks on the FF have often brought them to near-disaster--successfully turning the Thing against the team, having a super-powered android attack them at their weakest to finish them off, and piling on them with androids of their deadliest foes in their 100th issue, to name a few instances. So, since we've already seen the cover of the issue where the Thinker sends android duplicates of the FF to attack them, let's take a closer look at the story, and another close shave for the FF, where the title says it all:

(Try picturing the title as, "The Thinker And His Androids Of Death!" Just doesn't have quite the same kick, does it?)

You know how anal the Thinker can be concerning his timetable, so things are going to get started pretty quickly in this story--though it begins innocently enough, with Reed and Sue heading into town on separate errands, while the Thing receives another calling card from his devoted "fan club":

When the Richardses depart, Johnny Storm returns from a racing event. But Ben will find that this Johnny Storm is more interested in playing cat-and-mouse than he is in engaging in small talk:

Already, the Thinker has demonstrated his mastery over the FF's vaunted alarm system--either that, or Reed's system can't distinguish between an android and the genuine article, which seems unlikely. Whatever the reason, the Thinker's plan has only recently been initiated, and already he's taken out half the FF and gunning for the remaining two members. Looks like a little "madness" has indeed enhanced his threat potential as a Marvel villain.

Next up on the target list is Sue, who's indulging in a little shopping spree and plans to burn a sizable hole in her husband's credit card:

Sure, sure--we know that when Sue is apprehensive thanks to her intuition, someone or something is about to strike. And while we'll all take comfort in the fact that the Invisible Girl/Woman will one day be an opponent to be reckoned with, this is early 1970. And at this point in time, well...

A lot of good that intuition is when your enemy can sneak up behind you. Three down, one to go. Maybe the FF need a Secret Service detail on their days off.

If Reed goes down, that makes it a clean sweep for the Thinker--and that basically means no more story (and probably no more FF). So our Reed had better make a good showing of himself against his android duplicate, who, thanks to the Thinker, knows just when and where Reed's car will develop brake trouble:

Jeez, four for four. Let's return to the Baxter Building, where the Thinker has every right to take his victory lap. He'd be well advised to sprint it, though, because all of his planning is about to be derailed:

Frankly, it's a little surprising that the Thinker was willing to take such a chance with Reed, rather than taking him by surprise as he did the other three. A tranquilizer dart would have incapacitated Reed much quicker and more certain than a brawl, and drawing less attention, as well. But what's done is done, and Reed is now battling ¾ of the Fantastic Four (as well as the Mad Thinker, who's probably scurrying for a weapon). But if he can hold off these deadly androids, he won't be fighting solo for long:

With "the Torch" down, the Thing squares off against the most formidable of these androids. And heaven help the poor Baxter Building:

I think we can safely assume that if a collision between these two is powerful enough to rock the top five floors of this building to the extent that we're seeing here, then the force is likely to render all the human combatants unconscious, or worse. So let's just chalk it up to artist Jack Kirby having the good sense to let a comic book be a comic book, and return to the battle, which even the Thinker is starting to have second thoughts about:

The "Sue" android, like her human counterpart, gets the short end of the stick here as far as giving a good account of herself by using her powers as the others are able to. She drops the real Sue with chloroform; she attacks Reed with a candlestick holder; she reaches for a dropped weapon. The Thinker can empower androids with strength, intense flame, and flexible limbs, but it seems Sue's abilities are beyond his genius.

In any event, Ben's strike leaves only the pseudo-Thing to be dealt with:

With the "Androids of Death" now out of the way, Reed and Ben close ranks with a still-defiant Thinker, who, thanks to Reed's resourcefulness, fails to successfully take advantage of his hostages' captivity:

The story ends with some nice symmetry, playing on the Thinker's tendency to constantly note the time, but, in this case, to give the impression that all's well:

As the Thing would say: "Yecchhh!"

I wouldn't have minded seeing this story developed into a two-parter, which would have made sense given the Thinker's well-demonstrated proficiency at making deadly, formidable androids and the fact that these separate attacks worked well for the pseudo-FF. But in the end, the so-called Androids of Death were a pretty disposable threat by the end of one issue, with only the pseudo-Thing and Torch able to act in the final clash. (Though held off by Reed holding an ordinary door closed against their assault. If an android could feel embarrassment, that would have been the moment for it, alright.)

I have to also note that, while I enjoy Joe Sinnott's inking on the FF, it was a treat to see how well Marvel stalwart Frank Giacoia filled in for him here. Giacoia, whose strong style seems to complement practically any penciller he works with, doesn't enhance the features of a story's characters as Sinnott does, but still turns in solid work on the issue.

Fantastic Four #96

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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