Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Lost Son of the Molecule Man!

Many readers know of Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, through his exposure in the Secret Wars series--but it's interesting to follow the trail of this character from his first appearance in 1963, since, in one or two respects, Reece isn't the same Molecule Man as the one who first challenged the Fantastic Four. Or, is he? Let's just say that even Reece didn't have the power to prevent Marvel from tangling up the molecules of his own identity.

We can thank the Watcher for once again side-stepping his oath of noninterference and bringing the Molecule Man to the attention of the FF. In that first story, the man who had that atomic accident at (what else?) the Acme Atomics Corporation wasn't even given a name--just a disparaging description as a general nobody which would fuel his later drive to be a super-villain.

Our worker's first stop is his employer's office, where it's time for a little payback, as well as his first unveiling:

These panels serve to introduce one aspect to the Molecule Man which no one can seem to explain appearing--his "wand," showing up out of nowhere. After all, the atomic device certainly didn't create a wand in that accident; it's the person who was changed, the person who was empowered. Yet the wand is used from now on as a focal point for his power, and becomes a vulnerability for the character in this story as well as others.

The FF don't make much headway against the Molecule Man, who strides into New York and begins to assert himself as if he owned the place. He also appears to own the Baxter Building--ripping it from its foundation (yes, again!) and relocating it to Times Square, elevating it to use in commanding obedience.

You'd think that there would be enough manpower in New York City to snatch a wand out of a guy's hand--but even with the FF pitching in, the Molecule Man is able to keep hold of it and use it to keep anyone and everyone at bay.

The FF then arrive at the studio of Alicia Masters, and Reed gets an inspiration to finally nab the villain:

Deprived of his wand, the Molecule Man is rendered--powerless? Perhaps "harmless" is a better word--more on that in a sec. Either way, the Watcher is now able to step in and capture him, transporting him to a world on the other side of the cosmos. (Well, I'm sure the cosmos has an infinite number of sides, but you catch my drift.)

(Good grief, Watcher--could you be any more of a groupie??)

All's well that ends well for the FF--but have a look at this final panel, which muddies the waters of the Molecule Man even more:

We can interpret this in one of several ways. (1) It's indeed the Molecule Man who has the power to control molecules, and the wand was simply used for effect; but then, how was the Molecule Man able to be captured when it was out of reach? (2) The Molecule Man needed the wand to channel his power, or thought he did; but where did that notion come from? If you become able to control molecules, is your first instinct to create a wand before attempting it? Maybe if you're Harry Potter. (3) The power is in the wand, which is useless unless the Molecule Man is grasping it; in which case, you'll need to scrutinize those panels above and find out when exactly that atomic device spit out a wand.

We catch up again with the Molecule Man a little over ten years later (our time), when the character throws us a hell of a curve ball thanks to writer Steve Gerber, who decides to make things even more confusing by making the Molecule Man's stay on the other side of the cosmos a rather conjugal one. Exiled by the Watcher on an unnamed planet, we see that the Molecule Man no longer has his power, though he does now have a chip off the old block.

Apparently the (former) Molecule Man and his son had been working on a device that would restore his power to him, though it would take decades to complete and was obviously finished too late. But not too late for Junior to adopt the legacy of his father.

No, I don't know where this new wand came from, either--nor do I know why the (new) Molecule Man needs it, though Gerber would have us believe it's indeed needed to channel his power. And that's easy enough to live with, since it's a way to make it possible for others to battle him with any chance of success. We also learn that this Molecule Man now has the power to affect organic molecules, eliminating the vulnerability hampering his father when he wielded the power.

In this issue of Marvel Two-In-One, the Molecule Man goes after the Thing in revenge, of course--but in returning to this world, the Molecule Man finds that he must continually channel the wand's energy to himself in order to avoid aging and dying in a matter of seconds. And in his team-up with the Man-Thing, Ben throws a pitch of his ally's muck which leads to Junior's defeat.

Yet, unknown to anyone, the Molecule Man was able to transfer his essence to the wand before his body turned to ash--a desperate gamble which didn't pay off until exposure to the same radioactive waters which created the Glob allowed him to take possession of whoever held the wand from that point on. Eventually, that unlucky honor fell to Iron Man, during his own encounter with the Man-Thing in another Gerber story.

And the Man-Thing proved to be Iron Man's salvation, as well as the Molecule Man's end:

Gerber's maneuver with the Molecule Man now enables the character to be brought back at any time, even no longer having a physical body of his own--he need only take possession of the person who grasps the wand. It doesn't take long for the Man-Thing to lose interest in the object, and it's soon dropped in the Everglades--where the villain Klaw finds it and picks it up as a curiosity. Unfortunately for the Molecule Man, Klaw, being composed entirely of sound, could not be possessed; but Klaw decides to assist the Molecule Man by helping him find a new host body.

Subsequently, both villains decide to attack the FF, in order to use Reed's psi-amplifier to permanently transfer the Molecule Man's essence from the wand into his new body. Thanks to a last-minute adjustment to the machine by Reed, the gambit fails; but it's nice to see that even geniuses can have their off days.

The Molecule Man then rampages through New York, in a mental tug-of-war with Reed for full possession of his body. Only the Molecule Man has a bit more leverage available to him:

The rest of the FF are hampered by the Molecule Man's possession of Reed, since they don't want to cause harm to their leader's body. But an old, almost-forgotten invention of Reed's unexpectedly saves the day.

Given how troublesome that wand has proven to be, perhaps the FF shouldn't just assume that a fall into a furnace would destroy it as well as the Molecule Man, in spite of the narrative claiming otherwise. But the FF decide to call it a day, leaving another to one day come across it:

Writer Jim Shooter clearly has in mind a few changes for the Molecule Man--starting with creating a new body for him, negating any future need to take possession of anyone. Also, his wand now appears as it did in that first FF story, resembling in no way the new wand which the original Molecule Man's son grasped before leaving his planet to travel to Earth. But lest you think these changes are simply cosmetic, watch how Shooter resets the Molecule Man's continuity with just a few panels.

In other words, wave bye-bye to the son of the Molecule Man. Either he's become delusional and now thinks he's his father, or Shooter wants us to forget Junior ever existed. And as for that wand, Shooter decides to ditch that, too, making clear once and for all where the power of the Molecule Man now resides.

And to, er, cap things off, this "nobody," whom even his old employer at Acme couldn't identify, is finally given a name which has initials other than "M.M.", while deciding to cease being a super-villain altogether.

Secret Wars readers should be able to pick things up from here.  If memory serves, Shooter even restored the Molecule Man's inability to affect organic molecules, though eventually rectifying the matter by chalking it up to a mental block.

I'm not sure whatever became of the Molecule Man--I stopped keeping track of him once he'd finished his dealings with the Beyonder and retired to suburbia. Perhaps things have run their course with this character who was, as he said himself, "the most powerful being in existence." I probably wouldn't go that far, since anyone who excels in mind control could probably take him before he even knew what was happening; but the next time Galactus comes calling, I'd still want Mr. Reece front and center.


Anonymous said...

Great post, C.F.!
I think the Molecule Man might be the first really omnipotent super-villain, at least at Marvel, anyway. Shows what crazy new territory Stan and Jack were exploring.
My favorite scene with M.M. was when he tried to destroy the Impossible Man, who casually clobbered him and informed him that he (Impy) was the only boss of HIS molecules. What a burn!
Let's all hope Owen doesn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed some morning! m.p.

Comicsfan said...

m.p., let's hope Impy doesn't do the same! ;)

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

He and the Beyonder formed a cosmic cube in FF#319, then somehow got out.
He showed up in 2009, in an arc in Dark Avengers.
He recently showed in an issue of New Avengers, recruited by his old "buddy" Dr. Doom to help stop the incursions that'll eventually cause the Secret Wars.

Really good article. I didn't even know he had a son.

Comicsfan said...

Thank you, Dale. It was fun connecting the dots on this one. :)

Iain said...

Hmm next time Superman crosses over to beat up Thor and Hulk and the FF I want Owen ready to screw with his krytonian molecules funny how the big villains in Marvel are the only beings that seem to be a match for DC heroes. ^^