Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I'm Not The Conqueror You're Looking For

When the Over-Mind begins to take steps toward his conquest of the planet Earth, those who might have headed off his threat find themselves already having been dealt with--the Fantastic Four, in disarray from public opinion being turned against them following the Thing's battle with the incredible Hulk, and now formally charged as dangerous lawbreakers!

(We'll have to assume that the FF's lawyer has already come and gone, since even the FF wouldn't be equipped for going before an arraignment judge. Maybe they settled for a public defender? That had to make some court-appointed defense lawyer's day.)

We've seen in Part One of this story how the Fantastic Four have only recently received warnings of the Over-Mind's ominous threat, only to be waylaid by the law and subsequently arrested by order of New York City's mayor--himself under the mental control of the Over-Mind. But since bail has been granted, the team is released on its own recognizance pending their trial, which essentially provides Reed with what he requested from the Mayor--the time and freedom to investigate the threat of the Over-Mind. And he'll discover some of the answers he's looking for sooner than he thinks--because as this issue's cover indicates, it seems the Over-Mind is also eager to encounter the Fantastic Four.

As the FF exit the courthouse, it's clear that the mood of the public toward them hasn't improved--which means that the usual insistence of the press corps for information is now accompanied by bitterness, resentment, and anger toward these four people who were once heroes to this city. As a result, Reed feels no need to be tactful with the pressing crowds in light of the ill treatment he and his team are receiving--and so they expedite their departure, as few others can.

There must be any number of ways for the FF to extract themselves from the scene without breaking just about every FAA regulation in the book here--ways that would mostly take advantage of the abilities of the Invisible Girl, the member of the team whom writer Stan Lee often relegates to reaction shots and only calls on her power when necessary. Sue could have kept these raucous crowds at bay with a mere thought... or used her powers of invisibility to slip her partners past them all... or elevated herself and the Thing to their Pogo Plane. Sue's development as a character, and as a member of the FF, has often been stymied by Lee--as well as, by extension, artists Jack Kirby and John Buscema, who must share some of the blame in that regard, with all three men appearing to be on the same page as far as how large a role Sue is to play in this comic.

Meanwhile, the Over-Mind continues to acclimate himself to planet Earth, in the midst of arguably its greatest city--though finding it necessary to make one small adjustment in order to keep his activities beneath the notice of those he walks among.

Given the events that have already taken place regarding the sharp spike in the public's anger towards the FF as well as the possession and manipulation of the city's officials--all due to the power of the Over-Mind--how strange the next scenes appear to be, as, from blocks away, the Over-Mind spots Reed's elastic limbs manipulating their aircraft and reacts with intense curiosity, as if he's never seen the Fantastic Four before this moment. Yet it was the Over-Mind who directed his thrall, the Mayor, to arrest the team, presumably to get them out of the way. It's as if Lee has forgotten his own story up to this point.

Nor, it seems, is the Over-Mind familiar with the abilities of these four whom he now seeks to investigate, even though Part One of this story made it clear that he was already fully aware of the FF and was taking steps to remove their potential for interference with his plans. We can certainly rule out a character named the Over-Mind having any problems with recall--and perhaps Buscema, as well, since his scenes here could simply indicate the Over-Mind moving in and taking on the FF in order to test their mettle first-hand, an interpretation that Lee adapts to well enough as the skirmish gets underway.

In their final battle with the Over-Mind, the Fantastic Four will be at a considerable disadvantage in terms of their fighting strength and their need to adapt their tactics to different leadership, adjustments which nearly cost them the war with this world conqueror. This issue would turn out to be the only opportunity for the team to operate together against him; yet they face a disadvantage here, as well, since at present they know nothing of this foe. (And if we're to believe Lee, the Over-Mind could say the same of them.) But the Over-Mind learns enough of the FF in battle here to conclude that they pose no threat to him--though only the Over-Mind will have the advantage of retaining the knowledge of his enemy. (Let's hope he doesn't forget it this time!)

As we've learned here, the Over-Mind is possessed of more than mental mastery over the minds of others--he's also super-strong, and can manipulate and wield energy in various forms with astonishing ease. That allows him to effectively nullify the abilities of Sue, Ben, and Johnny; and as for Reed, he will prove to be particularly vulnerable to the Over-Mind as this story reaches its penultimate issue.

For now, Lee's story continues to proceed slowly, almost frustratingly so when it comes to the activities of the FF and their attempts to uncover the nature of this threat. Rather than the team making any significant headway in that department, Lee chooses instead to go off track and spend a good deal of story space devoted to personal moments involving familiar characters who have factored into the lives of the FF over the years. Shoe-horned into this story as they seem to be, the scenes effectively bring the mystery and danger of the Over-Mind to a screeching halt. First there's another confrontation with Mr. Collins, the FF's irascible and insufferable landlord--a fairly new character, but one who will prove to be a perpetual annoyance to them, as he tries to evict the team from their headquarters. There's also a cameo (as usual) appearance by Willie Lumpkin, the team's mailman, who delivers yet another prank from the Yancy Street Gang addressed to you-know-who. And finally, a peculiar flashback to events that span the last four issues, which serve no purpose but to convince Reed that he's reached a dead end as far as a clue to the Over-Mind's plans, spurring him into seeking another avenue for the answers he's looking for.

As for the foe who appears to be one of the most passive world-conquerors we've ever seen, he returns to his hidden spaceship, for no apparent reason other than to log what he's done so far (hardly anything, except for trouncing the FF) and to depart again, declaring again how deadly he will prove to be to our planet while making mention of the mysterious race which he serves.

But back at the Baxter Building, Reed has contacted one of those who warned of the Over-Mind, in the hope that she will be able to reach out to the other who has also done so. With her mystic aid in helping gain Reed's escape from the Negative Zone, the Fantastic Four are beginning to rely more on the help and powers of Agatha Harkness to assist them in a pinch--and after this little task, you have to wonder why they don't just move this woman into the Baxter Building and grant her full clearance. (Just think of all the delightful ways in which she could terrify our friend Collins, for instance.)

And so the Fantastic Four stand poised to gain crucial information on the Over-Mind, from a being who's certainly qualified to tell them all they wish to know about this alien and the race he springs from, if not technically empowered to do so. Apparently, in the Watcher's case, the words "I may say no more!" can quickly translate to "...until you manage to contact me, and then I can say all I want!"

As for the Eternals, a race that preceded Jack Kirby's concept of the same name by five years, the Watcher discloses the details of their involvement and their connection to the Over-Mind, as this story continues in a special origin issue where the Fantastic Four will learn of the overwhelming power of their enemy--as well as suffer a pre-emptive strike that leaves them reeling and directionless. Has the doom of the universe begun?

"...From Beyond The Stars!" The Over-Mind, unleashed at last!

Fantastic Four #114

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Anonymous said...

A really cool arc, with some classic Buscema art.
I always liked the character of Aghatha Harkness and her cool head and wild weird witch-powers, which could bedevil Annihilus, intrude upon the Sanctum of the Watcher, and scare the bejeezus out of the Frightful Four. A great character!
Enjoying revisiting this story line again, and I won't give out any spoilers about who shows up next.

P.S.--Does anybody think that outfit the Overmind made for himself would keep people from noticing him?
Also, when attempting to conquer the universe, always start in a junkyard, I always say.

Comicsfan said...

Yes, I never really understood the junkyard angle, M.P., since the Over-Mind hardly seems like the type to keep a low profile (or feel like he even needs to). Wouldn't he just invade and conquer from the moment he set down? I can only assume Lee had reasons for establishing him first as an invader who proceeded carefully; perhaps with this being his first planet (presumably), his full powers weren't yet to the point where he could move on a world more audaciously.

(I wonder if his ship is still there, lying under all that scrap metal? Maybe I'll someday get to add it to this post!)

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