Sunday, April 24, 2011
MYTHCOMICS #6: FANTASTIC FOUR #8
PLOT-SUMMARY of "Prisoners of the Puppet Master": The Thing, finding himself excluded from Mister Fantastic's lab, quarrels with his FF-partners and storms out. The Invisible Girl pursues him, but breaks off her attempts to reconcile with him when she spies a man about to jump off a high bridge. Thanks to her signal, the Human Torch saves the man, but by so doing goes against the will of the Puppet Master, who was using one of his radioactive-clay puppets to force the man to kill himself as a test of power. The Puppet Master, who lives in a small apartment with his blind stepdaughter Alicia, declares war on the FF. He uses a puppet of the Thing to bring the monstrous superhero to his domicile. The Invisible Girl follows, but the Puppet Master gasses her. The villain then sends the enthralled Thing to attack his partners, and in some odd twist decides to send Alicia along in an Invisible Girl costume, because Alicia happens to resemble the heroine. Reed and Johnny avoid the Thing's attack long enough to dose him with a potion that changes him back to Ben Grimm; ironically, Reed was keeping Ben out of the lab earlier to keep him from learning about the potion, to spare Ben possible disappointment. The three male heroes storm the villain's hideout and rescue Sue, but the Puppet Master not only escapes, he also uses his puppets to unleash a breakout at the local prison. While the heroes are busy quelling the prison riot, they leave Alicia-- now infatuated with the monstrous Thing-- back at the apartment. The Puppet Master returns to claim a special puppet that will make it possible for him to control the whole world. Alicia, hitherto an entirely passive figure, rebels against her evil father-figure, struggles with him, and inadvertently causes him to plunge from a high window to his (temporary) death.
MYTH-ANALYSIS: As with CEREBUS it's difficult to analyze any single storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR from the rest of the serial mythos, for FANTASTIC FOUR is one of the few commercial comic books in which the *kinesis* of sensational kids' entertainment ascends to the level of a fullblown *mythopoesis.*
For example, to fully understand the mythos behind "Prisoners of the Puppet Master," one has to know that on two previous occasions the FF's creators Lee and Kirby dropped hints that their monster-hero The Thing might carry a torch (no reference to Johnny Storm intended) for Sue the Invisible Girl. Clearly the creators never meant to openly pursue this potential conflict of "best friends in love with the same girl." And yet this narrative mytheme continues to pop up throughout the history of the Lee-Kirby opus, particularly in the form of blind Alicia.
Some readers might view Alicia's "remarkable" resemblance to Sue Storm as no more than a device to add a little verisimilitude to a wild fantasy story: if Alicia looks like Sue Storm, the villain can better use her as a pawn in his attack upon the Fantastic Four. But if verisimilitude were the concern here, Lee and Kirby would have simply had the villain enslave the real Invisible Girl along with the Thing and send both of them to attack the other two heroes.
Clearly the creators' main concern here is to introduce romance into the Thing's lonely life. Given the character's grotesque looks, this arrangement must have seemed viable only with a blind heroine. Yet, so that it doesn't seem like Ben has to "settle," his compensation prize is just as beautiful as the woman he originally desires, but with an added bonus. Alicia's blindness confers on her an almost mystic sensitivity, by which she, unlike Sue Storm, can properly perceive Ben's tortured nobility. In contrast Sue's dalliance with the arrogant but undeniably good-looking Sub-Mariner stands as something of an indictment to sighted femininity.
Still, Alicia's progress in the story mirrors in miniature Sue's own in the first thirtysomething issues of the series. Alicia, a grown woman, is as passive as a small child in the first half of the story, entirely deferential to a "bad father" who views her as no better than one of his inanimate tools. Many (though not all) of Sue's appearances present her as a "shrinking violet" like Alicia, usually deferring to Reed Richards' authority. But Alicia does rebel against the Puppet Master's tyrannical designs, and even "kills" her bad dad. Sue never quite goes that far, but prior to her marriage, Sue does become more assertive in Reed's presence, as well as becoming literally more powerful when Lee and Kirby choose to upgrade her superheroic power-level.
A fair number of FF-villains seem nearly omnipotent in terms of their ability to manipulate reality. The Puppet Master, however, belongs to a subgroup of villains who appear to be able to manipulate reality more through *froda* than *forza;* others in this subgroup include the Thinker, the Miracle Man, Diablo and (in one or two particular stories) Doctor Doom. These Faustian pretenders are usually exposed as false gods with feet of clay, and although the Puppet Master does recover from his "death," he always remains something of a second-string villain, even though few if any heroes are able to resist the power he exerts through his radioactive puppets. However, for all that he's not actually related to Alicia, she becomes in subsequent appearances the inheritor of a deeper artistry than her "father" exhibits. Whereas he strives to reduce other people to the mechanical level of puppets, Alicia's intuition of human soulfulness guides her in rendering the human form in the ennobling artistry of sculpture-- allowing her to reproduce artfully the images she cannot see, as well as their indwelling souls.