Fantastic Four #8

"Prisoners of the Puppet Master!"

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Art Simek
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cover date: November 1962< br /> Cover price: 12 cents
Current value: about $1275

The FF spend a lot of time being prisoners, don't they?

The Thing returns suddenly, dressed in a snappy purple overcoat and green trousers. The rest of the FF try to keep him out of the lab, as Reed is working on some secret project. Enraged that his teammates are keeping secrets from him, Ben storms out in a rage, while the Invisible Girl follows to keep an eye on him. On the street, Ben and Sue see a man climbing the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. Since neither one can save him in time, Sue signals with her FF flare gun and the Human Torch flies into action.

Meanwhile, a strange bald man hovers over a scale model of the bridge and pushes a tiny figure, identical to the man on the real bridge, off the bridge tower. But when the Torch grabs the man, the bald man scorches his finger. And thus, the Puppet Master swears revenge on the Human Torch. I'd think a little ointment would suffice for that burn instead of an intricate revenge plot, but no one asked me.

"The Hands of the Puppet Maker"

Hearing him cry out, the Puppet Master's blind step-daughter Alicia rushes in to see if he's allright. PM scolds her and sends her away. He returns to working with his radioactive clay, the material he uses to sculpt his mind control puppets. His next project is a puppet of the Thing, which he uses to bring Ben to him, with Sue invisibly tagging along. When Ben arrives, Alicia can hear Sue in the room. The Puppet Master is prepared and uses ether to knock Sue unconscious.

The next part of PM's plan only works because most of the faces Jack Kirby draws look alike. PM has fashioned a wig and costume for Alicia and disguises her as the Invisible Girl. Alicia is drawn to Ben, and somehow senses his gentleness. But PM has no time for sentimentality, and sends Alicia and Ben (still under his control) to the Baxter Building. After they have left, PM manipulates his puppet of Warden Williams of State Prison and has him fetch his master key.

"The Lady and the Monster!"

Meanwhile, Ben is tossing around Reed and Johnny with ease. Reed leads the Thing into his lab, where he crashes into a vial of chemicals - the same secret project Reed was working on earlier. The project was a cure for Ben, and it transforms him from his orange rock form back to human. With the transformation, the Puppet Master's control over Ben is broken. Alicia demonstrates the same attraction to Ben as before, but is puzzled when she feels his human face. But the chemical wears off, and Ben is the Thing once more, and Alicia recognizes the feel of his face as the same man she met before. To Ben, it seems like she prefers him as a orange rock monster instead of a man.

And at the state prison, the warden activates an electronic lock which unlocks every cell in the prison. Why a prison would want to have such a device is puzzling, but apparently this prison does have one.

"Face-to-Face with the Puppet Master!"

And there's PM over a model of the prison, manipulating puppets of rioting prisoners, springing from their cells and stealing their guards' weapons. Attica! Attica! PM is engrossed in his toys, and a now awake Sue takes this opportunity to escape. A creaky floorboard gives her away, and PM has a Sue puppet at the ready. But before he can take control, Sue manages to fire her flare gun, and the rest of the FF take off in the Fantasticar with Alicia.

The Puppet Master has a giant robot ready to attack them when they arrive, but the robot only lasts four panels. PM flies off with Sue on a winged horse puppet, but Reed snatches her off the back of the horse just in time. But the horse is jet powered, and PM manages to escape before Johnny can catch him.

Apparently, the Puppet Master left his television on and the FF hear about the riot at State Prison. They've taken the warden hostage. The FF fly upstate and Johnny burns a tunnel underground, emerging in the midst of the prisoners. He snatches the warden and flies away.

"Death of a Puppet!"

Not one to be left out of a scrap, the Thing charges into action, tossing prisoners around and causing lots of property damage. Soon enough, the FF have quelled the riot and the prisoners are back in custody.

Alicia is still back at the Puppet Master's place. With the FF gone, PM returns for a very special puppet, a puppet of him as ruler of the world, in a little crown and royal fur coat. If you had mind-controlling clay, why would you make a puppet of yourself and how would that puppet help you rule the world? Apparently, PM knows the answer to those questions, and he gloats about how he will tear down the United Nations, have dictators serve him turkey, and make the FF drag him around in a big cart with a banner reading "PUPPET MASTER REX". But Alicia won't hear of it and tries to take the puppet from PM. Alicia falls to the ground and the puppet slips from PM's grasp. Diving for the puppet, PM trips over Alicia's arm and takes a tumble out the window. The FF return, and the final panel is a great image of the royal Puppet Master puppet lying at Reed's feet.

The Puppet Master would join the growing roster of FF enemies and return again and again. Though his power was impressive, it's hard to take a grown man who plays with toys seriously, and he never was a first rank villain. A far more important character introduced this issue was PM's step-daughter, Alicia. Alicia Masters would become a permanent FF fixture as Ben Grimm's girlfriend. Their dysfunctional relationship would pretty much remain how it is depicted here, and Ben's fear that Alicia prefers him as The Thing would prevent him from becoming human again, despite all of Reed's attempts to "cure" him.

The inertia of the Ben/Alicia relationship finally came to an end after the Secret Wars, when Ben remained behind to sort out his head. Back on Earth, Johnny and Alicia fell in love and eventually married in Fantastic Four #300. However, in one of the stupider moments of Tom DeFalco's less than brilliant writing career, he revealed in Fantastic Four #357 that Alicia had been replaced with a Skrull operative named Lyja shortly after the Secret Wars. While John Byrne depicted Alicia falling out of love with Ben and in love with Johnny as a natural event arising from human feelings and frailties, DeFalco's explanation is that it must have been an alien plot. Geesh.

For an affordable reprint of this story, I recommend the Marvel Masterworks series, which reprints FF # 1-10 in color in one volume for $12.95. (ISBN 0760737959)

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