Fantastic Four 31
“The Mad Menace of the Macabre Mole Man!”
Published: July 1964
Story: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Sam Rosen
Cover: Kirby and Stone
Earthquakes rock the Baxter Building and New York City. The Fantastic Four investigate, but as they rush out, the Invisible Girls sees a newspaper article about a man escaping from prison that gives her pause, and tells the rest of the team to go without her.
At the scene, the team discovers a city block has disappeared, leaving only a deep hole. Unbeknownst to the team, the Mole Man is responsible. The team returns to the Baxter Building to find the Invisible Girl has been take hostage by the Mole Man. The three use a Pogo Plane to descend to the Mole Man’s subterranean kingdom, avoiding obstacles along the way. There, the Mole Man demands the FF stand aside as he conquers the surface world, or risk losing Sue.
The team ascends to the surface to find the Avengers preparing to attack the Mole Man. After a brief scuffle, the FF convinces the Avengers to let them handle it and Mr. Fantastic invents a device that allows him to pinpoint Sue’s location. He then directs the Human Torch to blast a new tunnel down to the Mole Man’s kingdom, and Reed and Ben follow. With Johnny’s help, Sue escapes and the team returns the city blocks to the surface. But as the team ascends, Sue is hit by debris and is rushed to the hospital.
There, the doctors say only one surgeon can perform the necessary life-saving surgery, and he just escaped from prison. That man just appears, announces he is Sue and Johnny’s father, and successfully operates on Sue. He and Johnny have a moment at Sue’s bedside before the police arrive to return him to prison.
What’s going on here?
Fantastic Four 31 is notable for a few reasons, One is that Jack Kirby’s art seems to reach a new level of dynamism and creativity in this issue. Really, starting in issue 28, the Kirby’s art has been notably stronger, and FF 31 is a new peak. Some of that is Chic Stone’s inks, but it’s mostly Kirby who is using bigger panels, and more inventive perspectives and angles. Check out this page, for instance:
Or this one:
It seems light-years more sophisticated and interesting than the first few issues of the FF. I don’t know exactly why his art made a leap in 1964, but one idea may have been the increased popularity of the FF, and the sense that he and Stan were creating something special. Jack was famously overworked, so it’s to be expected that he would rush through most of his projects. But it also makes sense that he would take his time on a comic that he knew was being widely read and appreciated.
Also, FF 31 is marked by the appearance of Sue and Johnny’s father, Franklin. This is the first time any of the FF’s family has appeared in the book, and perhaps, after the lengthy unveiling of Dr. Doom’s origin in the FF Annual 2, Stan and Jack realized we knew more about Doom’s past than the FF’s. Even Reed claimed he didn’t know about Sue’s father, and assumed she and Johnny were orphans (or maybe he just didn’t pay attention when she told him). Over the years, we’ll meet more and more of the FF’s family and learn much more about their backstory.
Of course, Franklin Storm’s initial appearance is milked for maximum melodrama. First comes the foreshadowing in the newspaper:
then the deus ex machina revelation at the hospital:
and finally the reunion at Sue’s bedside:
But even while it’s clear Stan and Jack were building up to the conclusion, Sue’s injury and Franklin’s dramatic appearance seems strangely shoehorned into the story. We never actually see Sue get hurt, and the whole business with her hospitalization and operation is stuffed into the last two pages of the story.
Stan and Jack clearly thought introducing Franklin Storm was a big deal, though, teasing his appearance both on the cover and the splash page. But the story has a weird rhythm to it, and feels like an episode of Perry Mason or some other show where all plots are wrapped up in 22 minutes.
We will learn more about Franklin Storm in the next issue, but he doesn’t become as significant character as reed’s father, Nathaniel. He is, of course, the namesake of Franklin Richards, who gets his name in FF 94 (the B is for Benjamin):
Lastly, FF 31 includes a brief appearance from the Avengers. While from an in-universe perspective it’s not particularly surprising—if city blocks started disappearing in New York, the Avengers should show up—but at this point in the Marvel Universe, super teams weren’t routinely crossing paths. The encounter, which of course includes a brief fight, only lasts about a page, and doesn’t even warrant a mention on the cover.
The sexist sixties
I’ve lost track of how many times Sue has been kidnapped or taken hostage in the first 31 issues (and I don’t have the heart to count) but I’m sure it’s approaching double digits. And if it isn’t Sue who’s taken hostage, it’s usually Alicia.
The brawling between the team has been replaced by witty repartee, at least for this issue.
It’s Clobberin’ Time!
A mint (9.8) copy of FF 31 should cost around $26,000. An issue in fine condition (6.0) is about $120.
Next issue: The return of the Super-Skrull!