Fantastic Four 22
“The Return of the Mole Man”
Published: October 1963
Story: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Inks: George Roussos
Letters: Sam Rosen
Cover: Kirby and Dick Ayers
As Mr. Fantastic experiments on the Invisible Girl, she reveals two new powers: the ability to summon force fields, and to make other objects invisible. Meanwhile, the FF are besieged by complaints from neighbors about the noise and disruption they cause, so the team flies to investigate an island off the coast of New Jersey where Reed can conduct experiments and launch the team’s ICBM.
Once on the island, the team is trapped by the Mole Man, who lured them by instigating the complaints. To get his revenge on the FF from their first meeting in issue 1, he announces a plan to sink the earth’s major cities, provoking a nuclear war. The team is surrounded by a radioactive wall, but they surmount it with Sue’s new force field. The team is then trapped individually in cells designed to counter their powers (much like with Dr. Doom) but through ingenuity they each escape. Reed then hustles them off the island, and when the Mole Man initiates his plan to skink the cities, it’s revealed that Reed rewired the circuits, so only his island sinks.
What’s going on here
The story is a pretty conventional one: Hijinks in the Baxter Building, confronting a foe who traps them, then a frenzied finish. The issue, however, is notable for a few reasons: A big one is Sue’s new powers. Eventually, it appears, Stan and Jack realized the story-telling limitations of invisibility—there was only so many times Sue could use it to sneak up on a bad guy—so they added a few new wrinkles.
And Byrne has her consistently use her power as a battering ram, something rarely depicted before:
FF 22 also debuts Sue’s power to make other things invisible
While not as potent as her force fields, it has come in handy over the years, and maybe is best used here, when she shows the Wizard what his heart looks like:
It’s Clobberin’ Time!
The other big debut in FF 22 was the Thing’s signature phrase (“Yay Bo!” didnt seem to catch on in the same way). “It’s clobberin’ time” quickly becomes as much part of Ben’s identity as his orange rocky appearance. It would be absurd to try to find every use of it, since he says it in virtually every issue, but here are some memorable covers:
Not only does it to become closely associated with Ben, but it becomes one the handful of comic book phrases that have escaped the genre and become part of pop culture. (“It’s a bird, it’s a plane…” “Up, up and away!” and “Hulk Smash!” are maybe the others). There’s no shortage of clobberin’ time merchandise available:
And it’s apparently been adopted / stolen by pro wrestler CM Punk:
Lastly, FF 22 marks the first reference to Ben’s Aunt Petunia, another recurring catch phrase.
For more than 200 issues readers heard about, but never met, Ben’s Aunt Petunia, and it was assumed she was a prim older lady, not unlike Peter Parker’s Aunt May. So Byrne naturally subverted expectations by make her a young-ish country doctor.
What year is it?
Topical references abound in FF 22, with children’s comedian Pinky Lee and folk artist Grandma Moses among those getting name-dropped.
Looks like Stan is covering for Jack here to explain how this stranger wandered past the FF’s vaunted security system
The Cold War is again evoked
This is the end?
Even by Stan and Jack’s standards, the ending of FF 22 feels awfully abrupt. The story could have used another page at a minimum instead of cramming all that exposition into the last panel.
They’re fighting again
Aren’t they always?
Dig that Kirby Krackle
This is just a great splash page that captures the personalities of all the members, plus shows off some cool gee-whiz science stuff. George Roussos returned to ink this issue, giving it a different look than most of what came before.
Here’s some other fun stuff from The King (note Reed’s face, and that he’s talking to Mrs. Frobush, a possible precursor to Marvel mascot Irving Forbush):
FF 22 in mint condition (9.8) should cost you around $18,000
Next issue: The return of Dr. Doom!