How a Blind Girl Saved the Fantastic Four: Why Alicia Masters Completes the Fantastic Four Equation

Journey Into MarvelPart 55

Alicia_Masters_(Earth-616)_young_adultExtremites, Sean Howe’s “Fantastic Four Equation,” featured in his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story states that the Four are incomplete on their own. Human Torch is a powerful out of the box thinker but lacks any form of control, Sue Storm has a strong conscience and empathy but she is not a strategic thinker, Reed Richards is a brilliant strategist but his ability to think beyond the norm is nominal, and Thing lacks empathy but his strength of character and over abundance of feelings make him into one of the most loyal and trustworthy characters in Earth-616. Together, the Four make one perfect hero. But Sean has missed the completing digit in the equation: Alicia Masters. Alicia Masters, in her non superhero way, anchors the team. The team is often wrapped up in their personal “greatness.” Alicia reminds them that they are human.

Masters seems like another helpless damsel in a line of damsels, but Alicia’s damseldom — new word Extremites — is novel for archetype obsessed early Silver Age Marvel. AM is in many ways a modern redux of the Comedia Del Arte role: the Inamorati or Colombina. An Inamorati is an innocent, with great ability for insight, who is victimized by the Il Dotore character. Often these dastardly characters trapped the poor damsel within their houses. Il Dotore is embodied in the Puppet Master.

The Puppet Master is one of the Fantastic Four’s better villains. He possesses a magical ability, a great intellect and a wit that could rival any member of the Four. Puppet Master doesn’t spend his time expounding over thought out plots. He uses his voodoo-like radioactive ability to control puppet versions of New Yorkers. Like all the best comic villains, his motives are never explored beyond his need to create chaos. The Puppet Master just has innate need to see the Four dead.

The villains presented to date have all wanted to beat the Four but not kill them. From the opening few panels where the Puppet Master induces a young man commit suicide, death is the the normally placid Four comic. His doll like face shows other worldly gothic that is obsessed with death and Kirby makes a decided effort through his character construction to show that the Puppet Master is unlike anything the Fantastic Four have fought against before. I would have said that he was Marvel’s answer to the Batman villain the Ventriloquist if his debut didn’t predate DC by 30 years.

Gothica seems to define everything about the Puppet Master, especially the relationship he has with Alicia Masters. The Puppet Master is not the blood father of Masters. He’s her stepfather. Yet, there is no connection between the two characters; Alicia is a prisoner of PM, who takes advantaged of her blindness to hold her captive. He manipulates her like he manipulates his Puppets. To infiltrate the Fantastic Four he dresses Alicia up as a perfect facsimile of Sue Storm. The spell he has over her and lack of empathy towards her, shows a real sinister edge to his character.

The hold that Puppet Master has over Alicia is, like all of the best villains in comic books, an allusion to the archetypes we were all fed as children.

Do you remember, dear Extremites, hearing the story of St. George and the Dragon? Maybe you heard it under a different name. It’s about a knight who rescues a besotted virgin from the clutches of a fire beast in large dark castle. The story’s message is one of enlightenment. A person must struggle through the worse trials imaginable to find themselves confidence. The confidence that you once had before it was spoiled by adulthood. Virgins represent an innocen, unscarred, unblemished state in Judeo-Christian lore. In this issue Alicia Masters embodies that blank slate and it is no coincidence that she is blind. Blindness means she has not been tarnished by the evilness of the world. Because of her enlightened state she brings a much needed innocence to the jaded ranks of the Fantastic Four.

The most jaded member of the Fantastic Four is Ben Grimm. Thing got the short shrift when it came to powers. His strength is pretty much infallible and he is largely impervious to injury but he also has to wear the scars of the change every day as an outsider. He begins this issue in another characteristic fit of angst. After being abused by everyone’s favourite ball buster and arrogant teenager the Human Torch, Thing quits the quartet. This isn’t the first time and he barely has motivation to. Ben is a melancholic, self absorbed misanthrope, and this is his weakness.

It is Ben Grimm’s misanthropy that Alicia cures. When Ben comes to the aid of Alicia he sacrifices himself for her. This is the first time, that it is so explicitly shown, that a member of the Four sacrifices himself for another character in the Fantastic Four series.

Ben sacrifices himself because he not only loves Alicia there is some inner need to protect her. Ben, like the St. George archetype, needs to protect her enlightened state. Her blindness opens up Ben’s eyes. She saves Ben and the heart of the Fantastic Four.

Alicia’s debut is not the only first in this issue. The Puppet Master, surrounded by the Four in the end, seemingly jumps out of the window of his tenement. For all intents and purposes he kills himself at the end of this issue. This is the first time a character has been talked about as dead and one who is also a victim of suicide. Although in later issues it is clear that this death was all a ruse, it is a startling moment.

Alicia in later issues is relegated to a secondary love interest for Ben Grimm but in her debut she is a startling component to the troublesome Four. She fills an empathetic whole that has been lacking in the Fantastic Four from their conception. With her enlightened perspective from years of abuse at the hands of the Puppet Master to her instant connection with Thing, she changes the series for the better and it’s clear that for time she is the most important part of the Fantastic Four equation.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read: “Prisoners of the Puppet Master” (Fantastic Four #8 Nov. 1962)

Rating: 4 1/2 out 5.

Pros: The Puppet Master. The twists and turns. This is the most complex Fantastic Four plot to debut thus far in the series. Each character has a well defined arc.

Cons: The zeitgeist sexism (which has to be accepted, but I want to mention it again) and lack of detail beyond archetype in the construction of Alicia Masters but this may be on purpose.

Upcoming Review: “Trapped by the Protector!” (Tales to Astonish #37 Nov. 1962)

Previous Review: “On The Trail Of The Tomorrow Man” (Journey Into Mystery #86 Nov. 1962)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on October 11, 2014, in Comics, Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Alicia Masters is lovely and the Thing’s growing relationship with her is one of the most interesting romances in comics. She loves him but he is still persecuting himself for being the Thing. Poor old Ben often gets the wrong end of the stick.
    I’d never thought before of the Puppet Master as a major league villain but I think you’re right. One of the very best Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four stories is the one where the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker take on the X-Men and the FF combined, using a giant android on a remote plateau. Epic. I read it in a UK Fantastic Four annual so I have no idea where it originally appeared.

    • Hi Alastair, I find the relationship between Thing and Alicia fascinating because it is the most fairy tale relationship in Marvel. I haven’t read that story yet, but I look forward to it. Thanks for stopping by.

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