Like so many life-long fans of Marvel comics, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the death of Stan Lee. The man has left behind a fascinating and complex legacy, one which will be dissected and analyzed for years to come, and I’ve gone through several waves of feelings regarding his life, career, and death. He was a complicated guy, who has left us a legacy full of some of the most beloved characters of all time, a good deal of shady business dealings, scores of near-forgotten collaborators who never got the attention he’s had, a passion for the industry, and some incredibly sad and frustrating stories in his later life that I don’t feel like dragging us all down with. Wiser people than me have spent time reconciling with the life of Stan Lee, so I decided to do deal with his death the only way I know how to. By talking about some incredibly strange Marvel Comics! And, luckily, Stan Lee is a pretty prolific character in the world of Marvel Comics. We all know that he took great measures to give cameos in most filmed adaptations of Marvel’s stories, but he actually showed up quite often in the pages of Marvel’s comics. Because, and I don’t know how well-known this little fact is, but the company Marvel Comics exists in the Marvel Universe. They create comics based on the adventures of the real life superheros who live in their reality, and the company is run by the actual writers, artists, and editors that run the actual Marvel Comics. Which means at any moment Stan Lee could be involved in one of the insane events that happen every other day in the Marvel Universe. And, this is one of those stories.
This issue takes place after a rather long and convoluted story that went through several issues of Fantastic Four that aren’t overly necessary to know about to understand this story. Basically, the Fantastic Four got involved in stopping Galactus from eating the weird fake Earth the High Evolutionary built on the other side of the sun, and in the process they fed Galactus Poppup, the planet that the Impossible Man comes from, which gave him “Terminal Indigestion,” seemingly killing him. And, if any of that nonsense I just spouted made even the slightest bit of sense to you, you’re my kind of people. All that really matters is that the Fantastic Four are in a space-ship returning to Earth and they have the Impossible Man stowing away with them. Oh, and for some reason the Ben Grimm wasn’t the Thing anymore, and had been wearing a robot Thing suit, but then Galactus hit him with some weird beam and he turned back into the thing again. I don’t know folks, comics are nutty.
If you aren’t familiar with him, the Impossible Man is an alien being who sometimes shows up to pester the Fantastic Four, and who is basically omnipotent. He can shapeshift and has a whole litany of weird, poorly defined powers, basically putting himself on par with someone like Bat-Mite or Mr. Mxyzptlk. He’s not a particularly evil character, he’s just kind of a prankster, showing up to ruin people’s time. And, he just volunteered to let his entire planet get eaten by Galactus, because his race functions as kind of a hive-mind, meaning that literally every member of his people are now inside him, letting him become a vessel to create a whole new homeworld. But, before he gets to that, he wants to do two things. Visit Earth and drive the Fantastic Four crazy.
Luckily, both things happen pretty quickly. The ship enters Earth’s atmosphere shortly after the beginning of this story, and by that point he’s already pestered the Thing to the point where Ben is wildly swinging around the ship, attempting to smash the little guy. Which, is a bad thing to be doing on a space ship. Because Ben ends up accidentally crushing some instrument that would let the ship slow down for re-entry into the atmosphere, meaning that they’re going to be coming in rather hot. The ship blasts into the Earth’s atmosphere, and begins plummeting down to New York City, Central Park to be specific, and it seems destined to smash into the ground. So, the Human Torch tosses himself out of the ship and starts using his fiery powers to create some up-drafts to slow the ship down. All while the Impossible Man has a grand old time.
However, thanks to Johnny’s quick thinking and a protective shell placed around the ship by Sue’s invisible force fields, the ship is able to crash into a small lake, not causing much damage and keeping the Fantastic Four alive. The FF disembark from their battered ship, and try to figure out what to do next. They just succeeded in saving the Earth, and a space Earth, from Galactus, so they decide to just head home to the Baxter Building and relax, taking the Impossible Man with them. Ben isn’t a big fan of this idea, but the Impossible Man was pretty instrumental in saving the day, so they just have to deal with him.
But, to get back to the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four decide they have to take a cab. It feels like they should have some sort of contingency to get back to their home-base, but whatever. They end up successfully hailing a cab willing to take the Thing, and after having Sue turn invisible to cut down on the cost of the fare, they are on their way. But, after hearing their weird cabbie’s thoughts about how all superheros are some sort of elaborate false flag operation, the Impossible Man starts to get a little restless. He transforms himself into a little pair of shoes that hang from the cabbie’s rear-view mirror, and when he notices the strange appearance of some booties, the Impossible Man reverts to a tiny version of himself. This causes the Cabbie to freak out, crashing the car. And, while the Fantastic Four deal with the irate cab-driver, the Impossible Man transforms himself into a balloon, and starts floating around the streets of New York City, looking for something interesting. And, he ends up finding some familiar faces.
That’s right! The Impossible Man has just stumbled upon the offices of Marvel Comics where Roy Thomas and George Perez are desperately asking Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for some advice on their Fantastic Four book, since they haven’t been able to get in contact with the real Fantastic Four. Because all this version of Marvel Comics does is recreate the real-life exploits of these actual human beings who live in their town. Which is insane. And, while Roy and George are panicking Jack Kirby comes up with a radical new idea. They should just create their own stories that didn’t actually happen. And this stuns the room. Roy and George are horrified at such an idea, and Stan immediately shoots it down, saying that it would never work.
And, while the quartet begin brainstorming new ideas, they suddenly notice that there’s a strange little green man in the room with them. They demand to know what’s going on, and the Impossible Man introduces himself before telling them that he’s the answer to their prayers, and their new source of stories. But, while Jack Kirby begins furiously sketching the Impossible Man, Stan Lee finally recognizes him, realizing that they’ve already written about the Impossible Man previously when he had interacting with the FF. And, what’s more, Stan remembers that the Impossible Man wasn’t a popular character, and that readers found him too “silly,” leading him to decide they shouldn’t use him ever again. Which doesn’t go over well with the Impossible Man.
After almost beheading Stan Lee the Impossible Man starts threatening to his them with a repulsor ray, because the Impossible Man can do basically anything, and has decided to attack the offices of Marvel Comics with their own creations. Stan, Jack, George, and Roy flee from the office, into the Marvel bullpen, only for the Impossible Man to blow up a wall and give chase. The quartet attempts to escape, with everyone they come across, until they’re stopped by the towering production manager of the company, John Verpooten. He starts rambling to Jack Kirby about some choices for sound effects he made in the 2001 comic when the Impossible Man catches up and hits them with a blast from some Cyclops optic blasts that he’s obtained.
The Impossible Man marches toward them, demanding that they start writing comics about him, when he’s suddenly hit by a jet of flames, knocking him over. Because the Fantastic Four have finally tracked him down after dealing with their belligerent cabbie. The Four come leaping into the offices and start attacking the Impossible Man, which is honestly harder than it seems. He’s able to turn his arm into a hose to extinguish the Human Torch, and his other arm into a facsimile of Mjolnir, using it to pound the Thing into submission. Reed realizes that this is going to be a serious problem, and decides they’re going to have to think outside the box to fix this. So, he wraps his arms around Stan Lee, and makes him promise to make an Impossible Man comic, at least to calm the little lunatic down. And, it works! The Impossible Man is thrilled at the news, and decides to stop trying to kill Stan Lee. The FF then begin leaving the office, with the Impossible Man, while Stan starts to immediately backtrack on his promise. For good reason.
I’ve always been a huge Marvel partisan when it comes to the Big Two, and it’s stories like this that remind me why that’s the case. The idea that there’s a version of Marvel Comics inside the Marvel Universe, staffed by the same people in our reality, who write stories based on the actual events of their world is so wonderfully crazy, and I love it. This story is a lot of fun, giving us some weird Impossible Man action, but the real draw of this story is the appearance of the people who create the comics we all know and love. Which is probably going to be one of the lasting impacts of his legacy. Stan’s greatest talent really and truly was his salesmanship. He was constantly hyping the industry he kind of fell into, and one of the primary ways he accomplished that was by stripping away some of the mystique of comics. Stan brought the semi-fictitious reality of the comics industry to life in his letters pages, particularly his Stan’s Soap Box feature, talking directly to the readers and building elaborate mythology of the inner workings of the company they’ve grown to love. And then, with stories like this, the boundary was pushed even further. Stan’s influence gave us a deeper knowledge and insight into the industry that has done so much to entertain us, giving us an appreciation for it that couldn’t be beat. And that may be the greatest gift he ever gave us.
“Impossible As it May Seem – The Impossible Man is Back in Town” was written by Roy Thomas, penciled by George Perez, inked by Joe Sinnott, colored by Michele Wolfman, and lettered by Joe Rosen, 1976.
Categories: Marvel Madness