Stan Lee Arthur Asa Berger - Essay

Arthur Asa Berger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The machines and monsters found in The Fantastic Four have direct relevance to the relationship existing between technology and American culture, a subject of considerable importance. A glance at The Fantastic Four shows that the creators of these works are fascinated with large, hulklike creatures as well as fantastic machines. The pages abound with "Hulks" and "Things"—grotesques which are unnatural in shape and appearance—ugly, fantastic and incongruous.

On the visual level alone the grotesque is significant. Its ugliness is an affront to society and suggests that something is wrong with the social order. Just as a caricature is an attack on an individual, by means of distorting some feature of a person (while keeping resemblance), so is a grotesque an attack upon society. The distortion and ugliness of the grotesque symbolizes all that is wrong and ugly in the society which created the grotesque. (pp. 199-200)

[The] various monsters we find in The Fantastic Four provide us with the means for working through our aggressions in a rather sophisticated manner. Comic books are not exactly like films, but they function in much the same way. (p. 202)

In Marvel Comics we find a curious tendency to merge the human and the machine into super-technological entities. The powers of The Fantastic Four tend to be natural: The Thing supposedly has the "greatest human force" in the universe; other members of the team can turn into fire, become invisible, throw out fields of force or stretch—though Reed Richards is himself a scientific genius and can come up with devices to counter the various mad scientists who appear from time to time.

The villains generally cannot match the natural power of The Fantastic Four and are forced to rely on technology. Such is the case with Dr. Doom, whose mother was a witch and who learned strange mystic secrets from Tibet as well as the scientific knowledge of the Western world. Quasimodo, a machine who is made human by The Silver Surfer, and Psychoman are further examples. (pp. 202-03)

Novelists and poets generally see science and technology as a threat to humanity and recoil against it almost in panic. Thus most contemporary utopian novels are dystopies which see societies of the future as totalitarian and antihuman.

This is due, in part, to a bias in our higher arts, which have traditionally looked toward nature for a source of inspiration and wisdom. The Fantastic Four reflect a much different attitude toward science. Although the various villains are able to use science and technology for their evil purposes, they are always defeated by heroes who are superior morally and technologically. Rather than refusing to see the possibilities opened by technology, literary forms such as comic books use science for their subject...

(The entire section is 1197 words.)