In “When We First Met”, we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.
Today, we take a look at when unstable molecules were introduced into the Marvel Universe.
For those of you who don’t know what Unstable Molecules are, they’re presumably a really cool band name in the Marvel Universe, but more importantly, they’re the explanation that Stan Lee came up with to explain why the clothing of superheroes in the Marvel Universe shrink when they shrink, grow when they grow, stretch when they stretch and don’t burn when they burn. Reed Richards, sweetheart that he is, allows pretty much any superhero out there to have open access to the unstable molecules for their costumes, which is why pretty much every superhero in the Marvel Universe has a costume made out of the material. In the history of answers designed to appeal to nit-picky fans, it’s one of the best ones around.
It’s become such an iconic part of the Marvel Universe, that it even had a comic book named after it by the great James Sturm!
Okay, so that’s what unstable molecules ARE, so now the question is – when did they first show up?
If you want to be fairly pedantic, you could argue that they showed up in Fantastic Four #1, as soon as Johnny Storm did not burn up his coveralls, then that would mean that his coveralls must have been made out of unstable molecules…
(As an aside, I love that the Fantastic Four’s first mission was just them wearing coveralls).
Heck, you could take it one step further and say, “Wait, didn’t the original Golden Age Human Torch ALSO have clothes that didn’t burn when he turned into flame?”
That is true (how much funnier would it have been if there had been a naked android running around?). So heck, maybe Dr. Horton invented unstable molecules. Heck, maybe it was Marty McFly while time-traveling (he seems to have inadvertently invented everything else in the past).
But we’re obviously talking in terms of when the phrase “unstable molecules” was used to describe this explanation of superhero artistic shorthand.
Well, in Fantastic Four #6, which was released on June 12, 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had Mister Fantastic explain how his costume stretches with him…
So that’s got to be it, right?
Not so fast! You see, on June 5th, 1962, Ant-Man made his debut in Tales of Astonish #35 (after previously appearing as just plain ol’ shrinking scientist Hank Pym in a non-superhero story eight issues earlier) and sure enough, his costume was described as being made out of unstable molecules!
It was still Lee and Kirby, but it’s amazing that Ant-Man beat Mister Fantastic to the punch on unstable molecules!
Okay, that’s it for this installment. If anyone else has a suggestion for a notable comic book first that you’d like to know, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!