How Did Reed Richards Get Away With Stealing a Rocket Ship?

This is "Provide Some Answers," which is a feature where long unresolved plot points are eventually resolved.

Today, we look at how, exactly, Reed Richards got away with stealing a rocket ship.

One of the most amazingly outlandish parts of the Marvel Universe is that the Fantastic Four got their start from Reed Richards stealing a rocket ship with his pilot buddy and Reed's girlfriend and her kid brother. The rocket ship then crashes because Reed did not properly prepare the ersatz space crew for the cosmic rays that they would be bombarded with that caused them to crash and mutate into super powered beings.

Isn't that just amazing?

However, it also set up a very confusing question, which is namely, "How did Reed Richards get away with stealing a rocket ship?" Here is the fateful moment in the pages of Fantastic Four #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby...

The second issue recaps the same origin, only with "Mars" in place of "stars"...

It's interesting, also, over time to note that future versions of the Fantastic Four's origin have made three notable changes to the origin. First, they've dropped the "Got to beat the Communists!" angle. Second, they have eliminated Ben's specific warning about the dangers of the cosmic rays to make it more a case of Reed having no way of knowing that the cosmic rays would hit them in the way that they did. Third, they made it so that Ben Grimm was responsible for them surviving the crash landing due to his piloting skills. As you can see in the original, it is the auto-pilot that saves them.

In any event, there is no mention in the first issue of what happened to the Fantastic Four after they crashed. Not only that, but there's pretty clearly a sizable time break between the Fantastic Four stealing the rocket ship and the Fantastic Four fighting the Mole Man in issue #1. Johnny Storm, in particular, has noticeably aged.

So what's the deal?

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