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A Fantastic Chore

Allen Christian reads through every Fantastic Four comic book ever and has way too much to say about them.

A Fantastic Chore: Year 2, Part 3

Allen Christian

Today we have four issues that are honestly out-of-the-park good, and an annual that is well worth the read. I know yesterday I said that issue #16 was boring, but actually looking back over it, that’s not true. Ant-Man just sucks. Ant-Man is legitimately the shittiest Marvel character, which I think it the reason he’s Stan Lee’s favorite. We’ve seen continuity in this book before, but now we have our first honest-to-god two-parter with issue #16-17’s “The Micro-World of Doctor Doom” and “Defeated by Doctor Doom,” respectively. Issue #18 we see the first appearance of the Super Skrull, and issue #19 is the incredibly goofy, but still fun introduction of Rama-Tut. Let’s get right down to it, starting with the annual.

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Fantastic Four Annual #1 (1963)

Taking this page-by-page would be both tedious and unnecessary, as it doesn’t really bring anything new or groundbreaking, but it is a good story and it does further the saga of the Submariner.

We join the Submariner, who has found his kingdom and has been restored to the throne. This does not sit well with everyone, such as Warlord Krang, who had planned to marry the Lady Dorma, who is in love with Namor. She no longer agrees to this vow, as her love has returned. The loss of Dorma and a claim to the crown builds Krang into an enemy.

The FF aren’t really getting along with each other all cramped up in the Baxter Building, and Johnny’s teasing of Ben erupts into a spat that causes some significant damage to the building, including to Sue’s expensive dresses. Reed has an idea for a vacation, centered around investigating reports of large sea monsters. It’s time for the FF to go on a cruise, and Ben is bringing Alicia along. They’re all having a good time until a monster is spotted, so they go investigate and are captured by Namor. The whole thing with the monsters was a ploy to lure the FF, so that he could have them relay a message to the United Nations that the “seven seas and the skies above them” as his imperial domain. He launches them in a water rocket back to the Baxter Building. Reed relays the information to the UN. The UN has an expert on Atlantic come and speak, who tells of the history of the undersea domain and its problems with the surface world, and the story of Namor’s parentage. When Reed advises the UN that they must fight Namor, the “expert” is revealed to be Namor himself, which is hilarious, but I can’t get hung up on that right now. Atlantis invades New York and takes over. If that sounds like an oversimplification of a large plot-point, I assure you I give it as much attention as the actual book does. The Four and the army plot ways to fight the occupation, and Reed eventually devises an evaporation ray that blankets the earth and evaporates the water in the helmets of all invading forces. For brevity, we’ll ignore that this would have probably killed every human on earth as well, since Christopher Nolan got away with the same shit in Batman Begins. Namor then comes to tussle with the FF, and does a fair job before deciding to abscond with Sue. Ben, Reed, and Johnny pursue and fight Namor. Sue is left with Dorma and Krang, who surmise Namor’s intentions with Sue, and jettison her from the the submarine. The battle stops as Namor saves Sue and brings her back to the sub. He orders Dorma and Krang from the ship so that it can be light enough to get Sue to the hospital quickly. Leaving them in an “auxiliary lifecraft,” he takes off, saving Sue. As he leaves to return to the sea, he is mobbed by humans who hate him now. He brushes them off and returns to Atlantis, finding that his people have abandoned him because of his love for the surface girl. It’s a good FF/Submariner story and I like it a lot.

Next we have several pages detailing the entire rogues gallery and some factoids about the FF and the Baxter Building.

Then we get a retelling of the story from Amazing Spider-Man #1, detailing the events of Spider-Man breaking into the Baxter Building in hopes of showing that he’s worthy of being in the Fantastic Four. In my head this was a simple reprint, but the original took place over two pages, and this is a six-page expansion on the story, completely redrawn by Jack Kirby, and inked by Steve Ditko. I guess I was wrong about issue #13 being the only time that happened in the FF. This is a great looking story, and for my money the definitive version of these events, for whatever that’s worth. There’s clearly a lot of art correction to Spider-Man by Ditko, considering he looks very much on-model, and Kirby’s Spider-Man never looks this good. We get the great looking Kirby-Ditko Thing again, so that’s fantastic.

If you don’t know the story, Spidey breaks in and makes it through the building’s security measures devised by Reed. He battles the FF and tells them he just wanted to give them a demonstration so that they could know he was worthy of joining them, and tells them he thinks he’s worth their top salary. Reed lets him know that they make no salaries or bonuses, and the profits go into scientific research. I guess the Fantastic Four is just a scientific commune. Spider-Man leaves and that’s the end of it. We get a few more villain profiles and we’re out.

Fantastic Four Annual #1 is well worth your time. In fact, I think the six Lee/Kirby annuals are all key Fantastic Four issues. We’ll definitely cover each as we go.

 

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Fantastic Four #16 (July 1963)

One of the most notable things about this issue is that it is the first time we see the name "Marvel Comics Group" on the cover, though it had been batted around the office for some time before this.

I spoke of continuity between issues #16-17 earlier, but that’s not the only relevant continuity here, as we pick up on an actual dangling thread left a few issues back when Doctor Doom accidentally activated his own shrink ray on himself in issue #10. The issue opens up with what is actually our second full-page splash, but since issue #15 sucked and that splash wasn’t worth mentioning, let’s just consider this one to be it, because it rocks. We’ve got Doom looking down a microscope, shaking his fist at tiny versions of the FF with Ant-Man. It’s cool. This isn’t an in-story splash, though.

We start our story with Johnny rushing back to the Baxter Building because no one answered his signal. He arrives to find the other three in a tiny state, about to be sucked into an air vert. He welds the vent shut, because property damage is always the most sensible approach to any situation in the Baxter Building. Saved from the air ducts, the rest of the FF returns to normal size. They then regale each other with tales of how they’ve all been randomly turning small over the past few days, but didn’t find it worth mentioning until now. Reed determines that they need the help of Ant-Man.  

While this decision is ultimately really boring and this crossover is of no value, it does show that the Marvel Universe is growing. Already by this point we’d have seen the Fantastic Four appear in The Amazing Spider-Man #1, and we’ll only see more and more as time goes on, for better or worse. Avengers will hit newsstands two months from this point, with Iron Man having debuted in Tales of Suspense four months prior and Thor having debuted in Journey Into Mystery nearly a year before this point, and of course we’ve well documented the debut of the Hulk, with his book having already been cancelled after six issues the same month that he made his first appearance in the FF with issue #12. All this to say, the Marvel Age is well underway.

The FF are unsure of how to contact Ant-Man, but it’s entirely unnecessary. The goddamn weirdo has set up a network of ants to alert him any time his name is mentioned, so he blasts his tiny self out a cannon and onto the backs of a couple ants, leaving the Wasp behind. He shows up on the receiver as Ben Grimm picks up the phone. Ant-Man provides them with some of his solutions for growing and shrinking.

Cut-to: The next day, Ben is at Alicia’s house, lifting stuff for her to clean under. Jerk-ass Reed Richards comes tearing in and shoves some chemicals down Ben’s gullet while he’s lifting a piano. This changes Ben back to normal while he’s still holding the piano, and Ben of course drops it and it breaks. Pianos aren’t cheap, Reed, you piece of shit. So, there’s this ongoing thing across the entire run of Fantastic Four where it is surmised that maybe Alicia really only likes Ben Grimm as the Thing. I don’t know why it’s up for debate or used as psychological fodder for Ben Grimm to deal with in future issues, as it is stated pretty plainly here that that is absolutely the case. Ben also has a freudian slip and calls Alicia “Sue.” We’ll go with that since we are on the subject of psycho-analyzing Ben Grimm, and that’s way more interesting than just pointing out the Stan Lee is a lazy and inattentive writer again. They then hear a voice saying, “Flee for your lives! Beware of Doctor Doom!”

Next, we see Johnny at a picnic, showing off for his fellow high schoolers. He hears that same voice. Sue is in the Baxter Building trying to make a perfume that will make it to where she isn’t susceptible to the snoot of a dog when she’s invisible. For this purpose, she apparently adopted several dogs that we never see again. What happens to them? Sue Storm is an animal neglecting scumbag. Reed and the others walk in on her just as she is hearing the same voice. Reed deduces and reduces. He understands that it was Doom shrinking them down, since last they saw him he was reduced to a subatomic level. They shrink down and appear in the new throne room of Doctor Doom, surrounded by Doom’s micro-knights. This is technically the first appearance of what will later be referred to as “Subatomica” before finally being called the “Microverse,” so if you’re a big fan of Bill Mantlo’s comic adaptation for the Micronauts toy line, that lore finds its origins here. (Which, despite how ridiculous that sounds, is good by all accounts. I completely believe that, considering he did the same thing for Parker Brothers’ Rom: Spaceknight, and that’s one of my favorite latterday Marvel cosmic books. Bill Mantlo’s Marvel career is almost entirely a man making chicken salad of out chicken shit, for little reward.) Doom shows that he can change size at will, which is how he has come to take control of the Subatomica. He captures Sue and gases the others. They are imprisoned in a cell that seems to be underwater along with the old king and Princess Pearla, whose voice they were hearing before. According to her, it is not water outside, but “deadly acid.” She describes how Doctor Doom wants to marry her, and all of the ways he’ll used the FF as slaves. Ant-Man find the vials in the Baxter Building and shrinks down to try to save them. By the the time he gets there, the Four have built a vessel that will float them and the other two safely up through the acid. Ant-Man is captured, and attempts to fight his way free. Doom tells his guards that he’ll finish off Ant-Man with some gun, but invisible Sue takes the gun. Doom flees back to the regular macro-world. The Four wrap up with the restored monarch, and Pearla seems to be falling for Johnny, but he says he can’t stay. Ben reminds everyone that they still haven’t caught Doom, leading us into a cliffhanger of a last panel. We get a feature page about Reed Richards’ boring-ass abilities, and we’re out.

It’s actually a pretty fun issue, and a really worthwhile addition to the Doom saga. So far, I don’t think we’ve had any real duds with Doom. Issue #6 wasn’t amazing, but it was a decent second appearance and furthered the character’s ambitions. Rest assured, the Doom material has much higher heights to hit, especially next week when we get into Annual #2.

Fantastic Four #17 (Aug. 1963)

Getting back into the saga of Doom, “Defeated by Doctor Doom” is a hell of an issue as well. We open up with the FF waving goodbye to Ant-Man as he sails from a little launching platform Reed has for him. Johnny and Ben squabble, and conveniently recount the events of last issue in the process. Reed tells them to shut the fuck up and go somewhere else, because he’s using his radar that is extra-sensitive to human flesh covered by steel, because he’s trying to find Doom. The other three go out to search the city. Ben thinks he sees Doom and rushes towards him, only to fall in an open manhole. He emerges in the middle of the street, causing yet another car to crash into him, though in this case he’s saved a woman that was about to get hit, as the car’s brakes were jammed. He gets to the man he thought was Doom, only to see it’s a man in a knight outfit promoting a stage play. Sue pursues gangsters, thinking they’d lead her to Doom for pretty much no reason. But Doom is actually disguised as their janitor. Like, has a rubber skin mask and clothes and beard over his armor. It’s stupid. He then unleashes some balloon robots that target small discs that he placed on the Four’s hands during a handshake while he was posing as the janitor. The FF have resumed their daily life, and balloon robots find Johnny on a date in a car, Ben and Alicia on a date about town, a pink polkadot balloon robot finds Sue at a photoshoot, and one finds Reed while he’s accepting an honorary degree. They follow them all back to the Baxter Building, where Reed figures out that it’s the tiny plastic discs on their hands that have the balloon robots targeting them. It’s funny that I remember the last issue as being not so good, when this one is pretty lame. When they remove the discs, the balloon robots disappear.

It doesn’t matter. Doom abducts Alicia, for what reason I have no idea. I guess just to get at the Fantastic Four, but it really has no bearing on his overall plot, which seems to involve him having the ability to make electronics and automated systems go haywire. He sends a video reel of his demands to Washington, and JFK tells him to get fucked. Doom basically shuts down production across the country. We see some Russians gloat before Khruschev, or “Comrade K” reminding them that Doom isn’t doing this for them and might attack them next. This is never paid off, Stan Lee just wanted to mock some communists.

Anyway, somehow Reed surmises that Doom used those balloon robots to map their atomic structures and keyed the disintegrator rays around his ship to attack that structure. Why he wouldn’t just set them to kill any intruder is beyond me, but Reed gives Ben a serum to change him back human, thus altering his atomic structure and allowing him to break in to the fortress. He does and destroys the disintegrator, allowing the others to come on board. They navigate the security traps. Sue finds Alicia and hides her, and when Doom comes for her, Sue has a pretty good showdown with Doom and actually defeats him. She of course credits one of the world’s greatest judo experts for teaching her hand-to-hand combat. And that expert is: Reed Richards, of course! Fuck you, Stan Lee. You are the only one who really likes Reed Richards. I think this is because he thinks of himself as Reed Richards, a.k.a. Smartest Man In Any Room, but also a bootlicker beyond redemption. More on that as we go. Either way, after Sue confronts Doom, the other three come in and they corner him. Doom escapes by leaping from the flying fortress, only to disappear into the clouds, no signs of a parachute. Everyone is reunited for a happy ending, and we’re out.

It’s an okay issue, but it’s honestly the weakest of the Doom issues so far, and I’m including the one where he picks up the Baxter Building with a magnet. Let’s keep going.

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Fantastic Four #18 (Sept. 1963)

We get a really beautiful, very Kirby cover, with that dynamism previously discussed on full display. It introduces us to a fully flamed-on Super Skrull. We start the issue with the FF watching a news broadcast hailing them for their defeat of Doctor Doom, and just as the show is about to cut to a “candid shot” of the Thing, it’s interrupted by the sponsors. Thing gets pissed and almost breaks the TV in his stomping rage. After he calms down, Sue and Reed let the guys know they’re going on a date to Hawaii, and they’ll be there in half an hour because they’re taking a fucking intercontinental ballistic missile! What the fuck? Whatever. Ben and Johnny decide to cut out and go their separate ways in their parts of the Fantasticar. We get a few pages on the Skrull homeworld detailing the creation and testing of the Super Skrull. It’s a pretty cool sequence, but it’s not much to write about. The Super Skrull, of course, has every power of the Fantastic Four at his disposal all at once.

We meet back with the FF a week later, and they’re out and about at a shopping mall. They end up mobbed by fans, so they cut out as best they can when they hear of panic in the streets. They find the Super Skrull in Times Square, claiming the planet for the Skrull Empire. They confront the Super Skrull and we get several pages of action. They’re really good action pages, and I thank god that there’s nothing more to say about it than that. Dynamic and well put together, it might be the best action sequence we’ve seen so far. The Fantastic Four get their asses handed to them. Regrouping, Reed deduces that power-rays flowing from the Skrull homeworld are what energize the Super Skrull and provide his power. They devise a plan to confront him and distract him as Sue sticks a jammer on him. They do just that, then lure him into a crater and trap him there. The End.

Solid issue, fun issue, and a great introduction to a character that will be an ongoing threat. This is actually the first time we revisit the Skrull since issue #2, despite the fact that they’ve been mentioned and catalogued several times since. It’s a good second appearance. Don’t skip this on a read-through, for sure.

Fantastic Four #19 (Oct. 1963)

Dear lord, I thought we’d never reach the end of this year, but here we are. Another fantastic cover as we’re introduced to Rama-Tut, the “Pharoah [sic] from the Future!” They don’t spell Pharaoh right once in this entire issue. Go back to high school, Stan. For real. Or at least put a dictionary on your desk, jeez.

The whole plot here is that Reed has discovered a “radioactive” herb that only exists in the past, but can cure Alicia’s blindness. So they take off for Doom’s castle to use his time machine. Except they leave Alicia to operate the machine to bring them back. Whatever. Leave a blind lady to operate futuristic machinery in a strange castle. Brilliant. Whatever. They get to the past and get their asses handed to them and taken to the “Pharoah,” who explains that he’s from the future where civilization is great and peaceful and he hated it, and that the Sphinx is his time machine before using some rays to make them his unwitting slaves. Cool. Reed is a scout for Rama-Tut’s armies, Johnny is entertainment, Ben is sent to row on his ships, and Sue is, of course, going to be his queen. While rowing, the heat gets to Ben so much that he turns human again and slips his shackles. This also means the slave ray no longer affects him in this state, which is the second time in just this batch off issues that the same plot trick is used. Probably won’t be the last. He leaps from the boat, and they can’t catch him because he can swim faster than they can row the cumbersome boat. Not sure that’s how a rowboat works, but whatever. He escapes and frees Sue by hitting her with the ray again before he turns back into the Thing. Sue tries to go invisible, but she’s wearing clothes that don’t turn invisible with her, but she manages to free Johnny all the same. They get Rama-Tut on the run before freeing the Thing and rushing off to find Reed, who is being used as a shield against an opposing army. Once freed, Mr. Fantastic leads them on a pursuit of Rama-Tut. Thing threatens a guard who tells them Tut has fled to the Sphinx. They investigate and find him in a globular rocket, where he takes off, leaving no trace of his reign, save the Sphinx. They recover a vial of the “optic nerve restorative…” conveniently labeled in English. Though they earlier noted that Rama-Tut spoke English, so maybe that’s not too stupid. They go back to the present, but the herb did not make the trip with them. Reed explains that he was worried that something radioactive wouldn’t be able to travel through time, but vows that, now that he knows it existed, he’ll somehow recreate it in his lab. If you were worried about it, why the fuck didn’t you just bring Alicia back in time with you in the first place and give it to her there? Or why don’t you just grab her and take her right back to the moment in time you just left and give it to her? Reed Richards is a self-aggrandizing idiot. Amidst all of this, Rama-Tut mentioned that his ancestor had created the first time machine, leading us to believe he is a descendant of Doom. Which is cool, and later we find out that he is actually Kang the Conqueror, who debuts in Avengers about a year later. So this is technically the first appearance of Kang.

Overall a good issue, and definitely key for a Marvel fan, but still incredibly silly. We are falling ass-backwards into some of the most enduring and interesting aspects of the Marvel Universe. Speaking of the future of Marvel, the letters page features a letter from one of my absolute favorite 70s Marvel creators, Mr. Steve Gerber. Gerber never goes on to write this book. However, he’ll do a great deal of fun stuff with The Thing in Marvel Two-in-One. He is, however, most known as the creator of Howard the Duck and the man who shaped pretty much the entire mythos of Marvel’s swamp creature, Man-Thing in one of my favorite comic book runs of all time. He’s also popular for the best regarded run on The Defenders. He claims here to like Fantastic Four, but mostly goes on to shit on issues #13 & #15, while praising issues #4, #6, #9, and #14. Whatever, Steve. You might notice the common thread in these issues is the presence of the Submariner, whose solo series he’ll go on to write for nearly a year. Here’s the letter, if you’re curious.
 

That’s it for this week. When we reconvene, I’ll be approaching the next two years in one piece. It’ll still be multiple parts, and will quite likely still involve doing a year a week, but I don’t think we need the issue-by-issue format this time around, though it will certainly make its return when we get into years 5 & 6, as that’s certainly where each individual issue deserves a deeper look. I plan to have the first part of that up next weekend. Keep your eyes peeled for other content on the site, though. With any luck, we’ll see some new contributors in the coming weeks.

A Fantastic Chore: Year 2, Part 2

Allen Christian

Okay, let’s go ahead and get into these. Today’s offerings are mostly thankless and unrewarding, but there’s a diamond in the rough amongst this stuff as well.

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Fantastic Four #12 (Mar. 1963)

There is a long and storied history of The Thing clashing with the Hulk. So much so that there have been collections put together chronicling he ongoing rivalry. Comic fans to this day question which of the two are stronger. I’m not quite sure why, since the Hulk wins every single bout and Ben Grimm survives only by his wits. Their first encounter is really no different.

We start the issue with Ben and Alicia, who seems to have gotten a nice haircut, outside of an orchestra performance of Beethoven’s 5th. When pressed, Ben admits that he’s more into “low-down, New Orleans Jazz.” The Thing is quickly mistaken by army troops for the Hulk, since they’re apparently only working off of a description that didn’t include “green.” They eventually gas him and get him down before their CO interrupts and tells them they’ve made a mistake. Ben huffs off to the Baxter Building. He forgot his belt buckle that opens the exclusive elevator to the top five-floor FF headquarters, so he instead rips the door off and climbs the cable 30+ floors. Ben gruffly relates the events to the rest of the FF before Reed informs him that their help has been requested by General “Thunderbolt” Ross. They get a briefing, then Ben, Johnny, and Reed have a pissing match about who could stop the Hulk first and how, but not before Sue pisses herself invisible in fear.

Next, the FF gear up for the task, and we are introduced to the “modified” Fantasticar. There is nothing modified about it. It’s clearly a completely new vehicle. We’re informed by Reed that fans wrote in to say the old one looked too much like a bathtub. Turns out, Reed Richards is a pushover sop similar to Stan Lee. Ross accompanies the Four to meet Dr. Bruce Banner and his associates. Banner argues that the Hulk is not the culprit Ross seeks, but agrees to help anyway, for whatever that’s worth. Banner’s associate walks out into the hall to see the rest of the FF just kinda chillin’, Sue invisible and Johnny on fire. Thing eventually gets impatient and burst into the room and rips apart Ross’s collection of bound phone books. Whatever. Somewhere amidst all of this, the guy who is wrecking things is nicknamed “The Wrecker.” Stay tuned for that name getting reused in eight years for Kirby and Lee’s Thor. (Side Note: Marvel has a history of reusing names, such as “The Punisher,” who is originally Galactus’s robot, or “Venomm,” originally a villain in Don MacGregor’s Black Panther series, but this might be the only instance I can recall where Lee and Kirby use the same name twice. I’m sure I’m wrong.)

Either way, Banner’s associate, Karl Kort, had dropped his wallet in the hallway and Torch gave it to Rick Jones to return to him. On his way to do so, Rick sees a little card sticking out of it. This card just happens to be a membership card to a “subversive communist-front organization!” Which of course means “Karl Kort must be— A RED!!!” He’s a communist spy out to sabotage Banner’s “Project 34” which is a dumbass fucking idea to protect American cities by blanketing them in electromagnetic waves to fend off a communist attack. Great idea, stop the commies by crippling your own cities yourself! I’m really not sure Stan finished high school. It was the Depression, after all. Anyway, Rick has this revelation right outside of Kort’s trailer, so Kort overhears him because nobody in this book can keep a fucking thought to themselves, so now Rick is a hostage. Wonderful.

Thing gets in some sci-if sled and they tear ass to confront the Hulk. Banner goes off to become the Hulk so they can brawl, I guess, so we finally see the Hulk on page 16. The Four fight him, and the Thing almost gets his ass kicked until some buried robot belonging to the Wrecker uses some ray to zonk him out. Thing uncovers the robot, wrecks it, then they catch the Wrecker. Hulk leaps off to become Banner again, which, even this and six issues of his own being his only appearances, is still out of character. The FF are celebrated, the end.

This one isn’t very well paced, is a bit over long, and ultimately is not that great, but it isn’t a ridiculous drop in quality. It’s entertaining enough to read in a run, but on its own isn’t really worth the revisit. Moving on.

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Fantastic Four #13 (April 1963)

Right up front, this issue is a little goofy. But also, I love it. It’s one of my favorites from the early years. The cover alone is fantastic, and a great precursor to the kind of dynamism Kirby will go on to bring to covers across the Marvel line, especially in this book and Thor. And while the dynamism isn’t present on every single cover from here on out, it recurs often. Even more compelling in this issue is the inker. I’m not certain if this is the only time Steve Ditko inked Kirby, but it’s certainly the only time it ever happened past the monster comics. It’s a fantastic looking book, with all the dynamism of Kirby layered with the Ditko grit. One of the most notable things is the Thing. He looks monstrous in a way that we haven't seen before, with Ditko shading the eyes in a way that we see mostly black, and no pupil.

 Terrifying

Terrifying

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The primary antagonist of this issue is the Red Ghost, a Soviet scientist. The premise of this issue is a literal race to the moon, this having only been a few months after John F. Kennedy's "We choose to go to the Moon" speech. Reed has developed a new fuel that will allow the Americans to make it to the moon first, and he’s going to go. But he plans to go alone. This doesn’t sit well with Ben, who then slowly shoves Reed into a glass bottle until he agrees that the entire Fantastic Four will make the trip. We the get a page of the Red Ghost preparing his titular "super apes" for his flight to the moon. He's training them in lieu of having an actual crew on his ship. Amidst this montage, also get one of my favorite panels of all time, a gorilla with a Tommy gun. Who is apparently filled with hatred, I guess. Wild.

We then get a sequence that cuts back and forth between both crews as they prepare for launch. Once in space, the Red Ghost is bombarded with cosmic rays. The Four pick up on the other rocket, and Johnny gets out to have a look. He's able to do this through some Stan Lee pseudo-science that involves his suit creating an artificial atmosphere that allows him to flame on. Whatever. Anyway, Johnny checks out the Red Ghost's ship and notices that it is not only poorly shielded, it's actually transparent. Because of this, not only has the Red Ghost gained power, so have all of his ape companions! The baboon is a shapeshifter, the gorilla has super strength, the orangutan can control magnetism, and the Red Ghost himself can both turn invisible and phase through solid objects. 

Both parties land on in the blue area of the moon, a place familiar to most fans of Marvel as the grave of Jean Grey and the future home of Attilan, the city of the Inhumans, an event that happens in the pages of this very book in about 20 years or so. Everyone starts investigating things, and Ben is kind of left out. He wanders off and kicks a rock that turns out to be the baboon. This starts a tussle between Ben, the Red Ghost, and his super apes. The Watcher intervenes. He give us his whole spiel about how he's there to watch humans and can never interfere; a dictate he'll ignore many several times in the pages of this book. He pulls Ben and the Ghost aside and tells them that he won't have the Cold War bubbling over into his home and that the two of them will fight it out. Reed, having not been there, reaches over the rock and extracts Ben. This doesn't sit well with the Watcher, and he transports all involved to a lunar coliseum. There's a little bit of a scrap. Reed gets frozen and Sue gets magnetically attached to the orangutan, since Stan Lee is a confirmed Juggalo and has no fucking idea how magnets work (see: X-Men). The Red Ghost runs off, phasing through all sorts of walls until he stumbles into the Watcher's layer. This infuriates the Watcher, who then effortlessly flings the Red Ghost back and forward in time. When he stumbles back to the present, Reed hits him with his own paralysis ray. The Watcher declares the FF the victors. The apes reverse the ray, but only to turn on the Red Ghost. Reed mumbles off some feelings of inadequacy before they get in their rocket and return home.

This issue is actually a whole lot of fun, and it begins pouring the foundation for the cosmic side of the Marvel universe. That's one thing that FF goes largely uncredited for. This book, especially under the direction of Kirby, is where the modern Marvel cosmic universe is born. That's something we'll really start digging into in years 5-6, but right now, with the introduction of the Watcher and the blue area of the moon, both enduring Marvel cosmic elements, we are starting to scratch the surface.

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Fantastic Four #14 (May 1963)

This issue is titled "Once Again, the Fantastic Four Face the Threat of: Sub-mariner, and 'the Merciless Puppet Master.'" If that sounds like a trite rehash... Yep. The beginning is fun, though. We pick up right where we left off, as the FF prepare to land their rocket and receive a hero's welcome. Sort of. It's mostly like a B-list celebrity welcome. Reed is mobbed by the "Mr. Fantastic Fan Club;" the Clayville chapter, of course. The Thing is propositioned by a pro-wresting promoter, but dunks the guy's champion into a trash can. Sue is offered "a lifetime Hollywood contract." Whatever the hell that means. Johnny rescues his friends from the throngs by creating a suction vacuum with heat to transport them across town to the Baxter Building. That's soooooooome science! Back at headquarters, Reed finds Sue lost in thought about the Submariner, as she looks through Reed's "roving eye" TV apparatus, a roving camera searching the seas. Reed fusses off in a pout, and we get several panels of him trying to convince himself that he isn't inadequate. Cut-to: The Puppet Master checking out of a sanitarium, after many long months of recovering from a case of falling out a fucking window to his death. In his many months of convalescence, he has been hard at work on a plan far shittier than his last one: He's going to make the Submariner fight the Fantastic Four. Subs abducts Sue and the others go after him. Ben brings Alicia because he doesn't want to see her cry, and not at all because he step-father is clearly the villain this month. We get an aside from Puppet Master, saying, "My revenge will by much sweeter if I do not manipulate the Fantastic Four!" While he is, of course, holding puppets of the Fantastic Four. This is probably a pretty clear example of Lee and Kirby working at cross purposes, or at least just not being on the same page.

This is probably a perfect time to discuss the Marvel method, for those who don't know. Stan Lee did not write scripts. Not ever. At best, he would discuss the plots with Jack and Steve, and the artists would go off and create the whole story. Much of the original art for the Fantastic Four clearly shows that Kirby was writing much of the suggested dialogue in the margins of the panels.  This isn't the first time the copy and the art don't exactly sync up, but I think it's probably the most blatant case of it we've seen so far.

That aside, we see the Puppet Master follow the FF into the ocean in a submarine. Reed, Ben, and Johnny slug it out with Submariner for many several pages. It's actually a good action sequence, but there isn't really anything to write about here. Somewhere in the midst of it, Alicia lets the crew know that she senses the powers of he step-father at work. Puppet Master's submarine is caught but a giant squid. He tries to control the squid, but fails since squids don't have much mind to control. Submariner comes to his senses and takes his leave. Sue tells him she hopes they can be friends. "Friend? That is too mild a word for the Submariner! Farewell-- for now." Whatever, Subs.

This issue isn't shit. Like the Hulk issue, it isn't terrible as part of the larger tapestry, but it isn't really worth revisiting on its own.

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Fantastic Four #15 (June 1963)

The Mad Thinker. A Fantastic Four villain that persists to this day. God knows why. Oh, and don't forget his "Awesome Android." The giant frog-clam-anvil man. He is not awesome. Look, this guy sucks all around. He's a guy whose entire bit is that he can calculate every single minute detail, ever minor occurrence that will happen, and plans accordingly. It's shit.

The issue starts with the flare going off. Johnny has to leave a date, Sue has to leave her hairdresser appointment (leaving a distressed hairdresser to proclaim that he will destroy himself), and Ben has to cutout from Yancy Street, where he went to get harassed even further after receiving a drawing of himself in a too-too with the caption, "The Thing is a sissy!" Reed calls them back clearly to show them he's created life, according to the art. But according to Lee's copy, they're there because Reed Richard's really wants to do the bidding of the police. He doesn't want to stop what he's doing anymore than the other three, since he was creating life. He even created a primitive form of one-celled life which lived for a few second, he tells them as he holds up a fish-looking creature. I'm not sure Stan Lee really knows what a single-celled organism is, but's it's definitely not a fish. Jesus Christ, Stan, go back to high school. Anyway, now we get a montage of the Thinker, who is working with the Mob, fantasizing about being a king and destroying the Fantastic Four or whatever.

Look, this is where we get into the real format of this blog. Everything up until this point I feel needed a bit more fleshing out and explanation, since so much of it was setting the tone and building foundations for the series as a whole. And we still have plenty more of that. But it is not this issue. Not everything needs to be critically analyzed. Some of these are just shitty Silver Age comics.

Most of this issue is wasted. The Four are twiddling their thumbs doing nothing, despite being tasked to help with the mob, so they all decide to go their separate ways. Reed goes to work for an electronics firm, despite being rich and having his own projects, Sue goes off to be in a Broadway show, Ben does the wrestling thing, and Johnny joins his cousins' circus. They all hate what they're doing, so they quit and meet back up, just in time to see the Baxter Building crystalized? Why? Who give a shit? It's part of the Thinkers plan. They fight his "Awesome Android," which is defeated when Sue finds his off switch, and the Thinker's plan is ultimately foiled when Willie Lumpkin rings a doorbell. Reed explains to the Thinker that you can't calculate and prepare for everything, all while explaining that he himself calculated and prepared for this eventuality. It stinks. I have no love for this issue. Skip it, you'll be fine.

That wraps up this part. Overall, meh. They're okay. Issue #13 is great, but the others are fair to middling. This one took a little longer than expected, because a draft didn't save right and I had to redo a lot of shit that I didn't feel like typing about issue I don't care about in the first place. So that wasn't fun, but since tomorrow is Memorial Day, I'll have time to finish up Part 3 all the same. So be back tomorrow, and we'll cover a set of issues that is largely really good. Except #16. Issue #16 is fucking boring and Ant-Man sucks, but let's save that for tomorrow.

 

A Fantastic Chore: Year 2, Part 1

Allen Christian

Welcome back, True Believers. It's time to dig into another full year of the Fantastic Four. Well, I guess it's actually time to dig into a third of a year of Fantastic Four (I'll be breaking this one up into three parts), but I'm treating this as an intro for Year 2 in its entirety. Year 2 his a pretty important year for the magazine. Really the first five or six years are what shape this book, and pretty much the best it ever gets. But Year 2 holds some pretty special events. Primarily, after that atrocious Planet X story in the last issue, we've finally put the monster comic elements to bed. For the next year, this actually feels a lot like a superhero comic. That might sound a bit obvious, but I don't personally consider Fantastic Four to be a superhero book. Sure, they have super powers, but this is a sci-fi adventure magazine. There's a fair amount of that in Year 2 as well. Truthfully, I think years 2-3 are both pretty similar, without being stagnant. There are clearly things shaping up in the book. Ideas are taken and passed over again and again. The quickly rotating villains might seem repetitive at first glance, but they're really just building on ideas more and more with every pass. If this sounds tedious, I'm not here to tell you that it isn't. But the formative nature of years 2-3 are undeniable, and you'll be glad they get to where they get to. Lets go ahead and jump into the books.

 

Fantastic Four #8 (Nov. 1962)

While, yes, you can call the Mole Man and the Miracle Man from our previous year "super villains," and they do recur throughout the series (though I believe Lee and Kirby are done with Miracle Man and likely never intended to use him again, either Roy Thomas or Gerry Conway fully display their lack of imagination when they bring him back to terrorize some Native Americans in about 150 issues or so), the only original character really worth that title in our first year was Doctor Doom. Namor doesn't count, he's an old anti-hero that debuted in 1939. But here, we get our next continuous supervillain who will stick around for the entire history of the FF. Enter, the Puppet Master!

This issue starts off with Reed in the lab tending an experiment. Ben comes home and wants to take a peek at what Reed is doing, but Reed has Sue and Johnny shoo him away. That pisses Ben off and he scuffles with the Torch. Reed tries to explain, but Ben takes off anyway, stating that he's done with this outfit. Then, per the suggestion of Reed Richards, Sue turns invisible to follow Ben. He doesn't suggest she turn invisible so that Ben can't see her following. That would make too much sense. No, he suggest she turn invisible because her "costume would attract too much attention." This only serves to draw more attention to Ben, as a big orange monster having a conversation with an invisible person is slightly out of the ordinary. Fuck Reed Richards. While Sue is trying to convince Ben to come back, they spot a man climbing a bridge to jump off. We see in a word balloon that the man does not know why he's doing this, that some outside force is compelling him. Since neither Sue nor Ben can do anything useful in this situation, they instead opt to use a signal flare. Reed and Johnny see, but Reed can't reach the man, so Johnny flies off to save him. Save him he does, as we cut to a strange little bald man playing with a model set of the bridge and the man. The bald man gets his finger burnt as Torch saves the man. If you haven't guessed, this bald weirdo with creepy eyes is the Puppet Master!

Phillip Masters is a strange little man, and is probably one of the most visually unsettling villains in the history of comics. This dude ain't cool. He's little just creepy. Like, a dude that looks like this couldn't just not be a criminal in some way. As part 2 opens, we see him with his blind step-daughter, Alicia. That's right, this is the introduction of the Thing's long-time girlfriend, Alicia Masters. Now, Alicia is his step-daughter, which he repeatedly emphasizes when she calls him her father, but she also has his last name, which implies that, at some point, Phillip adopted her, making her his legal daughter, even if they share no blood. But Phillip Masters is a fucking idiot, as this and every other subsequent appearance of the Puppet Master will prove. So this weird little man has radioactive clay that will control whoever the clay is formed to look like. Look, I'm with you on this. Yawn. Was this idea dumb and cliche in 1962? Maybe not. Is it now? Absolutely. But let's press on. 

So ol' Pups uses some of this magic clay (I think it is actually later called magic clay, because subsequent writers didn't just take the three or four science terms they heard in anti-communist propaganda ["nuclear," "atomic," "radiation," radioactive"] and make them catch-alls for any convenient science beat. Stan Lee is a joke.) and he carves a little statue of the Thing. He uses that statue to bring Ben to his apartment, but Sue follows. Alicia is able to tell that Sue is there, because she's pretty much Daredevil. Luckily, Pups has a convenient ether panel installed into the wall of his apartment, so her gives everyone else gas masks and knocks Sue out. Then, inexplicably (I use this term a lot, but it's true every time, and I have a poor vocabulary), Sue apparently looks exactly like Alicia in the face, so Pups dresses Alicia up like Sue and sends her and Thing to the Baxter Building, while he works on his play set of the local prison, having the guards release the prisoners for... reasons. Crime reasons. Ben and Alicia bust up into the Baxter Building and Ben attacks Reed. Reed lures him to the chemicals that will change him back human (the secret thing he was working on), and Pups loses control, since his puppet no longer looks like Ben. They finally realize that Alicia isn't Sue, and Alicia loves up on Ben as Reed Richards fails for to change Ben back for the first of many thousands of times. 

Prisoners are now free, but Sue manages to shoot off another flare to bring the FF to Pups's hideout. They come, there's a big robot, they fight him. They go after Pups, who absconds with Sue on his "greatest puppet of all," a winged flying horse. Life-sized. And it works. I don't think I understand this clay anymore. Reed grabs Sue with his stretch hand, and PM flies off. Conveniently, the radio is on to reveal the prison break, so the FF go fix that. It takes several pages, but it's boring so let's move on. The book ends when Puppy Man reveals his "greatest puppet of all," so I guess he lied about the horse. This puppet is of him! In a regal robe and crown.  This puppet couldn't possibly serve any purpose at all. He's an idiot. It's not like dressing in in this regalia is going to make him a king. But he reveals that he now has the power to rule the world, and we get a sequence showing his really lame fantasies about of ruling the world. Alicia tries to take the puppet, but he knocks her down, flinging the puppet in the process. Alicia reaches for it, and in his haste, Puppet Master trips over her arm and goes hurtling out the window. He clearly dies. They are very high up. Whatever. The Fantastic Four burst in just in time for Thing to comfort Alicia. "What made the Puppet Master fall?" Sue asks. "I wonder if we'll ever really know?" Reed replies, with an unnecessary question mark, as we see the fallen puppet at his feet. We end with a feature page on how the Torch's powers work. 

I've mocked it a bit, but really, this is the first well paced issue. The ending comes naturally and isn't shoved into the last three or for panels, and it's a fun story. Yeah, it's definitely stupid, but it's not the stupidest story we've read so far, or that we'll read this week.  So let's just enjoy it for a minute.

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Fantastic Four #9 (Dec. 1962)

Oh my god, you guys, this is both the best and the absolute stupidest issue we're going to cover this week. We start off with Amor watching his underwater TV where it is BREAKING NEWS! that the Fantastic Four are now broke. He finds that interesting. FORESHADOWING! We catch up with the Four and Reed is distraught because it's all his fault, because of course it is. He invested all of their money in failing stocks. Idiot. He shoves off bill collectors in the first panel of the page, one of which is asking for this month's rent. Odd, because we already knew Reed owned the building, which he reiterates when he says they have to sell the building on the last panel of the same page. Maybe he has a storage unit. The other three volunteer to monetize their powers, but Reed refuses to let them sell themselves to freak shows just because he lost all their money. Wow, Reed is actually caring about other people. Don't get used to it. Thing gives him a bunch of shit for being a shitty manager (rightfully so) before cutting out to go see Alicia. The Four receive a letter from "S.M. Studios" for one million dollars in cash to make a film. Thing shows up and they all agree to do it. Only problem is, they have no money to get to Hollywood, so we see the Fabulous FF out on the freeway hitchin' for a ride. They make it, and we get some Hollywood caricatures throughout that Kirby seems to be having a good time with, but I'm not sure I even get most of the references. Anyway, we find out that the head of "S.M. Studios" is, of course, Namor, the Submariner. He gives them a ton of money and they all go live it up. Sue goes to dinner with the Submariner and wonders why he's being so generous. He responds that he'll let her know after the picture is finished.

Okay, remember when I said we were done with the monster comics? Well, I might have lied a little. The first day of "filming," Reed is sent to an actual island guarded by an actual cyclops. He defeats him by tripping him into a pit. Johnny, who wonders how this movie is being produced with no script, is dropped into a village of "savages," which is about as insensitive as that sounds. These unnamed natives of an unnamed land can't be hurt by fire and they want to cook and eat Johnny. He busts out and kills them all by causing a volcano to erupt. Wonderful. Ben's "scene" is a fight with Namor. They're on the shore of the ocean, so Namor whips Thing's ass pretty handily. For no real reason, Ben turns back human just in time for Namor to deliver the final blow. Now Namor goes back to Sue, tells her he defeated the others, then asks her to marry him. Sue rejects him because of his deception and they have an altercation. The rest of the FF shows up as Namor finally gains the upper hand, and they try to beat his ass. Sue stops them, saying they've "never ganged up on anyone before," which isn't even true in issue #9. Sue says that they lived up to their part of the bargain and Namor promises the movie will be produced and that they will get their money before walking off into the sea. Sue states that "Whatever he did-- he did for-- Love!" Okay, whatever. In the final panel we see that, again I say, inexplicably, the movie was produced.(Out of just those shots? Were there shots? Were they not just traps?) Not only was the movie produced, it's a huge hit and the FF are now rich celebrities. Great.

Yes, this is really stupid, but it's also a really good time, and my favorite Namor appearance so far. Maybe by far. We end with a feature page showing how the Torch flies. It's not very cool. The letters page features a letter by Paul Gambaccini, who was an American that went on to be a top broadcaster in the UK. He has nothing good to say about any of the FF run so far.

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Fantastic Four #10 (Jan. 1963) 

 Oh my god guys, this is my favorite. Of all the early, silly issues of the FF, this one takes the cake. The quick synopsis is that Doctor Doom manages to swap bodies with Reed Richards. Ridiculous as that sounds, it is easily the most sensible and serious thing in this comic. Before we get into the, one of the most noteworthy things here is that this is the first issue, and maybe one of the first comics, where we get actual credits for who did what on a comic book. Sure, we’ve had lines before, and both Stan and Jack had there names signed at the beginning of every chapter in previous issues of FF, but this is the first, honest-to-god credit line, at least in a Marvel comic. However, this mixes me up a bit, as the listed inker is Dick Ayers. While I’m certain this is true, Ayers has credit on as inker on several books before this, according to Marvel Unlimited. I can only imagine he did covers, while the also-credited George Klein and Christopher Rule handled interior work, because the enteriors here are so strikingly different than the book has been before.

Fantastic Four #10 is genuinely funny, and I think it was meant to be. It’s hard to tell in these early issues, but it’s easy to believe this was devised to be more of a comedy issue. Both Stan and Jack were funny guys. But the levels of ridiculousness here aren’t too far off base from the issues that you can tell weren’t supposed to be so ridiculous. Let’s start with the first panel:

 Cracks me up

Cracks me up

Oh my god, Stan, start reading some scientific periodicals, for Christ’s sake. “Radioactive film”? Fuck you. The Torch making the room too hot because he forgot to flame off is gold. So right off the bat everything is silly. Right after this, they see a 4 flare outside the window. They have to puzzle out that it must be the Thing, since he’s the only one that isn’t there. These people are dumb. Even Reed. Then, they can’t get out the building because the “nuclear locking mechanism” on their big door is stuck. Again and again, fuck Stan Lee. “Nuclear locking mechanism.” What even is that supposed to be, other than something that makes your door radioactive. Reed stops Johnny from burning through the door because of how sensitive a nuclear locking mechanism is to heat. We get a dumb sequence of Reed stretching through the building, trying to get the Fantasticar to fly out and up to their window. I’m not even going to pretend I understand why that’s a thing. He fails, because his plan was stupid, and Johnny once again attempts to burn through the door. This time, without heat. What? I’m not sure how much longer I can go on critically analyzing Stan Lee’s complete lack of any scientific knowledge. It works, I guess, and they manage to get out. Down on the street, Johnny nearly inflicts severe burns on a small crowd of people, Reed is flocked by admirers and wriggles away. Gross. Sue is accosted by a creepy man who looks like he’s trying to hug her and asks for a smile. She turns invisible and calls the man repulsive. Whoa. Stan handled a woman reasonably and denigrated a creep. Wild. That good will is immediately undone when Sue is once again shown to be incredibly stupid, as she darts out into traffic, forgetting she just turned invisible. She turns visible as she’s almost hit, and the guy wrecks into a fire hydrant.

Cool. We're up to page 4 now. Thing actually sent out the flare because he wanted everyone to see the little statues Alicia made of the FF's previous foes. They aren't out of the magic clay or anything. They're just pretty cool statues. Sue is a little upset that Namor is among them, which prompts Reed to refer to what was apparently an engagement as "an understanding." Which, I guess is an apt descriptor, but Reed sucks. Sue doesn't want to hear is and Johnny is glad to not have such mushy stuff to deal with.

Next, we get a bizarre sequence where Doctor Doom visits Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Thought Grant Morrison's ending to his run on Animal Man was innovative? Whatever, here's the guys that make the comic getting threatened by the supervillain. Doom has Lee call Mr. Fantastic in to discuss plots for the comic book. When he arrives, Doom gases him and kidnaps him. Thought Doom died out in space?! You're in for the worst surprise. We get a page or so about how he was rescued from his asteroid by blue jean wearing aliens who swap into new bodies when they die. Thank god that was covered. Otherwise, I'm not sure how I could have believed in Doom's capabilities to pull of the main plot of this issue. Dramatic speech, dramatic speech, bodies are swapped, Doom-as-Reed beats up Reed-as-Doom, the rest of the FF show up and pile on. Ben and Johnny come up with really boring ways to imprison Reed-as-Doom, but Doom-as-Reed just throws him in a bubble cell with limited oxygen. When the next chapter opens up, we see a bunch of small animals fleeing Reed's lab. Curiously, Thing is also holding a newspaper with a headline about animals being stolen from the zoo. Thing gives him shit for being a lawbreaker, then Reed let's him know that he did it to test the reducing ray, which he wants to use on them. He tricks these dopes into letting him with maybe the two greatest panels in all of comics:

 Cracks me up

Cracks me up

He then explains that in shrinking the others down, they would maintain their same powers at a smaller size, so that when he enlarges them again, their powers would be proportionately stronger. It's stupid, but hey, these three are stupid. They jump at the chance. Instead of going ahead and doing it, Doom leaves enough chance for his whole plan to fuck up. Reed-as-Doom goes to visit Alicia, presumably to try to explain what happened, but Sue happened to be there and knocks him out. She calls the others. Ben tries to pulverize Reed-as-Doom, but can't. They take him back to the Baxter Building and he interrupts Doom's plans to use the reducing ray. Johnny and Ben just now notice that Reed doesn't sound like Reed, and Johnny decides to create a "heat mirage" from dynamite being used down on the street. Whatever. Reed-as-Doom jumps on it, while Doom-as-Reed tries to escape through pipes. The jig is up. That the FF learned of the swap somehow magically reverse the swap. Okay. A scuffle ensues and Doom accidentally activates the reducing ray, shrinking himself to a sub-atomic level. We get a Sue pin-up and an uneventful letters page and we're out.

I love this one, you guys. It cracks me up. It's a really funny book. And that's one thing that people miss about this book very often. It's often supposed to be funny. In fairness, it's easy to miss, because quite often it's funny without trying to be, and it's also occasionally just bad. This book is uneven, folks. But that's the name of the game. You want issue after issue of heavy hitters, comics that are undeniably good? Go read Lee-Ditko Spider-Man. You want comics that are often goofy, occasionally bad, but twist, shape, expand, and even transcend the medium, and the science fiction genre in general? That's what we're here for. Let's do another.

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Fantastic Four #11 (Feb. 1963)

Well, this is certainly an issue. First of all, the most important thing to address is that I'm fairly certain this is the first full issue where we can see that The Thing is discernibly made of rock. It's been hinted at in some of the artwork previously, but I think it's become very apparent here, and we see this beginnings of his signature brow-ridge as well. There are actually two "stories" in this one. The first, we see that the Fantastic Four are genuine celebrities. It opens as they stroll down to the newsstand to pick up the latest issue of their comic. The stands are packed and people are grabbing up the issues, so they decide to come back later. You'd think they'd get a comp copy, but whatever. They see some kids playing at being the FF on the street. They stop for a moment to suck all the fun out of it. They go back to the Baxter Building, and are greeted by postman Willie Lumpkin, come to bring them a huge, heavy bag of fan mail. He's not happy about it. They FF bring the mail upstairs to read it. Thing gets a boxing glove punch to the face from a package sent by the Yancy Street Gang, then Reed shoves a serum on him out of nowhere, and Ben turns normal again just long enough to get us through a couple bits. Johnny leaves to go down to the garage. Reed and Ben reminisce about college and being in World War 2, then we get a slightly altered version of the FF origin, before we find out that people have been sending in letters about how useless Sue is. Instead of doing anything to actually address this very valid criticism, we get this:

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Rad. Reed then goes on to detail the once or twice Sue has been useful as a character before Ben starts to change back to the Thing. Sue snaps out of her sadness to try to comfort the thing. And alarm goes off, so they go check the spaceship they got in the shitty Planet X issue. Johnny's inside with a cake for Sue. It's her birthday! Happy Birthday, Sue, from all of us at FourColorFilm.com. That wraps "story" #1. Let's get on to #2, which I'm not sure qualifies as a story anymore than this one did.

As seen on the cover, this antagonist of this issue is the Impossible Man. If it sounded like I was down on it a second ago, I'm really not. This is a breezy story, and it's a good deal of fun. The Impossible Man is pretty much to the FF what Bat-Mite is to Batman or Mr. Mxyzptlk is to Superman. He's nutty, he can turn himself into anything, and he's just trying to have a good time. He accidentally robs a bank because he can and he's pretty sure he'll need this "cash" while he's here. He goes around causing all sorts of chaos before the FF come to investigate. They find him eating in a restaurant and try to confront him. He tells the story about how he's just like everyone from planet Poppup. He continues to cause mischief, and the FF and the army tangle with him, to no avail. Eventually, Reed Richards decides that the best course of action is to simply ignore the Impossible Man. This mandate is spread around the world, and everyone ignores him until he gets bored and leaves.  We get a pin-up of Namor and we're out. This is a great issue. It's a silly good time and I love it.

I feel like that's the theme of all of the issues in this post. They're all ridiculously silly, but they all seem to want to be that way. Yet this isn't a spoof book. It's just Lee and Kirby having a good time with it. I enjoy these issues tremendously. The next eight this year are wildly uneven, and occasionally dip into the completely boring, unfortunately, but when they're on, they're far more on than anything we've seen thus far. So be back tomorrow as I take a look at issues #12-15, and Monday as I take us through #16-19, plus Fantastic Four Annual #1! It'll be a time!

 

A Fantastic Chore: The First Year, Part 2

Allen Christian

One thing I wanted to point out that I missed in the last post was that the letters page started in issue #3. Nothing too interesting or revolutionary there, except that one letter is clearly fake, having been signed by "S. Brodsky," who is clearly Sal Brodsky, who was (I think) Lee's production manager at the time. The letter just asks if they're the same people who make all of the other comics that they make and asks how they do it. Stan's response is simply, "With great difficulty!" Many of the early letters were written by Lee in an attempt to drum up reader participation. We'll see some interesting information from the letters pages as we go on.

In the next few issues, we'll see an incredible amount of firsts. As I've said before, while the books doesn't immediately become a great books after the status quo is mostly solidified in issue #3, the next few issues ramp up the pace considerably, and bring us many more things that will be staples of the book for years to come. Starting with...

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Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962)

Quick Synopsis: If you'll recall, we ended issue #3 with Johnny Storm getting pissy and leaving the team. (That's actually another status quo. Someone is going to get pissy and leave at least once a year from this point on. It's pretty much always Ben and Johnny, but there are certainly times when Reed and Sue go, or just Sue. Maybe Reed leaves alone once or twice, though I think he disbands the team when he does, because Reed Richards, as I aim to prove, is an absolute dick.)  Anyway, we start off with the team wondering where Johnny may have gone to.  Ben doesn't miss him, but the other two are worried. Page 2 is a quick recap of last issue, but at the very bottom of the page we are given maybe the laziest house ad ever, with the simple out of place text "THE HULK IS COMING!"

The search for Johnny is as stupid as anything else in this book. Reed yanks a guy off a motorcycle to question him, because he looks like the kind of guy that would know Johnny. Sue thinks turning invisible will somehow help her find him, but the she gets thirsty, and we're treated to this beautiful sequence:

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Thanks for the help, Sue. Of course, Ben is the only one who actually knows where to find him. Of course he's down at the garage hanging out with his friends. Why his sister doesn't think to look there is beyond me. Maybe it's because she's too busy doing the ghost soda thing. Upon being discovered by the person that made him leave to begin with, Johnny takes off again. This time, he runs to the bowery and finds an old flop house to stay in. This flop house inexplicably has a Timely Comic from the 1940s featuring: Namor, the Submariner. Say, seems like he's the guy what who we saw on the cover of this magazine. That's because, even more inexplicably, Amor is staying in this very same flop house! He has a beard and shaggy hair, so no one recognizes him. Not even himself. He has the tried-and-true genre affliction of amnesia. After he beats down a bunch of the other flop house tenants who were harassing him, Johnny stops the whole thing and comes to his defense. He uses his flame to give him a trim and a shave, because I guess the smell of burning hair can't be any worse than a flop house already smells, and he's revealed to be the Submariner. He still doesn't quite have his memory back until Johnny takes him against his will and drops him right into the goddamn ocean. Namor's clothes then disappear. The bottom of this page sees the second tag of "WHAT IS THE HULK?" It's a book that's going to be cancelled within the year because it's not very good. Leave me alone.

From here the books goes about the way you think it would go. Namor remembers who he is and goes back to Atlantis, only to find it has been devastated by nuclear tests. Upon this revelation, Namor vows revenge against the entire human race. He uses his little horn hoohodilly to to summon all the creatures of the deep to attack New York. The Four fight him in some fairly predictable ways, and in a scuffle with Sue, Namor falls in love and says he'll spare the entire human race if she'll just marry him. Trading one form of condescension and emotional abuse for another doesn't really do it for Sue, so she declines. More on this in later issues. Things are pretty comic book normal, until the BIG PLAN of the issue involves fighting Namor's forces by having Ben take a NUCLEAR FUCKING BOMB into the heart of a giant whale creature, cleverly named "Giganto!" Ugh. Let's bring this one in, boys. It's time to go home. Namor swears revenge, and Reed swears to be there when he returns. Our final page is a pin-up of Reed Richards stretching up a building to a man pointing a gun at him. The Hulk is coming, but who the Hulk cares?

I've had my fun with it, but this issue is mostly a good time. Too much of it is playing for time and page space, but this is the first FF story with a good villain, even if they had to drag up an old anti-hero to fill the role. Namor works very well as a foil for the Fantastic Four, and we'll be seeing him again before this post is over. Next.

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Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962)

The real classic, Fantastic Four #5 brings our first true original, classic supervillain to the show. Not just an original, not just a classic, Doctor Doom is arguably the greatest villain in all of Marvel Comics, which certainly puts him in the running for greatest villain in all of comics, which pretty much guarantees him a slot on the list of greatest fictional villains of all time.

That said... meh. I mean, this is a good issue. It's certainly the best so far. We start off with a nice title page of Doom playing with some FF statues, before we get into the typical FF horsing around in the Baxter Building. Johnny is reading the first issue of The Hulk. Whatever. Kirby's art steps up to another level here, looking a lot closer to what most people think of as the classic FF look. There's a reason for this besides the fact that Kirby is clearly getting more and more interested in the direction of the book: This is the first appearance of Joltin' Joe Sinnott on inks! If you don't know who Joe Sinnott is, his name appears in more Fantastic Four bylines as an actual credited creator than anyone else. You have "Stan Lee presents" on a lot of them, but Lee didn't touch this book at all after the 120s. Sinnott doesn't leave the book until John Byrne takes over all writing and art duties at issue 232, and works on more than 30 odd issues past that. Sinnott won't be on this book again until issue #44, but he will go on to shape this book's look more than any other artist.

But what's this issue about? Well, Doctor Doom throws a big net over the Baxter Building, forcing the FF to accompany him to his upstate castle by first taking Sue Storm hostage. She goes out and allows him to take her, simply because he put a big, electrically charged, indestructible net over the building. I'm not saying they shouldn't have done something about the net, but I can't believe they don't even try to wait it out a little. Ridiculous. Once she's held hostage, the rest of the Four come willingly. Doom's plan? He needs Reed, Johnny, and Ben to go back in time and bring back Black Beard's treasure. What follows is a really mediocre pirate tale. They get to the past and take some clothes. Everyone grabs pretty normal pirate clothes. Ben puts on a wig and a fake black beard, and Reed wears a powdered wig, because even in the past he's a haughty milksop. Either way, Pirate shenanigans ensue, and they eventually find the treasure. Only it turns out that Ben is actually the Black Beard of legend. He thinks about staying and living out his monstrous life as a legendary pirate and captures Reed and Johnny. A rogue twister puts an end to this plan. They'd already dumped out the treasure and replaced it with heavy chains to fool Doom. It doesn't for very long, and Ben gets in a fist fight with a Doctor Doom that turns out to be a robot. They're captured, but then, holy shit, Sue actually uses her invisibility to free them. Ben and Reed create a hole in the wall, then Johnny tries to smoke Doom out. Doom straps on his  fancy jetpack and rockets off to the next issue. We don't really learn anything about him in this one.

FUN FACT!: We see our first noteworthy piece of fan mail in this issue, from none other than Mr. Roy Thomas! I'm fairly certain we'll see more letters from Roy as the magazine goes along, until he finally joins Marvel as the first writer of the era that isn't Stan Lee or his brother. He'll go on to achieve many great things, such as writing amazing run on Avengers, becoming Stan Lee's successor as editor-and-chief, and boring me to tears as the writer of this very magazine! Welcome to the game, Roy!

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Fantastic Four #6 (Sept. 1962)

"What are we gonna do with the Fantastic Four this issue, Jack?" "I dunno, Stanley. Maybe the same thing we did last issue?" "That won't do at all, Jack. We've gotta come up with something new!" "Well, Stanley, what if we took what we did last issue and what we did in the issue before that, and we put them together?" "Brilliant. Do the whole thing, please. Excelsior."

For the record, my plan has not been to meticulously catalogue every page of every issue of the FF. The enormous amounts of detail present in most of these entries has been in service of the fact that this is the very beginning of the FF, and so much foundational work is being laid in these early issues. But the story in this one is basic supervillain team-up stuff. Now, this is the first supervillain team-up of the Marvel Age, and it's honestly a good book. But it's still pretty basic.

So let's discuss what is important in this book: Fan mail! (No, not the letters pages. The only thing interesting in there is that we find the letters page for an issue cover dated September of 1962 was assembled on March 24, 1962, even well before the cover date of issue #4, the subject of the exchange in which we learn this information.) No, I'm talking about the fan mail that the Fantastic Four themselves receive! An ongoing bit, the FF often read mail that they've received from their admirers and detractors around the world. Most notably and most often, Ben receives heckling letters and booby-trapped gifts from the Yancy Street Gang. We later find out that Ben Grimm grew up on Yancy Street  and is being heckled by kids from the old neighborhood. Reed gets a letter from a young boy in a hospital he can see out the window. Reed makes minimal effort and stretches over to the boy. This is a fun little interlude before our adventure starts. Let's move on to that.

We see Namor, the Submariner out swimming with dolphins. What a cool guy. Doom, having escaped the FF in issue #5, is out prowling the seas in a pink plane. Rad. He finds Namor and convinces him that they should work together. Namor agrees with some hesitation, before we find out that the pink plane is also a pink submarine. Rad. Namor invites Doom to Atlantis. We see that creepy Namor somehow has a framed headshot of Sue in his living quarters. How this is a characterization that persists to this day, I do not know. Anyway, Doom gets Namor all riled up, reminding him of all the bad the surface world has brought on him and domain. Doom shows off some magnetic device that latches on to even huge things that Doom can then control magnetically with a remote. Hard yawn. Namor goes to New York and struts. Meanwhile, back at the Baxter Building, Johnny finds Sue's hidden headshot of Namor! Oh, geez. Sue tries to get it back, but Johnny burns it. The ruckus attracted the others, and Reed is not very happy when he finds out about the picture. Irrelevant! The Submariner is here! He talks to the FF and states that he's on a mission of peace, and that he'd prefer to be friends. It's a ruse, of course. He planted the device in the building, and Doctor Doom lifts the entire Baxter Building into the air with another pink plane. This time, it's a space plane. Rad. When they're dragged to space, it becomes evident that Doom's plan is simply to leave them all to die, Namor included. This doesn't sit well with Namor, so he puts a helmet on and leapfrogs across some asteroids to The Doctor Doom Hot Pink Space Wagon. He tosses Doom onto an asteroid and takes control of the wagon. I guess he sits the Baxter Building back where it belonged. Sue coos over the somewhat heroic Submariner, and they find and remove the magnetic grabber. The grabber returns to the plane, which Namor crashes into the ocean before returning home. The End.

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Fantastic Four #7 (Oct. 1962)

The comic is monthly now! Other than that, there's really only one thing notable about this book, and that's The Thing. On the cover, we see a clearly rock-like Ben Grimm. Not in the rest of the book. He's still a smoosh on the interior page, but this is out first look at The Thing to come. Likely drawn after the fact, the cover looks to be inked by Joe Sinnott, though I have no confirmation of this. 

The story itself is pretty atrocious. The worst so far, in my opinion. Thankfully, it will be a quick recap. We start off seeing Kurrgo, Master of Planet X, monitoring the FF and learn that his planet is facing impending doom. They send off ship piloted by a robot that is clearly a knock-off of Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. This should send all of the obvious signals that this is just a boring 50s sci-fi comic. We get some clowning around the Baxter Building before the Four attend a ceremony in Washington acknowledging all the good they've done. The ceremony is interrupted, as some stupid "hostility ray" on the space ship starts making everyone shitty, and makes the government turn on the Fantastic Four. This is all to draw the FF out and into the captivity of Gortish. He takes them back to "Planet X" where it takes an extraordinary amount of time for Kurrgo to let them know that he really just needs their help saving his people. Reed helps by creating a reducing gas so that everyone on the planet can fit on the one ship they have for evacuation. Kurrgo holds the canister of "enlarging gas," but rants to himself about how he has no plans to share it when they reach the new planet. However, in trying to carry the canister, he trips and misses the rocket, stranding him on the doomed planet. In the final two panels, Reed lets us in on the secret that there never was any enlarging gas. He only told them there was so that they would agree to his plan. But that's okay, because size is relative, and since they'll all be the same size, it will all be okay. Not really sure that's how it works, Reed, you massive dickhead. But hey, they were captured and forced to help against their wills. Fuck 'em.

This one sucked, guys.

That brings us to the end of the Fantastic Four's first year. Honestly, it's incredible how much of the status quo of the series is already established in these first seven issues. As unrecognizable as issues #1-2 are from the established FF, issues #3-7 lay a lot of groundwork remarkably fast. Join me back here on Friday, May 25th, as we dig into six more issues in part 1 of our look at the second year of the Fabulous FF, from November 1962 through October 1963. Plenty more FF foundations to be laid in issues #8-19. 

Feel free to leave comments below or direct them towards FourColorFilm@gmail.com

A Fantastic Chore: Reading through the Marvel classic

Allen Christian

If you've ever listened to our podcast here, you have likely learned that I am a bigger fan of Marvel's First Family than anyone under the age of 50 has any right to be. So much so that I have been reading through every single issue of the comic from the beginning.

The task started out pretty enjoyable. The Stan Lee & Jack Kirby 102 issue run is a good time, even when it isn't amazing, and there is no dearth of other comic books fans to discuss that run with. But once the King leaves? You find yourself adrift in a sea that no one wants to talk about.

So what are we talking about? Well, I've long wanted to use the website here to write about various comic book and film subjects, so I want to welcome you to the first step in that direction: a brand new blog series where I take you through the entire Fantastic Four series, issue by issue. 

I'll be kicking off this week with a look at the first year of the comic (issues 1-8), and I aim to cover a year a week until I've caught up to my current reading spot, then I'll be covering chunks of issues as I read.

So check in this Friday, and we'll set sail on this ridiculous journey.