Friday, October 23, 2009

Fantastic Four Fridays

Having worked my way through the 1960s Iron Man, I will now turn my attention to the Fantastic Four issues. Back when I was collecting comics in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had a friend who was big on the Marvel books, while I collected DC, so whenever we'd discover a cache of the other guy's faves we'd trade. As a result, my collection of Marvels other than Spiderman (the one Marvel series I insisted on keeping) is pretty poor. However, he did let me borrow his FF issues, so I managed to keep reasonably up to date.

Fortunately, Marvel recently came out with the complete set of FF issues (plus Silver Surfer) on DVD. These are absolutely gorgeous color scans of the original issues, not black and white like the Essentials series, and not slathered on color like the Masterworks. You can almost smell the musty paper as you read these. Highly recommended as the cheapest way to complete your collection!

FF #1 debuted with a cover date of November 1961. Note that the characters had not quite been finalized:

Reed, in particular, would undergo quite a change facially, with a much younger appearance before long. And Ben's alter-ego would also evolve quite a bit:

This, to me, is one of the keys to Marvel's extraordinary success in the 1960s. DC's Silver Age characters arrived fully conceived, and seldom changed, while Stan and Jack and the rest of the bullpen were never afraid to tinker with the characters, especially based on feedback from the readers. A full listing of all the changes Marvel made during this era would be extremely long, but aside from the above, they added uniforms to the FF, did away with Peter Parker's glasses, changed Iron Man's color from grey to gold to red and gold, changed Ant-Man to Giant Man, changed the look of the Iceman, etc.

We learn that the FF originated as a group effort to reach outer space before the communists:

And for perhaps the only time in the Silver Age, Ben was right and Reed was wrong on a scientific matter. As they rocket through the cosmic rays, they are changed dramatically. Sue is able to turn invisible, while Reed stretches crazily and Ben turns into the thing. And Johnny:

Of course, this is a swipe from the original Timely superhero the Human Torch, right down to the name, which Johnny adopts. They resolve to use their powers to benefit mankind. Their first assignment is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of atomic power plants all over the globe:

Reed discovers that there's an island exactly in the middle of all the disappearances, known as Monster Isle. Sure enough, it turns out that the island is aptly named:

Suddenly the ground collapses underneath Reed and Johnny, who fall into a deep cavern. Their eyes are blinded by a dazzling light:

I've always loved that panel introducing Moley; his appearance is bizarre and it contrasts with the rather bland, "And as for me, I am the Moleman!" He explains his origin:

This is pretty good stuff; the Moleman's given a strong motivation for what he does. He managed to control the creatures below the Earth, and now he's planning an invasion of the surface. But the FF make their way to the surface, and Johnny seals the exit, leaving the Moleman below.

Comments: A solid introduction to the series. One oddity is that the story is broken up into several chapters; with a splash page at the beginning of each which is a strong indication that Kirby was doing much of the work putting the story together. DC often used these chapters in their stories, and Kirby had put them into Challengers of the Unknown, the series he designed for DC in the late 1950s.