By Cap10nate 4 Comments
November 1961 was the start of something special in the world of comics. A new age, a Marvel Age, dawned as the first issue of Fantastic Four hit the newsstands. The Jack Kirby and Stan Lee creations were the first of many that would revolutionize the industry. I was able to purchase a DVD created by GIT Corporation that contains every Fantastic Four from that inaugural issue through 2006. The disk contains scans of every issue including annuals so not only are the stories included, but the advertisements and fan letters are included as well. It creates a time capsule that provides a lot of insight of how the book was received and the impact it had on the industry. I plan on providing a review of the book throughout the course of its history as I work my way through the entire run. This review covers the first fifty issues of Jack and Stan’s run. The entire run was going to be included in this review, but too much happened so it needs to be broken up. The lengths of the reviews will vary depending on how long they make sense to be.
This is the well-known story of four adventurers that are exposed to cosmic rays and develop incredible powers. They are not crime fighters or have secret identities, but they are heroes that manage to help those in need and save the world. Once their power is obtained, they are constantly tested. After they defeat the Mole Man in their first adventure, the Four are put to the test against the Skrulls, Namor, Dr. Doom, and the Puppet Master among a few other minor villains in the first ten issues alone.
As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to supporting characters like Alicia Masters, the Watcher, the Inhumans, and the Silver Surfer. Many more villains plague the First Family including the Red Ghost, Super Skrull, Rama-Tut (early incarnation of Kang the Conqueror), Molecule Man, Hate Monger, the Frightful Four, as well as the frequent re-appearances of the Dr. Doom, a few run-ins with the Incredible Hulk, and the ultimate climax with the Coming of Galactus.
There is a lot of character development that occurs in the first five years for each of the characters. The one that gets the most development is Susan Storm. Her main function at the beginning of the story is to be taken hostage as she starts out only with the ability of turning invisible. She often contributes in the final battle, but only after she proved to be a liability by being captured. The very beginning of issue 22 in January 1964 shows the beginning of her evolution to the lady she is today as she first develops the use of her force fields. There are still times throughout the following issues in which she is the damsel in distress, but they become fewer and farther between as her power develops.
Benjamin Grimm, the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, receives the most depth of all the characters. He is a former Air Force pilot that was transformed into a monster with a heart of gold. He is constantly troubled by his appearance and how everybody views him. He finds acceptance and love in the blind daughter of the villain, Puppet Master. Alicia never sees the monster. She only sees the kind soul underneath. Ben is often ornery as could be expected for someone forced to live his life as an orange brute. He is often the brunt end of Johnny’s joke and feels that he is only wanted for his strength. His courage and nobility always shines throughout the jokes and failed cure attempts.
Even at his inception, Reed Richards was the aloof genius. He loves his friends, but is never great at showing it and ends up spending more time in his lab than with the ones he loves. Sue is often exasperated to the fact that he doesn’t show her the love and attention she deserves. He spends much of his time trying to cure his best friend, Ben, from the malady of constantly being the Thing. This is the one thing that he fails at over and over as each cure he establishes is only temporary and Ben inevitably reverts back to the Thing.
Like his sister, Johnny Storm has a long way to go before being the character we know and love today. He is a love-sick teenager that spends a lot of time moping around over either a lack of love at the inception of the series or his lost love of Crystal for the latter part of the series under review. He does, however, possess many of the character traits that we still see today. He is very confident in his abilities and often uses them to torment and antagonize Ben.
The key thing to remember when reading the start of the Fantastic Four run is that this is the genesis of the Marvel Universe that we know and love today. There was nothing for Jack and Stan to reference or rely on as they started their tale, and in the first five years of their run, they had created the groundwork that is still very visible today. Most of the key character traits that are present today were established early on as well. Ben is often sorrowful of his condition. Reed continually tries to cure him. Sue and Reed are in love, but Reed has a hard time expressing his feelings and doesn’t spend enough time with her. Namor falls for Sue. Johnny gives Ben a hard time for looks. Ben falls in love with Alicia and she loves him for his heart. The Marvel Universe public is often wary of the heroes and turn on them quickly. Galactus is hungry. Etcetera. Etcetera.
The two forbearers of the Marvel Universe evolve their storytelling over the first 5 years on the book. They start off with single issue, stand-alone stories while the reader is getting acclimated to the characters and they build up a readership. The one concern with this type of storytelling is that the story needs to be wrapped up in neat fashion within 22 pages or so. There are a lot times early on where it just so happens to be that Reed has some sort of ray at his disposal or some other convenient way to win the day. As the series progresses, the stories start to get longer and begin to form arcs including the two part story of Doom taking over the Baxter Building, a three part Frightful Four story, a three part Inhumans story, and the final three issues for the Galactus saga.
There is also a noticeable shift in the art. The characters, Ben specifically, look significantly different at the beginning of the series than they doea few years in. Not only are the looks different, Jack Kirby begins experimenting with the layout of the book. Standard, small panels are present at the start. As the series progresses, panels of varying sizes and even full page spreads to convey significance of the moment.
This run is must read for anyone who is a fan of the Marvel Universe. This is the genesis of something great that is truly a fantastic ride. Some of the early stories may be hard for a reader if looked at through a modern lens. However, if you immerse yourself in this universe and story, Stan and Jack tell a wonderful story of friendship, love, and perseverance. There are emotional highs as Reed and Sue get married in the 3rd annual issue, Ben overcomes Doom to take back the Baxter building in issue 40, and Galactus is repelled in issue 50. There are also emotionally deep moments as Ben is often resigned to his condition or Johnny is torn from his love, Crystal. Everything you could want in comic book series or any form of fiction is present in these first five years, and from what I have read so far from the rest of the run, the best is yet to come.