Monday, August 8, 2011

The Fantastic Four

Today is being celebrated as the fiftieth anniversary of the FANTASTIC FOUR comic book! When pressed, I will generally declare FF as my all-time favorite comic book. In 1966, they not only had their own Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon but the book itself was on top of its game! Stan Lee. Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott were producing the title with Kirby's imagination literally working overtime. Above is the January, 1966 issue (on stands in November on 1965) which features the debut (after several teasing issues) of Black Bolt and The Inhumans.
Here the Inhumans get trapped in the gigantic, impenetrable dome that will shield their Great Refuge from the world in a storyline that will literally last the next year as a subplot in the book as the storytelling becomes more and more complex.

Over the next three issues, Kirby creates "God" as a super-villain and takes Marvel cosmic without ever looking back, throwing in the unexpected creation of the Silver Surfer. Even Stan Lee admits that he had no idea who this guy was as no one had mentioned him before.

As the Galactus saga winds down, the more human side of the FF emerges again as Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, goes to college.
This issue is generally considered to be the FF's masterpiece of masterpieces, a simple tale of men and monsters and what really constitutes which is which.
In the next two issues, the first major black hero, the Black Panther, an African price turned superhero, arrives complete with a background of a highly technological country and its ultra-rare element, vibranium, all of which will underly scores of plotlines and plotpoints to come over the years as Marvel mines the richness of these early issues.

Okay, now this was the very first issue of FANTASTIC FOUR I ever bought. Although it's the September issue, I took it on our vacation to North Carolina in July that year and read it endlessly! It introduced me to so many concepts from this title that I felt overwhelmed. I still think the cover showcases some of the very best of the Kirby/Sinnott art from that period.
Not having been around for the Galactus introduction of just a few months earlier, this was my introduction to the Silver Surfer as well as my real introduction to the Thing since this issue showcases him as much as the previous one showcased the Human Torch.
This was one of the last of the "in one" storylines from Marvel as the continuity was growing at an amazing scale by this point. Even then, Klaw was a returning villain from a few issues earlier but now transformed into something Kirby had transformed Marvel during that same period.
These next few issues were an absolute tour de force for sheer over-the-top superheroic melodrama as well as serving as my introduction to the megalomaniacal genius of Dr Doom! In this series, Doom manages to steal away the Silver Surfer's power and surfboard for himself. What could have been a silly storyline in anyone else's hands plays out in a majestic, almost Shakespearean tragedy that nonetheless includes the freeing of the Inhumans at long last!

Also out this year was this FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL which i remember getting at Woolworth's while shopping with my mother. I also distinctly remember it introducing me ti the word "original." I had only just learned the word "origin" and presumed it must somehow be related. In this case, it was referring to the original Human Torch whose appearance here, along with reprints of much earlier FF issues, only hinted at the vast backstory of Marvel Comics that I was still to learn as time went on.


  1. FF # 55 is one of the first isues I recall as well. It's hard to aay what was my "first" FF comic, since my older brother John was buying them for years and had a collection dating back to # 21. Kirby was in high gear in '66, one idea after another. It's never been topped, and coupled with Stan Lee's dramatic dialouge and the exquisite inking of Joe Sinnott, it was a perfect comibination. and those covers! Unbelievable! Perfectly composed and dramatic. I have afond memory of being at a NY Con a few years back and a young boy, around 10 or 11, was looking through a box of comics near me. He was staring at issue after issue of FF's Kirby covers and telling his father these were great. I couldn't help but smile and tell his dad his son has great taste.

  2. Yup, '66 was the peak indeed.
    Great blob, btw.