Fantastic Four #1   Leave a comment

The Fantastic Four #1

No official credits given in this issue.

Stan Lee: captions and dialogue

Jack Kirby: pencils.

Lee and Kirby: co-plotters

SYNOPSIS:

As the issue opens, a flare gun is fired in the air, leaving beyond the words “The Fantastic Four” in enormous letters over the sky in what we are told is “Central City.” The gun has been fired by the leader of the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards. it is the first time he has ever had to summon his teammates to him. We are introduced to the members of the team one by one as each answers the call.

First, Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, turns invisible and rushes past a crowd of people into a cab. Being invisible most likely makes this simple task far more difficult than it needed to be, but it is an excuse to show us her power. From there, we are introduced to Ben Grimm, The Thing, who is bundled up in a huge trench coat and hat, looking for clothes his size. He is told that there are no clothes his size in the store, and Thing complains that he is too large to fit in with our world. When the signal is brought to his attention, he throws off the coat, revealing his orange, rocky hide. If I were the Thing, and I found clothes my size difficult to attain, I probably wouldn’t just throw the few garments I had on the floor, especially since being nearly naked doesn’t make running to the meeting place any easier. But again, it is more dramatic if his appearance is revealed to us after the disrobing.

Thing’s journey to his destination is far more eventful than Sue’s invisible ride in a cab. After smashing through the doorway of the store, citizens of central City run away in terror, thinking Grimm is a Martian invader. The police fire on him and Thing makes his escape by ripping a manhole cover out of the ground with his bare hands. he then travels through the sewers to what he thinks is the predetermined spot. There is no manhole cover above him, so he just smashes through the ground into the street, totally an oncoming car and yelling at the frightened pedestrians and motorists around him, calling them “Lily-livered cowards.” This is our first inkling that the Fantastic Four is not your normal comic book, and the FF are certainly not your normal heroes.

We are next introduced to young Johnny Storm, The Human Torch, working on a car in a local garage. When Johnny sees the words, he bursts into flames, melting the car he has just spent his time working on and taking to the air. The United States government, getting reports of a flaming man soaring through the air, sends out the air force to engage him. Johnny asks them to stay back, but they don’t listen and come too close to him, their planes melting from the intense heat he generates. As the men parachute to safety, a missile is launched at the Torch. it’s a heat seeking missile with a nuclear warhead. I’m not sure where central City is supposed to be, but it seems the US government isn’t too concerned about delivering nuclear annihilation to it as long as they get the flame covered man in the sky in the process. As the missile is about to strike Johnny, killing him and most likely everyone else in the city, a pair of arms stretches out and grabs the missile, tossing it into the ocean, where it harmlessly explodes. Harmless, that is, unless you are the marine life who are now irradiated with nuclear energy. The Human Torch, his flame extinguished, falls from the sky, only to be caught by a stretching Reed Richards.

Reed informs the Fantastic Four, including the Thing, who is somehow fully clothed again, that they have a fearful task awaiting them. Before we learn what that task is, we are let in on the secret origin of the Fantastic Four. In one of the most famous origin stories in all of comics, Reed Richards, the brilliant scientist who designed the space ship the United States planned to use to beat the Communist Russians into space, along with ben Grimm, the test pilot who has agreed to fly the ship for his best friend, sneak onto the spaceport and steal the ship. They don’t have time to wait for official clearance, as conditions are just right on this night. Susan Storm tags along, as she is Reed’s fiance, and she goes where he goes. Johnny Storm also tags along with Susan, because that’s what annoying kid brothers do, even if it means getting onto a space ship with zero qualifications or training to do so. Try not to think about it too hard. The foursome race past the one guard in the entire place, and steal the ship, blasting off into outer space.

Once in space, the ship is bombarded with cosmic rays, beams of light that penetrate the bodies of the adventurers. Ben had warned Reed that the ship didn’t have enough shielding from the rays, but Reed was hearing none of it. Even in his first appearance, Reed Richards was an arrogant man who never took anyone’s opinion seriously. Since he was the smartest guy on the planet, clearly they couldn’t possibly know something he didn’t. He is eerily similar to a man who will be introduced a few issues from now.

As the cosmic rays bombard the ship and it’s crew, each person begins to feel different symptoms. Johnny’s body heats up and he feels like he is on fire. At the same time,ben’s body feels so heavy he can’t even lift himself off the floor of the ship. The ships autopilot engages and the shuttle crash lands back on Earth, where the four escape the wreckage relatively unharmed, except for the cosmic rays that bathed their body. Sue begins to feel strange, turning invisible before their eyes and then reappearing. Ben yells at Reed as he himself transforms, his skin turning orange and rocky. Ben rips a tree out of the ground and swings it at Reed, who’s body stretches out of the way. He uses his elastic arms (and equally elastic clothing) to wrap Ben up, subduing him. Johnny freaks out, his body erupts in flames, and he takes to the air, causing a small fire.

As Johnny returns to the earth, the four realize they have immense power, power that they must use to help mankind. Johnny decides to call himself The Human Torch, presumably after the original Human Torch, who was one of the three signature characters for Marvel comics predecessor, Timely Comics, along with Captain America and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Sue Storm takes the name The Invisible Girl, and Ben calls himself what Susan called him in her panic stricken state, The Thing. Reed Richards, once again showing that humility is not among his super powers, calls himself Mr. Fantastic. The Fantastic Four has been formed.

The flashback ended, we are brought back to the current day, where Reed tells the others the situation. Atomic power plants all over the world have been sinking into the ground after seemingly impossible earthquakes. Reed’s instrumentation tells us that another earthquake is coming, and we are brought to the scene of that disaster, somewhere in Africa. A hole opens up, swallowing the plant, and a gigantic reptilian creature emerges from the ground. Bullets bounce off of this monster, and he tears a path of destruction through the army, easily crushing tanks with one hand. The creature is stopped only when a voice orders him to. We are told the voice belongs to the creature’s master, The Mole Man.

Reed’s equipment pinpoints the origin of the quakes, an island known as Monster Island. The FF rush off the Monster Island in their private plane, where they are met by, you guessed it, monsters. Using their super powers, the Fantastic Four fight off the monsters, but not before another earthquake sends Reed and Johnny falling to the earth below, where they are captured by the Mole Man.

The Mole Man recounts his own origin story for Reed and Johnny. The surface world mocked him wherever he went because he was ugly. Being spurned by women who found him repulsive, turned down for jobs because he was too ugly,a nd just harassed by jerks on the street was too much for the poor Mole Man. He ran away from society, looking for the famous center of the earth. He found it, but there was an earthquake (a recurring theme in this issue), and the Mole Man was trapped underground. the fall almost completely blinded him, but he developed other abilities to compensate, much like Daredevil would much later. Showing off his fighting prowess, the Mole Man is seemingly unbeatable, as he proves he can never be taken by surprise, and no blow can land on him.

In the middle of his tirade explaining how he will take over the world that scorned him, Sue and Ben enter, looking for their teammates. Mole Man summons his horde of giant monsters to attack them, and Reed grabs a hold of Mole Man, disproving all of the things we have just been told mere panels earlier. Johnny burns a path out of the underground cavern, allowing the FF to escape. Reed, showing once again he isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is, let’s go of the Mole Man in the escape, claiming he won’t bother anyone ever again. Apparently, insane victims of abuse with plans for world domination give up after being grabbed one time by a guy with stretchy arms. As the four make their escape, the island explodes, sealing the Mole Man and his creatures underground. The four hope that he has found peace and that they have seen the last of him, as we readers are told we have not seen the last of…..The Fantastic Four!

COMMENTS:

Fantastic Four #1 was the first comic book published under the Marvel Comics company banner. Super Heroes had done huge business in the 1930s and 1940s, but by the 1950s, their best days were behind them. Other genres moved to the forefront of the comic book industry, as westerns, war stories, crime stories, romance stories, horror stories and comedy books rode the tops of the sales charts. For most of the 1950s, Superman and Batman were the only super heroes to retain a large audience. However, as the decade of the 50s came to a close, suer heroes started to have a bit of a comeback, starting with the introduction of a more modern version of an old hero, The Flash. The appearance of the new Flash was a big success and super heroes started to make a comeback. All of these new heroes were teamed up to form the Justice League of America, a book that was a huge seller.

Martin Goodman, the publisher of Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, the predecessors to Marvel Comics, was famous for following trends. Whenever a company had success with a book, Goodman would demand his staff create a version of that book for him. When he saw how many copies Justice League of America was selling, Goodman ordered Stan Lee, his top editor and writer, to create a team of super heroes. Accounts vary as to who was actually more responsible for the creation of the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. Both men tell different versions of how the book came about. However, anyone familiar with the work of either man can see what each individual brought to to the creation process.

Jack Kirby’s design work is all over the Fantastic Four. The creatures the Mole Man commands, as well as the Thing, are pure Kirby. The dialogue and character traits are classic Stan Lee. Lee was tired of super heroes who were flawless and perfect as they fought crime. He felt it would be far more interesting is the super heroes in his world had human flaws and emotions. His team bickered with each other and showed jealousy and anger and bitterness. Yes, their powers and appearances were outlandish and larger than life, but at their heart, they were far more human than super.

Lee’s belief that people wanted to read more realistic super hero comics turned out to be true, as Fantastic Four was a huge success. Fifty years later the book seems hokey and corny, but when it was released, it was leaps and bounds more serious and realistic than what the competition was doing. The Justice League never argued with each other or fought amongst themselves. Superman was never fired on by the air force as he flew over Metropolis. It was only in Fantastic Four that the heroes acted even remotely like people would if this situation actually happened to them.

An interesting historical note is that Fantastic Four is almost a super hero book in disguise. In 1961, when this book was published, super heroes had begun to become more popular, but they hardly were the top genre in comics. When Lee and Kirby created a super hero book, they did their best to not go all the way with it. In fact, the first issue of the Fantastic Four is more of a science-adventure/monster book with super hero elements than a full fledged super hero book. In this issue the Fantastic Four do not fight a traditional super-villain, they do battle with gigantic monsters. Monster books were very popular at the time, and the famous cover image is much more indicative of that type of book than a super-hero book. The thing himself also resembles the monsters so popular at the time. Super hero costumes, a staple of the genre up to this point, don’t even appear in this story.

Whether people thought they were buying a monster book or a super hero title, the fact is they bought it and in huge numbers. Fantastic Four was a huge success. It was unlike any other comic book on the racks in those years. This initial issue was just a beginning. In the coming months and years, Fantastic Four would go on to make Marvel comics a force in the publishing industry, as well as change the way comics were written and drawn from that point on.

The Marvel Age of comics had begun and the world of super heroes would never be the same again.

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Posted April 16, 2011 by John V. Ferrigno in Fantastic Four

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