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  1. #1
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    Default Slam Bradley reads the Marvel Universe.

    Fantastic Four #1

    Written by Stan Lee
    Pencils by Jack Kirby
    Inks by George Klein (probably) I say probably because it’s still not 100% settled that it was Klein who inked FF #1, but he’s now the odds on favorite and it’s pretty well accepted.

    It’s a little intimidating to start out with what is probably one of the five most important comics ever, but here we go. My intention is to look at these books from both a historic perspective and as an adult reading the books (usually for at least the second time). I first read FF #1 in a Marvel Pocket Book that reprinted the first five issues when I was probably 10 - 12 years old.

    Cover:

    This could pretty easily have been a cover from one of the Atlas monster comics that Lee & Kirby had been producing for a few years. The monster in the center is great. The team introduces themselves on the cover. I have absolutely no idea how the Hell Mr. Fantastic ended up tied up in ropes. The monster certainly didn’t do it. And there is no other nemesis. Fetish perchance? Ben appears to have four finger and no thumb on his left hand and three fingers and a thumb on his right.

    The Story:

    The book opens with a 2/3 splash that shows a smoke “flare” with the name Fantastic Four panicking the crowd. We also see the team in their civilian ID’s at the top. So between the splash and the cover we know who we’re dealing with. The first eight pages bring the crew together to meet the cryptic threat that the mysterious firer of the flare hints too. Lee & Kirby take the opportunity to really introduce us to the FF.

    Sue Storm is having tea with a friend when the call goes out. For some unknown reason she feels the need to become invisible in order to go to their headquarters. This leaves her friend wondering where she’s gone, makes the folks on the street, who she shoves aside, confused and scares the poo out of the poor cabbie who wonders why money is floating around his cab and talking to him. Nope…Superman isn’t the only one who is a dick.

    Poor Ben Grimm, dressed like a cut-rate P.I., can’t find clothes to fit him. But that doesn’t matter when the clarion call is sounded. He must answer so quickly that he doesn’t have time to go through the door to the store he’d just entered, but must break it apart showing his Thing-strength. This, of course, perturbs the cops who are serendipitously outside the door causing them to take a shot at Ben. (Personally I feel for the guy in the purple suit who is showered with glass as Ben breaks through the door). Ben then decides to tear up the street, travel the sewers and then tear up the street again when he gets near his destination. Which isn’t such a good idea because there’s a car coming…though we now know that The Thing is stronger than a speeding car.

    Speaking of cars, young Johnny Storm loves them. Only one other thing interests him more. That one thing is bursting in to flame and melting the car he was just working on with his buddy. For want of getting out of the driver’s seat, the car will no longer be “purring like a kitten.” Johnny flies toward his destination which garners the attention of the crowd…and of the Air Guard. I think we have to assume that at this point Stan had no thoughts about tying the FF in with the older Timely books, because one would think that people might have remembered the original human torch from less than a decade before. Johnny is apparently so dangerous (he melts at least two jets that get too close) that they fire a missile with a nuclear warhead on it at him. A NUCLEAR WARHEAD. While he’s flying over a city. Luckily for Johnny (and the hundreds of thousands of people below) Johnny is saved by Reed (Mr. Fantastic Richards) who throws the missile in to the nearby sea (poor fish) and grabs Johnny as his flame fizzles out.

    Obviously Reed has already been hard at work on unstable molecules as Johnny is not nekkid and Reed’s clothing stretches with him. And Sue’s clothes got invisible…which was probably warmer than her running about in the buff.

    Before we find out what the danger is, we need to find out the origin of our fantastic foursome. I’m going to gloss over this as it’s so well known. I love that Cold War paranoia though. And really…we’re going to take along our girlfriend and her kid brother on a dangerous trip in to space in an experimental spaceship? Alrighty. The final panel on page nine feels like it could have been lifted from Challengers of the Unknown. As we know “those terrible cosmic rays” did a number on our heroes. Sue turns invisible. Johnny starts on fire. Reed becomes an India Rubber Man. And Ben just gets hosed, looking like something straight out of the second story of Journey in to Mystery. He tries to take it out on Reed, but eventually joins in the fun of helping the world. Johnny does start a forest fire and he‘s somehow not nekkid when his flame goes out. So we have that going for us.

    Page 14 starts with a 2/3 splash that reintroduces our monster friend from the cover. The important issue that necessitated the destructive charge to HQ is that atomic facilities around the globe have been disappearing in to the ground. Yep…that’s right. Pictures of stuff that has happened. No present danger. A phone call and a leisurely cab ride would have been fine. Sorry about all the destruction, townsfolk.

    We do find out that our buddy from the cover is controlled by The Moleman and that they are responsible for the disappearances. Reed uses math and science to discover that the center of the carnage is Monster Island., which Ben is convinced is a “fairy tale.” It’s not. And our heroes are attacked by a pretty funky three-headed monster.

    Johnny and Reed fall down a crevice and in to the abode of The Moleman. One of its features is a “valley of diamonds” that is blindingly bright. Which is pretty cool…as long as you don’t wonder what the Hell the light source is. Moleman advises our twosome of his origin…cast out by society because he was ugly, he found the center of the Earth, lost most of his sight, tamed the underworld monsters and is going to destroy the upper world, using his minions. Not enslave…not pay back. Nope destroy. But then he’s going to carve out an underground empire…which he kind of already has. And there won’t be any people left. The guy is a bit nuts. He’s good with a quarterstaff though…or at least better than Johnny…or Reed.. Because of his mole/bat senses.

    Outside Ben defeats a monster that is threatening Sue. Then Johnny defeats a monster as they escape the lair of the Moleman. And his flame collapses the entrance to his lair. Reed, who had captured the Moleman lets him loose because his empire has been sealed off and he will never trouble anyone again. Except his monsters were striking all over the world. From underground. Maybe they’ll be able to just tunnel up again…like they did before.

    Thoughts

    I’m not really an “art” guy. I’ve never taken an art class. I know diddly about inking. Mostly I just know what I like. This is clearly not Kirby’s best work, even for this time period. I’ve read that his backgrounds in The Rawhide Kid that was running contemporaneously are much better. I can’t confirm that, but don’t disbelieve it. I will say that overall this was not nearly as strong as his work on Challengers of the Unknown a few years earlier. But it was dynamic and the design of the monsters was cool.

    Stan was starting to do some things that were different, while still fitting firmly in the “monster books” that had been selling for some time. We see the tip of the tortured soul that Ben Grimm would become. He and Reed fight and probably rightly so given what Ben looks like. And this isn’t a team-up of separate heroes like we see in JLA. These people are family and friends and that makes a clear difference. At the same time we have a lot of the same silliness that we’d see in older comics. And Sue…well it’s pretty clear that they have no idea what to do with her besides have her be saved by Ben.

    The toll: One doorway, two gaping holes in the street, two automobiles, two military jets, one nuclear missile, one spaceship (damaged at least), one forest fire, one monster island.

    Grade for historic importance: A+
    Grade for enjoyment: B-

    I want to note that I remember loving these early FF issues when I was about 10 - 12. At the same time what would be considered the "peak" of the run was being reprinted in Marvel's Greatest Comics and I didn't like them nearly as well. So the book did what it was supposed to do at the time. That I find fault with it at 44, can in no way ever change that.

  2. #2
    Longstanding Member MWGallaher's Avatar
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    As I argued in another thread a while back, I'm entirely convinced that the second part of this issue (all the pages following the completion of the origin story) are cobbled together from an otherwise-unpublished Atlas monster story (which I like to imagine was entitled "I Battled... the Mole Man!"), with the FF awkwardly inserted, many panels redrawn, rearranged, and rescripted. That's one reason why the art is below Kirby's standards. For example, he certainly didn't draw that lousy depiction of the "valley of diamonds"; in the original version, I suspect this was in fact a pile of radioactive material stolen from the power plants (notice how that aspect of the story was completely dropped in the FF #1 version) In fact, one is very hard pressed to make sense of anything that happens in the Mole Man sequence, including dressing "Reed" and "Johnny" in hazmat suits. Obviously, this makes a bit more sense if Stan had to come up with something to explain the preexistent art which showed the lead characters dressed in such outfits, which of course, would be appropriate garb if one is tracking stolen uranium.
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  3. #3
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MWGallaher View Post
    As I argued in another thread a while back, I'm entirely convinced that the second part of this issue (all the pages following the completion of the origin story) are cobbled together from an otherwise-unpublished Atlas monster story (which I like to imagine was entitled "I Battled... the Mole Man!"), with the FF awkwardly inserted, many panels redrawn, rearranged, and rescripted. That's one reason why the art is below Kirby's standards. For example, he certainly didn't draw that lousy depiction of the "valley of diamonds"; in the original version, I suspect this was in fact a pile of radioactive material stolen from the power plants (notice how that aspect of the story was completely dropped in the FF #1 version) In fact, one is very hard pressed to make sense of anything that happens in the Mole Man sequence, including dressing "Reed" and "Johnny" in hazmat suits. Obviously, this makes a bit more sense if Stan had to come up with something to explain the preexistent art which showed the lead characters dressed in such outfits, which of course, would be appropriate garb if one is tracking stolen uranium.

    That actually makes some sense. And I did wonder about the Haz-Mat suits as they really didn't seem to add anything to the story or make any sense. I've seen the script for the first part of the story in an early issue of the new Alter Ego...but I don't remember how far in the script goes.

  4. #4
    NOT Bucky O'Hare! The Confessor's Avatar
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    Great write up, Slam! You make some really good points and your prose is really enjoyable to read too.

    It's an interesting theory that you and MWGallaher have got going here about the latter half of the story having been an old, unused Atlas monster story. I agree that it is all too plausible -- in particular the Haz-Mat suit thing has always been a WTF moment for me. It just seems really weird and out of place for Mole Man to source protective clothing for these intruders into his domain.

    A couple of interesting things in this comic that you didn't mention: firstly, I think it's fascinating that Stan set the story in the fictional Central City, as opposed to the very real New York, as would quickly become the case for all Marvel’s Silver Age superhero comics. Clearly the Marvel Age's revolutionary dedication to "realism" in comics hadn't quite taken hold to its fullest extent at this embryonic stage. Stan must've quickly realised that that if you are going to have a shared universe of more "real" and flawed superheroes, setting their adventures in a real city (and not some fictional Metropolis or Gotham) was the logical thing to do. I'd be very interested to know exactly when this switch from a fictional city to a real one occurred.

    The second thing I want to comment on is how the Mole Man is painted as a somewhat sympathetic character in FF #1, beginning with his tragic origin of a man who was too ugly for the surface world to tolerate. To me, this is a good early example of the heightened level of realism that Stan was aiming for, in that the comic's villain is not a two-dimensional black heart, but something altogether more complex.

    As an aside, where's our resident Fantastic Four aficionado tolworthy? I felt sure he'd have something to say about your review of this classic issue.
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  5. #5
    Longstanding Member MWGallaher's Avatar
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    The script to FF #1 (which can be read at http://nickmaynard.tumblr.com/post/2...four-1-written ) covers only the origin segment. And there are several aspects to the Mole Man segment beyond the Valley of Diamonds and the hazmat suits that suggest the Mole Man story once stood on its own as a non-FF story. For example, on one page, there's a character in the middle-tier rightmost panel who is pointing up and to the right, which is the kind of panel Kirby instinctively drew in the final panel (as a kind of "turn-the-page" tease), suggesting that the tiers had been cut apart and restructured. Other panels are obviously (and sloppily) redrawn, such as one showing a giant monster emerging from a crudely-drawn grid floor, with tiny FF members inserted into a blank space in the grid in front of the monster. And, as I recall, no explanation is ever given for why the monsters were stealing nuclear plants. I think all this redrawing has confounded the mystery regarding the FF #1 inker: the issue was not originally constructed as a unit.
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  6. #6
    Frugal fanboy Cei-U!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Confessor View Post
    I'd be very interested to know exactly when this switch from a fictional city to a real one occurred.
    It happened in Fantastic Four #3, the first to show the team operating out of Manhattan.

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    NOT Bucky O'Hare! The Confessor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cei-U! View Post
    It happened in Fantastic Four #3, the first to show the team operating out of Manhattan.

    Cei-U!
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    Right, OK...and at that point there wouldn't have been a shared Marvel Universe because The Incredible Hulk wouldn't have begun publication yet, right?

    How about the man being dragged into the ant hill in Tales To Astonish #27? Having never read the story, I'm kinda fuzzy on whether this is actually the first appearance of Ant-Man/Hank Pym or not. But if it is, does that comic give any mention of the city in which it's set?
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    Frugal fanboy Cei-U!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Confessor View Post
    Right, OK...and at that point there wouldn't have been a shared Marvel Universe because The Incredible Hulk wouldn't have begun publication yet, right?
    You are correct, sir.

    How about the man being dragged into the ant hill in Tales To Astonish #27? Having never read the story, I'm kinda fuzzy on whether this is actually the first appearance of Ant-Man/Hank Pym or not. But if it is, does that comic give any mention of the city in which it's set?
    Yes, it's Hank Pym (the first official Ant-Man story in Astonish #35 includes a flashback to #27). No, no city is mentioned.

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  9. #9
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Confessor View Post
    Great write up, Slam! You make some really good points and your prose is really enjoyable to read too.

    It's an interesting theory that you and MWGallaher have got going here about the latter half of the story having been an old, unused Atlas monster story. I agree that it is all too plausible -- in particular the Haz-Mat suit thing has always been a WTF moment for me. It just seems really weird and out of place for Mole Man to source protective clothing for these intruders into his domain.

    A couple of interesting things in this comic that you didn't mention: firstly, I think it's fascinating that Stan set the story in the fictional Central City, as opposed to the very real New York, as would quickly become the case for all Marvel’s Silver Age superhero comics. Clearly the Marvel Age's revolutionary dedication to "realism" in comics hadn't quite taken hold to its fullest extent at this embryonic stage. Stan must've quickly realised that that if you are going to have a shared universe of more "real" and flawed superheroes, setting their adventures in a real city (and not some fictional Metropolis or Gotham) was the logical thing to do. I'd be very interested to know exactly when this switch from a fictional city to a real one occurred.

    The second thing I want to comment on is how the Mole Man is painted as a somewhat sympathetic character in FF #1, beginning with his tragic origin of a man who was too ugly for the surface world to tolerate. To me, this is a good early example of the heightened level of realism that Stan was aiming for, in that the comic's villain is not a two-dimensional black heart, but something altogether more complex.
    Thank you for the enthusiasm. I knew that FF was originally set in Central City (wonder if The Flash sued) but simply missed it in the write-up. So it is an interesting ode to older comic sensibilities that will be changed in issue 3. However, there's another change in issue 3 that marks a bit of a regression to form.

    Mole Man was definitely shown in a fairly sympathetic light. And it clearly took a heavy toll on his sanity. I know a lot of really ugly people who didn't give up on life though.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Confessor View Post
    Right, OK...and at that point there wouldn't have been a shared Marvel Universe because The Incredible Hulk wouldn't have begun publication yet, right?

    How about the man being dragged into the ant hill in Tales To Astonish #27? Having never read the story, I'm kinda fuzzy on whether this is actually the first appearance of Ant-Man/Hank Pym or not. But if it is, does that comic give any mention of the city in which it's set?
    I considered doing the "Ant-Man" story from TTA #27, but decided to start with the more logical FF #1. I'll probably try to do that story along with TTA #35.

  10. #10
    Frugal fanboy Cei-U!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    I considered doing the "Ant-Man" story from TTA #27, but decided to start with the more logical FF #1. I'll probably try to do that story along with TTA #35.
    Well, since TTA #27 and FF #2 are both cover-dated January '62, you're still on track either way.

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    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cei-U! View Post
    Well, since TTA #27 and FF #2 are both cover-dated January '62, you're still on track either way.

    Cei-U!
    I summon the flexibility!

    Well lookee there. I hadn't looked at the date on TTA #27 and was just assuming that it was a tad earlier. That'll learn me.

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    Welcome to Bleeker Street MRP's Avatar
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    Hmmm, when I saw the title to the thread I thought it was announcing a reading tour by Slam where we could go watch him read aloud Marvel Comics, I was ready to buy some tickets....

    Cool thread. I am interested to see your thoughts on a lot of the early Marvels. It's been a long time since I read any Silver Age Marvels (probably going on close to a decade), but in the late 90's and early 2000's I read everything I could get my hands on from the era.

    FF was always one of those books that I looked at an understood how groundbreaking it was during its time, but could never really get into going back and reading it after the fact. However, like you I remember reading some early FF's from the Pocket Books that a friend had, but my first experience of FF #1 was in The Origins of Marvel Comics book Fireside put out in the 70's (my cousin got Origins and I got Son of Origins from our grandfather for Christmas and by the time the Christmas gathering was over we had both read every story in both volumes).

    FF did impress the younger me a lot more than the older me just into my 30's when I was reading the Silver Marvels a decade ago.

    I am fascinated to read the theory of the recycled art. I love that kind of behind the curtain kind of stuff (I always wished someone would do a kind of Inside the Actor's Studio series of documentaries with comic creators or had done one before we lost some of the pioneers of the industry). AS much as I enjoy hearing Stan's nostalgic anecdotes about the era when he is interviewed, I am never sure how securely tied those stories are to reality and would prefer to get new and different perspectives of the era from others.

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    NOT Bucky O'Hare! The Confessor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    I considered doing the "Ant-Man" story from TTA #27, but decided to start with the more logical FF #1. I'll probably try to do that story along with TTA #35.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cei-U! View Post
    Well, since TTA #27 and FF #2 are both cover-dated January '62, you're still on track either way.
    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    Well lookee there. I hadn't looked at the date on TTA #27 and was just assuming that it was a tad earlier. That'll learn me.


    Yeah, you should definitely review Tales To Astonish #27, Slam...if for no other reason than to give me an excuse to read it. Of course, I'll have to source my copy via...errr, hem!..."electronic means", but if the FBI, MI5 or the KGB are reading this, I promise to delete it straight afterwards. Honest!
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  14. #14
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Confessor View Post
    Yeah, you should definitely review Tales To Astonish #27, Slam...if for no other reason than to give me an excuse to read it. Of course, I'll have to source my copy via...errr, hem!..."electronic means", but if the FBI, MI5 or the KGB are reading this, I promise to delete it straight afterwards. Honest!
    You could pick up a copy of Essential Ant-Man. It's out of print but used copies are pretty cheap.

  15. #15
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    Tales To Astonish 27

    Plot by Stan Lee
    Script by Larry Leiber
    Pencils by Jack Kirby
    Inks by Dick Ayers

    Time has been at a premium, So I'm going with the first appearance of Henry Pym rather than FF #2.

    We open with a nice splash of Pym running through a maze-like ant-hill pursued by ants that are bigger than he.

    The story proper opens with Hank Pym, Scientist, having discovered a serum that he uses to shrink and then enlarge a chair. In a flashback we see that Pym has subject to ridicule from his fellow scientists for not being "practical" in his theories. If he were the Moleman he'd retreat from and then strike back at society. But Hank Pym just plugs along and invents a shrink serum. Since the serum works on a side-chair, the next obvious move is to try the serum on himself. No self-respecting man of science would consider the prospect of testing it on a lab rat or something.

    The serum works. However, while it seems Pym is a great scientist, he clearly never read Alice in Wonderland or he wouldn't have left the antidote out of reach for an incredibly shrunken man. Apparently the serum also causes panic attacks because for no reason whatsoever Pym runs out the door and in order to escape from some menacing ants he decides to hide in an...ant hole. I suppose it's possible Pym is a scientific genius without the sense that God gave a goose.

    Pym is rescued from a sticky situation in the ant hole by a friendly ant. He then works his way out of the hole (the one he went in to in order to be safe). Part of the escape includes using Judo on a menacing ant. He-man scientist prone to panic attacks. However, Pym is still faced with the same situation that inexplicably caused him to run out the door...he can't reach the antidote. Luckily the friendly ant allows Pym to ride on it and climbs the wall to Pym's antidote. The ant is not only distinguishable from other non-friendly ants, but also is capable of understanding human pantomime. That's one special ant...mayhap a Super Ant...or maybe Atom Ant in disguise.

    Having returned to his normal size Pym does what anyone would have done in the same situation. He gets rid of the serum because it's dangerous. Dangerous to mentally unstable people who are prone to panic attacks when they experiment on themselves. To the real world it would have been a boon to shipping, transportation and a host of other possibilities.

    Thoughts:

    The art in this story was slightly better than what we saw in FF #1. Ayers does a nice job inking Kirby's pencils. The ants are suitably menacing. The splash was very nice.

    This story came out five years after Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man and four years after the movie of the same. I'm not going to claim that Lee was influenced by them, but it's a possiblity.

    Again we have the lone person set aside by the greater society. In this case Pym perseveres rather than hiding from society like the Moleman. Not so sure about his sanity though...and his business savy is in the negative numbers. To be fair, this comes out of the old "things men aren't meant to know" canard of SF. But this one is pretty darn silly. Shrinking...it's just to dangerous for man.

    Historic score - B
    Story - C minus
    Art - B minus.

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