I was going to continue reading the Marvel Masterworks editions reprinting THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (I have Volumes 2 and 3 on hand), but I got sidetracked to another title, the original cornerstone of the Marvel Universe and a title I’ve long considered to be my favorite comic book of all time: FANTASTIC FOUR.
MARVEL MASTERWORKS: FANTASTIC FOUR, VOLUME 1 reprints the first ten adventures of the F.F. from 1961 and ’62. The first issues I ever read were #16 and #17, so I had to catch up on these later, but I’d read them all in various reprints and even owned a couple of those first ten issues at one time or another. No need to recap the origin – you probably already know it if you have any interest in this post at all – but I will make a few comments on some of the stories. The menace in the first issue, the Mole Man, seems like a refugee from one of the Lee/Kirby monster comics. I don’t care that much for Kirby’s art here (or in any of the first three issues, for that matter), and Ben Grimm’s personality is really the only one that stands out in the origin. Reed, Sue, and Johnny are pretty much stereotypes. The second issue, which introduces the Skrulls, is a little better because of the nice twist ending, but the third story regresses with a really lame villain, the illusionist known as the Miracle Man.
In the fourth issue, though, something happens that lifts the series to a higher level. The Submariner, the famous Golden Age character and nemesis to the original Human Torch, returns, albeit in a manner that relies ’way too heavily on coincidence. But there are some really effective scenes in this one.
With the fifth issue, the series begins to hit its stride with the introduction of the F.F.’s all-time greatest villain, Dr. Doom. The time travel plot is a little silly, but the art, with Joe Sinnott inking Kirby, is really good, and we get The Thing dressed as a pirate, so what more do you want? The sixth issue teams up Dr. Doom and Submariner against the F.F. and is also a good story with decent art as Dick Ayers takes over the inking chores. I always liked the Kirby/Ayers art, although I think Sinnott was the best inker ever for Kirby.
The seventh and eighth issues are pretty forgettable, although #8 introduces blind Alicia Masters, who becomes Ben Grimm’s long-time girlfriend. The Submariner returns yet again in #9, which has a silly but entertaining plot about the F.F. going to Hollywood to make a movie, then Dr. Doom shows up again in #10, which also features cameos by Lee and Kirby and introduces the concept that the members of the F.F. know there are comic books being produced about them (and it’s even implied that they share in the revenue from those comics).
Up until this point, the complaints I had about Kirby’s plotting in the early issues of THE AVENGERS haven’t really cropped up, but F.F. #10 really falls apart in terms of logic and continuity. Stan’s script basically ignores the fact that characters do things that make no sense and show up in places they couldn’t possibly be. But out of the first ten issues, two of the stories are excellent (#5 and #6), two are pretty good (#4 and #9), and the others are okay except for #10, the only real dog in the bunch. Unlike THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which started out great, FANTASTIC FOUR had to grow into greatness, despite the cover proclamation about it being “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”
Which it was, a couple of years later and for several years after that. But who knows when or if I’ll get around to reading the reprints of those stories?
One more comment: These early issues feature the tragic, surly Ben Grimm who’s always losing his temper with his teammates and threatening to quit. Gee, Reed, Sue, and Johnny, do you think he might have felt a little better about himself and been easier to get along with if you’d actually called him “Ben” every once in a while instead of always calling him “Thing”? No wonder he always felt like it was clobberin’ time! (Although that phrase doesn’t actually appear in any of these stories.)