I recently read the first 102 issue run and corresponding annuals of the Fantastic Four. I was, up to this point, never really a fan. I first started collecting comics, in 1981, and the Fantastic Four just did not appeal to me. The team consisted of a guy who could stretch, one that was an orange rock with super strength, a woman who could turn invisible, and the only character that did appeal to me was the Human Torch. Who wouldn’t want to be a flying torrent of flame and melt everything in your path? I, at the time being only 11, was into superhero comics like the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, they had cool costumes and even cooler super powers. Unbeknownst to me was how important the Fantastic Four really were.
Even as I grew to understand the history and importance of the book I still was not really motivated to read it. In all honesty, the only reason I ended up reading this run was because of my recent new found adoration for Jack Kirby. After reading these issues and reflecting, I get it. I get the blueprint that was laid out by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others that still reverberate today. As I write this I’m working my way through Lee and Kirby’s Journey Into Mystery and The Mighty Thor and it amazes me just how influential Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s approach to comics really are and how those influences continue to be in both comics and even in the movies.
First, and a observation that has been hammered to death, is that these characters are human and they are flawed even with having these incredible powers. These characters struggles were something that we, as the reader, could relate to. A formula that was infused in not only the Fantastic Four but in all the Marvel books during that time.
The Thing responded to his situation with anger. Sue at one point was torn for her love for Reed with Namor the Sub-Mariner. Johnny let Medusa get away because he was a horny teenager. Reed was a workaholic. These characters dealt with jealousy, ego, anger, over confidence and loyalty. They failed numerous times and overcame those failures and they persevered as one.
In contrast, the hero’s over at DC were, at this point, God like or they were being put in very absurd story lines.(Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
The amount of creativity and world building that Lee and Kirby did during this run is just jaw dropping and unparalleled. They created Mole Man, Dr. Doom, Rama-tut( a version of Kang), time travel(they didn’t create time travel but they incorporated it in this universe that still influences the Marvel Universe today.) the Negative Zone, the Inhumans, Galactus, the Yancy Street gang, Alica Masters, the Hate Monger, the Silver Surfer, Puppet Master, Latveria, the Skrulls, the Red Ghost, the Super Skrull, the Molecule Man, the Watcher, the Klaw, Wyatt Wingfoot, Franklin Richards, and the Power Cosmic. They resurrect the Sub-Mariner and introduce the Black Panther, comics first black superhero.
Phew!!…..and the cool thing is they did it in the context of the real world. These characters were in New York City not some fictional setting like Metropolis or Gotham, again, allowing readers to relate more to the characters. Also, for the most part, all the other characters in the Marvel universe at that time were also located in New York. This allowed for cross-overs with the Avengers, the Hulk, the X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange. This even allowed for a crossing over of villains, for example the Spider-Man villain the Sandman was part of the Frightful Four.
Genius!!, and probably the best marketing for all the other books Marvel was putting out during that time period to increase the readership of those titles.
I always enjoy reading back issues, they are like time capsules. Comic books, in my opinion, inadvertently from the creators subconscious or intentionally use the medium as a form of social commentary. This run definitely reflects what was going on in the United States at the time.
Numerous Cold War era themes like nuclear weapons, communism, and the space race.
The acceptance of outsiders by society.
The uncertainty over how science and new technology was making life easier and the possible long term repercussions.
Reading this run was great fun and I can’t believe it took me thirty years to finally do it, yes you read that right thirty years. I’m still amazed how much Lee and Kirby created in a short number of years just in this one comic alone. I plan on finishing the series and I definitely recommend checking it out if you have never read it.