Concerning Marvel Essentials: Fantastic Four Volume One, Covering issues 1-20 and Annual 1 of Fantastic Four.
A few years ago I set out to read and blog about each individual issue of the original and best run of the Fantastic Four by Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby. I didn’t get far but I did start blogging about a lot of different stuff: games, comics, music, more games, more comics…
However, I did keep reading every issue of FF by Lee and Kirby. One hundred and two issues, and six annuals in that initial run have been read.
A previous Hey Kids!! Comics! Blog, Jack “King” Kirby Pt. 2 King of the Road addresses who had the creative credit for the FF. For the intent and purpose of this appreciation Lee and Kirby or Stan and Jack are billed as being the co-creators as they were. However, it is abundantly clear who did most of the heavy lifting.
The best place to start is at the beginning, issues 1-20 and Annual 1 of Fantastic Four collected in Marvel Essentials Fantastic Four Volume One.
A lot of the first 20 issues became seeds for the entire Marvel Universe; besides the FF there is the Mole Man and his subterranean monsters, the Skrulls, the Fantasti Car and Baxter Building, Doctor Doom, Alicia Masters, Puppet Master, Impossible Man, The Watcher, Super Skrull, Rama Tut, and Molecule Man. Reintroduced from Marvel Comics #1 are no less is Namor, the Sub-Mariner and this new Johnny Storm version of the Human Torch..
The first issue is such an odd cosmic duck not named Howard. There is the pretty blonde Susan “Invisible Girl” Storm who turns invisible; Ben “The Thing” Grimm who is composed of a lumpy orange rock-ish matter who destroys a clothing store doorway though he entered without smashing the door; Johnny “Human Torch” Storm ignites into flame and melts a car; and Professor Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards who is elastic and throws nuclear missiles out to sea where they explode harmlessly. The chunky exposition seems dated now but for 1962 it worked and still works as character introduction hasn’t streamlined all that much since.
Stan and Jack wanted “real” characters, characters with feet of clay and problems and they succeeded:
Monster. Brat. Bitch. Douche.
There is a lot crammed into the first issue, atypical for a superhero comic book story and probably not what Martin Goodman was looking for but it is what he got. It was rooted in the Real. Ben Grimm is distraught over his mutation and wants to kick Reed’s ass, Johnny was a typical teenager more interested in girls and cars and very much not a “gee whiz” kid sidekick, Reed is a scientist guy who is quite clueless, Susan is gorgeous and more than a little snippy as she,, in this first issue, treats Ben like crap.
One of the key points for the FF is that they are a family with all of the quirks and pains that any family has but the running family dynamic in these issues stresses the “dys” in dysfunctional.
When the Four reach Monster Island Ben Grimm grouses about a climb to which Sue responds, “Save your breath for the climb gruesome.” This is the sort of thing that each member regularly says to each other but especially to Ben. Again:
Monster. Brat. Bitch. Douche.
Cover by Jack Kirby, © Marvel Comics
It worked not because they were awful to one another but because no one had ever seen superheroes act and react the way that they did. Short tempered, snippy, tantrums, selfish, petty, egotistical, morose, depressed, and yet… heroic.
That is the real “feet of clay,” not the problems of being a monster and having these powers and being a family. It was, like anyone else, in spite of all of that they were Big Damn Heroes.