Concerning Marvel Essentials: Fantastic Four Volume One, Covering issues 1-20 and Annual 1
Stan and Jack didn’t seem to know what they were doing with this new concept, they were flying by the seat of their respective pants. That kind of quantum level creative improvisation made for some Damn Good Comics, even the one that didn’t always make sense.
The FF have always been known for Big Cosmic Stories, Super Science and Epic Adventures. There were hints of it from issue one with the very Jules Verne-esque journey into the depths of Mole Man’s kingdom in #1, the alien invasion attempt of the Skrulls in #2, time travel with Doctor Doom in #5, the Impossible Man in #11, against all of the might of Atlantis in Annual #1 and then there is #13.
An anti-commie story of the era where the Red Ghost, a Soviet scientist, subjects himself and three ape test subjects to the same cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. There is a race to the moon. Once there, several years before the U.S. actually lands on the moon, one thing leads to another and anyway we meet The Watcher.
The Watcher… watches civilizations across the universe and at the end of the story that is about all we know. The Skrulls started as a basic 50s/60s green skinned alien, but The Watcher is the first of what will become part of the Cosmic Marvel Universe.
Our moon based voyeur The Watcher returns in #20 with the introduction of the Molecule Man, (silly name, big time powers) who is indicative of antagonists that the FF find difficult to defeat.
That is a thing that regularly happens to the group, consistently they have their asses handed to them. Sometimes the ass handing is due to their own pride or tempers but that is another part of the Four. What makes them Fantastic is how in spite of their flaws they find a way to bring it together, get back up and win the day and sometimes at great personal cost.
Anyone with half a clue will tell you that is part of what makes real heroes, they are scared but they dig deep and find a way to do a thing anyway.
The Fantastic Four are not real. In no way are they real heroes yet many people treat them and other fictional characters like Superman as though they are and they become an inspiration.
That inspiration is where superheroes go from fictional flights of fancy and whimsy and become mythology, it is not just the exploits.
It is easy to be heroic when bullets bounce off of you or you can leap around them or if they do injure you have the ability to heal yourself of that damage. Or give away a million or five to a charity when you are sitting on several billion. There is the Biblical account of The Widow’s Offering, another example would be from The Magnificent Seven when Yul Brynner’s gunfighter Chris says to the villagers, “I’ve been offered a lot for my work but never everything.”
Reed is often portrayed as wrapped up in his research and ignoring everything around him, however he is often unwilling to walk away because the world may suffer because of his inattentiveness. Sue Storm misses out on her time with Reed, this is before they are married but it continues after, but she knows that it is for the good of humanity. Johnny Storm is a hot head kid who never finds love often because of his FF obligations. And then there is Ben, the heart and soul of the FF, a man both feared and loved; how many times has he been cured only to choose to become The Thing again to save his friends and the world?
There is pathos in the story, we will see ethos in each era that the FF are depicted in, and bags of logos as this fictionalized universe is developed around them. Fictionalized universes often seem more real and appealing than our own reality:
“One ring to rule them all.”
“A Galaxy Far, Far Away”
“Once Upon A Time”
“Space, The Final Frontier…”
“You’re a Wizard Harry!”
Why is this? Is it because the world around us sucks? Maybe but it is the only world we have so it is what it is.
Not to get all Karl Marxist but to get all Karl Marxist: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Imagination, creativity, this mythology of capes and cowls is a sort of opiate, like any other religion. The thing about the opiate theory of religion is that it is supposed to keep the oppressed oppressed (and in line) by the promise of a better life in the hereafter.
Religion might also inspire people to try and be better. A Douglas Adams quote says it best: “And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…”
It is the Here and Now that matters and what we make of it that counts, that is part of the meta message of the Fantastic Four.
And Stan and Jack thought that they were just making superhero comics.