Concerning Marvel Essentials: Fantastic Four Volume Two, Covering Fantastic Four issues 21-40 and Annual 2, and Strange Tales Annual 2.
The Fantastic Four have this well earned reputation as the “superhero family” and they are. They bicker and fuss like a real family. However a family also cares for each other in ways more numerous than bickering. It also wasn’t always that way with the FF, early on they were terrible with each other. I labelled each member something different:
Monster. Brat. Bitch. Douche.
It was more than Johnny being “hot headed,” Reed being scientifically preoccupied, Sue being a poorly realized 1960s woman and Ben being the monster again. They were genuinely awful to each other.
Then issue twenty-one, “The Hate-Monger!” was published:
The Thing defends a man being attacked at one of The Hate-Monger’s pro-Trump rallies, the Hate-Monger retaliates by firing his “Hate Ray” (sponsored by Fox News) at the team. They fail their saving throw and almost instantly start quarrelling with each other and they disband. Yoko ain’t got nothing on the Hate-Monger.
Back at the Baxter Building Nick Fury (think young Charlton Heston) is there to enlist the FF’s help searching for his lost shaker of salt in the South American country of San Gusto, Reed decides to go by himself, Fury is not a fan of that and he recruits the other three former team members.
Blah-blah-blah, it all goes down and The Hate-Monger is killed by his own bodyguards and is revealed to be Adolf Hitler and Harvey Keitel gets to shove a pineapple up his bum for the rest of eternity.
I have no doubt that the Big Reveal of The Hate Monger’s true identity was definitely a Kirby plot point, that sort of crazy development is certifiable Kirby.
From this point forward in the Fantastic Four the team seems to be less antagonistic to each other. They fuss at each other and still throw the occasional punch (or fireball) but mostly they have a sense of camaraderie that wasn’t there before. I doubt highly that this was intentional, if I ever get the chance to meet Stan Lee I would ask him and it would go something like this:
THICKSKULL (TS): Hi Stan.
STAN: Excelsior True Believer!
TS: In the first 20 issues the team were really mean spirited.
STAN: Well, we were going for a family feel.
TS: But they were almost abusive.
STAN: They could be pretty bad.
TS: Sure they were. But then you and Jack introduced The Hate-Monger who was Hitler in issue 21 and after…
TS: They seemed nicer to one another. Was that intentional?
STAN: ‘Nuff said.