The Fantastic Four Blaze into their first appearance, and their First Feature comic at the same time, in Fantastic Four #1. Bringing about the dawn of what I see as a new age for Marvel at that time.
I find the cover of this first book, does not do it justice on its own, while it does do a good job at hinting at whats to come. an epic battle with a large underground creature. The true sense of trouble and danger that the Fantastic Four Face in the issue seems lost.
However, there can be little doubt that the early issues of the magazine where indeed successful, as there continued success to today undoubtedly shows. The cover I can’t help but feel, still seem lacking.
especially when the short book conveys the Origins of Five Marvel Legends. that’s right, Five.
The Early pages
I think the story is a great place to begin the discussion. The beginning of the comic book, the first several pages where weak from my perspective. beginning with Mr. Fantastic summoning the Fantastic Four, but also causing a panic. then each of the 3 remaining members causes their own part of the panic while on route to their secret meeting.
while they have been living incognito with their powers apparently, for an undisclosed amount of time. they can’t seem to be summoned and show up at the meeting without braking cover, and thus adding to the panic caused by the smoke message? This in those pages is what disturbs me. and why I feel the story’s beginning is weak. being what I perceive as an excuse to ‘show off’ the new hero’s powers before the real story begins.
The Fantastic Origin
As with all hero’s there is an origin to the Fantastic Four. and that is where our story leads us to next. The Space race was deep in the American mind in 1961, as was Communism. and the origin of the Fantastic four plays on these two things. for those who don’t want spoilers you may want to avoid reading beyond this paragraph for this section.
While at the time of the publishing of this book in August of 1961 (with a cover date of November). In the Real world the USSR had been the first to put a man in space, and Kennedy had launched the race to the moon that April. The Fantastic Four origin flashback takes us back to before all this.
it becomes clear that the heat of the race to space is on still, and that Dr.Reed Richards had been apart of the development of a ship for American space flight. on a night when the conditions are right for testing, he decides its time, and needs to be done in order to beat the communist into space. This is also how he gets Ben Grimm on to fly the flight, even though he thinks it is foolish due to the cosmic rays and their danger.
the cosmic rays do affect them, and they do pay the price for their spaceflight without sufficient shielding. perhaps none pay more than Ben Grimm, in becoming the Thing.
The origin story also I feels gives Ben greater depth than the other characters, establishing the tension between him and Reed Richards. though both dialog and a short skirmish. Truly establishing the Fantastic Four as hero’s that don’t always get along.
The Story continues.
At this point we would be about 1/2 way though the first issue of Fantastic Four, when a different take on the cover is shown to bring us back into the story, and establish the basis of the upcoming conflict “The Fantastic Four meet The Mole Man” titled at this point.
as it turns out, Reed summoned them all, to show them pictures, pictures of the location of atomic plants that have been ‘caved in’ to the earth. Reed has determined where he believes to be the source of these attacks. an island known as Monster isle.
the team is off, and face a couple of monsters are even divided before they meet the mole man. Mr. Fantastic and The Human Touch are the first two underground and to encounter the menace. the mole man, turns out to not be the menace on the cover, but a short bold guy with what appears to be glasses with only slits in them over his eyes.
Mole Man’s Origin
Without going into details of his background, I found his origin weak compared to that of our hero’s. He was likely not seen to be a recurring character. but at the root of his origin, we have a man whom was shunned from society for being ugly. unable to find love, jobs or acceptance due to his appearance, he went off on his own.
after this, its time to wrap up the story, and the Fantastic Four do just that, in quick style, defeating the Mole Man The ending felt a bit rushed, but with the two origin story’s before there where likely not many pages left to finish in. I do feel that much of the pages before the origin could have been better used to give a bit more depth to the conflict with The Mole Man.
I have a lot less to say about the artwork then I did the story for this issue. I feel the artwork is of the standard and quality I expect from Jack Kirby and of comic books of that era. In fact I generally consider Jack’s style as what all other comics from of that age are based against. and I feel he was true to what I would expect. the comic was wonderfully drawn and inked.
Two character designs though, I really liked. The Thing and Mole man. I feel there designs are interesting and compelling in their own way. I have no idea who’s idea Mole Man’s glasses where, but I really liked them. and his Green and red cape look, the way the character is designed seems to reinforce his back story, as well as demonstrate an interesting dynamic of a small man controlling large monsters.
I feel the Mole Man design also works well to make him clearly identifiable. the colors, the glasses, he has enough strong features to make him stand out in any frame he is. This is something I find you want in most important characters. a look that lets you identify them without too much though, the Mole Man, and the Thing both clearly have that at this early stage.
Originality & Continuity
There is little to actually say here. I feel the Fanatic Four are quite original in origin. While the powers of Invisible Girl, and The Human Touch are not new, Mr. Fantastic’s Elastic ability and the Things, well, unique strengths combined with his powers having a constant deformed state make them quite original as a team. It’s not like Ben Grimm can easily be under wraps and secret even if the rest of the team can.
There is no real Continuity to worry about yet at this point, The Fantastic Four was the beginning of a new age and era for Marvel in publishing Superhero comics, it was there treading into that world. In some ways, The Marvel Universe begins here.
Characters & Development
I feel, that the 4 characters begin to become a compelling read as the story goes on, there is a developing tension between Ben Grimm and Reed Richards, partly possibly due to a slight love interest he has in Sue Storm. Love Triangles are always good to make a story interesting. and internal team conflict is a new concept at this time in comic books. a welcomed sight in my opinion.