Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four #1, Jack Kirby
Some people have too much lead in their pencil. Queen Elizabeth the 1st had too much in her face powder. No wonder she went mad and ended up sticking knives through the hands of serving girls who brought her the wrong things.

I can only conclude that Sue Storm's suffering from the same malady in Fantastic Four #1, judging by her behaviour in the inaugural issue of the world's greatest comic mag.

Ace pilot Benjamin J Grimm's minding his own business when Sue Storm nags him into helping her and her pipe-smoking boyfriend steal an unfinished space rocket.

In a bout of McCarthyite fervour, Sue's big beef is that if Americans don't get into space - right now - the commies might beat them to it. This would of course be a total disaster because, erm, er.

It quickly becomes clear that Ben Grimm is the group's nominated adult as he seems to be the only one with the sense to see the insanity of it all.

Still, suitably provoked, he goes along with it and they do what we've all tried to do and fly into space with the aid of a schoolboy.

Fantastic Four #1
Sadly, unlike Sue Storm's makeup, the spaceship's a bit short on the lead front, radiation gets in and it's not long before they're crashing into the ground and turning superhuman before going off to give the Mole Man a punch in the bracket.

Oddly, at no point does anyone try to arrest them for stealing a spaceship and at no point in future issues does anyone from the government ever raise this issue.

Mole Man v Fantastic Four, #1
Your superior intellect is no
match for MY puny
Apart from the lunacy of its stars, the thing that strikes you reading this tale now is how serious it is. Reed Richards initially casts an ominous figure, gravely summoning his colleagues to deal with their first challenge. The Thing is of course in his proto-Hulk mode and possibly a potentially bigger threat to humanity than the baddies are.

It also strikes you that it's clearly two separate stories stitched together, the first one introducing the FF and the second detailing their encounter with the Mole Man, and I wonder if the two halves had initially been planned for publication in separate issues before Stan Lee (under instruction from Martin Goodman?) decided to pull them together with the magical power of captions?

It has certain weaknesses, the main one being the uselessness of the Mole Man as a villain. When a man's main superpower is that he's got a stick, you know he's no Dr Doom.

But I don't care. I love it. With its not-totally-willing heroes, and dysfunctional-family vibe, even at this distance there's the sense of something epoch-making unfolding in front of your eyes and it serves as a perfect link between the monster mags Marvel had been doing up to that point and the super-hero mags they'd increasingly concentrate on from that point on.


Kid said...

What I want to know is who tied up Reed Richards on the cover - and why?

Anonymous said...

I didn't start buying the UK Marvel weeklies until November 1974 so I missed this when it was in Mighty World Of Marvel but it was printed again in The Complete Fantastic Four No. 1 in 1977 - I enjoyed it more than the main FF strip. You're right that it's a bit raw but thank God for Marvel and Stan Lee otherwise I'd have spent the '70s reading Roy Of The Rovers and Victor.

Anonymous said...

I simply love your description of Sue Storm and her make-up. Actually, Reed never should have gone on a guilt trip through the years over Ben. It is only because of Sue goading Ben that he agreed to pilot the ship. Hence, Sue is to blame at least as much as Reed for Ben's condition, if not more!

Joe S. Walker said...

A few years ago I saw it argued that the Mole Man story was originally done as a standard Astonish/Suspense monster story with no superheroes, and then reworked to fill the second half of FF 1. I think it's plausible, at least.

Steve W. said...

That idea does make sense, Joe, as it'd explain why it takes Reed and Johnny so long to think of using their powers when they're with the Mole Man; also why The Thing and Invisible Girl are missing for most of that encounter.

Kid, it's obvious that Reed tied himself up, so he could demonstrate his powers to any monsters that might come along. Nothing intimidates a monster more than the sight of a man struggling to free himself from some ropes.

Doc Thompson said...

What I want to know is who tied up Reed Richards on the cover - and why?Stan Lee?the Mole Man?Better yet,despite other late origins done,how this scene is nowhere in the comic?
The book,is kind of strange-instead of just focusing the origin,Stan and Jack,tell the origin assbackwards-then shove,a quickly wrapped Mole Man story-that could handled longer.