Those were the days: Month #1 - November 1961
Hey, and welcome to my new column at the Outhouse, I hope to take a look at Marvels history, and go through some of the interesting facts/rumours of the era, whilst also looking at the quality of the books themselves.
I chose this date to start, as this is the month the first ever Silver Age comic come out, Fantastic Four #1! A collaboration between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, FF #1 bought a whole new age to Marvel comics, ushering in the age of the superhero. Whilst the Fantastic Four were the first heroes to appear, many more soon followed shortly afterward.
Here are the Marvel sales lists for 1960:
Circulation of 1960's Titles
|167,125||--||Journey into Mystery|
|163,156||--||Tales to Astonish|
|154,972||--||Millie the Model|
|148,951||--||Patsy and Hedy|
|148,929||--||Tales of Suspense|
|144,746||--||Kid Colt Outlaw|
As you can see, not a superhero comic in sight. The major comics at the time were monster comics like Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery. The superhero comics were seen as bland and uninteresting, and comics writer Stan Lee was getting fed up of working in the medium. Meanwhile, across at the "Distinguished Competition" (Then called National Comics) Lee heard that a certain book was selling much better than most. A book called "Justice League of America" featuring a team of superheroes joining together was really popular, and as a result Marvel comics publishing editor Martin Goodman asked Stan to come up with something similar. Lee had already been a writer at Marvel for nearly two decades, and felt this was an opportunity to do something fresh, as a result he decided to give it a go. This is what Stan the Man himself had to say about the creation of the Fantastic Four (from origins of Marvel comics 1974).
"For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading.... And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colourful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay."
As a result the F4 was born. Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic, Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), Jonny Storm (Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing). To this day there has been a lot of debate about who created whom, and if Lee or Jack Kirby, the book's artist, had more say in the books direction, but there is plenty written about that, and it's written by people a lot more knowledgeable than I, but in the end F4 #1 was released in 1961. I doubt either Lee or Kirby realised the significance it would have.
Fantastic Four #1
The F4. Together for the first time (Although no character in this comic had ever appeared before).
The synopsis: A flare gun is shot into the sky, whilst restless crowds grow below. The smoke from the flare forms three gigantic words "The Fantastic Four". The person who shot the gun is revealed as "a strange figure" who we are told is "more than just a man!". The character we come to know as Reed Richards is covered in shadow and looks ominously over the crowds. Very dark indeed. Meanwhile across town Sue Storm is seen shopping, before being spooked by the message in the sky, she turns invisible and presumably walks towards the origins of the flare. She catches a taxi and scares a taxi driver by giving him the fair whilst still invisible. Across town a very "hefty" man is informed that a clothes shop has nothing which will fit him. The Thing is introduced! Whilst the reader knows he's a hero, when he reveals his now iconic rock covered form, he is shot at by the police. Certainly not what readers expected. Meanwhile Johnny Storm is working on a car before he see the flare, he reacts by turning into a Human Torch (not the same as any other Human Torch seen before) and flies towards the Baxter Building. As the F4 gather, we are shown the origins of their powers, which we all know by now. Interestingly the Thing seems to show some romantic feelings towards Sue Storm in this section "Reed darling? BAH! How can you care for that weakling when I'm here!?!"
Reed Richards tells the F4 why he has gathered them for their first ever mission. Around the world buildings are mysteriously being swallowed into the ground, and he has a machine which will tell them where the origins of this strange phenomenon is. Luckily for us Reeds figured out there is a "monster island" slap bang in the middle of where all the buildings have disappeared. Quite why no-one else has figured this out, or why no-one suspected a place called Monster Island is never revealed, but either way the Fantastic Four are on their first mission!
At Monster Island the F4 land and it turns out the name was ironic, and it's a tropical paradise! Well, not really. Surprisingly a giant three headed Kirby designed monster attacks them. Turns out whoever named Monster Island took his job very literally. Reed dispatches of the monster by lassoing him around his neck and throwing him to into the sea. Unluckily though right after this a trap door opens leading the Human Torch and Reed Richards into the bottom of a massive pit. When they awake from being knocked out, they are in strange suits which keep them from being blinded by the Mole Mans "Valley of diamonds"!!! At the top of Monster Isle a distraught Sue looks for the missing two members when she is attacked. Never fear The Thing is here to defeat the monster by throwing it into the sea. The Thing shows a large amount of hatred towards Reed. Indeed he acts like no superhero seen before.
We switch focus again to the origin of the Mole Man, which isn't Stan Lees finest hour. The Mole Man was an ugly duckling whom was shunned by the world. He decided to hunt for the legendary centre of the Earth and whilst down there lost his eyesight, however at the centre of the Earth he found a legion of creatures who soon learned to obey him! He was the one whom had been collapsing Earths buildings. The Thing and Sue have found the missing duo however and the fight is on. The Mole Man escapes whilst unleashing more monsters after the F4. The Human Torch unleashes a rock slide burying all the monsters however, and the F4 make their escape. The End.
First of all, the cover is absolutely brilliant. I like how Sue gripped by a massive monster thinks turning invisible faster would help her. Furthermore, as Richards isn't fighting anyone but the monster, it's safe to assume he's somehow managed to tie himself up in that rope. Smartest person in the world? Don't make me laugh.
The art in this issue is definitely still finding it's way. The F4 look different than they would end up doing, with Thing looking much more clay like and the Human Torch looking like a random bunch of flames. Still you can tell that the art has a lot of energy and the cosmic rays sequence is great. Furthermore Stan Lee has created characters who argue, bicker and just aren't as good looking or fake as their DC rivals. The Thing especially seems grumpy, argumentative and just doesn't act like a hero at all. If I hadn't have known what comes after, I imagine I wouldn't have liked the Thing very much at first, as his acts are very reminiscent of a villain's.
The lack of costumes also is very new, which adds to the human "clay feet" factor of the book. Sure the plot has holes, and the dialogue is corny, but the whole thing must have felt so fresh and new, and the characters burst off the page. This is one of Lee/Kirbys best efforts.
4.5 out of 5 for this issue.
First appearances this month:
Before I finish this (and well done to the few who kept reading) here's the original cover to F4 #1. Can anyone spot what changes Stan Lee asked Kirby to make, and if so, can you hazard a guess why he did it?
Like what you see? Head over to E-bay and get a poor standard issue of F4 #1 for just under 5,000!