Hey everyone, thanks for the feedback last month. It led me to checking out Dr. Druid and finding out some really interesting facts. Anyway, on to the second week!
After a month out (titles often launched bimonthly in those days), the Fantastic Four returned. Stan Lee was overwhelmed by a lot of appreciative letters he'd received (A letters page would debut next issue) and feedback had been very positive so he and Kirby returned for issue #2 featuring the outer world menace of the Skrulls! Furthermore, in Tales to Astonish #27 Hank Pym made his debut but not in the superhero setting you'd expect!
Paid Circulation of 1961'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|
Again, just thought I'd point out the sales of other comics that the new wave of Marvel superheroes would be competing with. Sales on comics like Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery had risen and, overall, comics sales had improved from the year before.
However, Stan realised he was on the cusp of greatness with his Fantastic Four comic which had debuted. As mentioned, previous feedback was very positive and Lee himself admitted later that he felt rejuvenated.
"[My wife] Joan was commenting about the fact that after 20 years of producing comics I was still writing television material, advertising copy and newspaper features in my spare time. She wondered why I didn't put as much effort and creativity into the comics as I seemed to be putting into my other freelance endeavours. ...Her little dissertation made me suddenly realize that it was time to start concentrating on what I was doing — to carve a real career for myself in the nowhere world of comic books."
This comment from Lee, made years later when looking back at this early period of Marvel history, describes why he started writing comics like the Fantastic Four and later Spider-man instead of just writing other comics similar to the ones at the time. It seems obvious from the last line in the above paragraph that Stan Lee viewed comics in a negative light and really wanted to write something he himself would like to read and generally of a higher quality than those other books at the time.
That said, as often in any business, money talks, and so Stan himself continued to write for the top selling comics like Tales To Astonish. In TTA #27, published January 1962, Hank Pym made his debut. Originally supposed to only be appearing once like many characters of that era, Stan later noted that Hank Pym's appearance got such positive feedback that he decided to bring the character back months later as a superhero... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.....
Fantastic Four #2
The cover to issue 2. I like how the Human Torch, Invisible Girl and Mr. Fantastic combine to take on just one skrull.
We open the first page and get the typical Kirby opening page of F4 comics from this era. A large panel at the top taking up most of the page and then two or three smaller panels at the bottom. The title at the top of the page is "Meet the Skrulls from outer space" so, again ,this isn't a standard superhero comic, but one more akin to other Marvel/Atlas comics at the time where the heroes are up against aliens or monsters.
The first few pages shows each individual member of the Fantastic Four committing crimes. As these characters weren't well known to the reader at the time, I imagine reading it for the first time would have been confusing and exciting in equal measure. Seeing superheroes use their powers for evil would have shocked many readers at the time especially the Human Torch supposedly melting a remembrance statue. After each of the four finish their destructive acts, they meet up and it's revealed they weren't our lovable heroes after all! No, it's the alien shape changing race known as the Skrulls! It's interesting to note the Skrulls at this time didn't have any super strength or other superhuman abilities apart from the ability to shape change. The Invisible Woman Skrull, for example, mimicked invisibility by just making herself so small she had looked to disappear. (Of course, she had been seen stealing a diamond, so what did she do with that when she made herself tiny?)
Anyway, the real Fantastic Four are in an isolated hunting lodge apparently having a holiday when the news comes in on the impersonators. (One of the papers called "The Daily Bugle" bares the headline "Dragnet out for Fantastic Four") The Human Torch says he'll "take care of them" whilst holding a gun in his hand, and the Thing goes mad and destroys a wall of the cabin before being restrained by Reed. The FF in these early issues are a lot more volatile than they are later portrayed.
The army has learned where the FF are staying and come to arrest them. Reed convinces everyone to leave peacefully and each individual member of the team is imprisoned in a specially constructed cell where their "strange talents won't be able to help them." Unfortunately, the US Army is, apparently, massively incompetent: the Thing uses his strength to knock down the door, the Invisible Girl just walks out when the soldiers bring her food, the Human Torch finds an air vent and flies out and Mr Fantastic stretches through a hole in the wall. After the break out, they meet up and Reed hatches a plan to get the Skrulls to reveal themselves. Meanwhile, the Thing and Human Torch fight until Reed intervenes. Unlike the playful banter the pair shares nowadays, in those days there seemed to be genuine animosity between the Torch and Thing.
Reeds plan was for the Human Torch to attack a new rocket preparing to be launched, so that the Skrulls would believe it to be a member of their own race, and come and pick him up. Somehow this plan worked, and the Torch is taken back to the Skrull hideout before releasing a flare. Within two pages, the Skrulls are captured and defeated, and the Skrulls revealed their plan was to get the FF discredited so their empire could invade Earth not worrying about the one team who could stop them. Learning of the Skrull empires attack force, Reed plans to return to the Skrull ship pretending to be Skrulls and warn the forces that the Earth's defenses are too powerful to be defeated. To prove this, Reed shows the Skrull leader some clippings from comics like "Journey into Mystery." He then volunteers to remain on Earth to ensure no member of the human race realizes the Skrull presence.
The Skrull leader actually buys this and the FF return to Earth and clear their names. On the way back to Earth, though, the Thing temporarily reverts back to his human form, only to change back into a monster once landing. The panel flow here as he changes back is the best artwork seen in the series to date.
Tying up the lose ends, the FF return to the four Skrulls who attacked them and, to ensure they can't escape, Reed makes them change into cow form, and he hypnotizes them into thinking they are cows. Bad-ass. So ends the menace of the Skrull race! Also, in this issue, readers are treated to a pin-up of the all powerful Thing!
Review: Another really cool issue of the FF, and another great cover. All four characters have a visually great look, especially when using their powers, and, as a result, the cover really jumps out. I especially like the lack of speech bubbles as it means the cover doesn't look to cluttered.
The overall story was very well written with a few Silver Age plot holes, but nothing that couldn't be overlooked as the story is just so fun to read. The Thing really does seem to be almost a monster and the characterization is vastly different to anything else around at the time. Seeing him attack the Human Torch and fly off the handle at any hint of anger is a really interesting take on the character and something you can see happening to someone dealing with the tragedy he has had to overcome. His appearance as you can see above is still massively different from what is to come and, in a comic published decades later: Marvel Two in One #50, a young John Byrne sends the modern day Thing to the past to fight the original Kirby character.
The artwork is very dynamic and the flow is great. I like the use of large panels through each chapter in the story and the way Reed uses his powers throughout the issue is very imaginative especially his escape from his cell. As mentioned previously, the panels of the Thing's transformation into Ben Grimm and back again were heartbreaking and very well put together.
4.0 out of 5 for this issue.
Tales to Astonish #27
This story was part of an ant-thology book, so this story is only 6 pages including a wonderful Kirby splash page! We first meet "Henry Pym" when he's just perfected his shrinking formula and, just to prove it works, we're treated to a picture of a tiny chair at his feet. He then restores the chair to it's original height. Henry's mind flashes back to the scientists who doubted his discovery: "You shall know I'm a greater scientist than any of you," he proclaims. His main reason for working on shrinking down objects, of course, is... to reduce shipping costs, Not exactly over-imaginative but I suppose it could be beneficial.
Hank uses the shrinking formula on himself but then realizes he can't reach the growing formula any more as it's up high on a ledge... a tiny oversight on his part but, obviously, the next course of action was to run outside his house. Unfortunately some ants overhear Pym and chase him. Henry decides the best course of action to disappear from the ants is hiding in the anthill. Seriously, this is the guy who perfected a miraculous growth formula? Whilst in the ant hill he actually manages to get himself trapped in honey but, before he drowns, a solitary ant rescues him. Our hero isn't out of the woods yet. There's an army of evil ants surrounding him! Luckily, there is a match on the other side of the room and Pym manages to throw a pebble against the match causing it to set on fire and send the ants running. No, I am not making this up.
Finally Hank is able to make a lasso out of something, which is not explicitly stated, and climbs out of the ant hill where there is another ant waiting to attack, the ant picks him up in his pincers but Henry has one advantage: "a human brain... which has learned the art of judo." Even whilst he is stuck (relatively) two feet off the ground in the ant's pincers, he manages to judo flip the ant down a ledge.
He runs back into his house to stare longingly at the growth serum realizing it's still too far away. But, never fear, the good ant who rescued Pym from the honey is back and he takes him up to the serum where he reverts to full size. He pours his shrinking serum down the sink (which doesn't shrink for some reason) and then tells all the scientists his plan failed because his serum is dangerous and never shall be used again. He then swears never to step on another ant hill in case the one ant who saved his life is standing there
Review: Well, that was certainly an interesting read. I'm not sure what my favourite part was: Pym throwing a pebble against a match causing it to set on fire and scare away every ant or the fact that one of the world's smartest men would leave a growth serum on a ledge when shrinking himself. The plot, obviously, isn't great, the dialogue's cheesy and the character is pretty bland.
The art however is awesome. A sense of dread is invoked, and the splash page is really fantastic. Just what you'd expect from an artist like Kirby who had been working on monster comics for years.
1.0 out of 5 for this book.
First appearances this month:
The Skrull race
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