Or – “I Love Me Some Jessica Alba, But She’s No More Sue Than I Am…”

The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine achieves it’s greatest triumph (and that, Faithful Spoilerites, is sayin’ something.)  It’s an issue so good I can’t even bring myself to say something snotty about it…

FANTASTIC FOUR #51
Scripter: Stan Lee
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Sinnott
Colorist: Unknown
Letterer: Artie Simek
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents (Current Near-Mint Price: $300)

Previously, on Fantastic Four: Some say that the Fantastic Four only exists due to an accident of fate.  No, I’m not talking about a rogue storm of cosmic rays, but a random game of golf back at the dawn of the 1960’s.  The story is often (apocryphally) told that Martin Goodman, publisher of Marvel Comics, was playing 18 holes with one of the publishers from National Periodical Publications, today known as DC Comics, and heard how successful their new JLA title was becoming.  Supposedly, Marty returned to his office to tell his editor to whip up a team book for Marvel, leading that editor and his creative partner to put their heads together and generate (eventually) the Fantastic Four.  Reports vary on who did what, but that’s pretty much the case with everything that Stan and Jack did together, but what everyone agrees on is that the finished product ends up being more than the sum of its parts.

This issue takes place immediately after the ‘Galactus Trilogy’, of which the Cliff’s Notes version goes like this:  God shows up with his herald, Frankie Avalon, and tries to eat the world, until Mr. Fantastic steals a magical gun and threatens to shoot him in the head.  It is, however, MUCH cooler than that synopsis.  In the wake of the cosmic threat Benjamin Grimm wanders the streets of New York City, possessed by despair at the belief that he will be trapped in his rocky transformed hide forever.  His spirits are lifted slightly when a mysterious stranger offers him shelter from the storm…

Sadly for Ben, though, this good samaritan has ulterior motives, and hooks up the drugged Thing to a device of his own making, a device designed to finally prove that HE, not Reed Richards, has the superior intellect…

Hands down, nobody generate melodramatic monologues like Stan The Man, as the unnamed scientist succeeds in drawing off the Thing’s power into his own body.  Locking up the real Ben Grimm, the new Thing spends a couple of days practicing his false identity.  Reed Richards, for his part, has been so preoccupied with creating weapons to fight off threats like Galactus that he barely even registered the Thing’s absence!  Soon after the new Thing takes his place with the team, Ben Grimm breaks free and tries to warn his partners about the intruder in their midst.  Reed doesn’t believe that anyone could return Ben to normal, and the faux Thing quickly proves his bonafides with a bar of solid titanuym…

Half the fun of early issues of Fantastic Four comes in guessing who would have the complete emotional breakdown first.  From Reed’s neglectful/abusive relationship with Sue to Johnny’s sociopathic life-threatening pranks to Sue’s own flat-out manipulation and Machiavellian gambits, the team is full of emotional issues.  Ben Grimm suffers from asocial tendencies that would make Dr. House looks like Dr. Drew, and thus, he leaves his de facto family at the mercy of the pretender.

After a quick check-in with Johnny Storm, away at college (featuring one of the earliest appearances of Wyatt Wingfoot), Reed Richards asks “The Thing” to help out with his latest experiment, holding a tether line as Reed enters an alternate dimension, actually the first appearance of what we become better known as the Negative Zone.  We get not one, but TWO amazing Kirby full-page spreads (one of the Negative Zone portal device, and one of Kirby’s notorious photo-collage shots, showing the trippy Negative Zone itself) while Fake Thing waits for a chance to kill his hated rival…

He barely manages to catch the tether cable, but is dragged bodily into the zone and ends up alongside Reed as they fall towards inevitable doom.  Reed thanks the man he believes to be his old friend, shaking his hand, and telling him how much he enjoyed their partnership over the years, when The Thing comes to a fateful decision…

We never see the death of Reed’s rival, but upon his death, Ben’s powers return and he rushes back to save his friends from the imposter, arriving just in time to see his best friends mourning his ‘death,’ and realizes that Reed DOES care about him after all…

If you read those last couple of panels carefully, you realize the true tragedy of this whole story:  Reed Richards has NO idea who this man is or why he did what he did, nor does anyone seem to realize that the fake Thing was out to get Mr. Fantastic specifically.  They don’t even learn his name (neither do we, for that matter), judging him only on his heroic actions in the end.  No discussion of early Marvel is complete without looking at this issue, a quiet moment in the midst of one of the most wildly creative runs of comics ever made.  The building blocks of the entire Marvel Universe are being created right before our eyes (The Silver Surfer bowed three issues before, next comes the Black Panther) and Stan & Jack make it all seem effortless.  Most importantly, the FF creative team seemed to realize that you CAN’T always top your last effort with something bigger and badder, lest you devalue your storytelling currency.  This small story of an ugly, jealous man came right on the heels of fershlugginer GALACTUS, and made just as strong a dramatic effort on its own terms.  (Today, we’d probably end up with Ultra-Galactus, the guy who Galactus fears.)  Fantastic Four #51 stands out as a gem of the legendary 100-plus issue run, and earns a perfect 5 out of 5 stars overall.  Hopefully, when I’m old and my memory is gone, this will be one of the things I remember…

Rating: ★★★★★

 

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Do you think ANYONE done FF as well as Stan & Jack?  Hickman?  Byrne?  DeFalco?  Bueller?

 

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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10 Comments

  1. TaZ
    June 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm — Reply

    I don’t think anyone could do the FF as well as Stan and Jack since Reed and Ben were pretty much patterned after Stan and Jack. Thanks for bringing back some great memories! I didn’t get to read the originals of some of the early FF and other Marvel Comics but during the 70’s there were several Marvel and DC comics that ran reprints of comics from the 50’s and 60’s and I used to snatch them up. “This Man, This Monster” was one of those reprints.

  2. brenton8090
    June 6, 2011 at 6:18 am — Reply

    Honestly, few people did ANYTHING as well as Stan and JAck. Almost everything they created has stuck. And stuck hard. It’s hard to find any modern creator who’s characters have that staying power.

  3. Oldcomicfan
    June 6, 2011 at 6:29 am — Reply

    That’s a bit like asking who was the better James Bond? The answer, of course, was Ian Fleming.

    Certainly there were some writers who did as good or a better job on writing the FF as Stan and Jack, and certainly there have been much better artists on the book, and maybe at some time in the past their advent on the book coincided. But nobody could beat the original creative team. In retrospect, Stan’s writing was corny as hell, and what can I say about Kirby’s art? His art seemed to swing between overly dramatic and “phoning it in” often in the same issue, but there was often a charm and goofiness about their FF work that has never been equaled.

    That said, I should admit that the FF was never one of my favorites. It was just something I read while waiting for the next issue of Spiderman to come out.

    • steve cranshaw
      June 6, 2011 at 11:17 am — Reply

      Certainly there was NEVER a better artist on the FF than Jack Kirby.

      • SenorEjaz
        June 6, 2011 at 11:23 am — Reply

        Jack Kirby is the difinitive FF artist (I would personally say the difinitive Marvel artist). I think that it wouldn’t be surprising that some parts may seem ‘phoned in’ but that’s probably because he was drawing half of Marvel comics output at the time! And never underestimate the power of a bad inker, especially earlier on in Lee and Kirby’s run!

    • Mark Barsotti
      March 17, 2012 at 11:58 pm — Reply

      A “much better” FF artist than Jack Kirby?” You’ve just invalidated every word out of your mouth for the rest of your life…

  4. Noobian74
    June 6, 2011 at 9:01 am — Reply

    DeFalco. Hands down.

    Kidding.

    Aactually, I’m glad you reminded people of how memorable the Stan and Jack run was. It laid the blueprint to the FF family for others to build upon. surprised you didn’t mention Waid and JMSin the spoilerette question, though. Their stories were…fantastic!

  5. SenorEjaz
    June 6, 2011 at 11:19 am — Reply

    I love this story, but you should definitely review FF #6 with Doom and Namor’s first team up, I think it’s silver age awesomeness – ‘I shall set your building on a collision course with the sun, which I am certain will recieve you… warmly!’
    I love about half of Byrne’s run which kind of went off the rails sometimes into his own opinions, eg The Trial of Reed Richards. But there were some incredible moments like Reed saving Galactus’ life and Sue suffering a miscarriage. Since then I feel like only Hickman has recaptured a (more modern) feeling for the team, expanding it with characters like Dragon Man who the team mused about keeping around during the Inhumans Saga!
    I think one of the problems with the book historically is that alot of their supporting characters and villains have been ransacked by the rest of the Marvel universe, something I hope Hickman will fix (somehow).

  6. Stefanie
    June 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm — Reply

    While Lee & Kirby are astromical in their stories like this one, (I did think it was epic how we never learned the man’s name), I always enjoyed Byrne’s stories more personally, but that’s just me. You will never hear me dis Lee & Kirby.

  7. June 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm — Reply

    I really enjoyed Waid’s run a few years back.

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