It’s not every day that you get to read something that becomes the foundation for an ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Fantastic Four #1 awaits!
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: George Klein or Sol Brodsky or Artie Simek*
Colorist: Stan Goldberg
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $80,000.00
*Experts disagree on who inked this issue, while Kirby’s wife Roz recalled it being Simek, with Brodsky taking over inking on issue #2. I’ve credted all three, since I can’t find a consensus opinion.
Previously in Fantastic Four: According to comic book industry lore, the origins of the Fantastic Four came not from Kirby’s drafting table nor from Stan Lee’s typewriter, but on the golf course. Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, so the story goes, was playing 18 holes with DC Comics head honcho Jack Liebowitz, a game which included Jack talking up thw sales of the Justice League of America, a team book that combined several already-popular characters into a super-team. Goodman liked the idea of enhanced sales a lot, and tasked his editor/all-purpose go-to guy/nephew Stan Lee with replicating that success. Stan gave his ideas to Jack Kirby, one of the most prolific of pencilers, who created the issue, with Stan then adding the dialogue and captions to Kirby’s visuals. It was the origin of ‘The Marvel Method’, a new approach to creating to comics.
This issue opens with a flare exploding over the streets of Central City, calling three strage figures from around the city: At a society tea, Susan Storm sees the signal and turns invisible; in a big-and-tall shop an angry BenGrimm finds that they don’t have anything in his size, before storming off to answer the call; at a small garage, Johnny Storm and a friend are tuning the engine of his latest hot rod before he bursts into flame and flies away. After a few exciting diversions (The Thing ends up in the sewer, while Johnny expends his flame and has to be saved by Reed Richards), the team assembles at their headquarters, and the story takes a moment to explain their origins…
I’ve probably read versions of this story half a dozen bimes, but I somehow forgot that, in this first telling, Ben Grimm is goaded into piloting the ship by taunts of cowardice and a worry that “the Commies” will get to space first. There’s also no clear ages given for the team members here, which has led to some… interesting changes in later tellings, making it clear that Sue and Johnny are teenagers as this story happens and adding some creepy undertones to the Reed/Sue relationship. Of course, Ben’s protestations about Cosmic Rays prove to be well-founded, which should teach us all not to do things just because somebody calls us a chicken. Lookin’ at you, McFly!
We all know the drill: The ship crashes and one-by-one, strange transformations take over the team. An angry Ben becomes a rampaging orange creature with a dinosaur-like hide, attacking his friend Reed in a blind rage (and shouting that Sue is in love with the wrong guy, another bit that I had forgotten), with only Reed’s new stretching powers keeping him from a fatal beatdown. Kirby’s art is really incredibly throughout this sequence (and throughout the entirety of Fantastic Four #1), making every panel exciting, even as a panicked Johnny discovers his own powers.
“And I’ll call myself…. MISTER FANTASTIC!” Some would say that designation shows that Reed has some ego issues, but I kind of like it, as it makes him seem more realistic. Indeed, Lee’s scripting gives all the characters the kind of dimension that most books of the era didn’t (or couldn’t) and even though they’re not quite the same characters we’d come to know (Ben has a tendency to use big words and much more prominent anger issues), they’re all interesting. Something else that I hadn’t remembered is that this sequence is only the first half of the comic, taking up 13 of the 25 story pages, with the rest devoted to the menace that Reed called them together to fight off: The Mole Man!
After a series of atomic plants go missing, dug out from beneath and dragged under the Earth’s surface, the FF set out to intervene, only to find giant monsters pulling them down from beneath. The physics of this are… questionable, but it makes for an exciting conflict, as the newly minted Fantastic Four tracks down the man behind the monsters, only to find him a reject from society who found solace with other, literal monsters in an underground cavern. Mole Man’s arrogance leads him to underestimate the team, allowing Mister Fantastic to rally his forces!
Spoilers: We have not seen the end of the Mole Man. As someone who is occasionally disappointed by the original versions of stories that keep getting retold over and over, I was impressed how well Fantastic Four #1 has aged, with Kirby operating at peak capacity, fun dialogue from Lee and a LOT of ground covered in relatively few pages, earning a well-deserved 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. If you’ve ever wondered what the big deal about the FF is, this issue stands as a good place to start figuring it out.
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FANTASTIC FOUR #1
It's an exciting issue with killer art and fun Stan Lee dialogue. You can see how it started a revolution in comics.