Welcome to the first installment of The Essential’s Project! Tonight we’re looking at what most folks consider to be the first Marvel comic, 1961′s Fantastic Four #1, as it was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1. Let’s see what we’ve got.
Publication Date – November, 1961
Writer – Stan Lee
Penciler – Jack Kirby
Inker – George Klein
Letterer – Artie Simek
Cover: Jack Kirby
FF#1 introduces us to all the players — Reed Richards, Susan and Johnny Storm, and of course, Ben Grimm — but really, what it does best is set the stage and overall concept that would make Marvel comics Marvel Comics, presenting heroes who’re more like you and me than they are like Superman. Seriously, in this first issue, these guys are as good at being super-heroes as I am at being a lady scuba diver.
Upon getting the call to arms via Reed’s enormous “THE FANTASTIC FOUR!” flare, Sue goes invisible and bails on her friend and hijacks a cab on her way over to Reed’s place. An incognito Ben gets the signal while inside a men’s clothing store, and leaps into action, ripping away his trench coat, and just completely demolishing the shop’s entrance as he explodes out onto the street. On his way out, Ben wonders “Why must they build doorways so narrow?”, forcing anyone reading the story to wonder how in the hell he got inside the shop in the first place.
But as over the top introductions go, young Johnny Storm takes the cake. When we first meet Johnny, he’s in his buddy’s garage, having some work done on his hot rod. They’re just kind of hanging out, talking cars and girls, when suddenly, his friend points out the flare in the sky. This inspires Johnny to burst into flame, melting his car in the process as he rockets away from the scene. So let me just go over that one more time: JOHNNY STORM LITERALLY MELTS HIS OWN CAR!
I won’t even bring up that fact that Johnny detours off for about an hour and gets involved with the National Guard and the Air Force.
And so, in just a few pages, we see Marvel’s newest group of heroes stirring up more trouble just trying to get to their first adventure than most DC characters did in a month of stories.
Eventually, the foursome end up at Reed’s place, and flashback to their origin, and we see exactly how they become so fantastic in the first place. Determined to beat the Soviets to the stars, Reed coaxed his three friends into helping him commander an experimental space rocket. But while in orbit, they’re ship is exposed to cosmic rays and the four of them were changed forever (mostly). Reed’s body gains an uncanny elasticity allowing him to stretch at will, while Susan can now become invisible. Johnny has the ability to make himself a Human Torch, and poor Ben gets the short end of the stick, and undergoes a physical transformation that leaves him a monstrous creature covered in rock-like skin. In one of the most memorable, if not questionable scenes in comics history, the four of them put their hands in and choose new names (Mr. Fantastic, Reed? Really, dude? You’re best friends just become a human-tile, and you’re all “And I’ll call myself Mister Fantastic?”), and thus, the Fantastic Four is born.
Except, right after that, they all just apparently went home and waited for shit to happen. Which, thankfully for our sake, does in Fantastic Four #1.
Reed didn’t just bring the gang together to reminisce. He explains that atomic plants all over the world are vanishing into the very earth, and he aims to stop it. After fighting off several giant monsters, the team find themselves face-to-face with guy behind the plant-nappings, the Mole Man. As ruler of a race of underground monsters, Mole Man wants revenge on the surface-dwellers who spurned and rejected him, and plans to attack the world above through the holes left by the atomic plants he’s been stealing (?). Reed deems him as crazy, and turns his giant brain in the direction of shutting down all of the Mole Man’s noise, and of course does. The newly formed Fantastic Four make it out of the center of the Earth, and leave the Mole Man underground with the rest of the freaks, as Reed proclaims “I left him behind. He’ll never trouble anyone again.”
Well said, Dr. Richards. I bet you’re right!
Fantastic Four #1 is a hoot, and one of my all-time favorite Lee/Kirby comics. Having had the FF around my entire life, it’s hard to imagine what one might’ve actually felt when they picked this first issue up back in ’61. Fortunately for us, since the FF are still around today (well, most of ‘em anyway), you don’t have to speculate too much to know it was a game changer. Superhero comics would never be the same.
Next up, Fantastic Four # 2!