|And now for Part Two of -|
|in the 1960s.|
Last time around, we learned of an underground race of nuclear-reactor-thieving monsters and a shape-shifting alien civilization that covets the Earth. Luckily the FF was around to effectively thwart them both. Over this stretch, we learn of an undersea civilization that declares war on the surface world and of more life in outer space, and Kirby and Lee continue to exponentially populate the Marvel Universe.
First came Hank Pym over in Tales to Astonish, then in rapid succession the Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man (co-created with Steve Ditko), each in their own magazine with their own stable of associated characters. A significant expansion for the House of Ideas!
|It took very little time for Stan's knack for in-story cross-promotion to manifest itself:|
The Fantastic Four-verse also expanded in '62, with the introduction of soon-to-be brand-visible elements. Such as:
|I guess it's not the biggest deal, but I always liked it. If they ever get the movie right, it might make a fun ride for whatever theme park builds it.|
THE BAXTER BUILDING
|I love everything about this schematic. Keep in mind the first 30 stories are private residences.|
This aspect of the Baxter Building - the FF having its HQ on top of other businesses and residences - was a throwback to Doc Savage, who did his business on the 86th floor of the (implied) Empire State Building. Where he had only a zenith mooring, however, the FF have rockets and Fantasticars.
"Flaunting tradition from the beginning, the Fantastic Four wore civilian clothes. When finally pressured to give them more traditionally recognizable superheroic costumes, Jack Kirby responded with functional blue jumpsuits that owed more to the Mercury astronauts than to circus acrobats." - Supergods, Grant Morrison
It's actually Sue who is credited in coming up with the costumes in issue 3, not Reed, but sooner or later, the unstable-molecules aspect of the FF's costumes (a Reed Richards invention) became standard issue Marvel wear. Well, except for Spidey. He hung in there with his thread and needle for decades to come.
|There was some Kirby precedent for the uniform aesthetic from his DC work, Challengers of the Unknown.|
THE YANCY STREET GANG
Snail mail trolling! Kirby often liked to recall his roots growing up in Depression-era street gangs in Brooklyn. Egged on by the Torch in issues to come, the Thing finally has enough of their taunts and sets out to thrash the little punks with his rocky fists. But he ends up taking a liking to and mentoring the rugrats instead. By the time I came along in the 80s, the Yancy Street Gang, having fallen out of use but still intermittently referenced, were an anachronistic source of confusion for me.
THE HIGH POINT OF
THE HUMAN TORCH'S POPULARITY
Ah, fame, ya fickle jerk. At the end of '62, the Human Torch starred in his own series of adventures in Strange Tales, but it didn't last. The Thing, so far, has been the only original FF character popular enough to sustain his own series. Maybe that's changed in the years since I stopped reading Marvel regularly.
|So there's a lot of Johnny-talks-to-the-reader and pin-up stuff in these issues.|
The Torch, of course, was a reboot of an earlier Marvel (Atlas/Timely) creation, the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond. No relation between the characters, although Hammond would return first as the body of the original Vision, then as himself. Captain America, the most popular of Marvel's 40s creations, would have to wait until The Avengers #4 (1964) to return to the public eye, but the seeds of his return were planted in 1962 with the return of:
NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER:
When Johnny storms off during one of the group's many spats, he ends up in the bowery - because why not? - next to a catatonic man. Naturally, Johnny decides to give him a shave with his flame-finger - standard practice, really, when sharing a cot next to a homeless man - and voila:
In the 40s, Namor threw in with Cap and the Human Torch because the Nazis threatened his undersea kingdom. 20 years later, he has amnesia and doesn't respond to being recognized. After Johnny douses him in water, he returns to his homeland to find it:
"Here was a whole new complex of ideas: heroes who might be in the wrong, who are ambivalent about their enemy, who disagree about their plan of action, who are even caught in a romantic triangle with a villain." - Supergods again.
The romantic triangle business is more pronounced in these early issues than I remembered.
|"I think you owe us an explanation, Sue."|
Johnny's probably just being a bratty younger sibling, here, but their attitude is fascinating. Not that it's any of their actual business, but there are all sorts of reasons to lift an eyebrow at the idea of a relationship between Sue and Namor. No need to bother, though; Sue's being sexually threatened by a speedo-wearing outsider who has bewitched her with his seductive foreigner ways. A damn fish to boot, or half-fish - sure, he's a war hero, but no way, Runaround Sue. Burn the photo! Burn everything!
|Doom sees it from the other side of things, once they team up.|
|After battling them to a standstill, like Godzilla Namor makes his lonely way back to the sea.|
THE PUPPET MASTER
AND ALICIA MASTERS
The Puppet Master was never a personal favorite of mine. In some respects, he's the classic Lee villain: his motivations for his life of crime are not entirely unsympathetic, and he employs his talents in a rather uncreative fashion, giving us glimpses of a power that, better controlled, would far outmatch the FF - or most heroes in the Marvel Universe.
|But so it goes.|
The Puppet Master is mainly around to bring his blind daughter Alicia into the dramatic fray. It is her Frankenstein-y affection for Ben Grimm that turns him into the lovable big-ol-monster-babysitter of Marvel Two-in-One and Hanukkah cards to come.
But even more important than all the above - not just to the FF or comics history but to civilization itself - is the first appearance of:
Doom's debut story is silly but perfect. He kidnaps the FF so that they can travel to the past in the time machine he's invented and steal the legendary treasure of Blackbeard. (He'd go himself, but he has to stay behind and "work the machine.") Reed knows Doom is a man of his word from their college days. They go into the past and easily enough overcome Blackbeard and his crew.
|The Thing briefly goes native.|
|He later apologizes for betraying Johnny and Reed and throwing them overboard. "I just lost my dumb head for awhile."|
Doom never gets his hands on Blackbeard's treasure - everyone escapes, and everything ends in flames. But we learn a lot about the guy. In pursuit of seemingly trivial objectives, he has the means and willingness to:
|- neutralize the most technologically advanced building in New York.|
|- spirit away the world's only (at that point) super-team to an undisclosed castle stronghold.|
|- build sophisticated robot duplicates only to see them destroyed as decoys.|
|- come back and take your whole gd building if thwarted.|
Not to mention, of course, this time machine he's invented - perfect but for the one flaw of not trusting one of his robot doubles to work the controls. Or complete the mission for that matter. Interesting commentary on the mind of Doom.
I don't know how many times I read Iron Man (v1) 149-150, where Iron Man and Doom travel back to Arthurian times and mix it up with Merlin and Morgana and other intrigues, as a kid. Let's say dozens, and at least a half dozen times in the 21st century. And twice in the last year, at least. I love that story. There was a sequel to it for Iron Man 250, where they go into the future instead of the past. I had no idea that both stories were sequels (of a sort) to this first-appearance-of-Doom story.
Doom's plans may be a wit wonky, but he goes about them with such stylish super-villainy. His hurling the Baxter Building into space remains a personal favorite of the genre. (Byrne paid homage to it during his run.) Kudos to Doom's engineering - or Reed's reverse engineering of it, or however the hell it survives the rigors of space and ends up so precisely re-attached to its original foundation - for getting it home safely.
|Just "a hallucination resulting from the anxieties that plague our nuclear society."|
Doom is defeated and adrift in space at story's end, much like Vader at the end of A New Hope several years later. And much has been made of the similarities between Darth Vader and Doctor Doom (as well as Darkseid and other later Kirby creations). Even if Vader/Star Wars is a deliberate mash-up of other things, so what? Most things are mash-ups of one thing or another. In these FF stories alone, we've seen Frankenstein, Doc Savage, Marvel's own Golden Age, and The Day The Earth Stood Still all recycled to great effect. Maybe Star Wars is a little more on the nose in its homage-making, but it owes no conceptual debt to Marvel or DC anymore than it does to Carl Jung, Akira Kurosawa, or Alfred Lord Tennyson. Nevertheless, the similarities are fun to notice.
|When horribly disfigured by his Dark Arts practice, he takes to wearing a mask and suit of cloaked armor.|
|We'll be seeing plenty more of both Doom and Namor in the futurepast.|
Just a quick glance at two of them that I thought were fun. In issue 7, they again travel into space, this time spirited away to Planet X, a planet ruled by a highly technological elite who nonetheless only have a handful of spaceships: not enough to remove their planet's population from imminent cosmic disaster.
Kurrgo, the ruler of Planet X, figures Reed can come up with something with the advanced machines his ancestors built that he and his people have forgotten how to use. Sure enough, Reed develops a shrinking gas that allows the billions of Planet-X-ers to escape in the small number of spaceships available. He also invents an enlarging gas to reverse the effects once they get to their new homeworld. Or so he tells them.
|Add the 5 billion souls formerly of Planet X who have cosmic beef with Reed Richards.|
The best of the FF of 1962 is probably issue 9, where the FF lose all their money thanks to Reed's putting all of the FF's funds - I guess Mister Smartest Man Alive thought diversifying your portfolio was a bum steer - on some sort of magic beans and losing everything.
|The kind of plot twists (and reasoning) I grew up with in Richie Rich comics.|
|Namor - watching the news in his undersea kingdom - hears about their bankruptcy and begins to plot.|
|James Arness and Amanda Blake from Gunsmoke, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope are all seen hanging around "SM Studios."|
4. FROM THE
|Sol Brodsky was Marvel's production director. Nicely done.|
|I assume Roy Thomas needs no introduction, but keep your eye on this kid - I bet he goes places.|
Next Up: 1963. Lots more Doctor Doom! Rama-Tut! The Hate-Monger!