|And now for Part Three of -|
|in the 1960s.|
1. HELLO, MARVEL UNIVERSE
It's remarkable to think that all of this -
|(Technically, Spidey premiered in 1962, but Amazing Spider-Man #1 came out in '63.)|
- debuted over the course of a single year. The above characters and concepts have grossed almost $10B worldwide in the past eight years alone. And that's just the movies! It's staggering. Has any other year seen the creation of so many iconic characters all at once? I don't think so. (Possible exceptions: 1987 and 1990.) Of these creations, Uatu the Watcher might not be the first character that comes to mind -
but I always considered him as one of the foundational characters of the Marvel Universe. (I was happy to see the writers of Earth X (1999) agreed with me on this, even if he was turned into something of a villain for that one.) He debuts in FF #13, a wacky story where Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben become the first folks on the moon, followed closely by super-commie the Red Ghost, whose successful attempt to re-create the gamma rays exposure which gave the FF their powers results in his and his super-apes gaining some of their own. This all happens in, like, ten panels.
|I love the Silver Age.|
Anyway, as mentioned here "The Watcher in this story is really here to deliver a warning about the Cold War. But for now he really just wants everyone off his lawn." Here's the first glimpse audiences got of his home in the Blue Area of the moon.
|Byrne later paid tribute to this ejection of the Red Ghost from Uatu's home (FF #13, left) |
in X-Men #137, v1 (r).
I talked a little last time about how fun it's been to discover the source material for these little sorts of tributes. I've read X-Men #137 enough times over the years that that jumped out at me when I read FF #13 earlier this week. As did this (left) from FF #17 and its tribute from FF #236 (Byrne, 1981):
|FF #236 is an homage to more than just this panel; this is just a representative example.|
And this from FF #20 - first appearance of the Molecule Man, (the villain, incidentally, of the first Avengers story I remember reading) where he encases Manhattan Island in a dome - and this from Secret Wars # 12 (Shooter/ Zeck, 1984), where he does the same to a suburb of Pittsburgh.
I can only imagine all the homages I didn't catch over the years. Suffice it to say, you get a clear sense of just how revolutionary these issues must have been for so many creators of subsequent decades to keep paying homage to them.
The Watcher also appears in that Molecule Man issue. He summons the FF to warn them about the danger he poses to the world. But by the time he returns them to New York, MM has already encased the city in a dome and wrought mass havoc. So: no real point in warning them. Supermegamonkey provides further fun commentary.
Two characters who will return many times over the years make their first appearances: Willie Lumpkin, the Baxter Building's mailman (and likely the 2nd most well-known fictional mailman after Cliff Clavin) and the Impossible Man, a Mister Myxlplyx /Bat-Mite for the FF.
Ben and Reed's World War 2 origins are deepened in flashbacks.
|Reed's World War 2 service also plays a part in the Hate Monger storyline, but I'll save that for its own section.|
The Sue/ Reed/ Namor love triangle continues:
Reed just cannot understand why Sue continues to harbor feelings for this speedo-wearing foreigner when she could be canoodling in connubial bliss with him.
|I have no idea, either.|
Hypnotized by the Puppet Master, the Sub-Mariner beckons Sue to him. She complies, only to be hypnotized herself by some fish the Atlanteans use exclusively for that purpose. Several layers of hypnosis here - all we need is an umbrella and some ruby slippers and we'd be in some kind of MK-ULTRA morality tale (or perhaps a Rihanna or Katy Perry video.)
|In other FF mythos, we witness the first of many Hulk vs. Thor slugfests to come.|
And Ben's problems continue with the Yancy Street Gang, those kids who keep taunting him.
|Both sides up their game in '63.|
|This particular slight prompts the Thing to hurl this front-end-loader/tank-looking thing at them. A timely burst of the FF signal flare prevents him from following through with this, though.|
|Their faces still hidden in shadow, they even get the chance to help him - for their own motivations of course - in FF #20.|
This the-Thing-almost-becomes-a-mass-murderer-on-account-of-the-Yancy-Street-kids is easily my favorite ongoing sub-plot.
3. FUN WITH THE FOURTH WALL
(aka YOU LEAVE SUE ALONE)
Things get meta in this year's crop of issues. To mirror the proliferation of readers and fandom in the real world, Stan and Jack gave the team a fan club and overflowing bags of fan mail in the comics-world as well.
|"Mister Fantastic, ladies! Coming atcha'!"|
Even Stan and Jack themselves get two-dimensional avatars, who, just as in our world, chronicle the teams' adventures in comics.
|We'll return to this momentarily.|
In a special "Day in the Life of the Fantastic Four" story in FF #11 - something rather unprecedented in comics at the time, but that's what made Marvel so special - the FF are sifting through their bags of fan mail and come across a lot of Sue-is-useless sentiments. Sue is upset by the news. Reed addresses the reader directly to let him/ her know that such sentiments are misguided, and he's not afraid to bring Abraham Lincoln into it.
|Hell, Ben, temporarily in human form, gets so upset that he turns back into The Thing.|
Just crazy. It's fun to see the "real-world" impact of the Fantastic Four, though: meta-in-comics way before anyone was doing meta-in-comics.
3. THE YEAR IN STORIES
The Super Skrull and the Mad Thinker and his Super-Android all make their first appearances. I suppose I should stop making a big deal out of first appearances as everyone who appears here is making his or her Marvel Universe debut almost by default. But as a former Marvel continuity zombie, it triggers my adolescent love/ OCD for the OHMU.
|And in other news:|
|Spider-Man and Johnny Storm are a lot like Zack Morris and AC Slater from Saved by the Bell. They're fierce competitors / almost-enemies except for when they're inexplicably best friends.|
Despite my earlier snark, it's fun to watch Reed and Sue slowly turn into the characters I grew up reading. Reed is always up to something suitably impressive:
And even when Sue is doing traditionally girly things, it's usually pursuant to a vital team-member objective, a conceit which sometimes gets a little silly, it's true:
|Such as when she must conduct extensive perfume trials to determine how to extend her invisibility to dogs.|
|Or when she must try on all these wigs because ... well, actually, there's no vital-team-objective component to this. She is just proving "that a girl is a girl, even when she's a full-fledged partner of the Fantastic Four."|
|aka "YOU FOOLS!"|
He drifted through space until running into the Ovoids, an advanced alien civilization that has mastered the art of switching bodies. Like Garth (Lord Garth!) of Ixar, he learns this technique from them and upon return to Earth immediately uses this new trick on Reed.
|He's able to fool Ben, Sue, and Johnny with some wonky-science talk about perfecting the art of shrinking.|
He talks them into miniaturizing themselves and then dispatches them to a subatomic world he has discovered and subsequently conquered. In this dimension, he has forged an alliance with alien invaders (the Toks) - something to keep the FF busy and out of the way while he, naturally, takes over the world.
|With the help of Ant-Man, though, both the Tok invasion and Doom's plan are thwarted.|
|I see even the FF-verse is not immune to the machinations of the deadly Reptilian Elites.|
|President Kennedy has no time for Doom.|
Somewhat chilling in hindsight, eh? The above is cover-date August 1963 but would have appeared in the world 5 or 6 months beforehand. Nevertheless, anything with "1963" on the cover and JFK is going to bring to mind the tragedy of his assassination. The effect of not seeing his face makes the unintentionally eerie effect all the more pronounced.
5. NICE CULTURE - I'LL TAKE IT!
I'll finish things off with a more in-depth look at two issues, the first of which is:
I was always fascinated with this guy's OHMU entry. (And the subsequent revelations of his origin). I'd never read his first appearance, though, until last week. It's pretty wild. Reed calls everyone back to the Baxter Building for an emergency trip to the past to get some kind of vial that cures blindness.
They go to Doom's abandoned castle from FF #5 where his time machine is just hanging around like so many ICBMs in some unguarded ex-Soviet-missile-silo. They use the machine to travel back to this forgotten age of Ancient Egypt, where they are quickly captured by the mysterious Rama-Tut, who, it turns out, also got the idea to use Doom's abandoned time machine for his own purposes.
|Naturally, his plan involves using the Thing and Mister Fantastic to build pyramids and to make Sue his wife.|
Turns out the Sphinx is just the shell for Rama-Tut's time machine. (I guess the origin that Len Wein and Roy Thomas wrote for it was a different timeline.) Through some innovative maneuvering by Mister Fantastic, they are able to find the blindness-curing formula and return to the present.
Alas, nothing radioactive from the past can return to the present, so... yeah. Still blind, Alicia. Not to fear, though - now that Reed knows it exists, he'll stop at nothing until he can recreate it in his lab.
|Don't hold your breath.|
6. HATE MONGER
Although the good folks over at SuperMegaMonkey didn't think much of this issue, I found it a particularly timely - and appealingly batshit - story.
A demagogue has appeared, and his message of anger and hate is spreading like wildfire. Alarmed at this clear and present danger to the values Reed seem to think Americans hold dear, the FF go to investigate, and they are blasted with an unknown ray that makes them turn on one another and disband. (Like they needed a hate-ray to do that! These guys break up and get back together more often than Sam and Diane.)
|Project your pro-Trump-reactionaries or anti-Trump-reactionaries paradigm here.|
Reed is visited by his old WW2 buddy, Nick Fury, now a secret agent who's been
|Oh, twas a simpler time.|
With Fury's help, the FF is able to defeat the Hate Monger and reverse the effects of his hate ray. At issue's end, there's the ultimate Scooby-Doo-reveal:
Achtung, kids. Adolf Hitler.
|He would've gotten away with it, verdammt, if it wasn't for these einmischung kinder.|
Okay, so as we'll see in future issues, it's just a Hitler clone. Maybe it is horribly wrong to appropriate Hitler for fictional adventures such as this - I can see that side of it. But I for one think it's fascinating pop art madness to see stuff like this.
7. GO AND WRITE THE NEXT BOOK ALREADY,
See you next time for the FF's adventures in 1964!