|Part Four: 1964|
Let's take a moment and note two things about the above: 1) Please pardon my crude disfigurements to the panels. This was the best of hours of work. You'd think I'd have accepted that I'm not much for designing by now. And 2) that hand-to-chin pin-up of Sue is something. I'm not sure exactly what, but something. That vintage 60s pad background is awesome, though.
Marvel was still blowing up in 1964. Sales continued to rise, though they would not overtake DC/ National until the end of the decade. For a comprehensive breakdown, see here. (Great site all around, by the by.)
All of this meant that Stan and Jack were terrifically overworked, and it shows in this stretch of stories from '64. Neither the art nor the writing is all that remarkable. Lots of repeat-plots and motifs, and Kirby continued to be paired with inkers (Chic Stone for the most part, this time around) who don't do much for him.
|He added in the odd experimentation here and there.|
But, it pains me to say, it's Stan's plotting and verbiage that's the real slog in '64. Too little variation of plot or dialogue, too many villains returning to try the same thing they tried in '63 or earlier, and too much intra-team squabbling.
|Although, I confess, this panel amused me.|
|Even the Yancy St. stuff, which has been a consistent pleasure for me, felt tired this time around.|
So yeah, Stan phoned it on in '64. At least on FF; elsewhere (The Avengers, Spider-Man) he did better. All is not lost, though. Starting in 1965 the stories in FF take a quantum leap forward, not just for the magazine but for the industry. Knowing what's around the corner made these stories almost seem like misdirections.
1. STRANGE TALES
I figure I probably ought to start covering the contemporaneous solo-FF adventures published in Strange Tales, written by Stan Lee and penciled (with one exception: Kirby, for issue 120) by Dick Ayers.
They're okay. No big whup. The Human Torch fights the Puppetmaster, the Eel, this guy:
Also the Wizard, the Rabble Rouser (a retread of the Hate Monger), officially-worst-named-villain-ever Paste-Pot-Pete (later the Trapster), the Beetle, and a boatload of terrorists, dispatched with the assistance of X-guest star Iceman.
|Later, Reed pretends to be a super villain to teach Johnny and Ben a lesson on teamwork and family.|
Johnny's extracurricular life is fleshed out a little bit, though not by much. Mostly, we see him keep breaking dates with his girl Doris Evans on account of superhero business.
|And the return of original Human Torch creator Carl Burgos. Which is kind of cool - or would be had Marvel not been gone to such lengths to screw him over only a few years later. (Stan looks a lot like Bob Hope in this panel, incidentally.)|
The real treat of these Strange Tales issues are the back-ups with:
|Which leads me to my next order of business:|
2. WE HAVE UPDATED OUR POLICY
It's been fun to take note of the peripheral coming together of the Marvel Universe in the last few posts. But to avoid that terminal condition known round the Dog Star bullpen as "post bloat," I'm going to limit further discussion only to what happens in the Fantastic Four magazine.
And Strange Tales. Which means technically - I mean, I say technically, like it's some UN regulation and not some arbitrary condition I'm setting for myself - I could cover the Doctor Strange back-ups in depth. But, outside of appearing in the same magazine as some FF solo adventures, do they have any real connection to the FF's adventures in the 60s? Not really.
So, witness my restraint as I manage not to mention:
Not going to spend any time on the awesome Ditko art. Nope. Nor the Realm of Nightmare, nor the Crimson Circle of Cytorrak, nor the Hoary Hands (nor the Hoary Hosts!) of Hoggoth, nor the blinding lights of the Eternal Vishanti, nor the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto, and definitely not the Seven Rings of Raggadorr.
Exceptions will be made for when the Marvel Universe comes to FF itself, of course, such as was the case with the Hulk and the Avengers in 2 issues (#25 and #26):
|or the X-Men in FF #28.|
|Doctor Strange appears in #27, as well. Good year for cross-overs. (For Stan, every year was a good year for crossovers. "The more the merrier, true believer!")|
I'm also going to switch to just listing those future authors and artists who had letters published in the FF mailbag rather than cutting and pasting the letters themselves. This year's lucky winners: Dave Cockrum, Don Glut, and more from Mike Friedrich and George RR Martin.
|aka YOU FOOLS!|
Doom's appearance in FF #23, where he bestows super-powers on three criminals to attack the FF as his proxies, isn't all that great, but the annual this year is a real treat:
Doctor Doom's origin story is as full-on goth as the character deserves. His mother was a witch; she was burned alive. His father was a gypsy healer at the beckoned call of the Baron of the kingdom of Latveria. When he fails to heal the Baron's wife, he and a young Doom go into hiding, but Doom, Sr. dies from exposure. Doom swears eternal vengeance. He educates himself in the ways of science and magic and begins to punk the Latverian nobility:
|First of the Doombots that will similarly vex the FF over the years.|
Tales of his prowess reach the ears of "the dean of Science at State University," who travels to Latveria to recruit him. He accepts, but he has trouble making friends:
|I wish I could get away with Doom's personality. I imagine it would be no fun for anyone else, but man.|
As we saw elsewhere, eventually he is expelled for his unapologetic and unstable experiments with the Dark Arts, which leave him facially disfigured. Undeterred, he takes to the mountains to further train with a sect of monks hidden away from the world before returning to Latveria to take his rightful place as sovereign head of state.
|Let the world beware, indeed.|
The annual ends with the original tale, "The Final Victory of Doctor Doom," where Doom is saved by Rama Tet out in space, his (possible) future descendant. He returns to Earth and, challenges Reed to an Encephalo-gun mano-y-mano after the FF accept a suspicious invite to an official Latverian state function.
4. THE MOLE MAN
I'm getting irritated everytime they bring back the Mole Man. Although everytime I see the character's name I think of the pertinent "And that's how we created the Mole Man" routine from "Roger, the Stan Lee Experience" link NSFW - not sure if that link is the pertinent skit, actually, having some YouTube issues *- so I guess the chuckle is worth something. Anyway, the characters two appearances in 1964 are surrounded by some fun moments, such as when a parade of concerned/ outraged citizens and city officials take the FF to task for their significant disruptions and threats to public safety.
* It isn't. Ah well, you get the idea.
The situation leads Reed to look around for a private island the team can buy to get out of everyone's hair. And thus they walk right into the Mole Man's trap.
And herein lies my main problem with the Mole Man: he seems an awful lot more powerful than he should be, doesn't he? When we first met him back in FF #1, he was stealing whole nuclear reactors. Next he was tunneling up through Manhattan bedrock and stealing buildings, then threatening civilization with giant earthquakes. Here he's creating artificial islands - no big whup, there, I mean, China's doing the same thing in the South China Sea as I type these words. But the Mole Man's doing it with full-on replicas of city skylines and with otherwordly (you might even call them "Kirby-esque") machines and an army of Deviant construction workers.
5. DOC STORM
There's a multi-issue soap opera about the return of the Super Skrull and the sudden re-appearance in Sue and Johnny's lives of their surgeon father, who went to prison for manslaughter years ago and then disappeared.
|Don't get too attached, though, kids.|
There's much more to the story, of course, but the long and short of it is: a father whom we've never heard of dramatically re-appears, then sacrifices himself for the good of the magazine. No pesky Dad figure hanging around to bother Sue and Johnny in future issues. They've already got Reed for that. But we'll get to that in the "Reed's Kind of a Dick" section.
7. MEANWHILE, NAMOR GETS HORNY
Like some water-breathing wing-footed Howard Hughes, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner bugs the bedrooms of the woman he's interested in -
|Ya been Cosby'd, surface dweller!|
|His schemes fail, and Sue breaks up with him for good. Well, "for good." We'll see.|
|Like all narcissists, he can't see how his behavior affects others. It's always him him him.|
|REED AND SUE|
Byrne made such a big deal - or maybe it was my Marvel-reading buddies who made such a big deal - of Sue's "expanded" powers in the 80s that I thought it was something new. But nope - as early as 1964, Sue was extending her invisibility to others as well as creating force fields. I guess Byrne just made a point of re-emphasizing it.
|All of this delights the more Onan-ish elements of her fan base.|
|And speaking of Onan, Reed brings a little something to the table himself.|
6.5 Demonstrations of Irony in Nomenclature
Several dick-ish moments from Mr. Fantastic this year. Let's start with:
Granted that's not actually Reed, okay, so it's a bit of a cheat. Just the tip of the iceberg, though:
In case you don't feel like enlarging the above, here we see (clockwise from top l): 1) "You're not a fool - merely a female!" 2) "Why waste time on chicks, Doom?" (Awkward.) 3) "Keeping chicks in a calculated state of indecision is easier than slapping them around." (Maybe that's not a linear interpretation. But trust me, it's what he's getting at.) And 4) "Check out the name-tag! It's MISTER FANTASTIC. It's in the bloody name, chickface!"
~Yeah, so like I said, not the best year in FF history. Two quick endnotes:
- Issue 24 may have inspired Star Trek's Season One gem "Squire of Gothos." Same sort of deal.
- And issue 30 features the first appearance of Diablo, an alchemist from 9th century Saragossa who has various pacts with the devil, vampires, and other evil spirits. I always liked this character. He was under-used during my window of Marvel reading.
|The issue he came onto my radar.|
That's all for this time. Next time, things get FFin'-real: Joe Sinnott! The Inhumans! Reed and Sue get married! More aliens! Better Doom! Daredevil! And even the Frightful Four! See you then.