Fantastic Four: 1966 pt. 1 of 2

in the 1960s, Pt. 6
Pt. 1 of 2

By 1966 Marvel was humming along in high gear. But for one half of the Stan and Jack team, the company's success was a double-edged sword. On the one, it allowed him to cut back on his workload a little - according to Mark Evanier, "Marvels carrying dates of 1962-64 featured 3130 interior pages of Kirby art plus 285 covers, roughly the equivalent of a full book a week" - and concentrate on his three favorite titles: Thor, Captain America, and Fantastic Four. On the other, the company's success widened the cracks in the Lee and Kirby partnership, and the time-clock on Jack's departure began to tick away

Each of the previous times I've done one of these decade-crawls through a comic (or group of comics), there's always one year that necessitates two posts. 1966 is that year for the FF. Too much to cover for one readable post. Hell, you're probably getting more than you want to read splitting it in two. Not me, though! Prost! Macht euch bereit: 


The Mad Thinker, master of androids, resurrects "the most famous android of all," the original Human Torch Jim Hammond, who's been deactivated and packed away in some government warehouse since WW2. Ben, Reed, and Sue are sitting around reading their fan mail. As Reed reminisces about seeing the original in action a few times during the war, Johnny (who has been dimension-hopping with his buddy Wyatt Wingfoot and Lockjaw, as we'll get to in pt. 2) helpfully materializes.

I mean, without Johnny the story is 100% less Torch-vs.-Torch. So of course he's dropping in.

I always kind of liked the original Torch, both because I was a big Invaders fan at one point and just out of a general predilection for Golden and Silver Age precedent. This is a perfectly enjoyable story that follows the tried-and-true Marvel formula to a tee, but it's sullied somewhat by the knowledge (as quoted from here) that "from a creator rights perspective, there's something a bit sinister about it. This issue was published 28 years after the publication of Marvel Comics #1, therefore renewing the copyright on the original Human Torch, preventing ownership from reverting to Carl Burgos. According to Sean Howe's Marvel: The Untold Story, Burgos' daughter found him destroying his collection of comics after this issue came out."

The character had a colorful post-mortem history, though I'm not entirely sure how things stand after the various reboots of the Marvel Universe.

John Byrne brought him back in Avengers West Coast #50 (1989). Shortly after or maybe even right before,  strict observance of Marvel continuity became old-fashioned, so who cares.
Some memorable Star Trek-y villainy from the Mad Thinker throughout this one, though. Observe his interactions with Quasimodo, the program he built to be a little too self-aware.
Leading to the last three panels:


By '66, Stan and Jack were collaborating via the Marvel Method, i.e. writer and artist meet to discuss plot, then the artist goes off to draw everything, then the writer comes back to it to add the dialogue and captions, then the editor approves it. This allowed Stan to write (and edit) a crazy amount of titles and bring a consistent tone to all of them, and Jack (as well as the other artists in Marvel's bullpen) considerable freedom in how to visually tell the story.

The only problem in this arrangement was that Stan and Jack didn't always start on the same page. That and Jack's tendency to design and create new characters every other panel that were subsequently seized by Stan or others in ways he hadn't intended.

John Romita, Sr. recalls driving home with both of them and listening to them plot an upcoming issue of FF. (I love to picture this drive, by the way. Stan, Jack, and John, Sr. navigating New York traffic after a day in a probably barely air-conditioned office, batting around plot ideas. And one other angle: I mean, this is a considerable part of Marvel's rising fortunes all in one car. Knowing what we know now, doesn't this seem damn reckless? Too much at stake to be in one car - spread theses guys out! I digress.) Says JRSR: "It appeared that they would finish their conversation, each thinking that he had convinced the other, when it was obvious to anybody else that they hadn't."

As detailed in Jones and Jacobs' trusty The Comic Book Heroes:

"Lee fleshed out Kirby's mind-boggling creations and plots with memorable personalities and a constant undercurrent of mystery and suspense. (But Kirby's) ideas were now so strange, so powerful, so distilled to such intensity (that) all by himself, Kirby was blowing open the boundaries of the Marvel universe (...) To tell these stories, Kirby increased the range and force of his art (...) Savage landscapes of fire and ice, wild seas, towering palaces, and the boundlessness of space sprawled across huge panels, some covering full pages, some covering two." 

"Here was Kirby at forty-eight, an age when most artists would be content to find a niche and coast to retirement. Instead, he reinvented himself, his art, and comic books themselves. The forms were stripped down, pure comics, as if Kirby had picked something up from Pop Art itself. He pushed his figures into the foreground and tilted his perspectives to thrust monumental forms into the reader's eyes and send the vanishing point dropping back endlessly into space."

In addition to his continued experimentation with form, Jack had more time to pursue extracurricular reading, and it began to bleed over into his work. I'll end this section with this representational example of the sudden appearance of Prester John (characteristically "Kirbyified") in Wyatt and Johnny's adventures:  

From FF #54.
Later, Prester John flies the Wakandan Mystery Machine while Wyatt blasts the Evil Eye out of Johnny's hand when the Torch flies off loveblind. Long story. 

This stretch of FF is a Magnificent Mile in Marvel History. As advertised above: "pure comics." 


In issues 46 and 47 and the first few pages of 48, we get everything we need to know about this strange group of folks we first glimpsed at the tail end of '65. This is Shakespearean drama with a Silver Age sensibility. 

After chartering a jet (Reed gives a reason of "remaining inconspicuous," which doesn't make a great deal of sense. I mean, can't Sue just make the damn thing invisible? Can't Reed cloak a ship from radar? Methinks this was one of those Jack-drew-a-plane-and-Stan-had-to-"cover"-it-once-he-got-the-pages-back moments) the FF find the Inhumans' Great Refuge. 

The Seeker gives them a brief history of his people.

Maximus - Black Bolt's deranged brother - has been ruling as regent, though the crown is rightfully Black Bolt's. Ostensibly this is because of the "accident" which robbed BB of his voice, but as we learn, a) it was not precisely an accident, and b) BB only remains mute because his voice is the equivalent of a thousand H-bombs.


At the end, Maximus reverses the Atmo Gun, which creates a huge Dome around the Great Refuge, trapping all the Inhumans inside. Including Johnny's new love, Crystal:

Oh-the-drama. The dome proves particularly vexing for Karnak, as well:
"We wanted to call this story 'BLACK BOLT SCREAMS!'" Stan tells us in another caption, not included.
Please accept in its stead these bonus renditions of Black Bolt and Medusaby Mike Zeck and John Byrne from the 80s OHOTMU.

Johnny's anguish at being separated from Crystal and the attempts of the Inhumans inside to escape will have far-reaching consequences in the years to come. 



"Articles would later claim that what was nicknamed 'the Galactus trilogy' all resulted from a four-word plot given verbally from Stan to Jack - 'Have them fight God' - but it's hard to see how Galactus, who consumed life instead of creating it, resembled either's notion of the Almighty.

"Kirby had two allusions in mind. One was a concern prompted by all he read in science magazines, postulating a day when man might encounter beings from another planet. What, he wondered, if they just want to eat us? The other concern was almost prescient with regard to Marvel. Kirby was reading tales of corporate raiders who'd acquire a small company, drain it of its assets, and move on, leaving a hollow, inert shell. (Martin) Goodman was getting feelers about a takeover, and Kirby was getting nervous." 
 - Mark Evanier, Kirby: King of Comics.

The introduction of Galactus to the Marvel Universe is heralded by two things: 1) well, the appearance of his, uh, herald. Kirby saw the herald of Galactus - a proud tradition that continued right down through "my" Marvel and hopefully still does today, if Galactus is still out there eating planets in 2016 Marvel adventures - as an emotionless angel Gabriel sort of figure, trumpeting the end of the world and the arrival of "God." And 2) the Watcher's continued passive-aggressive intervening in Earth's affairs, first trying to camouflage the Earth with fire and space debris and when that doesn't work, sending the Torch "far back into the center of infinity" to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier. Galactus is so troubled by the prospect of the device in Reed's hands that he agrees to leave Earth alone - for now - if Reed will surrender it to him. Reed does, and Galactus disappears. 

The catalyst for Galactus' defeat is the defection of his herald to the Earthmen's cause.
As punishment, he is exiled to Earth, and Galactus erects an invisible barrier around the planet to prevent his escape.


More from King of Comics:  

"The Surfer became a special source of contention between Lee and Kirby. Although he regarded earlier Marvel heroes as primarily his concepts, Jack had at least discussed them with Stan before drawing their first stories. But the tale in which the Silver Surfer debuted had been plotted and illustrated before Lee even heard about the metallic guy hanging ten through the galaxy."

We'll be examining this in more depth in next year (and most especially in the year after that), but it's rare when the catalysts to a famous partnership's dissolution arrive with such fanfare. (Imagine if at the end of Magical Mystery Tour a gong was sounded and all four Beatles harmonized "Yoko Is Here.") Not only is the Silver Surfer introduced so prominently - coasting through what appear supernovas and singularities and galactic cores on a goddamn surfboard, for crying out loud - in the biggest biggest-threat-the-FF-have-ever-faced yet, he arrives with  the philosophical baggage already in place that will later tear the Lee/Kirby team apart.

On the surface, the schism between Stan and Jack was simply a conflicting vision of the character. But underneath the surface, various others tensions simmered and gathered momentum.

"Marvel was hot, (and Kirby) started seeing sweatshirts, T-shirts, and posters with his art on them. Those cheap Marvel Super-Heroes cartoons from Grantray-Lawrence Productions just took panels straight from his comics and faked the most minimal animation. That was his art in syndication across America (and) he'd heard that Lee was telling other artists to 'draw like Kirby.' What was he getting for all of this - glory? (...) Small consolation when Stan started getting invitations to speak at colleges, and nobody asked for Jack. (He) began saving Lee's interviews, building a record of how he felt he was being slighted, and every new piece of paper fueled the hidden flame in his gut." 
- The Comic Book Heroes.

Perhaps Lee could have done more to promote Jack's co-authorship, but let's lay the ultimate blame where it belongs, at Martin Goodman's door

Anyway. This is all well-traveled terrain, so I won't dwell on it. The Silver Surfer returns for two more stories in '66 after the Galactus trilogy. First, he seeks out Alicia, whose kindness to him first alerted his alien heart to the potential of humanity.  

Ben feels a little differently about it all.

(Not to be confused with "Surfer Jeff.")

In FF#57, while the FF deal with a prison break involving the Frightful Four, the Surfer's trek around the world lands him in Latveria, where the good Doctor has been keeping tabs on him. 

Naturally Doom has other aims in mind.

We'll pick up the rest of that story in 1967, but you might have noticed some similarities between this and the plot of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (a movie which also - clumsily - appropriates FF Annual #3).

Much has been made of the awfulness of FF:RotSS. And people are right to rake it over the coals; it's an awful movie. And it's an awful FF-specific movie. Not sure why it's so beyond the capabilities of Hollywood to get a proper FF movie together (I've certainly done everything I can to point them in the right direction). Here's Grant Morrison with some perspective from Supergods:

"(The first FF movie was) a shallow, uncool, family-oriented crack at updating the quintessentially Cold War hero team. Its sequel maintained the kiddie tone and unforgivably copped out of showing Galactus, but its eerily realized CGI Silver Surfer, particularly as seen during a breathtaking aerial chase sequence through the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, was a genuine triumph that, for the first time, came close to the purity of Kirby's vision and offered a foretaste of what might be possible when the moviemakers finally caught up to the King's best work."

I think moviemakers have a ways more to go, myself, but I'll grant that this sequence is kind of cool.

I'll circle and underline the "unforgivably copped out of showing Galactus" part, though. To choose Galactus as the villain and then fail to meaningfully realize him on-screen is like making a film about Godzilla and then not showing Godzilla. Inexcusable and still unfathomable to me, years later; whatever (little) else the film got right is undone-and-then-some by this. 

Pt 2 looks at the Black Panther; a famous Thing solo story; Johnny, Wyatt Wingfoot, and Lockjaw's wild Route 66 through time and space; and MORE!


  1. (1) I am always a little depressed to hear about how much of the history of superhero comics involves one fella getting screwed by another. Hot in the hot-gay-sex way, either, but in the stolen-rights-and-shattered-lives way. So it's a bummer to hear that the reappearance of the original Human Torch was a rights-grab. Divorced from that context, though, that must have blown a lot of readers' minds in '66. Seems like the sort of thing that might have really sparked the mind of a young Alan Moore, for example.

    (2) "I love to picture this drive, by the way. Stan, Jack, and John, Sr. navigating New York traffic after a day in a probably barely air-conditioned office, batting around plot ideas." -- I mean...this HAS to be a movie at some point, right? Maybe not this specifically, but a movie (maybe even a series) about the era? "Mad Men" but with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a two-headed Don Draper. Sign me THE FUCK up.

    (3) I should read some Inhumans one of these days. I've got ambitions to someday find time to plow my way through all of Marvel's essential years (which I am hastily defining as early sixties through late eighties).

    (4) I've actually read the Galactus trilogy, as well as maybe the first couple of dozen issues of Silver Surfer's solo book (however many are in "The Essential Silver Surfer"). Man, that stuff is pretty great. The fact that Fox has all of this amazing material at their disposal and is just ignoring it (or mistreating it) is just deplorable. Not even just from a fan perspective, but from a business perspective: how many billions of dollars are they leaving on the table? Ugh. That said, I do agree that certain aspects of the first two movies worked a bit, and yeah, the look/feel of the Surfer himself was impeccable. Imagining that in the hands of a great -- or even good -- filmmaker is tantalizing.

    (5) I know little of the Lee/Kirby story, but what I do know inclines me toward being in nearly-full sympathy with Kirby. And yet, Lee seems so lovable!

    (6) You're going to eventually do a series of posts about Kirby's New Gods books, I hope...?

    1. (6) Probably! I keep swearing off any more labor-intensive comics-crawls, then lining up more for myself. Reason being, any excuse to dig into it, I guess! So yeah, probably. I mean, that Fourth World stuff is pretty damn epic. AND it would give me an excuse to finally read Simonson's ORION reboot/ continuation properly.

      (5) I've got sympathy for Lee's side, too. I think Kirby had some legitimate gripes about Lee re-characterizing things he (Kirby) created, which necessitated Kirby having to redraw stuff / lost credit / mislaid ideas / wasted time, etc. And I certainly sympathize there. But all of Kirby's other legitimate beefs (like the ownership of Captain America and his general non-compensation and shoddy treatment from Marvel) are Martin Goodman's fault. All those old comics guys (except Bill Gaines! Got to love Bill Gaines) were Monopoly villains.

      (4) You said it - just for the money's sake, if nothing else! Make a damn great FF film with the material you got.

      (3) That's the essential period of Marvel right there, for sure. Some great stuff came after, of course, but 1960 to 1989-ish will always be the "real" Marvel to me.

      (2) Absofrigginlutely it should be.

      (1) I know you meant "not," of course, but "Hot in the hot-gay-sex way" triggered a Beavis and Butthead laugh from me.

    2. Definitely a typo, but a felicitous one.

      I read some of that Simonson Orion stuff. I liked it a lot.