Fantastic Four: 1969

FANTASTIC FOUR in the 1960s,
Pt. 9

Our year-by-year look at the Marvel Universe's Ur-comic comes to a close. Technically, Kirby was the interior artist on the book through issue #102, but I'll stick with the original plan and cover only those FF issues cover-dated to the 60s.

We're not missing much for leaving the last handful of Lee/Kirby FFs out. If things began getting repetitive and a tad lazy in 1968, the trend accelerated in 1969 and into Kirby's last days at Marvel in 1970. The details of his departure from Marvel have been covered in a million different places. Long story short: the promises Martin Goodman made to Kirby (which were not put in writing) were not honored by Marvel's new owners. After being insulted over the phone by the new owners' lawyers, Kirby went to DC.

Stan's less-than-effusive comment on Kirby's departure in the Bullpen Bulletins (Sep 1970.)

The Fantastic Four sailed on under Stan and other artists, then other writers, then down into history. 

So what was the last full year under the original creative team's stewardship like? A slight improvement over 1968, perhaps, but the momentum earned from the few years previous meant it could plateau for quite awhile and still entertain. 

The annual for '69 reprinted stories we've already covered. Let's dig in to the rest.


The still-unnamed Franklin Richards is mostly minded by Alicia Masters. Nothing like a blind nanny to help ease a new Mom's anxiety! 

Reed and Sue ostensibly are just taking their time in naming their firstborn until they're 100% on the right name, but the letter's page solicits the fans' help in the choice. That reminded me of the Name the Schumaker Baby campaign from It's Garry Shandling's Show. (RIP, Garry.) I'm not exactly sure how they arrive at Franklin, but they do so in #94 (Jan 1970).


Stan and Jack revisit the Inhumans drama one last time as a creative team in issues 82 and 83. Crystal remembers she must receive her liege's formal permission to join the Fantastic Four, but before they can all go for a visit, a gang of Alpha Primitives - a new strata of Inhuman society - arrive to forcibly bring her back to Attilan. The FF give pursuit and discover that - once again - Maximus has taken over and plans to fire a giant weapon at the world and that - once again - a smidgen of the Royal Family's vocal powers is all it takes to free themselves and foil his plot.

The story ends with his exile to the stars (notably, he leaves the Alpha Primitives behind. Probably doomed to sweep the Attilan streets and clean the sewers for their part in the insurrection.)

Crystal gets the honors of destroying the big gun this time time around.
Point of interest: if you want people to stop calling you madman, quit acting like Dreyfuss in The Pink Panther Strikes Back.

Black Bolt seems able to wield his vocal-devastation ability with such precision and control that no real danger exists. God forbid he belches or something, of course, but it's hard to generate much dramatic excitement when the Inhumans are "trapped" somewhere. We've seen this a lot the last few years - Karnak will try and karate-chop it and fail, then Black Bolt breaks everyone out, which he probably should have just done in the first place.

Then again, he's not the only Inhuman (Medusa, Crystal, Lockjaw, pretty much all of them) with inconsistencies. Who cares, anyway? I don't value Silver Age superheroics for their strict consistency of imaginary powers. It's like the Instant Replay in NFL - it imposes a lunatic sense of scientific analysis and fairness on a game where the rules are completely arbitrary and inconsistent to begin with. I digress. 

I don't believe Kirby ever returned to the Inhumans, so this is his Attilan swan song. In many ways (and as always not to dismiss Stan's contribution to things) they are a run-through for later Kirby concepts like his Fourth World titles, The Eternals, or even Black Panther (1977 to 1979). 


Doom gets a fun 4-parter from #84 to #87 which is mainly a huge knock-off of The Prisoner. Doom - with the help of an ex-Nazi-scientist-turned-Latverian-toady whom Doom harangues mercilessly - builds a killer robot army. With them he intends to defeat the FF but also put down those in his realm who are rebelling against his authority. 

Is it too much to ask?

Nick Fury intercepts the FF on their way back from Attilan to ask them to investigate. It's only natural that S.H.I.E.L.D. be concerned; it wasn't too long ago that Surfer Doom tried to subjugate the world. The world is very forgiving! Nations have been invaded and governments toppled for far, far less.

The Soviet Union, who had several elite fightercraft and pilots destroyed by Doom, deserves turn-the-other-cheek props in particular.

Doom captures the FF, hypnotizes them (again) into believing they don't have powers, then stashes them in a village, which he intends to have his robots destroy. When Hauptmann interferes with Doom's carefully orchestrated plan for destroying the FF once and for all, he sandbags it in fury and lets the FF leave.

Dr. Hauptmann will be avenged years later in Iron Man 149-150 by his younger brother, whom Doom recklessly employs years later.
Doom not only returns from the past, he also has Hauptmann incinerated as part of a scientific experiment to see if a human body can conduct the Power Cosmic.
(FF #258)

I haven't read #258 in awhile. Doesn't Doom already have the answer to this experiment, having channeled the Power Cosmic himself when he stole it from the Silver Surfer and tried to take over the world? Byrne's not the kind of guy to overlook such a thing, so I'll assume there's an answer in the issue itself. Or perhaps we're meant to infer that Doom is simply using the occasion to avenge himself for the good doctor sending him back to King Arthur times with Iron Man.

As for the Prisoner stuff, that's kind of fun. It mainly consists of the people of Doom's Village looking and acting like the Village from The Prisoner. Good times, though.

Even with a Doom-centric version of Rover:
Doom of course gets to play the Number Two role.
"Be seeing you."

This is not the only instance in 1969 of Kirby (living on the West Coast at the time) sending in art heavily inspired by what he was watching on television at the time. Though as we've seen in previous posts, Kirby often weaved in whatever he was reading or seeing into his work. This habit probably reaches its height, though, in 1969.


In issue 88 and 89, Sue is tasked to find a new home for her, Reed, and the baby. What could go wrong?

Sounds perfectly on the level.
The house turns out to be a forward operating base for our old friend:

Like many a Mole Man's scheme, despite some impressive logistics to get the ball rolling, it blows up pretty fast. After subduing him, an inordinate amount of time is spent discussing what to do with him. So much so that he even has time to escape from right under their noses. (below left) Whereupon Reed makes a curious remark (below right):

I'm pretty sure that's not actually the case. But maybe the law isn't Reed's strong suit.


The storyline of the last three issues of 1969 involves a Skrull slaver coming to Earth and kidnapping Ben to sell him to a gangster-gladiator planet. Once there he inspires a slave revolt, and the FF arrive to more or less topple the government. (Though they warp out before the consequences of their intervention in planetary affairs become too evident.)

This issue is clearly inspired by many Trek episodes, starting with the Skrull himself, which (despite having established a visual and conceptual throughline over the 60s) looks like he stepped out of an early morning session with Fred Phillips:

The episode that comes to mind more than any other is of course "The Gamesters of Triskelion", with the general set-up and all the betting going on Thing and Torgo's fight,

but the forced gladiatorial combat also brings "Bread and Circuses" to mind. As well as a little "Amok Time" in these weapons the Thing and Torgo (the champion/ Spartacus of the bunch) have to use.

Speaking of "Amok Time," even the visual composition here recalls that episode.
And like Kirk with the Metrons in "Arena," or "Gamesters" again, Torgo refuses to kill.

Many of these things are common enough sci-fi tropes, for sure, but the real kicker is the gangster-planet itself, which might as well be called Sigma Iotia II. 

With a little Bonnie and Clyde thrown in -
as well as expanding the canvas to fit the comic book page.

Both Torgo and Boss Barker come back down the line.


As mentioned way back in the first part of this series, quoting Mark Enblom from Comic Coverage: "Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four run is the Mount Olympus of comic book storytelling. Nothing else can touch it in its innovation, sustained excitement, consequential events, and unprecedented character development."

I hope I've shown some of that or at least emphasized the groundbreaking ways it steadily and relentlessly expanded the Marvel Universe. A more comprehensive examination of the book's impact and one that extends the analysis well past the Lee/Kirby years can be found here. I didn't quote from that very much (if at all) during these posts. The thesis its author pursues (that the FF is the Great American Novel, and that Sue is its protagonist) is not one I wanted to argue for here. I think it's a decent argument, just not one I feel a lot of enthusiasm for. But definitely click over and explore for yourself. I've had that site bookmarked since 2011 and have been making my way through it for years, now. 

I've named this section and am devoting this last bit to Jack exclusively but let me clearly state here at the end of things: Fantastic Four was co-created by Stan and Jack. No disrespect to Stan intended by any of this. Martin Goodman certainly screwed Jack over, but I do not share the view of so many that Stan is tainted by that. If anything, Stan's had the patience of a saint getting raked over the coals periodically by folks like Gary Groth. (Here is a good and fairly recent interview with Stan on the subject.)

Stan rules, okay? Of any of the Stans to whom "the man" is affixed as an honorarium, Stan Leiber Lee deserves it more than any other. (Hard to picture Kubrick as a "Stan," so he doesn't count.) 

That said, let's talk one last time about Jack Kirby.

I think there's probably more of Jack in FF than there is of Stan; Stan seemed to pour himself most into Spider-Man and maybe The Avengers. (Tough to tell since he was single-handedly scripting and editing Marvel's entire line.) And while Kirby certainly gave his all to Cap and Thor (among all his other contributions) it's FF that seems most imbued with Kirby's personality and ethos. 

I'd like to end this series of posts with the anecdote Mark Evanier ends his biography Kirby: King of Comics with to illustrate, hopefully, what I mean by this.

"I was one of Kirby's assistants at DC. I felt about as useful as a Radio Shack in Amish County. Jack did what he did so well and with such single-minded force that other hands and minds could only impede progress. My big contribution? Not getting between him and the drawing paper, which was about all a body could do. Mostly, I kept him company and declined Roz (Kirby, his wife)'s omnipresent coffee. As wise as the two of them could be, neither Jack nor his wife could ever grasp that I didn’t drink coffee. 

"Watching him create, you'd have no idea where it all came from. None at all. Other artists would rough in their compositions, vanishing points, and horizon lines. What little underdrawing Kirby did was all about the storytelling, figuring out the action. The second he realized what should happen, he 'saw' the picture. What remained was the least interesting part: filling in the panel, usually starting at the left and working his way to the right, as it tracing a pre-existing piece that only he could see. 

"I don’t know how he did it, but that was how he did it. It had something to do with honesty. And I guess integrity as well. I mention the honesty because it was not only such a shining part of Jack’s life but also of his work. But there was one other thing about Jack that made his creations so very special.

"In 1970, soon after I began working with Kirby, I quit a job working the company that put out Marvel mail order merchandise. The man who ran the firm combined the less appealing aspects of insanity and grand larceny, and when I resigned, he went all Darkseid on me. His business was failing big, and it was suddenly convenient to blame all that on me. He began phoning my home, telling me that he had proof I had sabotaged his company and would soon see me in prison. (…) I was eighteen years old at the time, a bad age for handling anything more unsettling than jock itch. I did what I could to hold myself in check around others, but didn't always succeed. One day when we were out working with Jack, he sensed something was wrong and (after sending the other assistant out on an errand) sat down, lit his pipe, and said "So… is anything wrong?"

"I told him everything was fine (and) did a fine job keeping up the pretense for almost 90 seconds before breaking down and telling him everything. Jack immediately went to the phone, called my harasser, and though it was Saturday, caught him at the office. 

"All I heard Kirby say was, 'If you ever bother Mark again, I’ll come down there and punch your goddamn face in,' but that was more than enough."

"Then he hung up, turned to me, and said 'Come on, let’s have Roz make us some coffee.' As he headed for the kitchen, I just sat there and started to feel better.

"I think of that moment often (and) thought of it frequently while writing this book. It was my first real clue as to why Jack Kirby was so good at drawing super heroes."

Thanks for reading! See ya round the Baxter Building.


  1. (1) The temptation -- I know it well -- is always to sort of peer back through time and try to imagine that moment when somebody (or several somebodies) do the thing(s) that ruin a partnership as effective as Lee/Kirby. If those people had the benefit of hindsight, would they do things differently? Or would the forces that led to the splitup be so ingrained a part of who they were/are that such a happening was always inevitable? Impossible to say for sure; impossible to not speculate about, at least if you're me.

    (2) Do you suppose the folks at Marvel would even have heard of "The Prisoner" in 1969? I could see it going either way. It certainly wouldn't have been as common for television shows to make the journey across the Atlantic (in either direction) in those days. But maybe PBS affiliates were already cherry-picking British tv back then. Also: I need to watch "The Prisoner."

    (3) If I were reading a comic and the Mole Man made a surprise plot-twist-y appearance, I'd have a vicious case of eye-roll for a good panel or two. I know because it just happened!

    (4) Of all the Star Trek episodes, "Triskellion" is one of the most Marvel-y. Not a bad thing.

    (5) FF-as-great-American-novel is an idea that activates my grump-reflex, but I think it's pretty cool that somebody out there is making the argument.

    (6) Stan "The Man" Kubrick -- the idea makes me chuckle. I suspect he would privately have gotten a good chuckle out of it himself.

    (7) I have nowhere near enough familiarity to back this up, but when you say that FF is more Kirby than Lee, I immediately know that you're right. It just FEELS right. I don't think that diminishes Lee's contributions at all, by the way; it's just another bit of proof that any artistic collaboration is capable of being weighted differently from one project to the next.

    (8) That anecdote from Mark Evanier is gold. As, apparently, was Kirby himself.

    This was a hell of a series of posts! Thanks for all the hard work in putting it together.

    1. Glad you enjoyed - many thanks for making the journey with me. Let me work backwards through these remarks:

      (8) I agree. I especially like it because Kirby was a WW2-generation guy. I imagine Mark was worried he'd react like Patton or something, i.e. if he showed vulnerability the next thing he knew there'd be Kirby standing over him, slapping him, etc. That would be a not-unheard-of reaction for a typical WW2-generation guy, I think: stop blubbering, man up, etc. That he did what he did shows a side of Kirby that, perhaps, is reflected so well in his comics.

      (5) Me, too, but like you say, I'm glad someone out there put in the work. That site is a gold mine of info, even if I disagree with the overall thesis.

      (4) Agreed.

      (2) Well, sure - don't ya remember "Hearts in Atlantis?" The Prisoner and The Avengers were two UK shows showed on prime time, stateside.