Fantastic Voayage: Fantastic Four #6 (1962)

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby

Much like the first appearance of Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #5, the supposedly epic team-up between big bads Doctor Doom and Namor came off less awesome than I hoped. First off, Doctor Doom comes across Namor as he’s swimming with dolphins. Soon after the pair decide to team up and you can see Doc Doom rubbing Namor’s shoulders, consoling him like they’re both battered women in a Lifetime movie. So what’s the nefarious plan? Destroy small continent with the Fantastic Four at the epicenter? Nope. Flood New York City and hope to get the FF? Nope. Plant a device in the Baxter Building that will shoot it and all inside into space.

ToyFare fans might remember this gag as being Doctor Doom’s go-to trick in the pages of Twisted ToyFare Theater. That’s where I first experienced the story element. I thought it was pretty funny and figured it was based on maybe an aspect of one of Doom’s plots, but never imagined it was lifted directly from an issue of FF. For that, the issue was fun to read.

I also enjoyed a few of the smaller moments. You see a few guys who don’t believe that FF actually exist. I think these kinds of moments are dumb when done in big shared superhero universes today (how could anyone not know that Batman exists, he’s on the friggin’ JLA), but it makes sense in the early days of the growing Marvel Universe. I also liked seeing a full building schematic of the FF headquarters as well as Sue using a special belt device to gain entrance. I think my favorite moment, though, was when Mr. Fantastic stretched from their HQ across NYC to pop in and talk with a sick fan who asks him about their costumes! This is probably the first explanation of Unstable Molecules and I like how fanboyish the set-up is. The kid isn’t being Comic Book Guy and trying to poke holes in things, he’s just curious. I like that. Aside from those moments, there’s more sad sack Ben Grimm and the usual Silver Age goofiness.

The one thing that bums me out a bit about reading these stories is that Jack Kirby hasn’t come into his distinct, kinetic, amazing style, the one I’ve come to know and love over the past few years. You can see little bits of pieces of what’s to come in some of the inventions and machinery, but Thing still looks like a lump of rock and Doom’s no where near as cool as my idea of Kirby in his prime drawing that villain. I can’t wait to see him really come into his own on this book, though I hear it doesn’t happen still for a little while. Ah well, I can stick around.

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Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #5 (1962)

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby

Sorry for the incredible gap between Fantastic Voyage posts. I was shocked to discover that it had been about six months since I talked about Fantastic Four #4. Thanks to a new app I downloaded called Bookman Lite, I can now read PDFs on my iPhone. I just transferred over a few I had on my desktop from the awesome DVD I own that contains every FF and Silver Surfer comic from 1961 to 2005. The experience was actually pretty awesome. I’ve read plenty of comics in PDF form, but this was cool because they’re high res scans of issues that you can really zoom in on and look at, maybe even better than you could with a hard copy.

So, I got back into the game with a pretty landmark issue: the first appearance of Doctor Doom. I assumed he’d be behind some insanely complicated plot for taking over the world, but not so much. Instead he puts an electrified net around the FF headquarters, asks for (and is given) Sue, then takes the male FFers to his headquarters where he reveals his nefarious plan: the send them back in time to steal Blackbeard’s treasure chest. Huh? Really? So, that’s what they do, only Mr. Fantastic pulls some verbal trickery, noting that Doom only asked for the CHEST not the treasure itself. Oh that Reed, so sneaky.

Yes it’s got a good deal of Silver Age goofiness (Doom’s helicopter is alternately painted bright blue or pink with a shark face on it), but it’s also kind of fun seeing Mr. Fantastic, Thing and Human Torch using their powers while dressed up like pirates at the end. Also, as with the previous four issues, poor Ben Grimm has a hard time of things, first with Johnny comparing him to a comic book starring something called The Hulk (see the slideshow below) and then in the past when it turns out that he’s actually Blackbeard and he wants to stay there as a pirate only to get foiled by a storm (he even had his men restrain his teammates in ways that don’t actually make any sense).

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All in all, this was a really fun issue. I especially liked seeing the early building blocks that would go into making Dr. Doom one of the greatest villains around. The addition of the pirate setting was fun to see through the pencil of Jack Kirby, but I just keep thinking about how much better they would look if Kirby in his prime was drawing them. Ah well, we’ll get there!

Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #4 (1962)

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby
What surprised me most about the fourth issue of Fantastic Four was how it consists of equal parts silver age goofiness and intense emotions. On the goofy side of things, Namor has been living as a human because he hasn’t been in water for a while, then he controls Giganto the giant whale monster with legs with a horn that’s buried right in front of where he’s sleeping. On the emotional side, Ben Grimm hates Johnny Storm for poking a few jokes at him. HATES. I was surprised at that level of intensity as well as Johnny’s backlash against Ben. All pretty nutso stuff.

The story itself follows Johnny, who ran away from the team and home last issue, the other members of the FF trying to find him (Sue invisibly sips a malt, Reed pulls a dude of his motorcycle and Ben punches his way into the garage Johnny’s working at before turning human again for a second, which allows Johnny to fly away), Johnny discovering Namor as a bum, Namor getting pissed and then him attacking humanity. I love how nonplussed Bum-Namor is when a dude’s hand bursts into flame and uses it to trim his beard and hair.

From there, things get even crazier. Ben straps a nuke to his back and jumps inside Giganto where he fights smaller monsters. Later Johnny flies around, creating such an intense tornado that he sucks both Namor and the monster out of the water. That’s a lot of power for some punk kid.

A few other things I found interesting is that, with the fourth issue, Stan and Jack dipped back into the history of Timely/Marvel and brought Namor out of retirement, setting the stage for decades worth of back-looking by comic book artists. I made a cap of an editor’s note from the book, I wonder if this was an early example of this method for referring back to a previous story. Also, is this the first time it’s established that the FF are operating in New York City? I can’t remember if it was done in the previous issues. And finally, I think the Fantastic Four need to work a little harder at created a secret symbol that New Yorkers are supposed to be befuddled by.

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Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #3 (1962)

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby
Well, so much for reviewing an issue of Fantastic Four everyday, I guess. After reading the first and second, work and life got in the way and it slipped my mind. I guess that’s what I got for not including it on my blog calendar. Anyway, the third issue of FF was pretty interesting, more like the first than the second, thankfully, because I had no idea where it was going. Not only do they FF get their costumes for the first time–Sue even makes a helmet to hide Thing’s face which he’s not a fan of–but also a look at their headquarters and the Fantasti-Car. The action follows a man called The Miracle Man who not only knows who the FF are in their civilian identities (though I’m guessing that was probably public knowledge at the time), but also proved to be stronger than Thing and brought a movie monster to life.

As it turned out, however, SPOILER Miracle Man didn’t really have any powers at all, but instead could hypnotize many people into thinking the same thing. I dug that this issue hadn’t been mined to death by later writers and also that Stan and Jack went a different route by duping the readers. And boy, did Jack get to show off by drawing a big mohawked monster. I also think it’s funny that, while Thing still looks like a pile of clay, Johnny Storm looks absolutely like a Kirby creation when in his human form. Speaking of Johnny, there’s a really strange moment at the end of the issue, where Johnny leaves in a huff–he and Ben have been getting into it all issue–and Reed worries what might happen if The Human Torch turns against them. Seriously, Reed? He’s just a hot headed kid blowing off some steam and you’re worried that he’s going to join your rogues gallery which only currently includes Cosmic Rays, the Mole Man and his monsters and some Skrulls you scared away and others you tricked into turning into cows. Chill out man. This dude’s been kind of a dick from the beginning hasn’t he? Really explains Civil War.

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Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #2 (1962)

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby
The second issue of Fantastic Four was not nearly as interesting to read as the first, but that’s because I know who the FF are and what they can really do, so seeing them break out of military prison cells isn’t all that interesting. It is interesting how dumb the soldiers are, letting the Invisible Girl sneak right past them when trying to give her food. Seems like a pretty bad design for holding an invisible person.

This issue also sees the first appearance of the Skrulls which is kind of fun to see, but the first few pages of the FF “going bad” aren’t very interesting when you already know what Skrulls can do. It is pretty cool seeing them explain how they mimicked the Thing, Invisible Girl and Human Torch’s super powers.

Two aspects of the comic really stood out to me. First off, it’s not a good issue for FF whipping boy Ben Grimm. Not only does his rage get the better of him on several occasions–to the point where Reed has to wrap him up in his arms several times–but even worse, when returning to Earth (they went to the Skrull mothership pretending to be the FF-mimicking Skrulls and convinced them to leave Earth alone) the cosmic rays turn him back to normal, but he doesn’t even notice until he starts turning back into the Thing. Jeez, rough day.

The other interesting thing is that Reed showed the Skrull captain images of giant monsters from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. Of course, in the real world, those were Marvel comics. I’m guessing in the Marvel U, they’re magazines documenting all the crazy monsters because they’re real enough to convince the Skrulls to high tail it out of this end of the galaxy “forever.”

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The story ends with the FF capturing the remaining Earthbound Skrulls and hynotizing (theire spelling, not mine, just look at the panel above) into thinking they’re cows. I believe these SkrullCows are killed and turned into burgers at some point in the future. Continuity!

Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #1 (1961)

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby
I recently got a great deal on one of those GIT Marvel DVDs that features decades’ worth of comics on one disc. I added the Fantastic Four AND Silver Surfer one to the Iron Man and Avengers discs in my collection already. Now, to be clear, the disc has every issue of Fantastic Four and Silver from 1961 to 2005, I didn’t buy two separate discs. Anyway, unlike Iron Man and The Avengers’ early days, I’ve heard great things about the readability of Fantastic Four from the beginning and decided it was as good a place as any to start. So, with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to read an FF issue every day for the foreseeable future. I’m sure I’ll hit snags here and there and the schedule will probably get royally screwed up when the baby comes, but I’ve got good intentions.

Before getting into my review of the first issue, I figure it’s a good idea to explain my history with the Fantastic Four. Even though the very first stack of comics I was ever given–by a neighbor who was a few years older than me and had no need for them anymore–did in fact include FF #355 (an incredibly confusing issue for someone who only knew the very very basics at the time), I was a DC kid growing up. The first time I read the actual comic on a regular basis was during Heroes Reborn. I tried sticking around with Heroes Return, but couldn’t get into it. I would stay away for a while until after Mark Waid’s run had ended and I read the whole thing at once. It’s an amazing story. And finally, I was getting into Jonathan Hickman’s when I stopped reading monthlies. I have no experience with the original, epic Lee/Kirby run or even Byrne’s well regarded 80s stuff, but I will soon enough. I was a fan of the 90s cartoon, bought a bootleg of the Roger Corman movie as well as the two actual releases. Plus, I’m a long-time comics fan so I have a pretty good idea of what the team has gone through. Or at least I think I do.

Okay, seems like a good enough time to jump right in. My first worry about reading these comics can be summed up in two words: Stan Lee. Every other comic of his from this era I’ve tried to read has been bogged down with a verbosity the sinks the dialog and thought boxes, no matter how important they might be. Well, with this issue, Lee seemed to reel himself in a bit (or maybe he wasn’t quite so in love with his own words yet). Sure the boxes explain more than you probably need to read, but you’ve always got to remember that these books were written for kids, not adults and not nerds. What surprised me about the book was it’s structure, which didn’t start with the famous origin, but instead kicked off with a flame signal in the sky requesting the FF’s presence. We’re then shown Sue, Ben and Johnny individually living their lives and running to the call. We’re not sure how long they’ve been together or how long it’s been since their trip into space, but they apparently work well enough together to be like a well oiled fighting machine.

In addition to revealing the FF and their relationships–Johnny and Sue are siblings, Sues with Reed, Ben has a thing for Sue and seems to be really antagonistic towards Reed, only agreeing to fly the ship after Sue makes fun of him–we also get to see a giant monster attack, The Mole Man’s origin (pretty goofy, people made fun of him for looking funny so he decided to go to a fabled city at the center of the earth) and the FF facing some other giant monsters.

A few other quick notes. This isn’t the Kirby you’ve come to know and love (or at least not the one I do). You can see the beginnings of his style with the big hands and square-ish features, but, the be bluntly honest, the Thing looks like a pile of mud most times. The monsters look okay, but a little weak. My favorite aspect of his art in this issue is how he handles the Human Torch who he draws like a person fully engulfed in fire with no facial features or much else visible. Such a cool visual and probably as scary if not scarier than the Thing’s visage. Also of note, the story is not set in New York City, but Central City. I’m sure I read that somewhere and it changes shortly, but it’s something I had forgotten. One last quick note for people who might be considering buying these discs, the comics therein are not reworked in any way, they are literally photographs taken of a comic book open on a table. Sure it would  be nice to see these issues redone and looking as nice as possible, but I like seeing the page bends, wear and tear and especially the ads and letter columns.

All in all, I’m excited to read the following issues and to experience historical comics personally, especially as Kirby really comes into his own. I’m far more encouraged after reading this first issue than I was after reading Avengers #1 or the early Iron Man appearances. Anyway, here’s a few of my favorite panels from the issue, this will also give you an idea of the quality of the images.

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