Retro Review : Fantastic Four #1

by Jason Laframboise on April 23, 2018

Fantastic Four#1
Story by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover Date: November 1961

Okay I have to admit that this review is going to come from a biased place. My hero growing up was Jack Kirby and that hero worship continues to this day. I’m not going to venture into the who did what debate between Lee and Kirby, but I’m very much on Jack’s side. The output of this man was incredible and I owe him a thanks because he basically created (sigh or co-created) my childhood. Besides the Fourth World saga alone, Kirby’s influence on me begins with one book., The World’s Greatest comic magazine!! The Fantastic Four!

If you don’t know the origin of the FF I would like to introduce you to comic books. Okay I’m kidding. The book itself was a combination of a couple things that Jack had done, mainly a book for DC Comics called the Challengers of the Unknown, which featured a quartet of characters who had sci fi based adventures. Though some comparisons can be made, the Fantastic Fours adventures were, excuse the phrase, much more fantastic! The other foreshadowing for this book is the constant stream of monster books that Kirby had been working on. In the first issue the team fights a giant monster, not unlike the ones that had been appearing all over the Marvel titles. Of course Ben Grimm’s transformation into the Thing would not have been out of place in Tales to Astonish.

Let’s talk about the story. We open with a brief introduction to our heroes, each showing off their powers before convening in their apartment before we jump into the origin of the teams powers. So if you don’t know scientist Reed Richards wants to study cosmic rays, much to the dismay of his pilot friend Ben Grimm. Reed’s girlfriend Sue Storm goads Ben into flying the rocket, so that they can beat the “Commies”. Quick side note, a lot of early Marvel books are devoted to fighting the Commies, almost to a tiring degree. So Reed and Ben go on their dangerous mission to outer space, and Sue Storm insists that she is going....... and her kid brother Johnny tags a long. So as the story famously goes the foursome’s space shuttle is trapped in the path of the cosmic rays. The rocket crash lands and the crew gets out safely. Sue is the first to get her powers as she begins to disappear from view. The second effected is Ben Grimm who transforms into the rocky monster the Thing. This is shown in a great three panel transformation sequence that is in typical Kirby fashion. The Thing goes crazy and starts swinging around a tree. Reed gains the ability to stretch like an elastic, and is able to subdue his friend. At this point young Johnny Storm bursts into flames. So the four decide to join forces to help the world choosing their names The Invisible Girl, the Thing, the Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic. A couple more side notes firstly weird choice by Lee and Kirby here just taking one of Marvels original heroes, the Human Torch and just updating him to teenager Johnny Storm, could this choice have been inspired by DC updating their own heroes? Also the hubris of Reed Richards calling himself Mr. Fantastic! Holy smokes right? So after this origin story interlude we pick up with the now assembled Fantastic Four as some unknown force is attacking the worlds nuclear power stations. Turns out it was the subterranean Mole Man and his underground monsters. So the Mole man was treated poorly by the above grounders and swears revenge on the human race. So the FF makes quick work of the Mole Man, and seals him back into the underworld in about two pages.

This was the book that really started Marvel comics, and kicked the Silver Age of comics into high gear. Although Jack and Stan created many more fine comics after this, the Fantastic Four truly was the flagship book of Marvel comics. If I’m forgetting the history behind the book and what it will become I’ve always found the first few issues rather bland. Even with the first appearance of the Skrulls next issue, and the return of Namor the Submariner in issue four, we get some laughably bad stuff( the Skrulls get scared by Marvel’s own monster books. Johnny Storm just happens to be reading a comic about the Submariner and suddenly finds him in the shelter he’s staying at!!!) Basically this book finds its footing in issue five with the first appearance of the FFs greatest foe Doctor Doom. No matter what though this issue was the beginning of one of the most icon runs in comics history.

My retro reviews have been really Marvel heavy, and look I love Marvel but I grew up a DC kid, so with the big release this past week the next retro review will be A book you’ve maybe heard of.... Action Comics#1