There’s no other way to put it – the Sixties were weird. Although Marvel were pushing the boundaries of the genre by injecting more and more naturalism into their superhero stories, sometimes things just got a little crazy. Probably the best example of this is the book that spearheaded Marvel’s new approach when it launched in 1961: The Fantastic Four.
Marvel’s new superhero team was not simply a team up between established characters; They were friends and colleagues who gained their powers in the same accident, learning how to use their new powers together whilst investigating all sorts of strange goings-on. Despite it’s place as one of the new wave of superhero books, Fantastic Four has a strong Sci-Fi streak running through it, and it works best when the writer approaches it as much as a Sci-Fi adventure book as a superhero book, and that can lead to all sorts of wonderful weirdness. This was evident in Jonathan Hickman’s recent run on the title, but it all stems back to Lee and Kirby’s seminal stint in the sixties.
Even as early as the second issue, things got weird on this book: characters are seen reading other Marvel comics, and also referencing the events that happen in them as if they really happened, creating a sense of a shared universe breaking the fourth wall in a fashion that makes the book very self-aware. Heck, in this issue Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pop up, working on the very issue that they appear in! This issue is particularly gleeful in it’s madness.
So, who are the Fantastic Four? Reed Richards, one of the world’s greatest scientists, gathers his best friend Ben Grimm, the love of his life Susan Storm, and her hotshot brother Johnny for an experimental space flight. But during their journey, a cosmic storm hits the ship and they are forced down. Stumbling from the wreckage, they discover that they have all developed strange new powers. Vowing to use these powers for the good of humanity, they form a new superhero team. Reed is now the elasticized genius Mr Fantastic, Sue can disappear from sight as The Invisible Girl, Johnny burns like the sun as The Human Torch, and Ben clobbers the bad guys as the monstrous Thing. Together they are The Fantastic Four!
What’s It All About?
Months ago, The Fantastic Four defeated Dr Doom and left him adrift in space. But now he’s back, and his plans for revenge begin with his infiltration of the Four by the most nefarious of means: stealing Reed Richards’ body! With Reed’s mind trapped in Doom’s form, how can he make his friends see the truth before the villain in their midst destroys them once and for all?
Script – Stan Lee
Pencils – Jack Kirby
Inks – Dick Ayers
Rampant breaking of the fourth wall. Kirby’s ridiculous faces. Doom in Reed’s body is a gloriously over the top villain. It all feels very tongue in cheek.
There’s so much stuff in here that makes no sense. The storytelling and characterisation are a little simplistic by today’s standards, and the attitudes towards women, particularly Sue, are very dated.
Why You Should Pick This Up?
This book is completely barmy. Just nuts. There’s so much weirdness here. It’s worth reading just for the page in which Dr Doom walks into the offices of Lee and Kirby to announce that they didn’t kill him off, and he in fact survived the events of Fantastic Four #6. There’s such a blatant disregard for the fourth wall, a massive retcon, a blind woman making perfect statues of things she’s never seen, and a zoo full of tiny animals. You’ll be able to find it in both Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Vol. 1 and Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1. It’s glorious fun. so says Evil Reed: