The Fantastic Four #1 (vol. 1)
EIC: Stan Lee
Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers
Writers: Stan Lee
Pencilers: Jack Kirby
Inkers: George Klein
Colourists: Stan Goldberg
Letterers: Artie Simek
Editors: Stan Lee
Cover Date: November 1961
Release Date: August 1961
Cover Price: $0.10
First appearances and origins of:
- Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards
- The Thing/Ben Grimm
- The Invisible Girl (Woman)/Susan Storm (Richards)
- The Human Torch/Johnny Storm
To beat the Communists into space, scientist Dr. Reed Richards, sister and brother, Sue Storm and Johnny Storm, and pilot Ben Grimm rush off in a rocket ship designed by Reed before sufficient research could be done into the sinister cosmic rays and how to arm the ship against them.
In space, the four are bombarded by the cosmic rays.
They crash-land back on Earth, where they find themselves physically transformed and possessing remarkable new abilities. Sue can turn invisible.
Ben has transformed into an orange, rock-hided monster. Reed’s body becomes highly malleable, allowing him to stretch into any shape.
Johnny’s body bursts into flame, and he can fly.
Atomic plants around the world have been mysteriously disappearing due to cave-ins. From the crater left by a recent cave-in emerges a huge monster which is recalled by a human figure. The Fantastic Four travel aboard their private jet to Monster Isle, which Reed has determined is the same distance from each incident, and therefore the likely source of the attacks. Once there, they are attacked by a giant three-headed monster. Reed stops the monster, but a cave-in separates Reed and Johnny from Ben and Sue. Beneath the island, Reed and Johnny land in the Valley of Diamonds, which temporarily blinds them. The Mole Man appears, revealing he is responsible for the attacks. Meanwhile, on the surface, Ben battles and easily defeats an even larger rock monster after it menaces Sue. Ben and Sue find their teammates listening to the Mole Man’s plan to invade the surface world. He sends his monster army against The Fantastic Four. While Johnny distracts the biggest one, the team flees through a tunnel, which Johnny seals shut behind them. After The Fantastic Four escape in their jet, Mole Man destroys the island so the surface world cannot trouble him again.
This book is obviously a classic and in a class of its own. It is certainly dated, but the energy of Kirby’s art and the emotion conveyed by it, as well as by Lee’s dramatic dialogue and exposition, gave just a glimpse of what was to come.
The characters are immediately iconic and the personalities for which each would become famous are already decently established. Reed is the cold, calculating scientist, Ben is the gruff, bull-headed brawler, Johnny is the hot-headed, self-centered teen, and Susan is the fashionable socialite.
If there was a weak link, at least in the beginning, it was Sue Storm. As with most of the female Marvel heroes of the 60s, she was used more as window dressing (and the occasional deus ex machina) and resembled many of the female television stars of the time such as Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day. She was bubbly, but passive, more concerned with shopping and making an honest man of Reed than exulting in adventure.
One complaint about this issue is how Dr. Reed Richards, supposedly the world’s most intelligent scientist, somehow failed to take measures to protect the crew from the cosmic rays. All I can say regarding this is that, as with all comics, one must be able to suspend their disbelief a bit and make allowances for perceived ‘errors’ such as this. With that in mind however, you have to take Ben’s comments to Reed when first approached about piloting the ship into account.
“You know we haven’t done enough research into the effect of cosmic rays!” Ben shouts, “They might kill us all out in space!”
Susan replies, “Ben, we’ve got to take that chance…unless we want the commies to beat us to it!”
So, it seems to be a conflict between being safe and second, or risking the unknown to be first. As Ben says, they don’t know what the effects of the rays will be in space.
Personally, I have never had a problem with questionable things like this, and besides, quibbles just like this one gave birth to the Marvel No-Prize, something sent to fans who pointed out just such perceived errors. In fact, I always felt that if something like this was enough to get someone bent out of shape, perhaps they should look elsewhere for entertainment.
But as it is, you just have to read the comic as a product of its time. You also have to be able to examine it next to what else was popular in the same vein of the day. Compared to the DC offerings of the time, the Fantastic Four was something fresh and original. Where any DC hero could be replaced with any other, personality-wise, these Marvel characters had their own unique moods, likes and dislikes, problems and proclivities, something unseen anywhere else in comic books at the time. Obviously today it is commonplace. But that is so because of what Lee and Kirby started with Fantastic Four #1.
Another original take was that one of the team, who was destined to become the favorite of fans, was actually a grotesque monster. But even as we are told his appearance is hideous to look upon and his massive form frightening to behold, his look would evolve into something that could be described as cartoonish, making him even more loveable. When the rest of the team finally got costumes, The Thing (as he called himself) was content to wear only a pair of blue shorts and nothing else. From the over-exaggeration of his facial expressions, including the beetle brow which seemed at times to float above his face, moving of its own free will, to the fact that he only had four digits on each hand (and foot), Ben Grimm more closely resembled certain popular funny cartoon icons than any superhero ever seen before.
Lee had the phrase ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ printed across the top of every issue’s cover. And a sort of royalty was bestowed on the four, many referring to them as ‘The First Family of Marvel Comics”.
Over the course of time, and with the constant changes in creative lineups, the popularity of the team waxed and waned, eventually being overtaken by other Marvel team titles. But their place in the history of the Marvel Universe, and of comics itself, can never be overshadowed. They will forever be the comic, the team, the heroes who launched the most complex fictional narrative ever conceived.