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January 2019

The Human Torch

BLOGROLL
January 5, 2019

BIO

Johnny Storm was born in Glenville, New York, a Long Island suburb. When his mother died in a car accident and his father went to prison, Johnny was raised by his sister, Susan.

When he was still just 16, he nonetheless joined his sister, her fiancé, Dr. Reed Richards, and pilot Ben Grimm on a covert mission into space on a rocket that Reed himself had designed and built. Once in space, the crew was besieged by a barrage of deadly cosmic rays which forced them to return to Earth and crash land.

Escaping the wreckage of the ship, they discovered that they had each acquired strange new powers. Johnny himself could ignite his body on fire at will and fly into the air. He could also project fire from his hands in various forms.

The team decided to call itself The Fantastic Four, and Johnny, in homage to the 40s Timely Comics character, called himself the Human Torch.

Johnny was a 60s version of Justin Bieber. He reveled in his newfound celebrity and frequently acted like a bit of a jerk. He constantly played pranks on Ben Grimm, who had transformed into the rock-hided monster who called himself The Thing. He was terribly immature and only cared about cars and girls, each of which he seemed to have his choice of.

Although the Fantastic Four headquartered in a skyscraper called the Baxter Building in Manhattan, Johnny and Sue still lived in their little house in Glenville and Johnny continued to attend Glenville High School. These stories were depicted in his solo adventures presented in issues of the anthology comic Strange Tales.

He would have many run-ins with Spider-Man as they had a lot in common, both being teenagers. Spider-Man seemed to be the one person who could outclass Johnny, get under his skin and put him in his place.

Johnny’s long list of lady loves began with Dorrie Evans, a classmate from Glenville. Later, when he attended university at Metro College, he met Wyatt Wingfoot, a Keewazi Indian from Oklahoma, and they became fast friends.

He met and fell in love with Crystal, sister in law to the King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt. When that ended, he found love with Frankie Raye.

Johnny and Ben continued to prank each other, sometimes mean-spiritedly on Johnny’s part, but over time, they became like brothers. Johnny’s relationship with Spider-Man as well as his alter ego, Peter Parker, changed as well as the respect between them grew over time and many battles alongside, and even against, one another.

Probably the biggest change in Johnny over the course of his comic book existence is his growth from callow youth to responsible man.

The Thing

BLOGROLL
January 5, 2019

BIO

Benjamin Jacob Grimm was born on Yancy Street on the Lower East Side of New York City to Jewish parents. He lived a hard-knock childhood which toughened him into a streetwise survivor. He even joined, and eventually led, a street crew named The Yancy Street Gang. When his parents died, Ben went to live with his Uncle Jake and his wife, Ben’s Aunt Petunia, whom he referenced frequently throughout the comics.

In high school, he was a star football player which earned him a scholarship to Empire State University. There he met two people who would figure prominently in his life – two genius-level fellow students, one of whom would become his best friend for life, Reed Richards, and the other who would become one of his fiercest enemies, Victor von Doom.

Ben and Reed hit it off immediately. Reed told Ben of his plans to build a rocket ship to explore deep space. Instead of poking fun at his nerdy roommate, Ben instead told him he would pilot the ship if Reed ever built it.

Ben’s adult life involved serving in the US Marine Corps as a test pilot before joining NASA as an astronaut in early failed attempts to reach the moon.

Years later, Reed, a super-genius who had mastered all areas of science and engineering, had built his ship. He found Ben Grimm, with whom he had lost touch, and asked if he was still interested in piloting the ship for him. He informed Ben that NASA had taken control of the parameters for the flight, and that they needed to secretly commandeer the ship if they were to fulfill their mission of space flight before the communists could do the same. Reed’s fiancé, Susan Storm, who had provided some of the funding for building the ship, and her younger brother, Johnny, would be along for the flight. Ben adamantly refused, not because of the unauthorized nature of the mission, but because he knew that Reed hadn’t had enough time to fully study the mysterious cosmic radiation which existed in outer space, nor to adequately prepare the ship for protection of the crew should they encounter the deadly rays.

But, ultimately Sue convinced him of the importance to the country of beating Russia and China into space, and he agreed to fly the ship. Once in space however, their fears became real and they were blasted by the cosmic rays. Forced to crash-land the ship in a remote area, one by one, the four friends revealed startling new powers. Of them all, Ben’s was the most shocking as his body grew entirely beyond normal size and proportion, and he became a walking slab of orange rock. He was incredibly powerful, demonstrating this by ripping a tree up by its roots.

He was also found to be the only member of the group who could not ‘turn off’ his powers. Unlike the others, who could appear as normal to anyone they may meet, Ben was perpetually stuck in his mutated state, which threw him into a state of anger and depression.

He self-mockingly called himself The Thing when the quartet gave themselves their superhero code names. The group called themselves The Fantastic Four and agreed they must use their powers to help better the planet.

As The Thing, Grimm became one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe, able to lift one-hundred tons. A fierce brawler with considerable boxing skills, his oft-heard battle cry was, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

Always considering himself a hideous monster, Ben eventually found love with a beautiful, blind sculptor named Alicia Masters.

Over the years, Reed tried tirelessly to find a cure for Ben’s permanent state. Periodically, Ben would revert to his human form, but these episodes were always temporary and Ben’s depression over his seemingly incurable condition grew deeper. To overcompensate for his self-pity, Ben used humor to hide his pain.

As his appearance modified over time due to fine-tuning his look by Kirby, Ben came to have a more cartoonish look with overexaggerated facial expressions and four digits on each hand and foot like Mickey Mouse or any number of other funny animal characters. This only made The Thing more loveable and endearing to the readers, who loved the contrast of the evolved look on such a cantankerous character. This was accentuated further by Ben referring to himself as ‘the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing’ and ‘Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew’.

Ben was the godfather to Reed and Sue’s son, Franklin. Reed was his oldest friend, but as time passed, and with Reed and Sue getting married, Ben and Johnny became better friends, actually more like brothers. Their relationship was often presented with them playing practical jokes on one another and fighting just like brothers do.

While frequently presented as having a sad existence, Ben never completely succumbs to his depression and was always a fierce and loyal friend to those he cared about, showing that, however huge his body was, his heart was even bigger.

BACKGROUND HISTORY

Ben Grimm/The Thing was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961 for the comic book The Fantastic Four. His Jewish heritage, street gang background and constant cigar-chomping made it clear that he was Kirby’s literary alter ego.

As one of Lee’s counterpoints to the established tropes of comics, Ben was his alternative to the super strong hero with the lantern jaw, rugged good looks, dramatically wavy hair and well-defined musculature. Also unlike these familiar archetypes, Ben doesn’t wear a costume. In fact, he usually wears nothing more than a pair of blue shorts. He doesn’t even wear shoes!

Lee also imbued The Thing with a level of pathos not seen before in a four-color comic character before. This added a level of depth that attracted a more mature brand of reader. Burdening Ben with such real-world problems only made him seem more realistic even as his enormous rocky form defied reality altogether.

All of the heroes created in the initial 60s renaissance of the Marvel Age were unique archetypes to various degrees, but Ben Grimm was one of the most original.

Mr. Fantastic

BLOGROLL
January 5, 2019

BIO

Reed Richards was born in Central City, California to Evelyn and Nathaniel Richards. Reed, like his father, was a scientific prodigy, taking college-level courses by the time he was 14. He attended many prestigious universities and technical institutes, but it was at Empire State University that he would meet two people who would have a profound and lasting impact on his life – Ben Grimm and Victor von Doom. Ben would become his best friend and von Doom would become his nemesis.

During summer semester breaks from ESU, Reed rented a room from the aunt of Susan Storm, whom Reed quickly fell in love with and began dating.  Over time, Reed developed mastery of mechanical, aerospace and electrical engineering, chemistry, all levels of physics, and human, as well as alien, biology.

His dream was to build a spacecraft and travel to the distant stars, and more immediately, to beat any communist countries into space. With his inheritance and government funding, Reed built the ship. But before he was completely ready to take it out, the government threatened to cancel the project.

Knowing he must act quickly, he gathered Ben, Sue, and Sue’s younger brother, Johnny, to tell them of the urgency and immediacy of his gambit. Sue and Johnny were ready to go, but Ben became angry, knowing Reed was not well versed enough on the effects of the cosmic rays they might encounter while in space, nor had he had enough time to equip the ship to shield the crew from them.

Nonetheless, he eventually relented and the four blasted off. No sooner were they in space, however, than they were bombarded by the rays and forced to head back to Earth, crash landing in a remote clearing because Ben, the pilot, had become incapacitated by the effects of the radiation.

They immediately discovered they each had new powers. Reed’s body became as malleable as rubber, morphing and stretching unrestrained out of all normal proportion. Once they had gotten over the shock of discovering their new abilities, Reed told them they must use their powers for the betterment of humanity. The other three agreed and they became The Fantastic Four. Each of them chose a superhero code name, with Reed electing to become Mr. Fantastic.

As leader of the group, he often employed them in undertaking his scientific experiments which sometimes involved needing Ben to lift equipment so heavy that the most powerful hydraulic lifts couldn’t manage it, or just as crew to pilot an experimental ship into some alternate universe and explore it. As a master in all areas of science, Reed constantly created new and exciting devices and vehicles for use in further scientific exploration. They discovered other worlds, traveled through time, and battled aliens from distant galaxies. They saved the world time after time, and in the process, became the most celebrated adventurers on Earth.

Reed and Sue got married and had children. He competed with Namor, the Sub-Mariner, prince of the underwater city of Atlantis, for Sue’s affections. And Victor von Doom, Reed’s classmate from ESU, became the powerful Dr. Doom, with whom the four would have their most epic battles. They battled the planet devouring being called Galactus and his herald, a shining being on a flying surf board named the Silver Surfer. They traveled to the Negative Zone and fought Annihilus.

Using the money from the many valuable patents and royalties for his inventions, Reed bought the Baxter Building, a skyscraper in Manhattan, the top floors of which were occupied by Reed’s many labs as well as the groups’ living quarters.  He also used these resources to fund his many scientific breakthroughs in numerous fields including time-, space-, and dimensional-travel, as well as in virtually every branch of science and engineering.

Reed is generally believed to be the most intelligent man on the planet, by a good margin, and he has always viewed his greatest power to come not from his stretching ability, but from his massive intellect.

The “King”

BLOGROLL
January 5, 2019

Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg on August 28, 1917 on the Lower East Side of New York City to Austrian-Jewish immigrants. He grew up in a hard-knocks neighborhood where fighting in the streets was not uncommon. Even later, joining a Suffolk Street gang, Kurtzberg nonetheless liked (in secret) to read, and especially draw.

Kurtzberg began his career working in cartoon animation, and moved from there to political strip cartooning. He also worked for legendary artist Will Eisner on weekly comic strips, where he first drew westerns. All of this work was produced under a various list of pseudonyms.

Next, Kurtzberg went to work for Victor Fox’s Fox Studios doing his first superhero work alongside another future-legend Bill Everett. He also met one of the two men with whom collaboration would be epic – editor Joe Simon.

Together, Simon and Kurtzberg produced massive amounts of comic book work. Along the way, they actually invented the Romance genre. In 1940, after joining Timely Comics (which would later become Marvel Comics), they unleashed their greatest creation – Captain America. For this undertaking, Kurtzberg adopted the pen name that he would keep for the rest of his life – Jack Kirby.

In 1942, Kirby married Rosalind Goldstein to whom he remained espoused for the rest of his life, producing four children in the process. He also enlisted in the Army, and was shipped to Europe to fight in World War II. He returned stateside in 1945, finishing out his tour of duty at Camp Butner, North Carolina.

He was honorably discharged and went right back to work creating comics with Joe Simon. Over the years, due to the waxing and waning of the comics industry, Simon and Kirby moved from company to company and eventually ended their partnership, with Kirby landing at DC Comics. They re-teamed briefly at Archie Comics in the late 50s before ending their legendary collaboration for good.

By 1959, Kirby was working at Atlas Comics, which was previously Timely. There, he did romance and western comics, and eventually settled into the giant-monster-of-the-month episodes in anthology comics such as Journey into Mystery and Tales of Suspense.Writing for Kirby on these was the man who would prove to be his greatest collaborator – Stan Lee.

By 1961, a renewed interest in superhero comics prompted Timely publisher martin Goodman to order Lee to come up with a superhero team to compete with the successful The Justice League of Americacomic being produced by DC Comics, which was made up of several of their most popular characters.

Lee enlisted Kirby’s aid, and instead of uniting some of Timely’s popular older superhero characters from the 40s and 50s, Lee, prompted by his wife, Joan, to “just, for once, do a comic the way you want to do it!”

With that in mind, Lee listed all the things he felt he would do differently in a superhero team comic – the team would be a family, they would argue and have problems like normal people, they wouldn’t keep their identities secret, they wouldn’t all be beautifully perfect with heroic features and chiseled physiques.

He and Kirby discussed this concept. Unlike the traditional comic creative process where an artist is presented with a detailed script for exactly how to lay out the story or even a detailed story itself, Lee and Kirby discussed their ideas, Lee gave Kirby a typed two-page synopsis, and Kirby went off and drew the entire story, essentially ‘directing’ the movie of the ‘treatment’ that Lee had produced. Working in this way, Kirby had much more input into the story than artists normally had. This method of creating comics eventually came to be called the Marvel Method.

Lee released the comic under the newly christened Marvel Comics Group banner, and The Fantastic Four was a smash hit. Surprisingly, it was popular with college-aged readers and not just the usual pre-teen audience that normally bought comics.

This success enlivened the duo, and they followed up with hit after hit – The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, the Invincible Iron Man, Ant Man, The Uncanny X-Men, The Avengers, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, The Silver Surfer, The Black Panther, The Inhumans.

Lee developed the habit of assigning catchy nicknames to the bullpen staff. He referred to Kirby periodically as ‘Jolly’ Jack Kirby. But the name that became synonymous with Kirby, and one that was used independently of his name in referring to him was – ‘The King’.

Kirby soon moved to California because the climate was better for his daughter’s asthma. He would mail his penciled pages across the country to Marvel.

Kirby left Marvel in 1970 when he couldn’t get Martin Goodman to agree to give him a cut of the profits earned from his creations. He went to work for DC Comics where he produced characters that still feature in their works to this day.

But in 1975, when his DC contract was up, Roy Thomas, Stan Lee’s protégé and new editor at Marvel convinced Kirby to return to Marvel once more. Lee gave Kirby editorial and artistic control over his projects. He returned to his golden-age creation, Captain America, and began a new Black Panther series. He also produced new series of his own creations – The Eternals, Machine Man, and Devil Dinosaur. He also produced one last collaboration with Stan Lee – Marvel’s first graphic novel which starred his creation The Silver Surfer.

He left Marvel once more, and for good, in 1978 for the animation field. He also worked for various independent comics publishers, finishing with Topp’s Comics, where many of his old Marvel peers had gone to work.

On February 6th, 1994, at the age of 76, Jack Kirby passed away from heart failure. He was more than an artist. He was a storyteller and an innovator, pioneering techniques that would be mimicked by other great artists who followed in his footsteps up to the present. He was the primary artistic force behind the comic renaissance that was The Marvel Silver Age, an opus that has overtaken ‘the western’ as America’s primary mythology.

COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF KIRBY’S WORK FOR MARVEL

  • Journey into Mystery #51-52, 54-58 (1959-1962); (starringThor) #83-89, 93, 97-125, Annual #1 (1962-1966)
  • Strange Tales #67-70, 72-100 (1959-1962); (starring The Human Torch): #101-105, 108-109, 114, 120, Annual #2 (1962-1964); (starring Nick Fury): #135, 141-142 (full pencils), 136-140, 143-153 (layouts only, pencils by John Severin. Jim Steranko and others) (1965-1967)
  • Tales of Suspense #2-4, 7-35 (1959-1962); (starring Iron Man): #41, 43 (1963); (starring Captain America): #59-68, 78-86, 92-99 (full pencils), 69-75, 77 (layouts) (1964-1968)
  • Fantastic Four #1-102, 108, Annual #1-6 (1961-1971)
  • Tales to Astonish #1, 5-34; (starring Ant Man): #35-40, 44, 49-51 (1962-1964); (starring The Incredible Hulk): #68-72 (full pencils), #73-84 (layouts only, pencils by Bill Everett and others) (1965-1966)
  • Avengers #1-8 (full pencils), #14-17 (layouts only, pencils by Don Heck) (1963-1965)
  • X-Men #1-11 (full pencils), #12-17 (layouts only, pencils by Alex Toth and Werner Roth) (1963-1965)
  • Thor #126-177, Annual #2 (1966-1970)
  • Captain America #100-109, 112 (1968-1969), #193-214, Annual #3-4 (1976-1977)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey #1-10 (1976-1977)
  • Eternals #1-19, Annual #1 (1976-1978)
  • Black Panther #1-12 (1977-1978)
  • Devil Dinosaur #1-12 (1978)
  • Machine Man #1-9 (1978)

The Fantastic Four

BLOGROLL
January 3, 2019

MEMBERS

  • Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
  • Ben Grimm/The Thing
  • Johnny Storm/The Human Torch
  • Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Woman)

BIO

Dr. Reed Richards, expert in every field of science and engineering, builds a ship intended to travel to distant stars. Desperate to beat the communists into space, however, he tries to coax his best friend, Ben Grimm, to pilot it on its maiden voyage. Grimm furiously refuses, knowing there hasn’t been time to learn more about mysterious cosmic rays that lurk in outer space, nor to equip the ship with adequate safeguards against the possible effects of them. Reed’s fiancé, Susan Storm, implores Ben, reiterating the importance to the country of not allowing Russia or China to be the first to pioneer outer space. When she calls him a coward, Ben’s temper flares and causes him to irrationally agree to fly the ship. Along with Susan’s younger brother, Johnny, the four sneak onto the airbase, for the launch has not been approved, and fly off.

Once in space, however, Ben’s warning proves prophetic as the Geiger counter goes haywire and their bodies are penetrated by the powerful cosmic rays. Incapacitated by the effects of the radiation, Ben manages to set the ship on autopilot and it crash lands in a remote wooded clearing.

As the four emerge from the wreckage, one by one, they begin to manifest strange new powers. Susan begins to turn invisible. Ben’s body begins to grow and distort, taking on an orange, rocky countenance. Blaming Reed for their misfortune, Ben rips up a tree and swings it at him in rage. But Reed’s body suddenly stretches wildly out of shape and out of the way of Ben’s attack. Reed then wraps his arms around Ben’s enormous body like serpents, incapacitating him. In his mounting excitement, Johnny’s body begins to smoke, then inflames, and he flies into the air trailing a tail of fire. Landing and extinguishing his flame a short time later, Johnny joins the other three, who all agree that they must use their new powers to help mankind. Reed calls himself Mr. Fantastic, Sue, The Invisible Girl, and Johnny, The Human Torch. Ben mockingly calls himself The Thing.

And so is born…The Fantastic Four!

Unlike traditional superheroes, the four wear no costumes at first, do not conceal their true identities, and are more scientific explorers and adventurers than typical crime fighters. And they are a family.

Based out of the Baxter Building in Manhattan, the group is funded by Dr. Richards’ personal fortune accumulated by the many patents he has produced. The team’s exploits have made them famous around the world and beyond.

BACKGROUND HISTORY

The story behind the creation of the Fantastic Four is now legendary in comics history.

The story goes that Stan Lee, pushing forty and growing tired of the comics industry, was considering looking for a different line of work, complaining to his wife about how tired and hackneyed all of the stories they were putting out had become. When his boss, Martin Goodman, had told him to create a superhero team to compete with DC Comics’ The Justice League of America, Lee’s wife, Joan, told him he should do one last story and do it the way he had always wanted to do it. After all, if he was leaving anyway, what could Goodman do?

Lee enlisted the help of one of Timely Comics’ best artists, Jack Kirby, and together they created a unique group of heroes the likes of which had not been seen before. They were a family, for one, instead of a group of strangers thrown together because they all had powers. And they constantly bickered among themselves, they had real emotions – anger, melancholy – things that hadn’t been seen from a superhero before.

They were flawed.

And they didn’t wear costumes or hide their true identities. Instead, they became celebrities, living out their, some would say glamorous, lives between adventures on the top floor of a mid-Manhattan skyscraper called the Baxter Building, from which Reed Richards performed all of his scientific experiments which funded the group and, quite often, created the basis for their adventures.

The teenager in the group wasn’t a sidekick. The leader’s girlfriend wasn’t a damsel in distress. They both shared equal membership in the group.

The strongest member wasn’t handsome with leading man good looks or a bodybuilder physique. Instead, he was a misshapen gargoyle, strong beyond belief, but hideous to behold, or so we are informed.

All of this was so fresh and new that it not only attracted the attention of the younger kids who normally bought the comic books, but also appealed to an older, more intellectual crowd who found the unusual depth of character as well as the invigoratingly dynamic artwork of Kirby irresistible.

The creation of The Fantastic Four is a seminal event in the annals of comic book history. Had Lee gone a different direction, say merely bringing back some of the characters the company had put out in the forties and fifties and putting them together instead, lazily copying what DC Comics had done with their team book, it is fair to say that the history of Marvel Comics, and in fact, the comics industry itself, could have turned out completely different.

That is how significant an event it was.

In the Beginning…

BLOGROLL
January 2, 2019

November 1961

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

Pages: 25

Cover Price: $0.10

First appearances and origins of:

Synopsis:

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.

They decide to use their abilities to become the super-team known as The Fantastic Four. They give themselves the individual names Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Human Torch, and the Thing.

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.

Review:

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.

It Started with Stan!

BLOGROLL
January 1, 2019

For me, it all started with Stan Lee. Summer, 1974. I was eight years old. B. Dalton Bookseller had already overtaken the toy store as my favorite place to be. Just the inimitable smell of the paper from the tens of thousands of books had already become a source of comfort and happiness to me. But on that particular Thursday (I swear, I don’t know why I remember it was a Thursday – but that is probably the reason Thursday has been and continues to be my favorite day of the week), browsing through the shelves of books, one caught my eye. I slipped it off the shelf and gazed at the cover – a painted picture of a man’s hands working on typewriter keys while floating majestically in the air above, as if I was privy to the imaginative visions emanating from this man’s head, were brightly colored figures I was unfamiliar with (well, that’s not completely true, but more on that in a minute), but who nonetheless excited me, caused my heart to kick into a higher gear.

The title of the book – Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee.

There was an orange, rocky monster who somehow managed to look comical and loveable even as he thundered towards me out of the cover. There was a green Frankenstein-like creature with swollen muscles and torn purple pants. There was a man colored red and entirely engulfed in flames. There was a regal looking man with a long moustache and goatee, flying with a long red cape streaming behind. One character was familiar to me only because I had a vague recollection of a cartoon with him (swinging around a building on a string?) in it, but I couldn’t even remember his name. He wore a brightly colored red and blue costume and, coolest of all, his eyes were big and white and rimmed with menacingly-shaped black outlines – he was immediately appealing to me.

I opened the cover. On the inside front dust cover was a black and white photo of a handsome man smiling from beneath a neat moustache, one leg crossed over the knee, both hands locked around it. That smile was something. I don’t know why, but I immediately felt a connection with this man, like he was a long-lost uncle that had given me sweets as a child but who I couldn’t consciously remember.

I thumbed through pages, stopping when I got to one that was even more colorful than the cover. There was an enormous reptilian monster breaking up through the street, and there was the man-on-fire from the cover flying around his head. Also from the cover was the orange, rocky lump, shoving a car aside as he strode towards the giant creature. In the beast’s hand was a woman, or part of one rather, as half her body seemed to be invisible. On the ground, trying to free himself from some rope (even then, I couldn’t understand how he got into that predicament – did the giant monster tie him up?!), was a man whose body appeared to have no bones. Across the top of the page were the words “The Fantastic Four” in the color of red M&Ms. I turned another page and was thrilled to see, as opposed to the expected lines of neatly typed text, pages of squared boxes (which I later learned were called panels) each filled with more exciting, colorful images of these characters.

At some point, my mom came in and told me it was time to go. Now, no parent is stranger to the ‘look’ and “Mom, can I pleeeasehave this?!” (whatever ‘this’ might happen to be) that inevitably accompanies any trip to the mall with a child. My mom had experienced it many times, and many times she had said no to less expensive and, probably, more impressive looking things. Maybe it was fate or just because it was that most magical of weekdays – Thursday!but she took a glance at what I held so lovingly close to my body – so protectively! – and sighed something like, “Bring it up to the register.”

  • *Note: Stan Lee would autograph this book for me nearly 40 years later!*

There were many more benchmark moments in my ‘relationship’ with Uncle Smiley, one of the humorous names with which Lee enthusiastically referred to himself. For as I came to realize, that was what drew me to him – his warm, welcoming, friendly, we’re-long-lost-pals manner of speaking through his writing, in the book as well as in the comics. With every word, every nuanced turn of phrase, he nurtured that relationship, made it something tangible, something real to me.

He became my hero.

The next year at school, while all my pals wanted to be Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, I wanted to be Stan Lee. And in that spirit, I corralled all of them, a good half-dozen, and got them drawing comics for me. I called our ‘company’Club Comics Group.I told my friends I didn’t care what characters they used in their comics – they could use already established ones or create their own. The only stipulation I demanded was that across the top of the front page of each comic book, they let me sign my name in cursive followed by a neatly printed  ‘presents…’ before the superhero’s name, just like my idol, Stan Lee!

I would then take these to the school office where a kindly secretary would mimeograph (and even staple together) the pages, and I would sell them for ten-cents each, giving each creator their cut, of course!

I said I wouldn’t bore you with my history, but I just wanted you to understand the extent of the influence Stan Lee had on my young mind.

As the title of the article says, It – my immersion into comics – Started with Stan. But, more importantly, so did the birth of the Marvel Comics Universe. There is much dispute as to how much input each collaborator Lee teamed with had into each story and creation. Lee stated he felt he ‘created’ the classic Marvel characters because he came up with the idea for each. The artists had various versions of how much credit they felt they deserved for the creations because they gave them form. Even more, the method they worked in – coined the Marvel Method – involved the artist essentially drawing the story based on a brief conversation with Lee which may have ended up resembling little of what they had discussed. Lee would then look at it and add captions and dialogue according to how he saw the story unfolding on the page, which could be completely different from what the artist intended.

One can obviously look at future solo works by the two collaborators around whom most of this debate centers – Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – to see how much of the finished product may have come from Lee and how much may have come from each artist.

It seems clear to me that, while there doesn’t seem to be overwhelming evidence that any one of the three contributed more substantially than the others, the action and visual mood clearly came from the artists, and the humor and personality of the characters came from Lee. In the end, I would call each of the efforts by these three, and other artists Lee paired with as well, a perfect synergy, a final product that was much greater than the sum of its parts.

Biography:

Stanley Martin Lieber was born on Thursday December 28, 1922 in New York City to Romanian-born Jewish parents. Although poor, Lieber was always outgoing, optimistic and jovial. In his late teens, he got a job at Timely Comics through his uncle Robbie Solomon. Here, he was basically a gopher for the legendary creative team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the duo who had created the World War II superhero, Captain America. Because Lieber kept pestering them for more creative assignments, and because they needed text features to be written to fill out issues of Captain America anyway, they had him write a short story for the next issue. As Lieber had grandiose visions of writing ‘the Great American Novel’ and wanted to save his real name for that, he adopted a pen name for this assignment by splitting his first name in two – Stan Lee.

As the years passed, via a war of attrition, Lee made himself more and more valuable to the company. He weathered boom-and-bust cycles, the worst of which saw the entire staff – except for Lee – laid off more than once.

As the 60s rolled around, Timely’s publisher, Martin Goodman, asked Lee to create a superhero team comic to complete with DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee picked Kirby, and although the two have conflicting versions of exactly how the comic came to life, in November of 1961, the newly christened Marvel Comics put forth its fledgling title – The Fantastic Four – and it was a sensation.

Lee also paired with Steve Ditko to bring about Spider-Man, as well as Dr. Strange. As success begat success, they followed those up with one hit after another – The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, The Invincible Iron Man, Ant Man and the Wasp, Captain America, Daredevil, The Avengers, The X-Men, The Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel – the list goes on and on. Other artists followed as did new writers – Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Archie Goodwin, Larry Lieber, Gil Kane, Sol Brodsky, Marie Severin, Don Heck, Bill Everette, Jim Steranko, Dennis O’Neal – The Universe grew.

Lee became Editor-in-Chief and eventually, publisher himself. But even more than this, he became the face and the voice of Marvel Comics. He became Stan “the Man” Lee. He spoke directly to the fans every month through the comics via Stan’s Soap Box, an editorial-like column which he delivered in his own unique voice with his inimitable self-deprecating humor. He added his voice to television cartoons of the characters, and eventually, began appearing in cameos in big-screen movies about his collaborative creations.

On November 12, 2018, at the height of his fame, and in the midst of controversial financial and custody issues, Stan Lee died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

I was fortunate enough to meet and spend time with him on two occasions – one, an intimate affair in Baltimore in 2013, and the other a more public one at a convention in Kansas City in 2016. We took photos and made videos, and I will remember those experiences for the rest of my life.

One footnote to this personal account of the life of Stan Lee: Roy Thomas, Stan’s hand-chosen protégé and heir to his throne, finished an enormous work called The Stan Lee Story, a magnum opus of Lee’s life and work. Taking 8 years to complete, only 1,000 copies were published, each with Stan’s personal signature, his last such offering, and each with an initial price of $1,5000. I have since seen them selling for over $5,000. They were made available, coincidentally, right after his death. Roy Thomas went to see Stan on Sunday November 10th and they made the final arrangements over the book, little knowing that Lee would be dead two days later.

Stan “the Man” Lee and Roy “the Boy” Thomas

I told my wife that, even though it was very expensive, only Stan Lee’s greatest fans would own a copy of that book. I had always considered myself his biggest fan, even to the extent that I knew he hated it when someone told him they were his biggest fan. So I kept it a secret!

But this was a last opportunity to prove, to myself, that it was true, that I was his biggest fan. And just before Christmas 2018, a gigantic box arrived on my doorstep, covered with the faces of dozens of Stan Lee’s creations. On one side was a label that read, “The Stan Lee Story – Number 316 of 1,000”. It must have weighed 20 pounds! It came with a pair of white gloves to protect the pages. That’s the kind of book it is.

Now THAT is a REALLY big book!

I’m not telling you this to bore you with my history or to brag in any way. I am merely trying to convey the kind of influence that Stan Lee has had over my whole life.