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365 Reasons to Love Comics #345

Kirby’s Greatest Hits continue with the sudden fury of a thunderbolt! (Archive!)

12/11/07

345. Fantastic Four

FF 1.jpg

Remember when the Fantastic Four was the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine? No? Well, under Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, it was. Their astonishing synergy– Kirby as the mad visionary, Lee as the mad charactersmith– revitalized an entire medium and reinvigorated the superhero concept.

Then again, I don’t really see the Fantastic Four as superheroes. They’re explorers, adventurers, scientists– heck, they didn’t even wear costumes for the first two issues. Sure, they’ll save the world, but it’s not like they fight crime or anything. They help out when they can.

They’re also a family– and I know, everyone talks about that aspect all the time. Every new creative team swears up and down in pre-run interviews that they’re going to focus on the family aspect of the team. As their run goes on, however, that kinda thing falls by the wayside. Still, it’s an idea permanently ingrained in the concept– while the lineup occasionally changes, the Fantastic Four is not the Fantastic Four without Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben. And right there– that’s what makes them excellently realized characters. When we refer to them, it isn’t by their codenames– those are just window-dressing, trappings of the genre. We refer to them by their first names, because we’ve come to know them.

Lee and Kirby brought these characters to life. I use that terminology a lot, but in this case, it’s the truest it’s ever been. Before the FF, super-characters were icons, big brother/father figures. As much as I adore DC’s Silver Age, it was the Marvel Age that introduced humanistic superheroes. These characters aren’t far-off gods, but people we know. Reed’s powerful idealism and aloofness (and, in the 60’s, sexism); Sue’s original waifishness and later, under other writers, revealed inner strength; Johnny’s supreme eagerness and ever-growing maturity; and Ben’s self-pity and constant, indefatigable faith in his friends. How many characters in comics are more fascinating than the Thing: this man, this monster?

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Kirby’s art exploded onto the page and evolved into sheer perfection, especially under the gorgeous inks of Joe Sinnott. And the ideas that burst forth from his head, and his collaboration with Stan! Doom! Galactus! Silver Surfer! The Watcher! The Awesome Android! Mole Man! The Infant Terrible! The Impossible Man! The Inhumans! Hell, the Red Ghost! Those two crazy nuts made it the best book on the stands, and no one’s ever been able to top it. Oh, a select few have come close to its brilliance– I gesture to Walt Simonson and the Waid/Wieringo team (and some would say John Byrne)– but Lee and Kirby’s FF cannot be topped and probably never will be. I know it won’t be the same, but I can’t wait for that “Lost FF issue” to come out.

The Fantastic Four should be a comic that pushes the boundaries of what the “superhero genre”– hell, what the form itself– is capable of doing. It should be a constant source of new ideas– bigger, madder, and better than any other comic out there. It really should be the world’s greatest comics magazine, and I hope and pray that it achieves that success again. Millar and Hitch are hopping on board, and it’s going to sell huge– I hope it’s good.

Without the Fantastic Four– indeed, without Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, and as I tend to do, I stress the Kirby bit– comics would be a different landscape right now. Heck, they might not even exist. As it is, however, the Fantastic Four opened new doors for a newer kind of superhero, and served as the benchmark for decades. Damn straight.

For FF goodness on the web, hit up Sean Kleefield’s Fantastic Four Plaza.

Favorite Lee/Kirby FF moments?

15 Comments

What “Lost FF issue”?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 11, 2007 at 9:36 pm

Kirby had pretty much finished the pencils on the first issue published that he didn’t do, and so Marvel are re-releasing it.

Neat. I REALLY liked “This Man This Monster” first time I read it. One of the best comics ever.

There are no “favorite Lee/Kirby FF moments”. Every one of those 108 unique issues was a gem.

A perfect series if there ever was one.

What Todd said, though I do have a lot of love for the unhailed issue 81. Kirby’s work in that one is so kinetic it stunned me as a young child, and more than any other single issue it’s the reason I still love comics nearly 40 years later.

I’ve gotta go with “This Man, This Monster” too. First time I read it was in Les Daniels’ book about Marvel, and as a boy who’d grown up on Byrne & Simonson’s FF, it was a revelation. It introduced me to the Kirby & Lee FF, and gave me a new found respect for both the characters and the creators.

i’m desperate to get my hands on the omnibuses…

I’ve been a fan of The Inhumans since I first saw them- Kirby’s odd character designs are striking, and Black Bolt’s power being a huge liability (even more so than Cyclops, The Thing, or the Doom Patrol) is awesome. Plus, a giant dog with a tuning fork on his head- what could be better?

Another vote for “This Man, This Monster”, my favorite comic story of all time.

And I agree you can stack any of the 108 against almost any other issue of any other book (giving some leeway for outdated gender roles and terms).

Is the first Omnibus getting a second printing? I really want it! I wasn’t born for more than two decades after they started their run, and I have never read a single issue of it. And I know that makes me less of a person.

Indeed the 1st FF Omnibus has received a 2nd printing (now with a sewn binding) and is available for purchase:

http://talesofwonder.com/product-exec/product_id/47482/affiliate_id/5

What an awesome creation, the FF.

My all-time favorite issue was 45 (thanks for showing the cover), introducing the Inhumans one by one. I also really loved those two early Red Ghost/Watcher’s Blue Area issues, and the two-parter with the Thing/Hulk fight and the Avengers. And oh so many others…
But I disagree with Ken S about ALL the original 108 issues being wonderful. To me the final Kirby issues got pretty tedious and uninspired. He was deliberately NOT creating anything new, cranking out the book each month while he doodled Orion and Metron in his free time, waiting.

I also do have a fondness for Roy Thomas’s stint in the mid-seventies, especially the issues with the Impossible Man and the Frightful Four. And John Byrne’s three-parter with Terrax and saving Galactus was a great story.

[…] He also wrote the Fantastic Four Roast, seen at the top of the post. Drawn by pretty much everybody working for Marvel at the time, it’s both a supreme farce and a loving tribute to Marvel’s first family. […]

[…] The titles included Mystery Incorporated, No One Escapes… the Fury, Tales of the Uncanny (featuring USA, the Ultimate Secret Agent, and Hypernaut), Tales from Beyond (with N-Man and Johnny Beyond), Horus, Lord of Light, and the Tomorrow Syndicate. The main characters served as plays on the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Thor, and the Avengers, with numerous other touches thrown in as well. On their own, the 1963 books stand as excellent comics. They even come complete with throwback touches like editorial captions to past issues, bulletin pages, letters pages, and cheesy ads (”Shamed by you English?”, Soil-Monkeys, and numerous Commie-bashing items). The issues serve as brilliant tongue-in-cheek packages. They’re also the complete antithesis to everything else Image was publishing at the time. […]

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