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Kirby’s Greatest Hits continue with the sudden fury of a thunderbolt! (Archive!)
345. Fantastic Four
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?
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?
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