DC released a collection of this series two years ago, and I've been considering posting some thoughts on it ever since (occasionally, not continuously). Specifically, I want to rank the issues first through thirteenth. The decision that has been holding me up is whether to rank low to high, high to low, or in numerical order. But Tom King's Danger Street is scheduled to begin next month and that has provided impetus.
When I read the stories in this collection in 2020, some of them for the first time, I discovered that some of them were clearly better than others. In fact, it occurred to me that I could pick any two issues of the series, compare them side-to-side, and pick a favorite. For example, there are three Jack Kirby comics in the series' 13-issue run, and it's pretty easy to pick my first, second and third favorite among them. The problem is, enough time has now passed that I must read some of them again because I just can't remember which I preferred between, say, Lady Cop or Code Name: Assassin; between The Outsiders or The Green Team.
As the story goes, because first issues generally sell better than subsequent issues, publisher Carmine Infantino decide to publish a series of all "first issues." I will be ranking them taking into consideration the following criteria: concept, writer, artist, pedigree and legacy/potential. The collection includes editorials introducing the feature for most of the issues. By "pedigree" I mean was it a new character/concept or a revised/reintroduced one? By "legacy/potential" I mean did the character/concept go on to be used by other creators?
Gerry Conway (from his introduction to the collected volume): "As a concept, the 1st Issue Special series was, frankly, frankly, more than a little half-baked. Supposedly a tryout book for new concepts or revised and reintroduced characters, it didn't really serve that purpose effectively. One-shot appearances don't do much to project reader interest in a character or series. They also don't provide a creative team sufficient time to develop whatever potential a new or revised character might have. And in the case of 1st Issue Special, production requirement didn't allow for much pre-development of any idea either."
I have decided to present the issues in publication order, BUT... because it's been two years, I'm going to want to reread them all before I even get started, so bear with me.
"It would make a bizarre line-up for a huge team-up."
Funny you should say that.
The link didn't work. This is probably what you were going for
That's funny; it works works me...?
Anyway, yes, that's the video I was going for.
The secret of Marvel's success in the 1960s, paradoxically, is that Lee and Kirby weren't into superheroes. The initiative to create Fantastic Four came, according to Lee's own account, from Martin Goodman. Kirby didn't really have much of a history as a creator of superpowered superheroes.(1) Most of his superhero work had been about the costumed scrapper type. Even those he hadn't done much since the war.
So Lee put into the comics the stuff he was interested in: characterisation, soap opera, observations about the real world. Kirby put in the stuff he was good at: exciting action, fantastic visuals. The comics were also good on the superhero and plotting (eventually) sides because veteran superhero creators Bill Finger and Otto Binder ghost-wrote for Lee. Maybe others too. Jerry Siegel was credited on two stories as Joe Carter, but likely wrote more than that. (I think he probably wrote the Human Cobra and Mr Hyde intros.) Finger and Binder were never credited on anything unless one of them was H. E. Huntley rather than Ernie Hart (which seems likely to me - I take Huntley to have been a veteran superhero writer - but I don't know on what basis the identification of Huntley as Hart rests, or if Hart had written superheroes). Finger is likely the real creator of Doctor Doom, which is why he has the same motivation as Two-Face, and has a time machine like the Dr Doome in Leading Comics #3. Binder wrote the Super-Skrull intro, which is why the sequence where he demonstrates his powers for the Skrull Emperor is like the one where Captain Nazi demonstrates his powers for the Nazi bigwigs. Immortus is an evil Kid Eternity. The Red Ghost and his Super Apes are likely Binder.
(1) The two feature he'd had longer runs on were "Blue Bolt" (Simon's creation before they teamed up) and "The Vision". Otherwise, before entering the army he did "Mercury in the 20th Century" (one story), "Hurricane" ("Mercury" remodelled), "Marvel Boy" (a different character to the 1950s version), and the first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures. Since the war he'd done Captain 3-D and stories for opening issues of the Adventures of the Fly and the two issues of The Double Life of Private Strong (=projects Simon packaged for Archie).
(2) The squabbling of the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete in the story in which they first team up is paralleled by stories Binder and Finger wrote teaming villains in the Golden Age.
"I'm going to try to give you an alternate way of looking at it."
It's ironic. I tried to give you "an alternate way of looking at it" (from an historical perspective), and you ended up giving me one.
"Alas, Dr. Fate was not taken to series, which told me all I needed to know about 1st Issue Special: It was BS. These weren't concepts that anyone really wanted to take to series, or they would have done so with Dr. Fate. It was just 'First Issue!' sucker-bait, as I had pretty much guessed at the outset. So I just felt worse about buying this series, which was by and large obvious crap."
I've been turning that phrase "first issue sucker bait" over and over in my head for two days now. It is especially ironic that I myself fell for the sucker bait with issue two. You were 17; I was only 11 but I still feel cheated! When I posted about that issue I said that I never saw another issue on the stands, but I remember now that I did. I don't recall which issue it was, but I do remember seeing that "First Issue Special!" banner across the top and thinking, "Uh-uh... I fell for that once." Of course DC never intended to take any of these concepts to series. It's so bloody obvious (now that you've pointed it out to me)!
Yet it does go to show that there are no bad concepts... in the hands of a good writer. (I'm assuming that Tom King's Danger Street will live up to my expectations.) Every time DC or Marvel brings back an obscure or once-popular character, someone inevitably pops up to say something along the lines of, "That character's time has passed!" For a long time I've been using the example of Animal Man to refute that, but I'm hoping I will soon be able to use Danger Street.
Luke Blanchard said:
The comics were also good on the superhero and plotting (eventually) sides because veteran superhero creators Bill Finger and Otto Binder ghost-wrote for Lee.
This is something I've never heard before. I have no problem with the idea that Stan and Jack could be "inspired by" previous work of others but saying that Stan didn't do this and didn't do that reminds me of all the Stan Lee detractors that claim that everything was by Kirby.
We know that writers and artists moonlighting for Marvel used other names, but they were separately credited under those names. I've never heard of Stan claiming scripting credit when he didn't do the work. I think if Finger or Binder did the work they would have used either their own names or different names.
It's entirely my speculation. I'd normally hedge more, but I was in a mood to stir the pot yesterday. (My apologies, Jeff, as this isn't the subject of your thread.)
The Torch/Thing story in Strange Tales #177 is credited to Lee, but it repeats the basic plot from "The Raid on Blackhawk Island!" from Blackhawk #109. It's not likely Lee read Blackhawk, so I think this a clear case of uncredited plotting, probably the same writer recycling his plot. Who he was I don't know. (I take the GCD's attribution of the Blackhawk story to be a guess.)
What convinced me Finger was present at Marvel was reading the SSoV story in Leading Comics #4 and spotting parallels to Fantastic Four #23.(1) I think they establish the stories as by the same writer. The GCD attributes the LC #4 story to Finger. That's likely right as its big twist was reused in Wonder Woman #177, which is also attributed to him.
Considered in that light, it looks to me pretty certain Finger wrote FF #5, given the similarities I noted, although they're so slight. (The authorship of Leading Comics #3 is unknown, but it seems to me it may have been Finger since he wrote #4.) The first panel of the FF's origin in Fantastic Four #1 was evidently based on the first panel of the first All-Winners squad story of All-Winners Comics #19, written by Finger.
The Silver Age Marvel line started carrying credit boxes in 1962. Before that there are sometimes signatures in the art. I think the only writer's signature seen in that period is Lee's. When the boxes start the first writer credited other than Lee is Larry Lieber. The credits read "Plot: Stan Lee Script: Larry Lieber Art: Jack Kirby" (or "Don Heck" or "Dick Ayers", a little later). Lieber has said in interviews he almost always worked full script through his career. I believe we can take that to the bank, so "Script: Larry Lieber" means "Written full script by Larry Lieber".
In 1963 there are script credits to R. Berns (Robert Bernstein), H. E. Huntley (said to be Ernie Hart), and Joe Carter (Jerry Siegel). I take it "script" still meant "Written full script by", but the dialogue gets more like Lee's - it can be a lot like Lee's - so it's my guess he rewrote their dialogue.
From the mid-60s there's all kind of evidence of Lee getting out of plotting-in-detail where he could. Refining my formulation, I think he was interested in soap-opera, melodrama, and dialogue. Selling the melodrama entailed selling the concepts and playing down silliness. This is the opposite of an approach I see in Siegel's work of the era of reveling in goofiness.
I take it that as the period continued Marvel shifted away from the use of full scripts to doing everything Marvel-style, so it may be in some cases other writers supplied outline plots and Lee did the dialogue. Several creators who worked with him later have said that he didn't like getting dialogue suggestions when he was dialoguing.
The other creators involved didn't produce work as loved today as their work with Lee, including Kirby and Ditko, so I think Lee's contribution was crucial. But there was a period there where Marvel's plotting-in-detail is really quite good. (Coming out of the mid-decade it gets more action-oriented and stripped-down.) I doubt Lee had the time to plot something like the Sentinels intro. Trask's article seems to be based on a actual article Otto Binder actually published in Mechanix Illustrated. That element might be Binder drawing on his own article, or a playful reference to it by a friend. The touch seems to me too sophisticated for Kirby and too SF fandom for Lee.
(1) Early in the Leading Comics story the villain performs operations on five crooks to give them super-senses. In FF #23 Doom recruits three assistants and gives them superpowers. There then follow component stories in which the heroes have separate adventures (the thefts of five gems in LC #4, the captures of the FF in FF #23). Then the villains pay their assistants off with a double-cross (in LC #4 they're murdered, in FF #23 Doom sends his to another dimension), after which the heroes face a climax of escalated danger (in LC #4 the villain aquires a super-gem he can use to bring statues to life, in FF #23 the FF realise they're in a deathtrap.) The leadership squabble element in FF #23 is also paralleled by the second story in Challengers of the Unknown #46, credited in-issue to Finger.
"(My apologies, Jeff, as this isn't the subject of your thread.)"
S'alright. My topic has run its course. That's some interesting speculation, Luke; I've never seen anything like it before. Many of the early FF plots are obviously recycled Kirby plots from Challengers of the Unknown, but beyond that...? I suppose it's possible.
From the mid-60s there's all kind of evidence of Lee getting out of plotting-in-detail where he could.
I think this is accepted, in that he was editing and writing an increasing number of books. It was too much work. This is when the Marvel Method came into full use. When an artist had the talent to plot a story as well as draw it (Kirby, Ditko, some others*) he would let that happen. If they provided suggested dialogue he would either use it or tweak it. If an artist was only comfortable (or capable) of working full-script, then either Lee or someone else would have to write one, which meant describing panels, etc.
* It would be interesting to learn which artists were good at plotting a story from scratch besides Kirby and Ditko. Since they've pretty much passed on, maybe Roy Thomas knows.
From another discussion...
Luke Blanchard said:
Unofficial crossovers dept.:
In the lead story in Challengers of the Unknown #42 the Challs face a team of villains made up of former foes. Multi-Man was their recurring foe. There had been two Volcano Man stories, in #27 and #32. Kra and Drabny were both one-off villains from #8, the last Kirby issue.
That same month the FF met a team of villains made up, mostly, of former Human Torch villains.
According to Mike's Amazing World the issues both went on sale in Dec. 1964, the FF one a week later. That looks to me not a coincidence.
The Challengers story is attributed by the GCD to Ed Herron (=France Herron). He had a history working with Kirby, so perhaps Herron and Kirby covertly cooked it up. But as I explained recently, I think DC writers ghost-plotted for Marvel in the earlier 1960s. If I'm right it could be the figure on the Marvel side was one of those ghost-plotters.
Medusa's power recalls Spider Girl's. She was a Legion reject who appeared in Adventure Comics #323 about half a year earlier, in a story by Jerry Siegel. But I suppose if you started with the name "Medusa" that's the power you might come up with.
The Wizard and Paste-Pote Pete had previously teamed-up in Strange Tales #110, in one of the stories attributed to H. E. Huntley.
Images from the GCD.
"But as I explained recently..."
The post you reference led me to research a possible "Challengers of the Fantastic" discussion from the angle of "who did what" on the Fantastic Four. I did not go beyond the Kirby issues of Challs, but here is what i came up with:
Showcase #6 - Sorcerer - Dr. Doom
Showcase #7 - Robots - FF #7 (Kurrgo's robot)
Showcase #11 - Aliens - FF #2 (Skrulls)
Challengers #2 - Monster Maker - FF #3 (Miracle Man)
Challengers #4 - Time Cube - Dr. Doom's Time Machine (FF #5)
Challengers #6 - Slaves - FF # 19 (Rama Tut)
Challengers #7 - Shrunk - FF #16 (Mircro-world of Dr. Doom)
Challengers #8 - [?] - FF #20 (notes incomplete)
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