The last time I did a comprehensive FF re-read I stopped with the last of the Kirby issues (or rather the first two of the four Romita issues that wrapped up the story). That brings me up to Fantastic Four #105. John Romita was as humble to take over Fantastic Four for the King in 1970 as he had been to take over Spider-Man from Steve Ditko in 1966. He didn't feel qualified in either case, as did his best to draw in their respective styles both times. Why Stan Lee didn't assign Joe Sinnott to ink I have no idea, but #103-105 were inked by John Verpoorten. 

#105 opens with the Thing, Johnny and Crystal enjoying some hot dogs from a street vendor, when suddenly the city is wracked by a series of explosions. Crystal unexpectedly collapses, and Johnny flies her back to the Baxter Building to seek Reed Richards' help. Meanwhile, Sue has been shopping and finds herself closer to the source of the mysterious explosions. She goes to the street to find Dr. Zoltan Rambow, a colleague of Reed's, pursuing an energy being.

Back at the Baxter Building, Reed has diagnosed Crystal as having an adverse reaction to the pollution she has no resistance to and says she must return to the Inhumans' Great Refuge or die. Reed has also discovered, in Crystal's DNA, what he thinks can be a cure to the thing's condition. Summoning Lockjaw, Crystal quickly says her goodbyes and departs immediately for the Great Refuge. Johhny flies off in frustration and soon comes upon his sister in conflict with the energy being. Sue cannot leave the conflict, but urges her brother to get Reed and Ben. Johnny returns to the Baxter Building only to find Reed at a critical juncture in his attempt to cure Ben.

CLIFFHANGER: Reed must choose between the life of his wife and that of his best friend.

It is widely accepted that Jack Kirby plotted most if not all of the Fantastic Four stories. I have generally come to the conclusion that if Stan Lee is credited with "script" that Jack Kirby provided the plot (or at least co-plotted). The credits for this issue list Stan Lee "story" and John Romita "illustration." #105 is one of the most densely-plotted and action-packed issues in a long time (the Sub-Mariner/Magneto conflict notwithstanding). Jack Kirby certainly didn't have anything to do with this issue. I think just because Stan Lee hadn't been regularly plotting Fantastic Four for some time doesn't mean he couldn't

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Before I get to the resolution of the cliffhanger, let me just note that Joe Sinnott has finally been assigned to ink John Romita's pencils.

Mr. Fantastic resolves the dilemma by having the Torch absorb all of the heat from the room, thus stabilizing the experiment until the threat can be dealt with. The energy being turns out to be Dr. Rambow's son. After he has been restored to human form, the Thing is again in imminent danger as the lab begins to thaw.

With the next issue, John Buscema joins Joe Sinnott to complete the title's new regular art team. working together, the remaining three member of the Fantastic Four all contribute to restoring the thing to human form. This time, though, not only is the change permanent (yeah, right), but Ben Grimm has the ability to transform back and forth to and from his rocky form at will. Johnny pines for Crystal. Ben seems unusually and unnecessarily surly despite his good fortune. A man named Janus visits Reed Richards in his lab and demands access to the Negative Zone. Sue visits Agatha Harkness and Franklin. Meanwhile, back at the Baxter Building, Janus has taken Reed by surprise and has entered the Negative Zone.

Once in the Zone, Janus is immediately threatened by Annihilus. Reed, Ben and Johnny leave Sue behind to pursue Janus, now calling himself the Nega-Man, into the Negative Zone. Nega-Man perishes in the explosive zone where positive and negative matter meet, and Reed sacrifices himself to allow Ben and Johnny to return. Reed slowly floats atop a boulder to his death in the explosive zone.

Back at the Baxter Building, Ben seems more interested in becoming the new leader of the Fantastic four than in saving the life of his best friend. Nevertheless, they manage to get a gyro-homing device to him, but he cannot use it without Annihilus following him back. Just then, Agatha Harkness arrives and creates the illusion on multiple Mr. Fantastics, allowing Reed to slip away unnoticed. Alicia arrives, the Thing dumps her, then quits the team and heads outside.

The whole next issue is basically given over to the Thing running amok in New York City. It also introduces Mr. Collins, the Fantastic Four's landlord, who will become a recurring character for the next several issues. On the last page, Bruce Banner appears and transforms into the Hulk. 

The first issue of the Fantastic Four I got new (and one of my first comic books ever) was issue #126. But #112, acquired some years later, was one of my earliest backissues. My friend Bob described it as "the issue where the Thing dies." I knew damn good and well he didn't die-die, but i had to have that issue! It was only the third Hulk/Thing slugfest ever, and I had already read most of the others before and after. It would be years before I learned how he survived.

I can pretty much narrow that down to 1983. I know that because 1) I was in college, and 2) it was after the Overmind appeared in Defenders #112-117. In fact, it was that very appearance which sent me to my LCS at the time to acquire the run of F mnF currently under discussion as backissues. I was also pleased to have discivered the first appearance of Mr. Collins, as he played a memorable role in the seminal (for me) #126. 

But I won't keep you waiting as long as I had to to find out how the thing survived. Mr. Fantastic recalled how thick the Thing's skin is, making it impossible to detect a heartbeat which led to the misdiagnosis of death. The cover blurbs of #113 practically summarize the entire issue: "This one has it all!"; "The fate of the Thing!"; "Mister Fantastic fights back!"; "The Watcher speaks!"; "The Torch in action!"; "...and much, much more!" Suffice it to say that when the Thing was revived he was cured of his madness, but he also lost the ability to transform at will. Then the Watcher appears to warn them of the Overmind and, because of the damage caused by the thing's rampage, the mayor disbands the FF.

The next issue begins with the FF being released on bail, but they have been locked out of their headquarters. They encounter the Overmind but are defeated, and the experience is wiped from their minds. Agatha Harkness contacts the Watcher. For #115, Stan plotted the origin of the Overmind, but didn't have time to script it, so Archie Goodwin became the first person other than Stan Lee to script the Fantastic Four. (He would write and script #116.)

According to Stan's plot, Overmind came from a race of "Eternals" (unrelated to the Eternals Jack Kirby would create for Marvel a half decade later). A mind-controlled Reed Richards turns against his teammates (not to mention humanity), forcing Sue Storm to seek help from their mortal enemy, Doctor Doom. (Yes, she tried the Avengers and every other hero she could think of first.) #116 was a double-sized issue priced at a quarter. Both Marvel and DC experimented with this format in 1971. It wasn't popular, but DC stuck with it longer, which allowed Marvel to pass them in sales for the first time. The Stranger emerges as a peregrinis ex machina (stranger from the machine) tied to the Overmind's origin.

And that's the first stopping point since this little mini-arc began in #105; MMW Fantastic Four Vol. 11 contains the entire arc. Those of you familiar with this run of issues may have noticed I skipped issue #108. I'll get tho that tomorrow.

Plotting involves coming up with ideas and working the stories out in detail. It's certain Lee and Kirby both came up with plot ideas. I think the plotting-in-detail was more usually Lee's early on and Kirby's later. The SHIELD series was likely largely plotted by Kirby.(1) The images strike the reader with great imaginative force, the stories are close to incoherent.

Lee liked relationships to be central to the stories and their ends to have moral punch. The relationship between the Supreme Hydra and his daughter looks like Lee, and the Supreme Hydra's end. Likewise the end of Fantastic Four #87 or the fate of the false Zemo in Captain America #100. Compare Thor #183.

The story idea of Fantastic Four #73 was likely Lee's, as the issue is tied to his Daredevil storyline. The plotting-in-detail was probably Kirby's. #96 was probably Lee's plot as it's not much to write home about but Lee liked it enough to reuse it with John Buscema.

(1) In the instalment Kirby was credited with scripting he calls the SHIELD helicarrier the Flying Pentagon. I think he'd likely been calling it that all along, and Lee had decided not to use it.

Continuing in that vein...

I think the Inhumans bear more of Kirby's imprimatur than Lee's. When the Kree finally appeared in FF #65 (in the form of Ronan the Accuser), still Kirby; but when the Kree spun off into Marvel Super-Heroes/Captain Marvel (by Lee and Colan), that was all Lee. I think Lee "watered down" the concept of an ancient race seeding the Earth with Inhumans. I think what Kirby had envisioned for the Kree would have been much more majestic had he been allowed to develop it. When he returned to Marvel in 1975, he retooled his original Inhumans/Kree concept into Eternals/Celestials. That's my take on it, anyway. 

I now enter a sad paragraph in Marvel's history. (It's too insignificant to rate an entire chapter, but it's not one of Marvel's shining moments.) In 1970, sometime after Jack Kirby turned in the pages intended to be #102, Stan Lee deemed them unscriptable and the story intended for #103 was published in #102. Kirby's story dealt with Janus and the Mega-Men, and I don't believe for a moment that they were "unscriptable" (the proof being that, in 2008, Lee did script them, more or less as they were originally presented. If he did in in 2008, he could have done it in 1970. Plus, the revised story (as it originally saw print in #108) was, IMHO, vastly inferior to Kirby's original version.

Because much of the story in #108 is a flashback, I inserted it between #104 and #105 and read it prior to beginning this discussion. That doesn't work very well for reasons I will elaborate. First, as originally plotted, the story of the "Mega-Men" is itself a flashback. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the ending was so significantly altered by the time it story of the "Nega-Man" was published in #108 that they could not co-exist in the same continuity. In other words, #108 doesn't simply "flash back" to the previously unpublished story, it significantly alters it.

Marvel took Kirby plot, literally cut it up and reassembled into a different story with new art added. This didn't work. not only because it made the story weaker by eliminating the "Janus" angle entirely (except for retaining the characters name), but because the Kirby pages were not used entirely for the "flashback" sequences. the discrepancy in the "present day" art styles was just too jarring for good story-telling. Stan Lee would have known that. But he also knew the release date of New Gods #1 and Forever People #1 and slotted the ersatz Kirby story for Fantastic Four #108, scheduled to ship the same month as the launch of Kirby's main "Fourth World" titles.

But I discovered something this time through. Fantastic Four #108 is not only detrimental to the ongoing story, it is actually detrimental. the end of #107 leads directly into #109, and even a "last issue" footnote in #109 is a reference to events in #107, not #108. I will never again read #108 in conjunction with #107 and #109, and I will probably never read #108 again period.

By a strange and happy coincidence, I was able to find my copy of 2008's Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure and will discuss it if you want.

But you must remember that when Stan Lee rejected it in 1970, it was another day at the office and he had a lot on his plate. He was the editor, after all and may have thought that it wasn't up to Jack's usual standards and that there was no time to fix it. (Not excusing FF #108 at all, indeed my personal theory was that Marvel was doing all they can to simultaneously cash in and undermine Jack's departure like giving Doctor Doom his own series in Astonishing Tales.)

But in 2008, it became an almost historical treasure regardless on either how good or bad one might have thought about it. It would be like finding an unproduced Twilight Zone or Star Trek episode. Anything is better than nothing!

"I was able to find my copy of 2008's Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventures and will discuss it if you want."

Although the road to you-know-where is paved with you-know-what, I do intend to take this discussion through the Byrne era at least. I would prefer holding off of the rest of that collection (at least in this discussion) until the stories come up in sequence (which would be #296 for the first of them). Of course, I have no objection if you wish to discuss them elsewhere.

The Sub-Mariner/Magneto storyline was likely Lee's; it's a return to stuff he did with Kirby in the first third of the run, and Namor's occupation of New York recycles Fantastic Four Annual #1. To my surprise, Mike's Amazing World says Fantastic Four Annual #8, which reprinted #1, came out during the story!

Lee seems to have made a point of having Kirby's runs on Fantastic Four and Thor end on cliffhangers, to ease the transition into the new era. Likewise he ended his run as the scripter of Sgt. Fury on a cliffhanger.

Towards the end of his Fantastic Four run Kirby's art and plotting simplified. His art and storytelling in #108 seem to me a notch up, so it's my private theory the story was actually created at an earlier point. To be fair, his original splash is very much in the vein of his later issues: a domestic scene with the FF. #99, #101 and #102 all open with one. But FF issues had been opening like that for awhile.

I agree 100% about the Inhumans and Eternals. Kirby's imagination, certainly by the late 60s and I suspect all along, moved on less standard lines than Lee's. The Inhumans have his trademark weirdness. (So does Magneto, from as early as 1963: he has magnetic powers, so of course he wears a cape and pseudo-Classical helmet with little horns. The Vanisher's costume is weird too.)

The last year and a half of the Lee/Kirby FF run was really weak, not just in plots but dialogue. We know Kirby had made a conscious decision to back off on new ideas but Stan seemed to be losing interest as well. Maybe Jack's departure shook Stan up enough that he stepped up his game in co-plotting and dialogue in order to help out John Romita who didn't want the FF assignment. The book showed improvement up to #108 which really is a mess and shouldn't have seen the light of day.

That's how that last year strikes me too. In the later 1960s the companies transitioned to having the original art done on a smaller page size. I've seen it argued that one effect was the amount of dialogue was cut back, and I think it hurt the comics.

I find a fair amount of the late Silver Age Lee and Kirby work close to unreadable. It has the same faults Kirby's weaker solo work had.

#117-118: With Stan Lee still hard at work on the screenplay for Alain Renais' The Monster Maker (don't bother looking for it on Netflix; it was never filmed), Archie Goodwin continues his short run. #117 opens with the Torch approaching the Great Refuge (via Sub-Mariner #44) in search of Crystal. the story features the Inhumans and Agatha Harkness, but the main villain is Diablo. #116, you will recall, was a 48-pager (35 story pages). #117 was to have been as well but, between issues, Martin Goodwin decided to go back to 20 pages for 20 cents. 15 pages intended for #117 were carried over into #118, but that still left several pages to fill. Goodwin wrote a six-page short story of the Thing and Lockjaw trapped in an alternate dimension between pages of the main story. Years later, Dan Slott tried to use that alternate Earth to explain the multiple discrepancies and inconsistencies that had crept into the Marvel Universe over the years. 

#119: While Stan Lee was still working on his screenplay, Archie Goodwin decided to leave Fantastic Four, as well as Marvel entirely to write for DC. Thus Roy Thomas became the third person ever to script Fantastic Four. The story he wrote was one of apartheid originally intended as a back-up feature in Avengers for artist Alex Toth if the 48-page experiment had lasted. It didn't, so he used it to bridge the gap between Archie Goodwin's departure and Stan Lee's return. He's what Thomas had to say about it.

"Perhaps I shold have set that tale of apartheid in South Africa and had done with it. After all, Rudyarda [after rudyard Kipling] was clearly meant to be a stand-in for the South Africa of 1972 (with maybe a touch of Rhodesia in the actual naming). but I felt that, never having even visited that actual nation, it wouldn't be quite fair for me to set up my own version of what i felt South Africa was like, only to criticize it. I preferred to add Rudyarda to that nonexistent world globe that's dotted with places like Ruritania, Fredonia, and the duchy of Grand Fenwick [not to mention Wakanda]. The story attracted some attention, and I was happy to see it included in the Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas hardcover a couple of years back."

While Stan Lee was still working on his screenplay, he decided that the Black Panther should be rechristened the Black Leopard to avoid confusion with the controversial Black Panther Party, and Roy Thomas was tasked with justifying that change. Luckily it did not last long. 

#120-123: First, let me switch from Marvel Masterworks to the "Behold... Galactus!" Monster-Size edition...


There, that's better. These Monster-Size editions are HUGE... even bigger than an IDW Artist's edition. the Galactus one is particularly impressive, including as it does every Stan Lee/Jack Kirby, John Buscema and John Byrne "Galactus" story from Fantastic Four. There is no character for which this format is better suited.

In #120, Gabriel the Air-Walker comes to Earth and blows his horn. After an issue-long tussle in #121, the Silver surfer gets involved and reveals that Air-Walker is actually a robot. The last panel reveals it's master: GALACTUS! #122 is the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer vs. Galactus. Galactus wants the Surfer to be his herald again. Midway through the battle, Reed and Sue leave and gain control of Galactus' ship. In #123, President Nixon and General Ross get involved. Reed Richards tricks Galactus into the Negative Zone, thus freeing the Surfer from his vow to follow Galactus "anywhere in this universe." 

As with Thor #193, there's still no follow-up to the Surfer's vow to make war against humanity (Silver Surfer #18), but it's coming.

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