I recently started re-reading this and decided it would be fun to view it as a project of sorts. The modern Marvel Universe has its beginnings here and I find it fun to revisit it from time to time. I'm at FF 17 now and may finish the volume today (it's a day off for me). Some thoughts:

- Reed is clearly the big brain of the group, but early on is also a man of action and has a sense of humor. The overlong speeches, explaining things with words the others probably don't understand, is not there yet.

- Sue is taken hostage far too often, is scared far too easily, her powers are only defensive AND she has trouble controlling them. At the same time, though, she is sometimes shown to be clever and even feisty. She is the center of two love triangles - first with Reed and Ben (this is dropped almost right away) and another one I'll mention in a bit.

- Lee and Kirby seem to want to make Johnny the star of the book, but I just don't buy it. He keeps saving the day and his powers keep expanding. He gets the girl and drives cool cars. I kept wishing Ben could have pasted him one just once.

- The Thing is scary, especially early on. I never found the smooth rocky appearance to be scary - it just looked like a type of body armor to me. He's hideous to look at in these stories. Before Alicia Masters comes along in issue 8, he seems to be on the verge of turning on humanity at any moment, and it doesn't help that Reed, Sue, and Johnny don't call him Ben, only "The Thing".

- The Mole Man may not be a great villain but he worked well enough that they kept bringing him back. He's the first bad guy out of the gate and you can't help but feel sorry for him - a woman says he's too ugly to date, and a businessman says he's qualified to work for him, but he'd scare the other employees away. Harsh.

- Unless the Miracle Man is a mutant, the story in issue 3 just doesn't work. He has to be using minor hypnosis on the entire city.

- Issues 4, 5, and 6 are true classics. We get the first modern appearance of Namor, the first appearance of Doom, and their subsequent teaming. The Reed/Sue/Namor love triangle adds a lot of angst to the series. Doom's character is spot on from the get-go; he is chillingly evil in a way that the Silver Age Lex Luthor never was. Ben's courage in strapping a bomb to his back makes the reader want to cheer for him, maybe for the first time. These three issues, imo, are the first signs of true greatness of the series.

- The next five issues, unfortunately, are clunkers. Issue 7 features a highly advanced scientific world that is doomed to destruction, sort of like Krypton, except the leaders of the planet have lots of notice. They don't construct rocket ships to get away because they were never interested in space travel. Umm, ok. Issue 8 is the debut of the Puppet Master, whom I have never liked. Issue 9 is the very convoluted story where the FF are broke, Subby buys a movie studio to make a movie about them and will pay them for being in it - but he really isn't making a movie, just trying to get Reed, Ben, and Johnny out of the way, so he can have Sue. Reed and Johnny escape their deathtraps, and collect Ben, who was beaten by Namor (but only after he transformed back to Ben Grimm). They are about to fight, but Sue prevents it, and Namor agrees to put a movie together, even though he never meant to in the first place, and what he cobbles together becomes the sensation of the nation - solving the FF's money woes. Issue 10 features Doom in full mad scientist mode, worse than Lex Luthor ever was, and also features the deservedly forgotten Ovoids. The story requies Sue, Ben, and Johnny to act dumber than they ever had been before or since. Issue 11 features the debut of the annoying Impossible Man, whom Lee and Kirby would not re-use (and seems to almost be a potshot at Mr. Mxyptlyk) and the awful, awful, awful comparison of Sue to Abe Lincoln's mother.

- Issue 12 features a guest appearance by the Hulk. Some parts of the story haven't aged well (good thing the bad guy carried "a membership card in a subversive Communist-front organization" ... in his wallet ... on a U.S. Army base ... but I digress) but overall it's pretty enjoyable, being the first modern MU crossover. There's really no way to square this story with Johnny reading a Hulk comic is issue 5, but that's a minor quibble. Oh, and remember what I said about Sue being feisty? She saves the day here, stopping the bad guy before he can kill Ben. If only Lincoln's mother had been at Ford's Theatre.

I have a lot more I want to say but this has been a fairly long post and I've only covered about half of the Volume. I'll wait and see if any of you want to chime in with your thoughts before I make more comments.

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Jeff of Earth-J said:
Travis Herrick said:
And wasn't Steve Rogers the artist of the Captain America comic for a while?

He was, and Rick Jones was the writer. Many of you will remember one of Marvel's "fifth week" events (or perhaps that should be fifth week "events") in which Marvel published issues of Marvel Comics as they would appear in the Marvel Universe. FF was more of a fanzine, they couldn't reveal any secret identities, etc. In the Captain America one, artist Steve Rogers (actually Ron Frenz, IIRC) was replaced midway through after leaving due to objections to Rick Jones' story. (I have that one filed with my Cap books rather than with the other fifth weeks.)

Right. As I recall, the story went along swimmingly, and then there was this glaring headline telling the reader that someone else (I forget who) was going to draw the rest of the book because of artist Steve Rogers' objections (which, if I recall correctly, had to do with Bucky getting killed in the story).

Jeff of Earth-J said:
Back to the Hulk comic in FF, the Marvel Comics of the MU has since been portrayed as oportunistic, immediately securing a copyright (or trademark, or whatever) on every new costumed hero to appear. In this way, they beat their competitors to the punch, make a profit and don't have to pay royalties to the heroes themselves (not those with secret identities, anyway; the FF's situation is different). I'm sure Marvel Comics readers in the early MU never quite knew at first which comic books were based on "real" people and which were made up. I'm sure that's the case with the Hulk... and maybe even the original Human Torch for that matter.

I gather that comic books in the Marvel Universe are akin to the old dime novels featuring old West heroes such as Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickcock. So long as the readers got cool stories and that gorgeous Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko art, who cared if they weren't "true"?
Jeff of Earth-J said:
He was, and Rick Jones was the writer.

Rick Jones was the writer? Wow, that I did not know. Very cool.
As far as I know, the was the status quo only for that one fifth week one-shot we've been discussing.
Back to the Hulk comic in FF, the Marvel Comics of the MU has since been portrayed as opportunistic, immediately securing a copyright (or trademark, or whatever) on every new costumed hero to appear. In this way, they beat their competitors to the punch, make a profit and don't have to pay royalties to the heroes themselves (not those with secret identities, anyway; the FF's situation is different).

hmmm... I'm not sure Reed would have anything to do with a company that used the letter of copyright law to enrich itself on the achievements of true heroes...

All this talk about the fictional Marvel Comics of the MU is missing the point of what Stan and Jack were doing with sequences such as issue 5 and their own appearances later in issue 10. They are having metatextual fun with layers of fictionality, just as Stan did every time he intruded on the story to comment on the action and tell the readers about the processes that went into making the comics.

Look at what is on Kirby's drawing board in issue 10. A goofy hackneyed cartoon villain called Funny Face that I thought was hilarious. Is our real Kirby saying something about what he found himself doing as a grown man? Is he showing the clichéd dead ends that creators like him were constantly struggling not to go down? The effort he put into taking the Fantastic Four's world seriously the rest of the time?

In any case it’s the real Jack Kirby telling us something about his everyday life, rather than a vignette of the MU analogue Kirby, who hung around Manhattan practically arm in arm with his buddy Stan Lee in various Marvel comics.

The real Kirby is a pop cultural giant that I want more insight into. The analogue fella, not so much...
Eric L. Sofer said:
(NORMAN OSBORNE IS ALIVE?!?!?)

Osborn was revived back in the 90s, to provide the Clone Saga with a conclusion.
One amusing aspect of the early FF (and other Marvels from that era): the references to Rock Hudson as every woman's dream man. Little did they know ...

Reviving this as a followup to the FF reprints thread I started a few weeks back.  I'm going to do an entire re-read of all of the Kirby issues.  I'll do my best not to get too repetitive on this thread (I know I was guilty of this on the reprints thread) .... what I'll try is a brief comment or two or each issue in this volume.

Fantastic Four #1 - One thing that jumped out at me was right on page one - Reed says "It is the first time I have found it necessary to give the signal!  I pray it will be the last!"  Talk about your throwaway lines!  There isn't anything else in the issue to refers to any reluctance to use their powers, and as we all know, the FF were true adventurers, thrill-seekers even; Mark Waid (I believe) even coined a term for them - "imaginauts".  The only thing I want to add was how much I love the panel on the last page with all of the monsters advancing.  You can tell Jack had fun with that one.

Fantastic Four #2 - There had to have been lots of adventures between FF 1 and 2 - because every member of the team is well known by the general public (wasn't there a limited series 10 or 15 years ago that did that?).  Some familiar Marvel tropes can be traced to this story: Marvel hero impersonated by a villain(s), MU public turns against hero, etc.  I mentioned in this thread before that the Thing is scary in the early issues and it's really on display here.  He's ready to take on the world, and even his teammates are discussing that they "have to" do something about the Thing, just like that nice family and Old Yeller!  Ben has the right to be angry at the world though, and it's not helped by the rest of the FF always calling him "Thing" and not "Ben".

There's lots of action and suspense here, and the Skrulls with their shape changing ability are a great addition to the MU. Shame the ending is so-o-o-o-o lame.  With all of their obvious advanced technology, they're fooled by comic book pages?

Kirby had done that "breaking the fourth wall" thing before. Way back in BOY COMMANDOS #1 (Winter'42), in the story "Satan Wears A Swastika", The Boys are believed M.I.A., and the company that publishes their adventures are real upset. Cameos in the story include Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Jack Schiff, Jack Liebowitz and Whitney Ellsworth.

I believe there was a running joke in the early F.F. comics concerning Rock Hudson. See, Sue Storm appears to be based on Doris Day. Crazy enough, the early Reed resembles Gerald Mohr, who was one of the leads n the sci-fi flick ANGRY RED PLANET, and later on, supplied the voice for Reed in the '67 F.F. cartoons series.

Fantastic Four #3 - Notable for the debut of the costumes (yup, they wore civvies in the first two issues), the Fantasti-car (the flying bathtub), and a blueprint of their headquarters (still referred to as "secret" and not named as the Baxter Building), but to me, this is the weakest of the first six issues.  .I said previously that the story doesn't work unless Miracle Man is a mutant.  Of course, at this point, the X-men and homo superior are almost two years away. What MM does in this story is just what original Brotherhood of Evil Mutant member Mastermind does: project illusions.  At the end, Reed says Miracle Man had no powers and had just hypnotized people into seeing things that weren't there.  How did that work when the FF watched some of his illusions on televison?  Without any powers how could he hypnotize the entire city?

One fun thing about this issue is the art.  There are lot of panels in the last few pages that are clearly Steve Ditko; if they're only inks (Ditko is credited as one of the inkers for the Essential, but there are no credits for this issue beyond "by Stan Lee & J. Kirby"), they overpower Kirby's pencils.

This is the first issue to end with a cliffhanger, as, after bickering with Ben throughout the issue, Johnny quits the team  ("I had all the bossin' around I can take!") and Reed worries he will turn against mankind.  It must have been torture to have to wait two months to find out what happens!

My thoughts from two years ago haven't changed upon the recent re-read:

- Issues 4, 5, and 6 are true classics. We get the first modern appearance of Namor, the first appearance of Doom, and their subsequent teaming. The Reed/Sue/Namor love triangle adds a lot of angst to the series. Doom's character is spot on from the get-go; he is chillingly evil in a way that the Silver Age Lex Luthor never was. Ben's courage in strapping a bomb to his back makes the reader want to cheer for him, maybe for the first time. These three issues, imo, are the first signs of true greatness of the series.

Similarly, I still feel that:

- The next five issues, unfortunately, are clunkers

I'll let that sit with you and comment on FF 12 later.

"Without any powers how could he hypnotize the entire city?"

This is something that got FORGOTTEN over the years with MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN.

In every story I read growing up, it was said he used "hypnotism".

But this is NOT quite true.

When I found out his origin, it turns out, MANDRAKE, just like DR. STRANGE decades later, had REAL SUPERNATURAL MAGIC powers!!!

And as it turns out, Mandrake's biggest "magic" trick was hypnotism. But it was MAGICALLY-ENHANCED hypnotism. In other words, he could hypnotize as many people as he wanted, from whatever distance.

But he put on like it was just talent he used in his stage act. He didn't want people to know he had REAL magic. (Many probably wouldn't believe it, but it was to his advantage not to let anyone know the truth.) I remember I flipped out when I found this out.

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