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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What's this about a comparison of Sue to Abraham Lincoln's mother?
What most people forget (or don't know) is that, under the aegis of Lee and Kirby, Mr. Fantastic was a man of action, equally likely to throw a punch as to whip out a test tube.

If your impression is that Lee and Kirby intended to make the Human Torch the star of the book you are correct. That is why Johnny was the first to get a solo feature (Strange Tales). That he didn't become the FF's MVP is shown when the Thing (the real star of the book) joined him for his later "solo" adventures.

Personally, I like those early ST adventures... especially the ones with Kirby art. One of the earliest series I collected from issue #1 was the early '70s Human Torch reprint series, collecting one Silver Age Johnny Stprm tale and one Golden Age Jim Hammond story.
There were a lot of fans at the time who wanted Sue dropped from the team. Stan defended her in the letters pages, likening her to Lincoln's mother - support for a great man. Kind of a backwards defense.
It's easy to forget that the early 1960s were waaaay different than today in sociological terms. Even Mad Men doesn't completely portray the casual sexism of the time, because today's audiences wouldn't stand for it. But women then were expected to be no more than deferential appendages. That's why Stan's women were all "pose and point" heroines -- he was in his 40s then, and was a man of his times. It wasn't until the '70s that women could throw a punch.
Doc Beechler said:
There were a lot of fans at the time who wanted Sue dropped from the team. Stan defended her in the letters pages, likening her to Lincoln's mother - support for a great man. Kind of a backwards defense.

As I recall it wasn't exactly in the letters pages.

Essential FF vol 1 has a couple of sequences that kind of break down the fourth wall. One of them is where we see the FF answering their 'fanmail', but it is in fact the letters that were sent to Marvel comics in real life. It is Reed, not Stan who brings up Lincoln's mother in response to negative comments about Sue, and I seem to remember that Kirby has included a bust of Lincoln in the frame to highlight the point. I love the playfulness of how it was done.
Still on Lincoln's mother, I was pretty gobsmacked when I read this for the first time, but even long before I'd seen an episode of Mad Men, I kind of knew that Lee was being fairly progressive for his times, and was trying to educate his readers to appreciate the contribution of 'the fairer sex'. Obviously the complaining readership were even more mysogynistic than Stan, so he comes out well from the whole affair...

The Thing is scary, especially early on

It's probably old hat to everyone, but here is Stan's original proposal for FF#1, from the Comicbook Urban Legends Revealed site. See the 2nd of the 3 reports.

It's interesting in how he initially proposed the Thing to be secretly a villain within the group. Whether the progressive and innovative idea of making the monster a sensitive good guy on the inside was Kirby's addition, we'll never know.

It's also interesting that it only gives the plot for the first half of the comic and possibly leaves the final 10-11 pages to Kirby to come up with. Started the way he meant to go on...

There's really no way to square this story with Johnny reading a Hulk comic is issue 5, but that's a minor quibble.

There's a fantastic extended essay which I've posted on earlier, but I can't reccomend it enough. The writer uses the Watchmen movie to look at many aspects of superhero comics. The Hulk's jump from fiction - in the comic that Johnny is reading - to 'reality' when the FF fight him in the desert is one of the things he homes in on.

He sees it as another example of superhero comics reflexive embarassment at itself. In the FF comic, the Thing is legitimised because he's 'not like this stupid comicbook monster'.

Other examples are Ozymandias in the movie saying he's not a stupid comicbook villain, and the joke in the X-men movie about wearing yellow spandex, which again is the creators way of saying - 'we're nothing like those silly comics'.

The writer uses a Silver Age Supergirl story to show one where there is none of this irony or self-reflexiveness, and makes a case for it being the better for it. I think I agree with him...

Once again - highly recommended - Who Sent the Sentinels
I don't know whether it was done consciously, but the Miracle Man is an evil Mandrake the Magician.
Figserello said:
There's really no way to square this story with Johnny reading a Hulk comic is issue 5, but that's a minor quibble.
There's a fantastic extended essay which I've posted on earlier, but I can't reccomend it enough. The writer uses the Watchmen movie to look at many aspects of superhero comics. The Hulk's jump from fiction - in the comic that Johnny is reading - to 'reality' when the FF fight him in the desert is one of the things he homes in on.
He sees it as another example of superhero comics reflexive embarassment at itself. In the FF comic, the Thing is legitimised because he's 'not like this stupid comicbook monster'.

Other examples are Ozymandias in the movie saying he's not a stupid comicbook villain, and the joke in the X-men movie about wearing yellow spandex, which again is the creators way of saying - 'we're nothing like those silly comics'.

The writer uses a Silver Age Supergirl story to show one where there is none of this irony or self-reflexiveness, and makes a case for it being the better for it. I think I agree with him...


As a note to this, do let's remember that the conceit in the Marvel Universe is that there IS a Marvel Comics in it, and they publish the adventures of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, etc. (but not the Impossible Man :) ) So when Johnny is reading a Hulk comic, it is entirely within the standards of the Marvel Universe; the same way that Doom once captured Lee and Kirby to get to the FF, and the way that Stan and Jack showed up at Reed and Sue's wedding, and how the Impossible Man really did go on a rampage at Marvel Comics once, and how the Thing threatened John Byrne and Ron Wilson, and how John Byrne was brought by the Watcher to the trial of Reed Richards. There ARE comic book readers of the FF's adventures in the Marvel Universe. It was likely Stan's way of getting the Golden Age characters to make sense, and also to allow interaction between the characters and the creators without it being absolutely unreasonable.

Personally, I liked it. Although it doesn't truly make me want to see Spider-Man kick Brian Micahel Bendis' butt... still, I would buy that book... (NORMAN OSBORNE IS ALIVE?!?!?)

COROLLARY: No, this does not make me like the 9/11 "crossover" in Spider-Man. That was still stupid for stupid's sake; there's only so much crossover between worlds that will hold up to any kind of scrutiny.
Regarding Johnny reading the Hulk as a (supposedly) fictional character, way back in Captain America #1 FDR jokingly suggestes recruiting a "comic book character" (the Human Torch).
And wasn't Steve Rogers the artist of the Captain America comic for a while?
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Regarding Johnny reading the Hulk as a (supposedly) fictional character, way back in Captain America #1 FDR jokingly suggestes recruiting a "comic book character" (the Human Torch).

That's another example cited in the Sentinels essay. The joking references to 'comicbook characters' as one way to make your superhero seem 'real' goes waaaay back...

I enjoy the conceit of Marvel comics being a company within the MU too, Fogey. The comics from that company that they published back int he 90s were worth a look. Also, Slott's She-Hulk made a lot of enjoyable hay from the idea.

The 'MU Marvel Comics Co' seem to publish comics based on heroes that the public know exists, even if they would obviously have to make up a lot of the content, whereas in FF #5, it seems that the whole point of the reference to the Hulk comic was that he was fictional.

It was early days and things were still fitting into place. Nothing was written in stone back than...

In Ultimate Spider-man Team-up, that Spider-man met BMB in the Marvel bullpen, but rather than kicking his butt, saved the much maligned writer from eradication at the hands of the Skrulls. But then that was the Ultimate BMB, who probably isn't as downright evil as our Bendis.
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.)

Back circa #220-230, there was a scene in which Steve Rogers took a bus ride and sat next to a little boy reading a comic book. When Cap asked if he was enjoying it, the boy replied, "Gene Colan back on Daredevil? Yeah!" When he asked a follow-up question, "What about Captain America?" the boy replied, "That old fogey?" sending Cap into one of his reveries.

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.

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