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.
Nor really my very first issue of the FF, but the first in my collection started after my family had moved from Long Beach, CA, to Salt Lake City, UT, during which my dad had thrown out all of the comics I had previously collected, which I remember had included issue #84. My intro to the FF's origin.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
According to "My First Fifteen," Fantastic Four was my 16th comic overall. (I ended up going a bit beyond 15.) It was my fifth Marvel comic, but my very first issue of Fantastic Four. I've always been pleased that this was my first. Not only was it a great jumping-on point (retelling, as it does, the first issue), it just so happens to be the first issue written by Roy Thomas (the third person ever to script the FF after Stan Lee and Archie Goodwin). I didn't know at the time that the cover was an homage (the first of many) to the cover of that first issue. (It was to be another two years before I read the actual first issue reprinted in Stan Lee's Origins of Marvel Comics.
#126 recaps a bit of the Mole Man story from #88-90, which gives the Thing the idea to seek him out in hope of finding a cure for Alica's blindness. As it happened, I acquired a copy of #88 early on as a backissue, but it would be years until I read the rest of the stories begun in #88 and #126.
Three or four years after I got FF #126, I got the "Power Records" version, a slightly abridged version of the comic itself with a dramatization on a 45 r.p.m. vinyl single. I had several of these, including all of the Planet of the Apes movie ones, before Marvel Comics had adapted them all. The Human Torch is voiced by Peter Fernandez (Speed Racer). I don't know who voices the Thing, but it's the best voice ever and still the one I hear in my head when I read FF.
Here's a link to the audio/visual of Power Records FF #126. I hope you enjoy it. (The audio begins about 25 seconds in.)
Moving on to MMW v13 (#131-141), Roy Thomas gives way to Gerry Conway. Conway was only 20 years old at the time, but already also writing Thor and Spider-Man. John Buscema continues to pencil, except for two guest fill-ins by Ross Andru and Ramona Fradon; all are inked by Joltin' Joe Sinnott. It is around this time that the word "comix" was substituted for "comics" in "The World's Greatest Comics Magazine," but it didn't take.
In #129, Johnny leaves the FF to join Crystal in the Great Refuge. there are signs that Reed and Sue's marriage is heading for a rough patch. Meanwhile, the thing, walking by a construction site, is attacked by the Frightful Four. Former Member Medusa is also there, but she fights alongside the thing. (We won't learn until #131 that she's in NYC to ask Reed Richard's advice on some earthquakes that have been plaguing the Great refuge of late.) The Frightful Four have another distaff member, however, a seven-foot-tall warrior woman named Thundra.
In #130, the Thing and Medusa are defeated. Johnny runs into some (as yet unrevealded) trouble in the Great refuge as the Inhumans refuse to let him see Crystal... at least not without talking to him first. Johnny, being his usual hotheaded self, refuses. Sue has gone to Whisper Hill to pick up Franklin; Reed was "too busy" to accompany her. the Frightful Four, with the unconscious Thing and Medusa in tow, attack Mr. Fantastic at the Baxter Building. By the time they defeat Reed, Sue has returned with Franklin. They defeat her as well, but Franklin (apparently telepathically) awakens Ben, who revives Reed, who revives Sue and Medusa. Rather than accepting Sue as part of the team and allowing her to fight, he orders her to take Franklin to safety. After the Frightful Four are routed, Sue quits the team in a huff, and Reed is happy to see her go.
Ross Andru guests in #131 in which it is revealed that, following her appearance in Fantastic Four #118, Crystal rescued the mutant Avenger Quicksilver from #104 of that title, before returning with him to the Great Refuge and falling in love with him. (This development bolstered Marvel's "sahred universe" concept, because his disappearance had been until now a mystery.) Before this love triangle can be resolved, the Alpha Primatives (the Inhumans' slave race) revolts. fighting on the Alpha Primatives' side is a giant called Omega, who captures Crystal and threatens her, forcing Johnny and Pietro to obey his orders.
The civil war unfolds in #132, with Reed and the thjing fighting on the side of the Inhumans, Johnny and Pietro on the side of the Alpha Primatives. To make a long story short, Reed determines that a supposedly "harmless" perpetual motion device belonging to Maximus the Mad is what's powering Omega. The device runs on the Inhumans' collective guilt for having created a slave race in the first place. In the epilogue, as the only reward they will accept, the FF are given new uniforms. Reed and Ben keep the original designs, but Johnny chooses a red one with yellow highlights such as the one worm by the original Human Torch. Medusa also joins the FF at this point as Sue's replacement; her uniform is purple with the "4" logo on the belt buckle. Finally, Crystal makes the biggest mistake of her life and chooses Pietro over Johnny, who chokes up as tears well in his eyes, but otherwise takes it like a man. Having just read a lengthy run of Green Lantern last year, I can't help but compare Johnny's reaction to being dumped to Hal Jordan's.
#133: Art this issue by Ramona Fradon. I first bought this as a backissue because I thought it was the first appearance of Thundra, but it's not. the story opens in times Square on New Year's Eve of 1973. The Fantastic Four (plus Alicia) are there in their civilian identities. Thundra appears and challenges the Thing to a fight at Shea Stadium in three days, then kidnaps Alicia to force him to show. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man and Luke Cage all appears in cameo.
When the day arrives, Thundra throws the thing from the stadium as soon as the match begins (to the consternation of the crowd, who paid $10 per seat). their fight continues in Flushing Meadow Park, the site of the 1964-65 World's Fair. The Thing is on the verge of losing when Mr. Fantastic zaps him with a ray which causes him to temporarily revert to Ben Grimm. Thundra loses interest in the battles at that point and leaves. Her motives for wanting to fight the Thing in the first place have still not been made clear.
Thundra is evidently an imitation of Big Barda, as Thanos was of Darkseid. It's not the most horrible thing in the world to have done, but I think imitating Kirby's DC work like that wasn't right.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
It is around this time that the word "comix" was substituted for "comics" in "The World's Greatest Comics Magazine," but it didn't take.
I never knew they did that!
"I never knew they did that!"
Roy Thomas: "Half of the time when I ponder that question, I think it was my own hare-brained idea. The rest of the time I remember it as a brilliant brainchild of Stan's that didn't quite pan out. the rationale for the change, of course, was the growing popularity of 'underground comix' by Crumb, shelton, et al., which had gotten perhaps at least a part of their original impetus from the fact that the other media were taking comic books just a wee bit more seriously in the past few years, since the rise of Marvel. for a time, it seemed to Stan and me that the spelling 'comix' might very well be destined to supplant 'comics.' and we thought that might be a good thing, after all those complaints from self-appointed critics over the years that 'comics [= comic books] aren't really funny,; to lose the original spelling and its kiddie connotations. We dared hope that together we and the undergrounders might pioneer this new word: 'comics'."
#134-135: Gerry Conway continues to fill-in for Roy Thomas (at this point, Conway's status as "replacement" is not yet permanent) by bringing back some characters from his fan days: Gregory Gideon and Dragon Man. In my favorite sequence (from #134), the newly dumped Johnny pays a visit to Dorrie Evans, his old flame, only to find her married with two kids. I personally have never made the mistake of trying to rekindle an old romance, but I've witnessed it often enough to know it rarely works out. In #135, circumstances bring Sue and Franklin in contact with the team (albeit while Reed is unconscious). Ben and Johnny start to celebrate, but Sue points out that nothing has changed, and asks them not to let Reed know she was there. Maybe this Conway kid is more mature than I thought.
At one point, Stan wanted the books to be called "Marvels". As in "The new Marvels are in!" or "I'm reading my Marvels."
#136-137: Roy Thomas returned with #136... at least, that was his intention. A wave of nostalgia for the 1950s was sweeping the country at the time, and Thomas was caught up in it as well. He plotted a story in which the Shaper of Worlds restructured reality, then he found that his new duties as editor in chief kept him to busy to finish it, so he turned the scripting over to Gerry Conway. Despite having "only" been born in 1952, Conway wrote the conclusion in #137 without missing a beat.
The Wild Ones are named for The Wild One, a 1953 biker movie starring Marlon Brando. The costumes of the patriots look based on that of a Quality hero called Wonder Boy. He debuted in National Comics #1 in 1940, so he predated Bucky.
The "invisible man" lines in the two issues are evidently references to Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man. The end of #136 seems to be setting up a fight between the heroes that didn't happen because of the change of plotters.
Scott Shaw noted the monster in #137 is apparently a homage to Robot Monster (1953). That might mean the castle at the issue's start is a reference to 1950s costume adventures. (The monster's size might be an oblique reference to 1950s monster movies, or Marvel's monster comics; but of course it also recalls King Kong.)
The first part satirises the HUAC investigations of Communism. Thomas had already done this in the Kree/Skrull War story in Avengers. The booths are a reference to 1950s quiz shows. The McHammer name is obviously supposed to suggest Senator McCarthy's.
The "you just can't go home again" line in #137 is probably a reference to Thomas Wolfe's novel You Can't Go Home Again.
The storming of the castle recalls the storming of Doom's in Fantastic Four #87. I think it's a homage, as Conway referenced that issue again later. Since the patriots' costumes come from the 1940s it might be a mistake to look only for 1950s references, so if Conway had a specific movie in mind it may have been The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). But there's also knights-and-castles stuff in the Galactus/Counter-Earth story; perhaps John Buscema liked drawing it.
Philip Portelli said:
In the two weeks that Roy Thomas worked as Mort Weisinger's assistant, he wrote the lead story for Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #91 (Ma'66) which also dealt juvenile delinquent bikers!
That's another thing I didn't know!
Roy Thomas on his sources: "I made the theme of the next story arc the 1950s, the decade when I was a teenager--and wherein the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean and Elvis Presley were re-shaping the image of what a young person could or should be (and look) like. the Brando-starring motorcycle pic The Wild One was of course the inspiration for Wildman, leather jacket and all--and my title for the first part, 'Rock Aropund the Cosmos,' reflected the xcitement that I, and everyone I knew, had felt in 1955 when we first heard Bill Haley and the Comets perform the song 'Rock Around the Clock' in the movie Blackboard Jungle. From the early '50s through James Dean's three flicks (especially Rebel Without a Cause) through Elvis debiting with 'Heatbreak Hotel' in early 1965--that's when it all came together (or fell apart, depending on how you looked at it) for teenagers, and for American society. Of course, the (not unjustified) fear of Communism and of nuclear war had played a lerge part in that decade as well--so enter Warhead."
"...it might be a mistake to look only for 1950s references..."
Indeed. One of Conway's opening captions of #137 described "A world lost in time, as well as place, forever locked in the fifth decade of the twentieth century." (The "fifth decade of the twentieth century" would be the 1940s.)