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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Fantastic Four #13 - The Watcher is meant to be a cool cosmic concept, but even here in his debut he can't seem to grasp the concept of his own vow "I only observe, never interfere". A hypocrite from Day One!

It always seems to me that the Watcher, like the Silver Surfer, didn't care what happened to anyone until he met Earthmen, which is when he fell in love. Just like Hal Jordan is "the greatest Green Lantern", apparently because he's from Earth.

Stan Lee's dialogue really beats you over the head with how evil the Commies are, and just in case you don't get it, he has Sue expressing sympathy for the Super Apes who are "like the Communist masses, enslaved by their evil leaders!". Simply hilarious through today's lens, but I'm sure everybody ate it up back then.

I always find it mildly irritating that today's fans of comics and movies don't get just how bad the Communist governments were. It wasn't all empty-headed McCarthyism. The remaining ones have varying degrees of oppression (as do many non-Communist ones). Now that a group can openly demonstrate against government actions in China without being shot down en mass doesn't mean it was always this way. If the West hadn't stood up against the USSR there would really have been a WW III. If the threat of nuclear war hadn't been there as a deterrent we would have had another conventional world war with another 40 million dead.

Fantastic Four #15 - While the Puppet Master bores me to tears, I get a kick out of the Mad Thinker.

I always enjoyed both of these villains. This may be because I "met" them in my early teens and just took them at face value. The think that you have a point with the Thinker. His ego either makes him believe he is infallible or he just wants the listener to believe it and be despirited. I remember years later a writer had him call HIMSELF the "Mad Thinker". He always called himself just the Thinker, like Maximus didn't call himself "Maximus the Mad". The one that was overlooked for years was The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Odd, because they didn't think they were evil. Very few evil people do.

I like the Mad Thinker as well.  I think it's because I love these cocky "BWA-HA-HA" type of villains, especially the ones that are really smart but never seem to learn that they aren't going to win.

Puppet Master has a certain creepiness that I like, but I do think he's been overused over the years.

Richard Willis:
"I always find it mildly irritating that today's fans of comics and movies don't get just how bad the Communist governments were. It wasn't all empty-headed McCarthyism. The remaining ones have varying degrees of oppression (as do many non-Communist ones). Now that a group can openly demonstrate against government actions in China without being shot down en mass doesn't mean it was always this way. If the West hadn't stood up against the USSR there would really have been a WW III. If the threat of nuclear war hadn't been there as a deterrent we would have had another conventional world war with another 40 million dead."

2 movies I'd reccomend to put across the real HORROR of the Bolsheviks:

1- DR. ZHIVAGO -- one of the most DEPRESSING movies I've ever sat thru. You see the completely pointless self-destruction of one of the biggest countries on the planet, in the name of a political and social idiology, but the truth is, it was realy a gang or ruthless MURDEROUS gangsters seeking absolute power at all costs, so they could rape and steal and lord it over everyone else at will. Ever since I read the issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC that spotlighted the Soviet Union (which came out shortly after restrictions on journalism were loosened), I've come to the belief that Soviet Communism was the biggest con-job ever pull on humanity.

2- JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG -- the best scene in the film is when the man who has the most impossible, thankless job imaginable-- the defense attourney who stands as advocate for the one charged with crimes against humanity-- in sheer frustration, gets up in front of the Tribunal and starts talking about what really went on in Germany in the early 1930's. The German people voted Hitler into power, to a large extent, because they were TERRIFIED of Stalin!!! Little did they know they set a deranged sociopath in a position where he wound up doing almost as much damage. (On a percentage basis, Hitler's Germany may have suffered more destruction and death than Stalin's Russia... but Stalin did most of the killings of Russians HIMSELF. Stalin actually made Hitler seem like an amateur.)
Kirk G:
"I never particularly cared for the Mad Thinker. I thought he was a one-shot in FF #15 and that his android was the star of that production. The fact that he teamed up with the Puppet Master (another lameo) puzzled me no end."

2 losers together? (Kinda like Wizard & Paste Pot Pete over in the HUMAN TORCH series.)

"I remember buying the FF #68-71 four parter as it came out and trying to piece together an image of the villan from Kirby's tight shots of his eyes, mouth, mustashe, etc... and frankly, I was betting on the Wizard...having not made the connection that the plot was EXACTLY the same as less than 3 years earlier in the same title (#41-43). Personally, I thought the left turn when he unveiled to be the Thinker was a mean trick, and there were no clues prior to that except that there were faceless androids guarding the kidnapped doctor. "

The 2nd FF comics I ever had was #71-- which was my first exposure to JOE SINNOTT!! I never even got to see The Mad Thinker in part 4, and for some years knew him mainly by his reputation. He seemed to me, at least in that story, as one of the FF's most dangerous villains, to come that close to killing all of them, even though he was already out of the action!

"So, I wasn't very pleased by that outing, which I considered to be the beginning of the decline for the Fantastic Four title."

Before SILVER SURFER #1 really pissed Jack off, the 2-parter with "Him" really incensed him. It has been suggested that the story was intended as a 4-parter, since Jack was doing so many 4-parters at the time. But when part 1 came out, Stan's dialogue had COMPLETELY changed and reinterpreted and distorted and mutilated Jack's story... and it has been suggested that he brought it to an abrupt ending at the end of part 2.

I have heard that this incident was what made Kirby decided he wasn't going to give Marvel any new characters, since the ones he was coming up with were being taken out of his control.

It is very noticeable that the very next story in FF was the 4-part Mad Thinker-Android story. I did a lengthy r eview of it online a few years ago, in which (if memory serves), I described it as possible the greatest "grudge match" story in 60's Marvel history. Everything about the story is a retread-- and as you noted, it's not just The Mad Thinker & Android being brought back, but, the "Wizard brainwashes Ben and turns him into a killer" story that's being done again. I suppose doing virtually the same story with a different villain gave it a bit of novelty. I just happen to think that the way it was done was so SPECTACULAR, so exciting, so DESPERATE (see the way Reed genuinely tries to KILL Ben in part 4 when he believes there is no longer any hope), I remain very impressed. The non-stop action in part 4, especially, is like the last half-hour of a 2-hour action film.

Incidentally, if you look at the 2nd "Him" story-- the one in THOR-- you have "Him" deciding to make Sif his mate, and Thor going TOTALLY berserk with "warrior madness" (something never seen bfore or since). Now... think about this... wouldn't this have made much more sense if it had been Ben going berserk about Alicia (something we HAD seen already, specifically in the issue where he tries to beat up the Surfer)? I strongly suspect that THOR 2-parter was essentially the 2nd HALF of the intended FF 4-parter, retooled for the other book (and not really making as much sense).

And here I thought your second movie nomination was going to be "Reds" with Warren Beaty, Jack Nickolson and Diane Keaton.

I think the main difference between Stalin and Hitler was, Stalin was a murderous criminal sociopath, and Hitler was an INSANE murderous sociopath. Or, Stalin was out for Money & power, money & power, and money & power (as a certain cartoon villain once put it), while Hitler was out for revenge against the entire human race.

And as a total non-sequitur, this brings to mind a scene from an old favorite TV show of mine...

"Should I tear you apart with my bare hands, or run you over with my bike?"

And worse yet, Hitler started suffering from Parkinsons Disease... but it was hidden from the public, cameras and anyone but his closest circle. Some of the evidence is the over-use of one hand when it would be more logical to use the other (seen in a few newsreel clips), trembling in the unused hand, and most important of all...intractable thinking (once he had a thought or set a course of action, the inability to process new or contradictory information from his generals or staff, and so, unable to change course or direction.  This doomed Germany under him and made loosing the war a certianity after a while.)

The prevailing opinion today is that Khrushchev didn't want war. Reportedly Khrushchev was quite prepared to nuke New York and Washington if the U.S. invaded or bombed Cuba regarding the missiles there. The fact is that there were powerful people on both sides that wanted war. What's important is that cooler heads are in charge.

I remember SEEING that image in the comics. 
Not only is a fat, balding man refered to as "Commrad K", (probably in Iron Man)

but he is also seen pounding his shoe on the desk in at least one or two scenes.

(One might be when the Submariner adresses the U.N. in FF Annual #1...

the other might either be in Ant-Man or in Iron Man or maybe even in The Hulk.)

"This doomed Germany under him and made loosing the war a certianity after a while.)"

It's been suggested by some that the world was actually very LUCKY that Hitler was as much of a madman (albeit a dangerous one), as, if he's been more competent, he mioght have won the war.

A favorite scene of mine in the film THE LONGEST DAY focuses on the German General played by Curt Jurgens. In sheer frustration, he comments to one of his subordinates... "We are going to LOSE the war... because the Fuhrer cannot be woken up from his nap!"

Many German officers saw the stupidity and futility of the war, but followed orders out of habit, or national loyalty, or simply because they had no other choice, except death.

My Dad always loved HOGAN'S HEROES. Dad very briefly was assigned duty as prisoner guard on a POW camp (with German prisoners!) shortly after the war in Europe ended. He often said to me that the TV show accurately depicted the stark difference between "Gestapo" (fanatical Nazis) and "regular Germans" (which included Schultz, Klink, and EVEN Burkhalter). It really is a fascinating character study to compare the main German characters on that show.

I loved it when it was revealed that, before the war, Schultz was the OWNER of Germany's largest toy factory. (He was such a NICE guy!)

Dad was a bit older than many draftees.  He got several deferments to look after his parents, but eventually, they got "desperate" enough to draft even him. He spent a year or so down in Florida, but eventually was shipped over to France.  I believe he always felt very lucky-- he arrived shortly AFTER the fighting had ceased!  He started out as a POW guard, then was transferred to "supply". This makes me smile when I think about it, because the army is often notorious for assigning people jobs they have no leanings toward. But in his case, before he was drafted, my Dad had worked at a supermarket-- I believe he was in line for promotion to assistant manager or something. Dad also related to the "supply" stuff going on in some episodes of M*A*S*H.  He was always the naive straight-arrow, but in both the supermarket AND the army, he was often told to "look the other way" at certain irregularities.  (This would be the kind I hear they DON'T allow nowadays... at least, that's what they say...)  Apparently, any scenes on M*A*S*H involving black market activities were inspired by real life.

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