I just can’t get those two Fantastic Four movies out of my system. The two Tim Story flicks just did not do those great characters justice. Trying to put just how and why into words, though, has been tricky, and because of that I’ve irked many fans of the movies.
So let’s go back — all the way back and reread the comics from the start. Let’s all rediscover what makes the fantastic four so Fantastic.
I’ll break issues down as such:
Unstable Molecules: Mr. Fantastic’s most memorable moment in the issue, whether it is due to his stretching powers or his unending genius.
Fade Out: The Invisible Girl’s most memorable moment, either her invisibility powers, or her role as the heart of the group.
Clobberin’ Time: The Thing’s most memorable scene, which could be due to his awesome strength, or his contradictory nature as both misunderstood monster and wisecracking New Yorker.
Flame On: The Human Torch’s most memorable scene, either by use of his fire-based powers, or his fun-loving and sometimes short-tempered personality.
Trivia Time: Random comic facts gleaned from each issue.
Fantastic or Frightful: Final thoughts on each issue.
Time to go all the back to issue number one.
Here it is, the very first issue of Fantastic Four. It covers a lot of ground, as we get to know our heroes, learn their origin, and then join them on a monster-fightin’ encounter with the Mole Man.
The splash page is interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, the title “Fantastic Four” is more than just lettering, but actual words skywritten over the city by one of Reed’s devices. Also, we get headshots of our four heroes, introduced by their real names. We don’t get their superhero names until later.
From there, we get something that’s going to be familiar throughout a lot of these early issues – some excuse for the characters to show off their powers for a few pages before the plot starts. This time, our heroes see the words in the sky and respond, making their way from various spots around town to their headquarters. Sue is shopping, turns invisible, and messes with people as she does so. Ben, coincidentally, is also shopping, in disguise beneath a huge trenchcoat. People get a look at him, freak out thinking he’s a monster, and chase him through the city. It’s even worse for Johnny, who goes from working on a hot rod in a garage to being chased over the skies in the city by the air force (!) when all he’s trying to do is get to the meeting. He’s saved by Reed, conveniently using his powers.
Our four reunited, we get a flashback to the origin. Reed had designed and built a spaceship and is feeling the pressure to get into the stars soon. As Sue points out, “We’ve got to take the chance, unless we want the commies to beat us!” Ben doesn’t want to fly the ship, because he’s concerned about the cosmic rays, but he does a 180 after Sue calls him a coward. The four break into the base and sneak onto the ship (I was so looking forward to this scene in the movie, but no luck). As Ben feared, the cosmic rays kick in, cause the ship to crash and giving everyone their powers.
Here’s what’s interesting: Ben is actually right, and Reed is wrong. This leads to the ship crashing and Ben becoming a monster. Then, when Reed marvels at their new powers, it’s not him but Ben who says they should use their powers to help mankind. In this sense, some might argue that the Tim Story movie is accurate in having Reed always screw up and make mistakes. As we’ll see, though, Reed takes more of an active heroic role in what is to follow.
Back to the present, Reed exposits how energy plants around the globe are being destroyed. We even see one go down, courtesy of a giant green monster. Reed deduces that the source of the attacks is the mythical “MonsterIsland.” The four travel there on their private jet, where they’re immediately attacked by a three-headed monster. This is where Jack Kirby’s art really shines in this issue, with the wild-looking creatures. Reed and Johnny are separated from Sue and Ben. Underground, Reed and Johnny meet the Mole Man, learning that the villain retired toMonsterIslandbecause he was too ugly to get a job or a girlfriend. We’ve all been there, bro. A funny scene has the Mole Man taking down Johnny in hand-to-hand combat, demonstrating his awesome moves. We don’t see this side of him very often in later encounters. Sue and Ben, meanwhile, roam the surface, fighting more monsters.
Things end abruptly, as the Mole Man tries to summon more monsters to attack our heroes, but Johnny stops them by using his flames to cause a rock slide (?). The four escape, wondering if the Mole Man survived. You can just tell Stan and Jack had reached the final two pages and had to scramble to come with an ending at the last minute.
Unstable molecules: Reed turns his arm into a lasso to stop a monster, and he forms himself into a parachute shape to lower Johnny to safety (wait… why isn’t Johnny just flying?)
Fade out: Sue turns invisible to confuse a monster as it attacks.
Clobberin’ Time: Ben has a short but great fight with a rock monster, ending with him tossing it into the ocean.
Flame on: Aside from somehow causing a rock slide on the last page, Johnny doesn’t do a whole lot, and mostly screws things up (Whatever happened to those air force pilots chasing him? Did they just give up?) Johnny’s more like the other three’s sidekick in this first issue.
Trivia Time: According to one of the cops pursuing Ben, this isn’tNew York, but “Central City.” No, I don’t know where the Flash is during all this.
Fantastic or Frightful? Everyone loves to go on about how these silver age comics pack a ton of story into each issue. This one, though, bites off a little more than it can chew. The big deal about this issue is that it takes a long time introducing us to our heroes and their origin, which is good, but then it leaves us with a rushed, abrupt ending, with half the action described in captions. Now that the introductions are over, though, the real fun can begin.
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