They’re the first family of Marvel comics, they’ve saved the earth more times than I’ve sworn I was never going to drink again, and in general, I avoid their books without more than a passing moment of consideration. I’ve tried to read Fantastic Four comics. I’d even go so far as to say I want to read more Fantastic Four. The problem is, I can’t seem to force myself to read more than one or two issues each year, and as a result, I just don’t read or follow the Fantastic Four.
However, I’m now going to tell you why every comic book fan out there needs to read Fantastic Four #1.
When the creative team of James Robinson and Leonard Kirk roll out their brand new take on the Fantastic Four later this month, I’ll bring home a copy… but that’s not the book I’m going to try and convince you to read. For today’s recommended reading, you’ll need to go back to 1961 and have several thousand dollars of disposable cash if you want to bring home an original copy to read.
Listeners to the Graphic Novice podcast (you have our thanks and more often than not our apologies) may or may not be familiar with the “Back Issue Review” segment of the show. In addition to our astoundingly informative reviews of more current books, we plan on going back to the beginning of the Marvel Age (1961) and reading (for the first time) some of the key books that shaped the Marvel universe. It provides us the opportunity to experience some of the landmark moments of comic history together and discuss the books in the order they were published in.
Excited? I’m sure you are. So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when my two esteemed co-hosts asked me to bump the inaugural “Back Issue Review” from Episode 5. I can only imagine the void this absence has left in the hearts and souls of our faithful listeners (Hi Doc’s Mom).
Once the shock wore off, I was left to wonder if perhaps I had I should have sold this segment better to our Graphic Novice team. Were they perhaps unaware of the significance of both the segment and the book that I planned to start off with? Did they not understand the buzz this segment was getting all over the interweb? Was this a decision by our Executive Producer Fred, that I had not yet been made aware of? Perhaps my co-hosts were worried that the “Back Issue Review” star would shine too bright, thereby leaving them in the shadows? As the best looking member of our team, I’m no stranger to professional jealousy, but I would hope that we could all put that aside for the betterment of our podcast.
“Back Issue Review: A Novice Comic Fan’s Journey Back in Time to Witness the Formation of the Marvel Universe”. It obviously sells itself! So let us instead focus our attention on the book that’s going to get everything rolling, just like it did 53 years ago… In honor of the number that appears on our protagonists’ uniforms, here are four fantastic reasons to find a copy of Fantastic Four #1 from 1961, and read along with us next episode.
In 1938 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. While it would be difficult to find a more important event in comic book history, the release of Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 would have to be in the conversation.
The superhero genre was forever changed by the release of the Fantastic Four, and it could be argued that the prominence of superheroes in today’s pop culture can be traced back to this one monumental issue. The Fantastic Four of the early 1960’s would drastically alter the direction of superhero comics, as readers were introduced to real world heroes that had to cope with the downfalls of their superpowers along with the same kind of problems we all have to deal with every day. While we don’t all have to deal with super stretchy appendages (keep it clean), we’ve all probably gotten into trouble at one time or another for working late and/or neglecting our significant others.
The people who picked up issues of the Fantastic Four in the 1960’s were introduced to super heroes that didn’t always get along, behave perfectly, or win the affections of the public they were trying to help. Comic fans were given heroes they could relate to, rather than a stream of picture-perfect super-beings. This may not seem as monumental today, but in 1961 this was a drastic departure from the status quo.
The success of the series forced other comics to follow its lead, and while DC was still the top dog coming into the 60’s, the Fantastic Four would play a significant role in spearheading Marvel’s eventual rise to prominence.
Despite the effect that the Fantastic Four would have on the way superhero comics were written, it is behind the scenes where our featured book has left its most lasting mark. If Stan Lee really wanted out of the comic business in 1961 as is reported, the success of Fantastic Four #1 may have saved Marvel Comics. Even his biggest detractors cannot argue that Marvel would not be Marvel without Stan Lee, and we would have likely been denied a large number of the comic book characters we grew up with.
This book offers a chance to witness the birth of the modern super hero, and super hero team. It’s a chance to get in on the Marvel Universe at the ground floor, and watch both the universe, and the entire comic book industry evolve. Fantastic Four #1 is an origin story for both the four members of the team, and for superhero comics in general.
The Creative Team
Are there two more iconic comic book creators than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? People who have never read a single comic book know who Stan Lee is, and I’m not sure there is a name that gets more respect amongst the comic book creators of today than Jack Kirby. While Fantastic Four #1 isn’t technically their first collaboration, it was the book that fuelled all the future work they did together. This is the dynamic duo that brought us The X-Men, The Avengers, and individually played some part in the creation of just about every Marvel character in the silver age. Some might argue that the dialogue hasn’t stood the test of time, or that comic book art has evolved, but there is still something wonderful about reading Stan Lee’s dialog, and looking at Jack Kirby’s art. The words and art might be from a different era, but the stories are just as immersive and engaging as anything you will read today.
If neither the historical significance of this book nor the chance to read an early Lee & Kirby appeals to you, then it might be a difficult task convincing you to read this book. But much like Steve Rogers trying to get into the army before he was Captain America, I’m going to keep trying.
Fantastic Four #1 is the book that launched what Stan Lee named the “Marvel Age”, and represents arguably the most important moment of the Silver Age of comics. Of course, there was no way to know this back in November of 1961 but Looking back and knowing what happened in the years to follow makes it that much more interesting today.
People were reading about the Fantastic Four travelling into space and being bombarded by “cosmic rays” in the same year the Soviet Union put the first man in space.
People were watching Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Andy Griffith on black and white television sets while paying $0.27/gallon to put fuel in their vehicles.
Over in the UK, the east farthing coin would cease to be accepted as legal tender after a solid 600 year run. (I think I speak for all of us when I say we’d live in a better world if we could still toss a few east farthings around at the local pub.)
And for 10 cents, your parents or grandparents might have bought a copy of a book that could be worth more than your car today.
If I havent pulled on some nostalgic heartstrings as of yet, I could direct your attention to Ben Grimm’s splendid green plaid sport coat. Its fantastic, and it appears in one of best origin story moments of all time… I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that back in 1961 calling someone a coward obviously got a lot bigger reaction than it would today.
“And as for me– I am the Moleman”
Fans of the Moleman must be a little annoyed that the first appearance of their beloved supervillain is overshadowed by the Fantastic Four. While single-issue villains came and went in the the 1960’s, the Moleman and his super-cool glasses persevered, appearing in comics across the entire Marvel line-up.
He’s the Daredevil of the underground world, with heightened senses that allowed him to beat Reed Richards in hand to hand combat, his genius is hundreds of years ahead of the technology of our time, and best of all, he has a horde of awesome underground monsters to do his bidding.
Proving that he was more than just a super-villain, he has even spent some time assisting superheroes, but I think it’s safe to say that his heart was always bent towards world domination.
The Moleman has fought everyone from the Fantastic Four and the X-Men to my beloved West Coast Avengers. And while his attempts at ruling the surface world have been thwarted thus far, I have a feeling that if he sticks with it, we might all be subjects of a groovy little dictator with cool glasses and a posse of multi-colored monsters one day.
So hop online, or head out to your local comic shop and pick up a copy of Fantastic Four #1. You can find it through the Marvel app on your tablet, in a Masterworks collection, an oversized Omnibus, or if I’ve really sold you on it, there’s a medium grade copy on ebay, going for just under $10,000.00 right now. Whether it’s to read the first appearance of the Moleman, or check out the historical work of “King Kirby” and “Stan the Man”, you won’t regret this purchase.
Check out our “Back Issue Review” featuring Fantastic Four #1 in Episode 6 of the Graphic Novice Comic Book Podcast: The Least Informed Comic Book Podcast Available.