Sunday, April 25, 2010

Marvel Chronology- Fantastic Four v1 #1

Well, I thought it would be interesting to read through every Marvel comic in chronological order and record my thoughts on each issue, starting with the comic that heralded the beginning of the Marvel Age of comics, Fantastic Four #1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

These won’t be reviews, this isn’t scholarly analysis, this is simply my musings as I read through Marvel history.

Fantastic Four #1 is a fairly fascinating read, the view is generally that Stan and Jack completely reinvented comics with Fantastic Four #1, and the Marvel style of comics was fully born with this issue, but that’s simply not true. For example, one of the things that has always set Marvel apart from their Distinguished Competition is that Marvel’s comics are set in real world cities, unlike DC’s fictional cities, like Gotham and Metropolis. However, Fantastic Four #1 seems to take place not in New York but in “Central City.” It’ll be interesting to see how quickly in the run the setting changes to New York.

It’s also fascinating to see how much everyone hates each other at first. Marvel’s “first family” are truly a dysfunctional family to begin with. Reed and Ben are quite literally at each other’s throats, and it’s clear that the animosity between them has been brewing for some time. Ben feels that Sue is in love with the wrong man, and the fact that he holds Reed responsible for his transformation into The Thing only fuels his hatred for him.

It’s also interesting to note that our heroes at no point appear in costume throughout the entire issue. They are either in regular, civilian clothes, or in purple jump suits. The look and feel of the Fantastic Four is incredibly different to that which we’ve become accustomed to. The Thing looks very different to his classic orange, rocky form…he’s rounder, softer, almost as if he hasn’t quite set yet. The Human Torch, of course, is also very different, looking more like the original Human Torch from the thirties, then the later, more stylised version that we’re used to.
Another interesting point is that the scene that adorns the now legendary cover to Fantastic Four #1 simply doesn’t take place in the story at all. The fight with the Mole Man’s monster happens deep under the earth in the Mole Man’s lair, and not on a city street.

The structure of the story itself is also worth noting. Lee and Kirby introduce each character and their powers before going back and telling us their origin in a flash back. Personally, I feel this is where most movie adaptations of super hero comics go wrong, including the Fantastic Four movie itself. We don’t usually get to see the characters in action until well into the movie, suffering through an interminably long explanation of their origins. Wow me first, show me the heroes in action, then go back and tell me how they gained their powers (if you must), don’t make me sit through an interminable origin story before showing me the hero in action (I’m looking at you, Batman Begins). Stan and Jack get it bang on here.

Interestingly, rather than being a clean break from what had come before, Fantastic Four clearly shows itself to be a progression from the monster books that Stand and Jack has been working on before. We’re treated to a succession of giant monsters crawling out of holes to terrorise people. In many ways it is the monsters and not the drably dressed heroes who provide the visual entertainment here.

Another thing worth noting is the battle with the Mole Man and his monsters itself, which, one has to concede, is incredibly unfulfilling. To summarize, the Fantastic Four track the Mole Man to his base of operations on Monster Island, fall down a hole, are then attacked my one of the Mole Man’s monsters, and then run away. The Mole Man then, for some reason, decides to blow up his island as they flee. The team don’t use their powers to cleverly defeat the Mole Man, they simply use them to flee.

Overall there’s a real feeling that Stan and Jack are finding their feet her, they’re finding their voice. There’s a clear desire to do something new and different here, but they haven’t quite got the formula worked out yet. They’re playing it safe by including what they know works – the monsters – but they’re also trying to do super-heroes in a different way. It hasn’t quite clicked yet…but they’re on their way…

No comments: