Monday, April 26, 2010

Marvel Chronology - Fantastic Four v1 #2

Wow, things really kick off in this issue, which has continued to have ramifications right up until the present day in the Marvel Universe, tying in to such epic Marvel moments as the Kree/Skrull War and, of course, Secret Invasion.

Stan and Jack show a nice flash of genius by opening up the issue with the Fantastic Four on something of a criminal rampage. From the point of view of reading this in 2010 it’s obvious that something is up…doppelgangers or maybe mind control…but this was only the second issue, and for all the readers at the time knew, this was the direction the characters were going to go in. However, of course, it’s quickly revealed that this isn’t the FF at all; it’s a group of shape shifting aliens called Skrulls. The Skrulls have possibly been the most significant alien race in the Marvel Universe, with only the Kree and the Shi’ar coming close to matching their importance.

This issue also reveals that the Fantastic Four have a flagrant disregard for the rule of law. When wrongly arrested for the crimes that the Skrulls have committed in their name, our four heroes think nothing of immediately breaking free, rather than trusting in the justice system to clear their name. Of course, it would make for a rubbish story if they were just content to remain in their cells, but it’s interesting that this moral quandary doesn’t trouble any of them for even a moment.

So, you like Deadpool? You like all that quirky meta-textual stuff? Well, Stan and Jack were doing that right here in the second issue of Fantastic Four. Mr Fantastic uses panels clipped from contemporary Marvel monster titles, Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery to trick the leader of the Skrull invasion force, establishing that Marvel Comics exists within its own fictional universe. This is an in-joke that we’ll see returned to again and again, and which was used to great effect by Peter David in the recent She-Hulk series.

This issue also sees the bond between the four main characters begin to deepen. While The Thing continues to express anger and frustration at his transformation, which leads to conflict within the group, we do see both Reed and Johnny express a deeper level of understanding when it comes to the emotional pain that Ben is feeling. Jack Kirby’s art really shines in the issues most poignant moment – after a second trip through the cosmic rays that bombard the Earth, Ben reverts temporarily to his human form. Kirby’s portrayal of his transformation back into The Thing is incredibly touching, and there is a very tangible sense of sadness and pathos, particularly in the final panel of the sequence, where Ben looks utterly defeated.

Still no costumes, and Johnny still looks like the golden age Human Torch, but this issue shows a big step towards that special formula that made Marvel such a revolutionary force in comics.

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