Today, my journey through Marvel’s most iconic first issues takes me to 1961, which saw the debut of Marvel’s first family with The Fantastic Four #1.
The Fantastic Four #1 is, of course, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. While The Avengers #1, last Marvel debut I covered, brought together Earth’s mightiest heroes as a team for the first time, this issue does something equally incredible. Lee and Kirby introduce an already-formed super team of family and friends consisting of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing. It’s a shame that Hollywood hasn’t been able to get this team right, because everything is already there. The FF members have interesting and complementary powers, of course, but the most interesting thing is that from square one, Lee and Kirby set their focus on the relationships between these characters. Like any family, there is tension and in-fighting that seems to boil to the surface during their superheroic battles, and the conflicts here – such as the Thing’s rivalry, jealousy, and resentment toward Mr. Fantastic – aren’t rooted in their conflicts with villains and monsters, but rather punctuated by them.
The issue starts with Reed Richards essentially giving his form of the Bat-Signal in Central City, releasing a gas into the sky that forms the words “The Fantastic Four,” later morphing into the iconic 4 symbol. What follows is by far the coolest and funniest part of the issue, as we watch four civilians transform into superheroes in the middle of their days. What’s a little weird here is how little they seem to care about causing chaos or shocking the people they’re around by revealing their powers, but still, I got a kick out of it. Sue Storm turns invisible right in front of her friend and hops into a confused cab driver’s car Ben Grimm throws off his coat in the middle of a store to reveal his rocky body before lumbering through town and unintentionally destroying… well, everything. Johnny Storm, Sue’s brother, becomes the Human Torch and ends up melting some aircrafts, only to be saved by Richards, who shows his power by stretching his limbs to save Johnny from certain death. Hell of a way to introduce the team!
Once they’re assembled – for lack of a better term – we get the backstory on the team, and how they were exposed to cosmic rays during a mission in space. This is what really makes the Thing’s conflict with Richards into something major, as they argued over whether or not the expedition would be safe, but there’s something deeper at the core of Ben Grimm’s animosity, and it seems to be an inappropriate (and not altogether subtle) crush on Sue, who is at this point engaged to Richards. Yikes.
Anyway, once we get the backstory, the team heads to Monster Isle, where we get the first appearance of longtime Fantastic Four foe Mole Man. Mole Man gets the jump on them, but he ends up not to be much of a threat alone – it’s his gigantic monsters and gargoyles that are the issue. The fight wraps up quickly, but Kirby’ work here is obviously stunning, focusing mostly on the Human Torch’s fiery flight powers and the Thing’s rock-crushing punches. It ends with the Fantastic Four begin journeying toward their next adventure – and they’d continue their adventures all the way until… well, kind of now. There is no current Fantastic Four book, though some of the heroes are still operating in other titles in the modern Marvel universe. The thing is, though, no matter what you throw at them, you can’t keep Marvel’s first family down – or apart. It’ll only be a matter of time before they join together for another amazing adventure.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Family Pets, Anonymously Yours, Grimm Fairy Tales), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He currently lives in New York, where he spends most of his time distracted by his many cats.