First, welcome back, to you, and to me! The last few weeks were wacky doodle, largely in a good way, but I needed a break between X-Men 142 and the Bad Marvel Movies Retro Review Trilogy (check out the articles for Punisher (1989), Captain America (1990), and Fantastic Four (1994) if you haven’t yet. As always with these Retro Reviews; spoilers aplenty! Let us dive into Fantastic Four no. 11 the cover promises us this one is a “collectors issue”. Stan Lee was a forward-thinking man.
This comic is very much the FF as a reality TV show (to use a much more modern analogy… maybe at the time, they’d be like the Beatles?). Stan and Jack also play with being meta as people literally flock to buy the issue.
The FF also politely use their powers to impress some kids. It’s sweet and shows the heart – that is the center of the Fantastic Four. They are superheroes, not just because of their powers, but because they are for others.
The comic also introduces a significant secondary character, Mr. Lumpkin. Later, famously played by Stan Lee himself. Mr. Lumpkin, with as much heart as the FF, tries to join the team himself. In another first, the Thing mentions the Yancy Street Gang.
We get lots of 4th wall breaking as the fans are directly addressed. We learn that Ben was a Marine pilot in Okinawa and Guadalcanal and that Reed was an OSS spy. This shows some insight into Jack Kirby. Stan and Jack both served, but Ben like Kirby was in the thick of it.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I feel that some of the resentment that Jack would later have for Stan grew from this. Sure it was all about the question of who created what, however I personally feel this played a part. Stan was the owner’s nephew, he had an easy life, he was classified a “poet” creating training materials during the war, Kirby took the hard road and later didn’t get the credit. All that built up. Again, pure speculation, I didn’t know Jack Kirby and certainly don’t know Stan Lee. Regardless, the panels carry the weight of a man who fought in a very real war.
This issue it turns out, is really the true origin of the Fantastic Four. Jack Kirby is brilliant here. The story in this portion of the comic is that a reader sent a letter saying “Sue is useless.” The team literally tells you, “no she’s useful” and then surprise her for her birthday. However, at least at this point in Fantastic Four history, is largely correct.
The “real story” is a backup story. Which I should quickly address, Marvel jammed a lot into the likes of Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, and so on. They could only publish a handful of books a month due to a deal they’d work out with DC. Basically, DC gave them 10 slots a month (not sure of the actual number, but it wasn’t many), Marvel tried to pack a lot into those few issues because they had so many great characters, so Strange Tales would feature both Nick Fury and Dr. Strange. Tales of Suspense would include Iron Man and the Human Torch. With a feature story and a back-up story. Our meta 4th wall breaking opening, isn’t even really a story, the “real story” is the back-up story, and frankly it feels like filler. I wonder if the intentions were to have it flipped, with this as the A-story and the first story the B-story.
Mr. Imp steals from a bank to buy from hobos, yes, really. Mr. Imp is an annoying shapeshifter. He bugs all of Earth until we collectively ignore him and out of boredom he leaves the planet. The highlight is probably when he transforms into a big monster (go Jack).
Oh well, at least there’s a nice Namor pin-up and the promise of the Hulk next issue!
Josiah Golojuh is a writer, he’s happy to be back at it after a week (find his collection of short stories here), he’s also a YouTube commentator (where, among other things, he does things similar to these Retro Reviews).