Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Redacted Adventure

This could be your first mega

Marvel Trivia Question

How did this character play a part
in an unpublished Fantastic Four story drawn by Jack Kirby?

In 2008, Fantastic Four--The Lost Adventure featured a story which those of us who have been collecting comics for awhile are already familiar with--sort of. That is to say, it's a story we've seen in bits and pieces, and not in its original context.

When artist Jack Kirby parted ways with Marvel Comics not long after his landmark 100th issue of Fantastic Four, he left behind some pages of an unfinished story that were eventually included as part of a three-part story a few issues later featuring Janus, the Nega-Man--a college friend of Reed Richards who had tapped into a new source of energy, "nega-power." Unfortunately, the power also turned Janus into the ultimate schizophrenic--manifesting an evil half who wanted to take over the world. Janus proved to be a considerable threat, brutally taking out the Thing and the Torch before being captured by Reed, who snatched his control module. The gentler half of this split personality decided to end things then and there, by fatally shooting his evil twin--a twin who never really existed.

Janus, though, couldn't leave well enough alone, and pursued the nega-power further--ambushing Reed at his lab and breaking through the entrance to (what else?) the Negative Zone, where he sought the ultimate realization of his power. But due to intervention by servants of Annihilus, he was hurtled to his apparent death.

Kirby had already prepared a similar story involving Janus which, because of Kirby's departure, was never completed. So the revised story was the perfect opportunity to incorporate Kirby's earlier work on the character with a new story where Janus extends his ambition by breaching the barrier to the Negative Zone. The earlier pages are treated as a flashback of the FF's earlier dealings with Janus--with new artist John Buscema filling in the gaps and making Kirby's art coincide with the newer treatment of the character.

But later, in 2008, Stan Lee and inker Joe Sinnott decided to essentially recreate Kirby's earlier body of work as a new story all its own--this time featuring Janus, the Mega-Man--in the one-shot Fantastic Four--The Lost Adventure. Artist Ron Frenz--quite the mimic, notably of Kirby and also of Sal Buscema--assisted on the work. The story, I must say, is very faithful to both Kirby's style and, of course, Lee's let's-get-to-it style of writing:

As for Fantastic Four #108, which took the earlier premise of Janus and merged it into current FF continuity, all it took was a little doctoring of Kirby's earlier work and a little creative editing to build a story with essentially the input of two artists.  A little along the same lines of the Kirby/Gene Colan work in an early battle with Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner; but in this case, it's John Buscema dealing in Kirby's panels so that they're interspersed with his own work, rather than simply picking up at a point where the earlier artist left off.

For example, a series of panels where the Torch is recovering from an attack by Janus:

And for the 2008 story, a little dialog doctoring would be all that was needed in key places.  Such as Janus's introduction:

You'll also notice some interesting revisions along the way.  For instance, Janus makes his entrance like gangbusters, crashing into a bank and forcefully making his way to the vault:

At the end of this sequence in Fantastic Four #108, Lee adds a helpful editor's note:

All well and good.  Yet look at the curious wording he puts in place of it in the 2008 story:

Just try reading between those lines.  Suffice to say, I don't really see a lack of action in those panels, do you?

At any rate, Janus, to me, was never much of a noteworthy villain. For all his power, he couldn't stand up to a gunshot--so one policeman with a pistol could have ended his rampage through the city. Also, his reliance on technology made him vulnerable not only to numbers, but also to any invention Reed might care to whip up to counter it (to say nothing of just swiping his control module, which Reed did). And he's a threat to the human race by knocking over a bank? So it's possible to conclude that Kirby might have set these pages aside for a reason. Regardless, The Lost Adventure makes for a fine footnote to the earlier revised story.

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