Friday, October 19, 2012

The World's Greatest Rebound

My Very First Issue of:

 Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four #103

As much as I've posted about artist Jack Kirby, it seems odd that I would wait until immediately after he'd left Marvel before purchasing my first issue of Fantastic Four. The truth is, I didn't become an admirer of Kirby's work until I was well into the series--once I'd become a "fan" of the book, I later began reading (and collecting) older issues to get a sense of the group's history.

Yet issue #103 of Fantastic Four was perhaps the best introduction of the team I could hope for, because it had it all. Writer Stan Lee, who was himself winding down his stint on the book, had lost none of his flair for the characterization of the story's participants; seasoned Marvel artist John Romita, picked to pencil the book until new regular artist John Buscema came aboard, set an amazing pace for the story (though, strangely, without long-time inker Joe Sinnott doing finishes); and with protagonists like the Sub-Mariner and Magneto (the latter making his first appearance as a foe of the FF), as a reader I had all I could handle.

It was also this issue of Fantastic Four that brought me back to reading Sub-Mariner on a regular basis. This FF issue presented a much more dynamic image of Namor--whereas my introduction to him in Sub-Mariner was during Dorma's wake, and he was understandably morose. Yet in this issue, where she was still alive (albeit a hostage), Namor was readying for war with the surface world and was at the peak of his regal power. As it happened, I didn't much enjoy picking up Sub-Mariner again, as writer Gerry Conway had been assigned to the book--and as we all know, a Gerry Conway book is generally a joyless story that will bring you down like a safe hitting the pavement.

Not so this issue of Fantastic Four, with the action slamming you in the face from page one:

Tsk--a typo on the very first page after Kirby's departure. (Did you spot it?) Maybe Magneto was just a little too eager for bloodshed. He was still a long way away from Chris Claremont's remaking him into Xavier's old and level-headed (if misguided) friend. These days, he was just another power-hungry evil mutant, though acknowledged to be more dangerous than most.

But as far as Namor is concerned, this is the Sub-Mariner that can go toe-to-toe with the FF, every inch the prince:

When Namor is written well, he becomes as much a main character of whatever book he appears in as the book's title character(s). And even though it's the FF who's top dog here, just look at how fittingly Namor is handled next to the Thing, who by now has firmly established himself as a fan favorite as well as a formidable fighter:

Even the Fantasti-Car, a Kirby staple if ever there was one, gets a good deal of page time. And not only that, but artist John Romita has even added some unique touches, including streamlining the old girl so that she's not so bulky and weighted down:

It's clear that Lee is pulling out all the stops in this issue to assure long-time fans that the FF will be as exciting to read as ever--maybe even more so.

Of course, some things never change, with the Invisible Girl still at the mercy of Stan Lee and his hostage fixation:

But for a new reader, this issue had me hooked from cover to cover, and certainly whetted the appetite for its climax in the following issue. Lee's remaining tenure on the book would end after another eighteen issues--and his scripting would be diluted with the odd punctuation changes that he experimented with. Yet he crammed a lot of amazing stories into that span: Crystal's exit (thank goodness)... another tragic experiment designed to allow Ben to change to human form... another near-fatal trip into the Negative Zone... the best Thing/Hulk fight that anyone could ask for... the introduction of the Over-Mind... and of course the cherry on top, the return of Galactus. I have to hand it to the guy, he barely gave me time to catch my breath.

Fantastic Four #103

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Romita
Inks: John Verpoorten
Letterer: Sam Rosen


dbutler16 said...

How can the Thing be unconscious underwater and not drown?
I love Stan the Man, but his handling of Sue is dreadful. It makes me wish they were the Fantastic Three.
Boy, now I've got to read your write-ups for those other FF stories you've linked to!

Comicsfan said...

Happy reading, dbutler!