Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Fantastic Full-Page Five

Jack Kirby's full-page artwork featuring his creations was certainly the icing on the cake in terms of wrapping up his silver age career at Marvel. And in Fantastic Four, where he began that journey, the incredible adventures of the FF gave him a number of opportunities for him to contribute many such 7 x 10s to the magazine's readers. Yet it was with somewhat of a tinge of disappointment that we greeted those pages, since the group by then had Johnny's girlfriend, Crystal, substituting for Sue on missions--and the dramatic image of the Fantastic Four as a team wasn't quite the same with Sue's conspicuous, if understood, absence.

In fact, the only instance I can recall where Kirby did a full-page representation of the original team (aside from posters and pin-ups) was this one:

(And not even in uniform! *sniff* )

Still, these images chart an interesting course for the FF. There's of course this memorable image of Sue and Reed, with Sue very close to having her first baby, and Reed worried about the cosmic radiation in her blood causing harm to her and/or the baby:

With Sue out of action for the duration, there were a number of missions where the remaining three members handled missions as a trio. It was a strange dynamic. That's not to say that the team's effectiveness went down a notch without Sue's contribution--quite the contrary. It was as if Sue's absence wasn't felt at all. The FF's adventures were as fast-paced as ever, and their teamwork didn't seem to suffer for lack of a fourth member. I've heard of picking up the slack, but jeez--it didn't seem like Reed, Ben and Johnny felt any slack was present to begin with. They did pretty remarkably as a trio, most notably in dealing with the return of Galactus as well as this life-or-death battle with Annihilus:

And then Crystal came aboard. And a funny thing happened--now we all started feeling Sue's absence. Where Sue was more of a nurturer and contribute-where-needed team member in battle with the FF, Crystal was on more than equal footing with her three powerful teammates. She was certainly qualified (hell, over-qualified) to take Sue's place (albeit presumably temporarily)--and that was the problem. This "Fantastic Four" felt--I don't know, wrong. And Kirby's art of this revitalized team didn't ease the situation one bit:

(By the way, there's a slight goof on Kirby's part in one of these pages--can you spot it? If you need a hint, he made the same kind of goof in this later issue.)

When Sue started clocking in again, you could practically hear a sigh of relief in comics shops everywhere. Yet in a way, the team now looked out of sync, even on a full page:

Yet even with this weird game of musical chairs going on, Kirby found opportunities to give individual team members their full-page due. These two of the Torch came to mind, as they display both the super-powered FF member blazing into action as well as a very human Johnny Storm:

Oddly enough, what stands out for me in the first image isn't the great image of the character blazing into harm's way, but Ben's caption. The words land so awkwardly. I mean, how many sisters does Johnny have, if he needs reminding of this one's name? "Stretcho and Suzie" would have sounded just fine, wouldn't it? Otherwise, it would be like him adding "yer brother-in-law Stretcho," which would have sounded ridiculous in tandem with the last part. As for the second image, I absolutely love the use of shadow, as well as showing the living area in such detail. The moment comes during a break in a deadly battle that Reed and Sue were having with a foe--and it drives home the fact that these are people, too, who have to come home and deal with unexpected family matters just like the rest of us.

Next time, we'll see Kirby's full-page work with a different kind of family.  I won't spoil it by revealing their identity here--but I will tell you that their dog food bill would make your jaw drop.


Doug said...

Fun post!

In answer to your questions about Kirby's goofs, if I'm seeing this correctly, Ben has two right feet in the splash where he's corralling Johnny. On the leap to your post from September, Reed is definitely reaching out with his right arm -- with a left hand attached to it!

How in the world does an artist screw that up?

Thanks again,


Comicsfan said...

Yep, you definitely spotted those goofs dead-on. It actually took me a double-take (or two!) to be sure of the one with the Thing. With the shifting patterns of Ben's rocky skin, it almost looks like an optical illusion if you stare at the legs long enough--you could almost convince yourself that the feet are correct, and it's just the legs that are drawn incorrectly positioned. Hmm, maybe Reed was right about that break being badly needed.

I guess it's understandable if something like that occasionally slips by an artist's eyes. Maybe it's like the writer's equivalent--where no matter how many once-overs you give your written copy, a spelling or grammatical error still sometimes makes it through. For an artist, I suppose that translates to something overlooked in a sketch or painting.

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Greatness! Never tire of studying Kirby's work on FF- can't wait to read about the Inhumans ;D

Comicsfan said...

Ha ha! Was I that obvious? :D

david_b said...

'Course on FF's third issue cover, the Torch has two left hands.. Most Famous Kirby anatomy error ever.

Comicsfan said...

Ha ha--maybe he was just flipping his wrist over for better aerodynamics! :)