November 12, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
This is the third installment in a series highlighting each of the four superheroes who inaugurated the Marvel Universe in the Fall of 1961. We’ve already covered the Invisible Girl and The Thing. Today we take a look at the modern Human Torch and his introduction in Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961).
The most striking thing about the debut of the MU’s first teenage superhero is how little control he has over his powers. In his first appearance, he spots the FF’s emergency flare signal from inside the hot rod he is working on; a passion he admits is only second to his calling as a hero. Instead of stepping out of the car before “flaming on” he flies through the roof leaving the vehicle a molten mess. No sooner does he take to the sky then a squadron of US Air Force jets converge on him to investigate the flaming object over Manhattan. So unused to the powers bequeathed to him by the cosmic rays he was recently exposed to, he can’t avoid melting the planes from around their surprised pilots. The pilots parachute to safety as the planes plummet toward the city below. It’s left to Mr. Fantastic to save his bacon when a guided missile is on his tail and again when Johnny is about to plummet to his death.
Never fear, by the end of issue #1, the new Human Torch is the one who ultimately fends off the menace from the cover (Giganto) and seals up the Mole Man’s monsters in their underground lair by melting the rock surrounding the passage to the surface. By issue #4, the Human Torch has such precise control over his powers that he can use them for a job as delicate as giving the Sub-Mariner a shave.
Category Comic Books | Tags: 1961,Fantastic Four,Human Torch,Jack Kirby,Johnny Storm,Marvel,Stan Lee | No Comments
November 1, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Sserpo! Amazing Adventures #6: When a frustrated scientist disposes of an experimental growth formula by tossing it into the ocean it is consumed by a tiny lizard-like creature living on the ocean floor. The missing ingredient for the growth formula was simply water so Sserpo begins to grow. Sserpo is caught by fishermen but by the time they reach port the lizard is large enough to sink the entire island. Nearly 1000 feet tall, the monster heads toward Australia. The Australian Navy diverts the creature with rockets but Sserpo (now 2000 feet high) is headed straight for Japan. Worried that the giant monster will sink their entire country when he first set foot on Japanese soil, the Japanese use an H-Bomb to scare the monster away. As Sserpo continues to grow, scientists fear that he will grow so large that he will upset the orbit of the Earth. Just in time, the inhabitants of Jupiter send a giant skyhook to snag Sserpo and carry him into space.
The Creature from Krogarr Tales to Astonish #25: An alien contacts an Earthman through his TV set and offers to make him famous if he will just make a few adjustments to his TV and allow his body to pass from the alien’s planet to Earth. After the man does this, the alien seizes the man and takes him back to his home planet. The alien tells the man that he will be proof that his revolutionary new method of travel works and puts him in a cage while he calls his superiors. Once his superiors arrive and have seen the human, he is to be killed and invasion plans will be drawn up. Suddenly, the Earthman fades away just before the superiors arrive. Angered, they kill the inventor and destroy his machine which they assume is worthless. Luckily, the man had neglected to pay his electric bill and the power to the TV set was shut off, thus saving Earth.
Giganto Fantastic Four #1: Giganto is one of many Deviant Mutates dwelling on Monster Isle. During the first adventure of the Fantastic Four, the Mole Man makes Giganto his servant and uses him to attack nuclear power plants all over the world. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch succeeds (at least temporarily) in sealing Giganto and the Mole Man’s other monsters in their underground lair by melting the rock around the passage to the Earth’s surface.
The Thing in the Black Box Journey into Mystery #74: A victim of a shipwreck washes up on a not quite deserted isle where he stumbles over beautiful Pandora and her box. Pandora is malevolent and tricks him into opening the box for her whereupon she commands the demon that emerges to make all of mankind her slave. The man begs Pandora to be allowed to return to the mainland, and she grants his request, but he has a plan and returns with a set of mirrors which he rings around the sleeping Pandora. When she awakes she cries out in despair that they be taken away. The man had gambled that centuries-old Pandora’s beauty had to be the result of hypnosis, but no one can hypnotize a mirror. He says the mirrors will be removed if she orders the demon back into the box. She does so, and they bury the box deep in the earth, and leave Pandora on her isle with her illusion of beauty.
Orrgo…The Unconquerable Strange Tales #90: Two billion miles from earth the imperialistic race, the Mentelleronites, discuss their plan to conqure the planet Earth. One of the Mentelleronites, Orrgo, volunteers to be the planet’s invader. Orrgo believes his race to be so superior to the humans that he can accomplish the feat single-handedly. Teleporting himself across the galaxy, Orrgo materializes in a circus and tells the people audience to bow to him. The police and military are called but no one can withstand his hypnotic power. After hypnotizing the entire world’s population, Orrgo falls asleep near the circus where he originally materialized. Jo-Jo the circus gorilla becomes infuriated that his hypnotized master has not fed him and breaks out of his cage. Jo-Jo finds the sleeping Orrgo and senses that he is responsible for his hunger. The angry ape strikes down Orrgo and saves the world. The others on Orrgo’s world sense that their brother has been defeated and decide not to try to invade Earth again, as they must be more powerful than originally thought.
The Creature from the Black Bog Tales of Suspense #23: A retired couple exploring the Everglades comes upon an alien who has been mired in the bog after landing to make repairs and was making his way back to the ship. In exchange for their help in securing enough vines to pull him free of the bog, he removes their memories of the incident and makes them younger. Read the whole story here.
Category Comic Books, Fantasy, Science Fiction | Tags: Amazing Adventures,Comic Books,Fantastic Four,Giganto,Jack Kirby,Journey into Mystery,Marvel,Orrgo...The Unconquerable,Sserpo,Stan Lee,Steve Ditko,Strange Tales,Tales to Astonish,The Creature from Krogarr,The Creature from the Black Bog!,The Thing in the Black Box | No Comments
October 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
As all comic book readers in 1961 knew, Cosmic Rays are the pixie dust of science. There was no telling what effects or uses could be attributed to the darn things. They granted fantastic powers like invisibility or controlled human combustion. They could transform a normal man into a super strong pile of orange rocks. They could enable certain speedsters to travel through time.
I’m not going to burst any bubbles of fantasy on this page, but if you really want to know what cosmic rays are all about, checkout this Japanese educational comic book published in 2008: What are Cosmic Rays?
Category Comic Books | Tags: 1961,Comic Books,Cosmic Rays,Fantastic Four,Flash | No Comments
October 11, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
At the risk of muddling my online personae, I hereby confess to being the author of a short-lived Twitter character known as Lonely Ben Grimm (@LonelyBenGrimm). Lonely Ben Grimm was based on the troubled love life of the superhero, The Thing, who made his debut in Fantastic Four #1 fifty years ago. Conditions on the romantic front don’t appear to have improved much for Ben over the last fifty years, however, he doesn’t wallow in his misfortune nearly as much as he did in his earliest appearances. The self-pity in those early years was rather galling to young men like myself who had no better luck with the ladies than the Thing did, and without the silver-lining of being able to go toe-to-toe with the Incredible Hulk.
Here are a few samples of Ben’s pity party from the early Sixties as well as a selection of tweets inspired by the self-loathing superhero.
“The National Federation of the Blind says there’s 650,000 blind women in this country. What’s wrong with me???”
“Someone change the Baxter Building’s directory in the lobby. The new location of the Negative Zone is in my heart.”
“The Frightful Four broke into the Baxter Bldg last night. I won’t tell you what Paste Pot Pete did to my collection of Vampirella mags.”
“Mail today!!! A jury summons, a package fromYancy St, and an invitation to the Latverian embassy cotillion. Jury summons is likely a trap.”
“Nowadays, the only Marvel Two-in-One is when Johnny and I get She-Hulk really drunk.”
“I tried to write a love poem but the only rhyme I can think of for ‘Alicia Masters’ is ‘malicious bastards’”.
“Did some speed dating tonight…I think that’s what it’s called when ya walks inta a singles bar and all the women run out the back door.”
Category Comic Books | Tags: Ben Grimm,Comic Books,Fantastic Four,Marvel,The Thing,Twitter | 3 Comments
September 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Have you ever been tempted to crack open the seal on that $10,000 copy of Fantastic Four #1 to see what’s inside? Of course not! You have that story in your $50 Marvel Masterpieces edition or your $15 Essential Fantastic Four or even an old beat up copy of Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics. But, did you know, not everything from the first issue of Fantastic Four was reprinted in those editions? Aren’t you just a little curious?
STOP! Don’t break that seal! Just check out the scans below made by a guy who’s copy of FF #1 is probably now worth a lot less than yours:
Category Comic Books | Tags: 1961,Advertising,Comic Books,Fantastic Four,Marvel,Stan Lee | No Comments
September 13, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
You can quibble about the number of tails and legs all you want, but you can’t deny there is a resemblance between Jack Kirby‘s three-headed monster that appeared in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and Toho studios’ King Ghidorah who debuted in 1964. Some nerdly scholar should seriously explore how much (if any) cross-pollination there was between the Atlas/Marvel offices in Manhattan and the Toho studios in Tokyo.
Since I’m hardly a scholar nor very serious, I only have one question: Who needs Godzilla or Rodan for eradicating three-headed space dragons when you’ve got Mr. Fantastic?
Category Art, Comic Books, Film | Tags: 1961,Atlas,Comic Books,Fantastic Four,Ghidorah,Jack Kirby,Marvel,Toho | No Comments
September 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
The very first character in the modern Marvel Universe to display her powers in a comic book was the Invisible Girl in Fantastic Four #1 (1961). Page one of that landmark book shows the silhouette of a man, identified as the leader of the Fantastic Four, firing a signal gun . In the first panel on page two we are introduced to Susan Storm by name, as her “society friend” takes note of the signal in the sky. By the second panel Susan has already turned invisible and is reminding herself of the vow she has taken to answer this call to duty. By panel three, ‘It is time for the world to meet…THE INVISIBLE GIRL!”
Despite the common criticism that the Invisible Girl was too often used by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as the damsel in distress, little of that can be found in issue one. In fact, it’s Sue that goads the reluctant Ben Grimm into piloting the space voyage that transforms her fiancée, her brother, Grimm and herself into the Fantastic Four.
On inspection there are very few, “Oh, Reed!” moments in the first year of the book, although Sue does manage to get captured by the bad guys in every other issue. I don’t think there was any chauvinistic motive for these storylines; I think the blame lies with Sue’s initial power set. The ability to turn invisible offers more opportunities for escape than assault and Lee and Kirby found themselves having to put Sue in the role of a prisoner to highlight her powers. Many a plot involves Sue getting separated from the rest of the group by circumstance or capture. This gives her the opportunity to learn things about the bad guys that Reed and the others can eventually use to defeat them.
Once Sue’s powers were expanded to include the ability to turn other things/people invisible and to create invisible force fields the character was no longer limited to acting as the group’s spy and was even dubbed the FF’s most powerful member by Dr. Doom. One wonders then, why, over fifty years, the Invisible Girl/Woman has so rarely been seen in the spotlight. Out of 600 or more comics featuring the Fantastic Four, the character has been the focus on the cover of barely twenty issues and (to my knowledge) has never been the solo star of even a single mini-series or one-shot.
Here is a gallery of those rare covers spotlighting the First Lady of the Marvel Universe:
Category Comic Books, Uncategorized | Tags: Fantastic Four,Invisible Girl,Invisible Woman,Jack Kirby,Marvel,Stan Lee,Sue Storm | 2 Comments
August 26, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Here’s an interesting exercise in putting yourself in the shoes of a comic book reader fifty years ago. Pretend you have never heard of the Fantastic Four when you walk into your corner drugstore and see these Jack Kirby covers on the magazine rack. Are you immediately drawn to the new title or do you have to take a closer look before you realize it’s not just another monster book?
Category Art, Comic Books, Science Fiction | Tags: Amazing Adventures,Comic Books,Fantastic Four,Jack Kirby,Journey into Mystery,Marvel,Monsters,Strange Tales,Tales of Suspense,Tales to Astonish | No Comments
August 8, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
For the sake of simplicity, I usually commemorate the 50th anniversary of a comic book or magazine based on the cover date, however, it has long been the practice of publishers to print and distribute periodicals several months ahead of those dates. One of the most famous individual books in the history of comic books, Fantastic Four #1, has a cover date of November, 1961, and November is when I will likely write a detailed post about that historic issue.
While others are proclaiming August 8 as the 50th anniversary of FF #1 “rolling off the presses” (it was likely printed a week earlier) and thus the birth of the Marvel Universe, I think it might be instructive to discuss why there is such a discrepancy between cover dates and the date comic books actually go on sale. The general practice by most comic book companies since the medium was created in the 1930s was to date issues with a month and year 2-3 months after it was printed and distributed. This practice allows comic books to continue appearing current to readers even after they have been on sale for several months. The cover date also tells newsstands when an unsold magazine can be removed from the stands and returned to the publisher (or, more often than not, be destroyed.)
Now, back to August 8, 1961 being the day FF #1 was “printed” or “published” or “hit newsstands”. The fact of the matter is that August 8 is just a ballpark estimate based on the most common date stamped or written on the covers by some news dealers and drugstore managers. Those stamps vary by when the individual copy made it to the point of sale. Some sellers on the West Coast wouldn’t receive their copies until September. Some sellers in New York received their copies a week before the accepted date of August 8 (See the copy below stamped Aug 3).
Putting a precise date to the start of the Marvel Universe is really not possible. One might even date it to the famous round of golf in 1960 where Marvel publisher Martin Goodman was first convinced that super teams were the future of comic books. I’m content to spend the next several months celebrating the first issue of the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”.
Category Comic Books | Tags: 1961,Comic Books,Cover Dates,Fantastic Four,Marvel,Publishing | No Comments