Fantastic Four #102 (September, 1970)

Jack Kirby was leaving Marvel for DC.

It was the comics industry story of 1970 — and if you were a hip, well-connected fan who subscribed to Don and Maggie Thompson’s newszine Newfangles, you learned about it not all that long after the industry pros did, in March:

If, on the other hand, you were just a run-of-the-mill, solitary comics-reading twelve-year-old like yours truly, you probably had no idea that this was happening until June, when you perused the Bullpen Bulletins page that ran in all Marvel’s comics cover-dated September, 1970 (including Fantastic Four #102), and read the stunning news in Stan Lee’s “Soapbox” column: 

(Of course, Lee’s announcement didn’t say anything about “the King” going to work for the Distinguished Competition — but even my unsophisticated younger self could probably work out that that was the most likely scenario.)

The thing is, for just about as long as I can recall, I’ve read the text features in my comics only after first reading the stories; so I may not have discovered this bombshell until I’d already finished reading “The Strength of the Sub-Mariner” — the last Fantastic Four story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby*:

There are certain scenes and sequences in Kirby’s late, pre-departure Marvel work that fans and historians sometimes point to as reflective of the behind-the-scenes frustrations and anger the creator was going through at the time (indeed, there’s one such later in this very story) — but I think it’s fair to assume that few, if any readers would number this jolly opening scene among them.  Rather, it seems to illustrate a mood of liberation on the part of Kirby, who’d already made the fateful decision to jump ship prior to beginning work on this story, as described by Ronin Ro in Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution (Bloomsbury, 2004):  “At his board, drawing the first half of The Fantastic Four No.102 with guest star Sub-Mariner, Jack felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.”

“…it’s good for Sue to have him with her every so often — and good for little Franklin, also!”  Yes, Reed, I think you’re probably correct in thinking that it’s beneficial for both a mother and her young child to spend time together occasionally.  And, hey, I’m just spitballing here, but maybe it would also be good for you, as a dad, to hang out with your infant son every once in a while, hmm?

When reading late-period Lee and Kirby, one sometimes gets the impression that they weren’t especially attentive to story developments in Marvel comics they didn’t themselves produce.  (For a good example, see their use of the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master in FF #100, which completely ignored the fact that both villains had recently been blown up real good in an Avengers/Captain Marvel/Sub-Mariner crossover storyline.)  But that’s certainly not the case here, as the Sub-Mariner’s discovery of Magneto in the ruins of his Savage Land laboratory picks up directly from where readers had last seen the malevolent Master of Magnetism (i.e., getting blown up real good at the conclusion of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams’ X-Men #63 [Dec., 1969]).

Namor takes the unconscious Magneto back to Atlantis, and the story shifts scenes back to New York, some indeterminate time later, where we see some odd stuff is going on:

Geez, a whole bunch of metal (and partly-metal) junk whirling around in the sky — you’d almost think someone was doing weird stuff with magnetism, wouldn’t you?

Oh, wait…

Jack Kirby hadn’t created Marvel’s version of Atlantis, of course, any more than he had the Sub-Mariner, and by 1970, more than a few fine comics artists had taken a shot at depicting Namor’s undersea kingdom.  Still, no one ever made the place seem more impressive than the King — especially when his pencils were graced by the polished inking of Joe Sinnott.  (It’s so impressive, in fact, that you might not even notice that Magneto is strolling around underwater with no sign of any special breathing apparatus — a state of affairs that continues throughout the rest of the issue.  One must assume that he’s been given something along the lines of the 24-hour water-breathing tablet administered to Bruce Banner in Hulk #118 [Aug., 1969], but it would have been nice if Stan Lee’s script had said so.)

Outside of the odd flashback, cover, or pin-up image here and there, Kirby hadn’t drawn Magneto since X-Men #17 (Feb., 1966), or Namor since Tales to Astonish #83 (Sept., 1966).  So it’s a treat to see him return to these characters one more time, before leaving Marvel — and that’s especially true as regards page 9, which features the last full-page splash panel that Kirby would produce for Fantastic Four.

Back in New York, Mister Fantastic has been hard at work on the “flying junk” mystery:

The FF’s rebellious equipment gives the team a hard time, until Crystal lets loose with a blast of her elemental power:

The storytelling here and on the next several pages is confusing.  On page 10, Reed explained that he was “sending forth a sonic probe, which will tell us what we have to know!”  That sounded pretty benign; but the “sonic wave” that strikes Atlantis on page 14 is anything but:

It’s hard to believe that Reed Richards wouldn’t know that his “probe” could have such devastating, life-threatening effects.  Meanwhile, the “concussion missile” that the Thing has impetuously launched, and which Reed seems to be a good bit more worried about, is, according to Magneto on the very next page, “harmless”.

I’m inclined to think that something important was lost between the stages of Kirby’s drawing/plotting and Lee’s scripting, and that the original idea was for the destructive shock wave to have been caused, or at least made much worse, by Magneto.

It’s interesting that in this story, Magneto seems to consider the blue-skinned, water-breathing Atlanteans to be members of “the human race”, every bit as much as he does surface dwellers, such as the residents of New York City — and thus, in his view, natural enemies of his own race of “mutantkind”.  (In later years, of course, Marvel’s creators would make much of the idea that the half homo mermanus, half homo sapiens Namor is, himself, a mutant.)

War!”  You’ll recall that I mentioned earlier that there was one of those scenes deemed by many to be reflective of Kirby’s pent-up frustration later on in this issue; well, this is it.  Of course, it’s difficult to imagine how else this issue could have ended; but even if that last dramatic panel wasn’t intended by Kirby as a “declaration of war” against Marvel Comics, it can’t help but be fraught with symbolic weight, serving as it does as the final panel of Kirby and Lee’s 108-issue run** on Fantastic Four — an important occasion marked (if only obliquely) not with a whimper, but with a bang.


The story published in FF #102 was originally supposed to be published in the 103rd issue.  Kirby had in fact plotted and drawn an entirely different tale for #102, which Lee ended up pulling, extensively reworking, and eventually publishing (with additional art by John Buscema and John Romita) that December, as Fantastic Four #108.  (And, yes, we will have some things to say about that issue, come December, 2020).  But this is the story that Kirby delivered to Marvel as his final FF job; the one whose pages had just arrived in the mail when Lee got that fateful March 6 phone call from his longtime collaborator.

According to most accounts of that day, once the news got out, the mood around the Marvel offices ranged from depressed, to desperate, to determined.  Artist John Romita felt certain that they’d have to cancel Fantastic Four, at the least, and said as much to Lee:

I went to Stan Lee and asked him if they were going to drop the book, and he said, “You’re going to do it.”  I said, “Are you crazy?  I just told you I would drop the book.” (laughs)  He asked me to do it and I did it under extreme duress because I felt inadequate. I felt anybody who tried it would be inadequate. It was like trying to raise somebody else’s child.  (From The Jack Kirby Collector #33 [Nov., 2001].)

John Romita’s assignment to raise Jack Kirby’s child would commence almost immediately, as the last set of pencilled pages Kirby had sent in didn’t include a cover (as was Marvel’s common practice at the time) — and thus, the cover for Fantastic Four #102 would be pencilled by Romita, with inks by John Verpoorten.  With the very next issue, those two gentlemen would move on to producing the interior as well as the cover art.

How’d they do?  Come back next month, and we’ll all take a look.

 

*This is even more likely to be the case if FF #102 was the first Marvel comic I bought that month, as its probable publication date of June 9 (according to Mike’s Amazing World) would indicate. (The only other Marvels I bought published in June, 1970, were Amazing Adventures #2, with an approximate release date of June 16, and Silver Surfer #18, believed to have gone on sale June 23.)

**102 regular issues, plus six annuals featuring original material.

17 comments

  1. Don Goodrum · June 6

    Being more of a DC guy than a Marvel one at this point, this event (for me) was more about Jack Kirby coming to DC than it was about his leaving Marvel. If I’m not mistaken (and I could be, I’m not the scholar you are), the books he wound up working on for DC were Jimmy Olsen (of all things) and his own creations of New Gods and The Forever People. Whatever Jack was looking for at DC, he obviously didn’t get it, since he went back to Marvel a few years later, but there’s no doubt that the Fourth World he created changed the DCU for all time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · June 6

      You got all that right, Don! And never fear, there are plenty of blog posts about all four of those DC titles (don’t forget Mister Miracle!) in your not-so-distant future.

      Like

  2. frednotfaith2 · June 6

    I got that issue when it was new on the stands, the month I turned 8 years old in June 1970. I didn’t yet have much awareness of the importance of Jack Kirby to the Fantastic Four in particular and to Marvel Comics as a company during the previous decade so the dramatic change of personnel working on the title didn’t seem that big a deal to me then, although the FF was already my favorite comic book, even more than Spider-Man — usually if I went out to the shop to get my comic book fix but only had maybe 50 cents on me, if a new issue of FF was on the spinner rack, that would be my first pick — and if a new issue of Spider-Man happened to be on there too, that would be my second pick. I was also as likely to get something like Monsters on the Prowl for one of my picks. I was also by then already very much a loyal Marvel purchaser and never spent my money on other companies titles, although my brother, Terry (10 months younger than me) was much more broad in his selections and would get releases from DC and even Harvey, which I would read after I’d read my latest Marvels! I never collected any issues of the Silver Surfer, and so missed Kirby’s sole work on that title. Having long since become aware of his concluding panel on that story and comparing it to the conclusion of his last FF work, essentially declarations of war by the Surfer in the one and by Namor in the other, definitely seems Kirby was using these issues to express some of his frustrations. Certainly a sharp contrast to Ditko’s last issues on Spider-Man and Dr Strange, which each ended on a more wistful tone, and were indeed endings rather than cliffhangers. Kirby’s last issue of Thor also ended on a cliffhanger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · June 6

      Keith, I hadn’t really considered the sharp contrast between Ditko’s and Kirby’s exit issues, but you’re absolutely correct. It’s interesting, since I don’t believe Ditko was any less pissed off at Marvel than Kirby was. 🙂 I suppose he may have been planning his departure for longer, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. maxreadscomics · June 6

    How was Magneto breathing underwater? Don’t you that control over magnetism can allow you to do literally anything as long as you are using that power in a comic book written by Stan Lee? Good to have you back, Alan! Looking very much forward to what comes next!

    Liked by 2 people

    • maxreadscomics · June 6

      Gah! My kingdom for an edit button! That second line should read “Don’t you *know* that control over magnetism”, etc. ……..Sigh. 🙂

      Like

      • Alan Stewart · June 6

        One of the irritating things about WP’s reply function is that it won’t let you edit after posting. It’s happened to me more than once, believe you me.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. frednotfaith2 · June 6

    Of course that magic power exists even when the story is plotted by King Kirby. Speaking of which, it is rather notable that after so much crossover appearances in Marvel mags and the FF in particular in late ’63 through ’65, maybe up to the big bang of FF Annual #3 in which most of nearly every prominent Marvel hero, villain, and even romance/humor made an appearance, even if just a cover shot for the Hulk & Namor, Kirby for the most part stopped using characters who regularly appeared in other mags in the FF & Thor and most other comics he drew for Marvel. Maybe in part that was due to Lee’s overall goal for maintaining tighter continuity within the Marvel Universe and Kirby deciding he wasn’t going to bother trying to keep up with whatever was going on in mags he wasn’t involved in. The issue of FF wherein Thor, Spider-Man and Daredevil all show up stood out as a rarity and was likely an instance of Lee insisting on that bit of crossover from a storyline in DD. This last issue of the FF also stood out for picking up from a story from X-Men that he had nothing to do with as well as using Subby in the FF for the first time since he got his own series and as far as I could tell, no reference to whatever might have been going on in Subby’s mag at the time. At DC, seems Kirby didn’t really have to worry about continuity in any other mag at all even when writing Jimmy Olsen & Superman, and particularly not within his 4th World pocket universe. And when Kirby returned to Marvel, once again the mags he wrote & drew, even Captain America & the Falcon and the Black Panther, as well as his new creations, were all pretty much divorced from the rest of the Marvel Universe, aside from using Magneto again in a Captain America annual. Aside from Galactus in the Silver Surfer special, Magneto appears to have been the only classic baddie he co-created with Lee in the Silver Age that he used again during his Bronze Age comeback in any story that he wrote — the Red Skull having been a Golden Age co-creation with Joe Simon.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Silver Surfer #18 (September, 1970) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  6. Stuart Fischer · July 2

    I finally got to this entry having finally re-read the issue (in my own unwritten personal retrospective of 50 year old comic books I saved this issue for last in June because it was most notable). Not much for me to add to your wonderful summary. This time around I noticed Reed’s obtuse comment about how it was good for Sue to have Franklin for awhile. It would have actually been clever if Stan had wrote that deliberately to show how narrow Reed’s focus was (i.e., his work), but I doubt that was Stan’s intent.

    I also never noticed that Magneto was walking in Atlantis without the benefit of oxygen, not even when I read it again just before I read your comment on it. From my previous comments on your blogs, you know that I have a sharp eye for these things, but I missed this one completely.

    My opinion is that Kirby didn’t let his anger at Marvel specifically show in his work (except maybe through negligence, like not giving Magneto oxygen apparatus in Atlantis–actually I guess that might have been deliberate passive-aggressive behavior because Kirby knew that Lee would not catch the error). There are no “Funky Flashmans” in Kirby’s late Marvel work and, as you alluded to regarding the end of this issue, how can you really tell given that in super hero comic books there are always anger, violence, threats etc. as the normal course of business. I do remember the alarm being the last panel of this issue from reading it 50 years ago, and today I do think about why Kirby didn’t make a dramatic final splash page. THAT was probably a deliberate kiss off to Lee and Marvel, making the final “teaser” image a small panel of an alarm.

    On the other hand, I forgot to mention in my comments to your blog post on the Silver Surfer issue from this month (which I read and commented to before reading this one even though you wrote it later) that Kirby’s intensely ferocious Silver Surfer on the last page of that issue is really striking to me as an image and possibly was Kirby’s “@#%^ you Stan” gesture, although Kirby was a professional and the drawing fit the character’s mood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · July 2

      That’s an interesting point about “no ‘Funky Flashmans’ in Kirby’s late Marvel work”, Stuart. I’ve read some commentary speculating that the character of Janus, intended for the story that was originally supposed to run in FF #102 (and that was eventually drastically reworked for #108), was a subtle dig at Lee, and that Lee’s recognition of this is why he yanked the story. I haven’t re-read the story in years, myself (in any version), so I’ll hold off on offering my own opinion on the topic until the blog gets to FF #108 in December. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. JoshuaRascal · July 31

    Something I noticed that deserves comment.

    Susan Storm, the fourth member of the Fantastic Four, the wife of Reed Richards, and the mother of Franklin Richards, appeared in exactly five panels in the story and did not say a word. Given that she does appear on the cover of the magazine in the little box on the upper left hand corner as a member of the superhero group, one would expect her to have a larger role in things. Instead, she is more like a supporting character, if that much. The superheroine member of the group appears to have been pretty much retired since FF #72 due to her pregnancy and motherhood, with occasional appearances in uniform. More like a recurring character like Alicia Masters than a series regular .

    You noted the comment by Reed Richards. Fatherhood and marriage do not seem to have suited him very well during the very late Lee/Kirby era. Comments he would make to his wife. Curt refusals when his wife would ask to come along with the boys when they went off on their latest adventure (These date back to issue #67, although there were exceptions). While it was not ok for his wife to go on these adventures, it was perfectly ok for him. I could list the instances, but it would be a chore. After all, this is a comic book, not real life…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · July 31

      I agree with your analysis, Joshua, and would only add that it’s pretty much par for the course for the Lee-Kirby run on FF. Some people believe that Lee was more determined to minimize Sue’s role than Kirby was — e.g., Kirby might draw Sue doing something great, and then Lee would write dialogue in which Reed would announce he gave her the idea — and there’s probably something to that. On the other hand, if we accept the premise that Kirby did most of the plotting on FF for most of the run, then we also have to assume that he was OK with sidelining Sue when she got pregnant, and that it could well have been his idea.

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  8. Dave · August 16

    There is a drawing of Magneto that appeared in the book Drawing the Marvel Way where Magneto exclaims: “I must continue goading him…” and I never knew where it came from until now. I wondered if he was talking about Reed Richards, or the Hulk, but now I see it’s the Sub-Mariner. Wonderful issue and classic issue, and thanks so much for having it up as I always wondered what it must look like in color.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. frednotfaith2 · August 16

    I got that book as a Christmas present when it was new, in ’78, I think. Most of the Kirby art I recognized, having at least reprints of most of the last few years of his run on the FF. A lot of John Buscema’s archival art I wasn’t familiar with the sources and wouldn’t see them in context until much later, when I got back issues of most of the Avengers from ’69 – ’70 that was past the period reprinted in Marvel Triple/Super Action. Was a bit fun reading some of those issues for the first time and recognizing having seen a particular panel from How to Draw the Marvel Way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · August 17

      A book I myself never actually bought or read, having absolutely no artistic aspirations! I appreciate both you and Dave sharing your recollections of it, fred.

      Like

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