When we last checked in with the Fantastic Four, the team was dealing with the aftermath of the temporarily deranged Thing’s rampage through Manhattan in FF #111, and subsequent rumble with the Hulk in issue #112 — a battle which had apparently left Ben Grimm no longer among the living. As revealed in the following month’s #113, however, Ben wasn’t completely dead, and Reed Richards (aka Mister Fantastic) was ultimately able not only to resuscitate his old friend, but reverse the ill effects of Reed’s attempt to cure him back in #107, restoring Bashful Benjy to his old irascible (but not antisocial) self.
Notwithstanding that good news, the FF still had some major problems with which to contend. Public opinion had turned strongly against them over recent events, to the extent that there was a warrant out for their arrest; plus, their landlord at the Baxter Building was trying to throw them out of their headquarters. But most urgent of all was a surprise visit from an old friend, whose coming was teased throughout the first thirteen pages of the story by a bright light in the sky that drew steadily closer and closer until, at last, it entered in through the FF’s window, and revealed itself as… the Watcher! Read More
While any specific memory of the occasion has been lost to time after half a century, I feel pretty sure I was at least mildly startled when I dropped in at my neighborhood Tote-Sum in the first week of August, 1971, and discovered that all the new Marvel comics — including the latest issues of three series I was buying regularly, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Thor — were now 25 cents (up from 15), and 48 pages, not counting covers (up from 32).
I wasn’t completely surprised, of course. After all, DC Comics had raised their prices and page counts by the exact same amounts two months earlier, and it only made sense that Marvel would eventually follow suit. (The only other comics industry price hike I’d experienced personally — the move from 12 cents to 15 cents back in 1969 — had been effected by both DC and Marvel more or less simultaneously.) What was more, several Marvel titles, such as Conan the Barbarian, had already made the jump to the new format/price point back in July — a move that Marvel had at least hinted could be a harbinger of things to come via a comment on that month’s Bullpen Bulletins page. (“As for what the future holds in store for the rest of our magniloquent mags — well, keep lookin’ forward, pilgrim, ’cause that’s where the future’s coming from!”) But a hint’s not the same thing as a promise, and just because one expects something to happen eventually, doesn’t mean one won’t still be surprised when said thing happens right now. So, I’d say that at least some mild startlement was in order for my fourteen-year-old self, as well as for most of my comics-buying peers. Read More
(Your first Hulk vs. Thing slugfest, that is. Why, what did you think I meant?)
Technically, I suppose FF #112’s “Battle of the Behemoths!”, crafted by the regular Fantastic Four creative team of scripter Stan Lee, penciller John Buscema, and inker Joe Sinnott, wasn’t really my first experience seeing these two Marvel Comics heavy hitters go at it. Rather, that would have come several months earlier, courtesy of Marvel’s Greatest Comics #29 (Dec., 1970), which reprinted the characters’ very first meeting from FF #12 (Mar., 1963); the problem there, however, was that that story (a production of Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers) was actually a bit of a bust, at least as far as Thing-Hulk dust-ups went. The two bruisers didn’t actually encounter each other until page 17 of a 23-page story, and in the three page fight scene that followed, ol’ Jade Jaws took on the entire Fantastic Four, not just Bashful Benjy Grimm. While both big guys got in some licks, the scene ultimately wasn’t very satisfying as a one-on-one match.
Also contributing to making this story less than a slam-dunk for my thirteen-year-old self was its age — or, more accurately, what its age signified in terms of the development of the characters, both visually and personality-wise. This was a decidedly different Hulk than the one I was familiar with — among other things, this guy spoke in the first person, and he wore purple trunks, rather than the tastefully torn trousers of the same hue that I was used to seeing him in — while this Thing was a lumpier and more belligerent fellow than the hero I was accustomed to, as well. Read More
Back in November of last year, we took a look at Thor #184 — the premiere installment in the first multi-issue, large scale epic that editor-scripter Stan Lee had attempted in the title since losing his longtime collaborator Jack Kirby to DC Comics. Hyping the comic in the Nov., 1970 Bullpen Bulletins, Marvel went so far as to compare it to the debut of the Inhumans in Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, some five years previously. And upon my thirteen-year-old self’s actually reading it, it really did feel like Lee and his collaborators, penciller John Buscema and inker Joe Sinnott, had pulled out all the stops for this one.
This opening chapter of what would prove to be a five-issue story arc introduced us readers — as well as the mighty Thor, himself — to the menace of the World Beyond: a mysterious realm somewhere out past the farthest reaches of space, which was, somehow, devouring our universe from the edges in. Associated with this menace was a word — perhaps a name — of unknown significance: “Infinity”. We and Thor also met an intriguing new character, appropriately dubbed the Silent One, who had recently shown up in Asgard unannounced; All-Father Odin had since decided to let him hang around, sensing that he was in some way the key to the mystery. Read More
In December, 1970, after four months of whetting fans’ appetites with Jack Kirby’s first three issues of Jimmy Olsen, DC Comics at last published the debut issues of two brand new titles by Kirby, Forever People and New Gods.
And in that same month, Marvel Comics published Fantastic Four #108, containing the very last new work by Kirby for that title, some six months after the last issue fully drawn by the artist had shipped.
Some fans are of the opinion that the concurrence of these events was not coincidental; that either because Marvel wanted to capitalize on the publicity surrounding Kirby’s new DC titles, or because the company wanted to steal a bit of Kirby and/or DC’s thunder concerning their launch, or perhaps for some other reason entirely, Marvel purposefully contrived for this issue — a patchwork put together months after Kirby’s departure from the House of Ideas, featuring a combination of his pencilled art with additional work by John Buscema and John Romita, all inked by Joe Sinnott and scripted by Stan Lee — to reach spinner racks around the same time as the debut issues of the King’s highly anticipated new projects. Read More
When my thirteen-year-old self picked up Thor #184 in November, 1970, I hadn’t read a single issue of the title in over a year. The last issue I’d bought, Thor #169, had featured the conclusion of Stan Lee and Kirby’s long-running (and, apparently, extensively reworked) Galactus storyline; it also led directly into Thor’s confrontation with the Thermal Man, the culmination of a subplot that had woven through the last couple of issues. Apparently, I wasn’t interested enough in seeing the God of Thunder and yet another of Kirby’s super-powerful but personality-free robots (of whom the King gave us a few too many in the late ’60s) whomp on each other for twenty pages, and so I passed on #170. Then, a month later, I opted to pass on #171 as well; and then on #172, and then #173… Read More
As was discussed in last month’s post on Fantastic Four #102, that issue — featuring the final collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the title — also included a “Stan’s Soapbox” column informing Marvel Comics’ readers that Kirby was departing not just from FF, but from Marvel as a whole. Though I didn’t mention this fact in the earlier post, the same Marvel Bullpen Bulletins text page that featured that announcement also included a relatively lengthy biography of John Romita — a creator who’d been a Marvel mainstay since 1966, and had been either the full penciller or the layout artist for Marvel’s other top title, Amazing Spider-Man, for most of that period. By this time, then, he could hardly have been thought to be an unfamiliar figure to most regular Marvel readers; nevertheless, editor-in-chief Lee seemed to think it was a good idea to introduce (or re-introduce) Romita to the publisher’s True Believers in the wake of Kirby’s abrupt (and unexpected) exodus. Read More
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: Read More
In July, 1969, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee announced in his “Stan’s Soapbox” column that the company was instituting a new “no continued stories” policy for all its titles. Today, that policy (which remained in place for about a year and a half, at least officially) is widely considered to have been not Lee’s own idea, but rather one that was imposed on him by his then-boss, publisher Martin Goodman. Assuming that’s true, it’s interesting to consider how much Lee flouted the policy in one of the relatively few books he still wrote himself, The Amazing Spider-Man — which, as it happens, was also the company’s best-selling title, and thus probably the one most likely to be noticed by Goodman. Read More
With the 94th issue of Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics’ new single-issue story policy, first announced by editor-in-chief Stan Lee in a “Stan’s Soapbox” editorial three months earlier, finally caught up with the publisher’s flagship title — its implementation there having been delayed for a couple of issues while Lee and his collaborator Jack Kirby wrapped up their “Skrull gangster planet” multi-parter. Prior to that storyline, the book had featured another serialized tale, involving the Mole Man, that filled up two issues and spilled over into a third; that story had in turn followed a Dr. Doom epic that ran four issues; and so on. In fact, the last real “done-in-one” story to appear in Fantastic Four had been “Where Treads the Living Totem!” in #80 (Nov., 1968) — an issue which happened to be not only the second-ever FF comic I’d ever bought, but also my least favorite issue to date. Outside of reprints, prior to October, 1969 that was likely the only single-issue, non-continued Fantastic Four story my twelve-year-old self had ever read. Read More