Welcome, or welcome back, to Read Pile, where I, Keigen Rea, and hopefully a large, ever-growing mass of individuals will be, as EIC Dave Shevlin put it, “reducing our read piles to read piles,” and writing about those books, one at a time.
This week features the ‘Style and Substance’ and Panel X Panel writer Rasmus Lykke for his CFC debut! He brought 36 issues of Kirby and Lee Fantastic Four, so here he is!
I caved a few months ago and signed up for Marvel Unlimited. There were a few different reasons for it. Mainly, I could save money, even if I only used it for back issues, instead of buying trades on Comixology, when they had their sales. And if I could start reading some of my monthly comics with the three month delay, I’d save even more. It just made good sense.
So I switched, found the next single issues that picked up where the last of my Comixology trades had left off and started reading.
Then I realized that (almost) all Marvel comics are in the app. Oh boy.
I went over the (actually pretty great) curated lists, from past and present Marvel creators, added what looked interesting and then started looking on my own, finding comics I’d always meant to read, but hadn’t (Simonson’s Fantastic Four, Taylor’s All-New Wolverine, Aaron’s Ghost Rider, Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four), old favorites I’d been meaning to reread (Ennis’ Punisher, anything by Gillen, Byrne’s Fantastic Four) and so on.
Then, as I was looking at my MU library, I realized something. The same thing that you’ve no doubt noticed too, looking at my lists above. Several of the things I wanted to read were Fantastic Four comics. In fact, if I wanted to read all of Lee & Kirby, Byrne and Simonson’s Fantastic Four, that’d be hundreds of comics.
So, because I’m a fool, I decided I’m going to read every issue of Fantastic Four.I mean, there’s only 674 issues (as of 2/10/21). … oh god.
I’ve read the first 36 issues so far. The first 36 issues of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four, the birth of the Marvel universe. The first magical issues, where an eternal mythology was created, where amaz— Okay, you get where I’m going with this, right? Expectations are high and by and large, these comics don’t live up to it. But really, how could they?
There are several reasons why these early issues are rough reading.
The scripting is all over the place. People just do things, often for no good reason. Villains are villains because they’re evil and that’s what they do. The FF saves them, because that’s what they do. There’s no motivation.
The dialogue is over the top, with everyone either speaking in hyperbolic statements or in the throes of melodrama. Every character is more of a caricature, than a fully rounded character.
Reed is clever, but also kind of an asshole. He barks orders at the rest of the team, expecting them to follow them blindly. Which, surprisingly, they most often have no problem with, often even expressing gratitude that they have Reed to lead them.
Ben is gruff and self-loathing. He’s a big lump of rock for the first many issues and when he does change into the Thing we know, with plated rocks, there’s no explanation for it. There’s a new inker on that issue and it seems like he just wants to draw Ben that way, so that’s what happens, with no one commenting on it.
Johnny pranks Ben a lot (and not in the two-sided manner that we’re used to between the two. Ben is always the butt of Johnny’s jokes) and is a teenager. Yep, him being a teenager is a character trait, at least at this stage.
And Sue… Sue’s a woman.
She gets her hair done several times during these issues, as well as goes shopping (or talks about either of those things). She fawns over Reed, for no reason except he’s not her brother or a big rock monster. When Namor shows up, she’s attracted to him, also without any real reason. Well, except him being Namor, a muscular prince in a speedo. In a way, her attraction to Namor actually makes more sense than her affection towards Reed, who is often ignoring her. That her power is being able to turn invisible is almost too on the nose. But that’s mostly what she does. She gets captured and is a damsel in distress, before the rest of the team saves her and she turns invisible and hides (though sometimes making the enemy forget about her, giving her the opportunity to foil their plans).
The worst moment is actually when Lee and Kirby have the team address the problem head on and the team talks about people having complained that they don’t see what purpose Sue serves on the Fantastic Four and the rest of the team stands up for her. Which on the surface seems great. But they stand up for her, by saying that what Sue does is give them something to fight for. She’s reduced to something for the men to either kidnap or defend, depending on whether or not they’re villains or heroes. I knew some things were going to be dated, but the depiction of Sue is outdated, even by 1960s standards.
The pacing is off, with most stories simply stopping, because Lee & Kirby ran out of space. Almost every villain is defeated on the second to last page, or sometimes even the very last page. This would be bad enough, but often there isn’t even much of a fight before this, because most of the issue has been build-up and then a few pages of combat. These last-page endings are often paired with Reed giving some sort of lecture on evil and how to properly act. It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along, page by page.
But… That’s kind of also the magic of it.
For all the rough parts, all the things that don’t quite make sense or characters that aren’t defined properly yet, there’s an energy to this. A forward momentum. Every issue brings something new, even if it stars a recurring villain (something which happened a lot here, surprisingly). Every issue develops the characters just a little bit more, adding just a bit more nuance to them.
No matter how rough these early issues are, it’s incredibly exciting to see the birth of the Marvel universe. To see how Lee & Kirby get a better grip on the characters and see how everyone was introduced.
This was enough to carry me through the first dozen or two issues and then Lee & Kirby actually start to get better. The stories get more exciting, the pacing is better, the characters (mostly) act with more motivation and the art is better too (coincidentally, it all happens around the time Chic Stone joins the team as inker). It both looks and feels more like the Fantastic Four we know. It makes me more excited to read on and see what happens next.
And big things are coming, because we haven’t even met the Inhumans yet (only Medusa, as part of the Frightful Four, but no mention of her Inhuman heritage), the Negative Zone or Galactus.
Things might have gotten off to a less than ideal start, but at this point, I’m glad I moved these from my read pile to my read pile and I can’t wait to move more issues from one pile to the other.
Thank you for reading this week’s Read Pile! I’m happy Rasmus reached out to do this and I hope you enjoyed reading it. As always, reach out to me on Twitter (@prince_organa) and you can be a part of Read Pile too!
I’m excited to announce that next up will be Ally Iciek here to talk about BTTM FDRS. See you then!