The Fantastic Birth of the Marvel Universe

Journey Into Marvel

The Story I Read: “The Fantastic Four” (Fantastic Four #1 Nov 1961)

Square 1 of all things Marvel.

Square 1 of all things Marvel.

As I wait for my next issues to come in, I thought I’d reinvestigate some of the issues that I never wrote professional articles on. I started writing these more comprehensive reviews only a few short issues ago, so it’s only right that I write one for all. In the writing of future reviews, I’ll alternate between going forward (getting into Daredevil and X-Men, respectfully) and looking backward (viewing the birth of Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, Thor and the failed first incarnation of the Hulk). Without further ado I turn my attention to the first story. The story that founded the Marvel Superhero Universe.

It is either legend or fact, references claim both, that Stan Lee was tasked with creating a Marvel version of the Justice League. What came out of that project was the Fantastic Four. If that claim is true, then good, if not, that makes more sense. Beyond the fact that the Four are a group of super powered people, I see no similarity with that DC team. They are a team, yes, but they are not a team created around honor. Judging by their origin story, which this story is, I’d say the Fantastic Four are more a parody of the Justice League, then the Marvel equivalent.

Parody is present in the ‘slap bang’ style opening of the story. Each character is off doing something that is mundane: Sue is having tea with a “Society friend,” Thing is trying to buy clothes with hilarious results, Jonny is building a hot rod, when out of nowhere a flaming ‘4’ streaks across the sky. Each character drops their tasks and runs off in a huff. This is a satire of the Superman model; you know, the whole Clark Kent gets into a telephone box, twists around and becomes Superman, schtick. Yet, it’s not a direct recreation. It’s decidedly mundane. these characters do not have a secret identity. Sue, Ben, Jonny and Reed are all publicly known as their superhero selves.  They run, or in Jonny’s case ‘flame,’ to the penthouse of Mr. Fantastic. This doesn’t feel reverential and it’s not supposed to. In Clark Kent’s case, his switcheroo is awe inspiring, legendary, even. The Fantastic Four’s race to investigate feels more authentic and haphazard. These superhero’s live in real life, where as DC’s, live in legend.

This idea of a legendary world verses reality is what separates Marvel from DC. DC’s goal is to create the ‘legend of the Batman’ or ‘the myth of Superman,’ whereas Marvel tells the story of the Fantastic Four or shows what would happen if a god lived in real life, as is the case with Thor. This is fascinating and it’s all set up in the first half of the story.

When it comes to the second half, which is devoted to the Fantastic Four’s origin, that haphazard

The Origin of Four.

The Origin of Four.

parodic nature continues. There is no great moment where Reed discovers his powers and realizes he needs to use them for good. No, he just tickles Thing from really far away. It’s hilarious and light. We can laugh with these characters and not have to revere them, as I always feel I must do to Batman or the Christ figure that is Superman. The Fantastic Four are just a ragtag group of astronauts, and their navigator’s little brother, who want to defeat the Soviets in the space race so they steal a rocket ship and get hit by cosmic rays. This is not some grand origin story. It’s an accident brought on by grand larceny. Marvel’s mainstays, most particularly the Fantastic Four, are so easy to get into. They are unpretentious.

What I love about the art in this opening issue is the cleanliness in its composition. For instance, when the Human Torch flames on, he turns into a literal flame. In later issues, his look becomes more humanistic to the point where he’s just an orange dummy with flame veins. I much prefer his look here. Ben is far more disfigured in these opening issues and I can really see why he feels out of place. Reed is definitely colder and older looking. As time goes on his character becomes more and more softened. I prefer the pricklier Reed. It just makes more sense and it suggests a parody of the morose millionaires Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne of DC.

It is amazing how you can suss out everything that made Marvel great in the very first story. Overall, Marvel wants to have fun. DC wants to do what’s right. I’d take Marvel any day.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Pros: Just about everything. The sense of humour. The detailed and unforgiving art of Jack Kirby. Things tirade at the tailor’s.

Cons: It’s not long enough.

Upcoming Review: The Fantastic Four Meet The Mole Man, The Moleman’s Secret” (The Fantastic Four #1 Nov 1961)


About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on November 20, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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