The Fantastic Quality of the Early Fantastic Four
Story I Read: “The Fantastic Four Meet The Mole Man, The Moleman’s Secret” (The Fantastic Four #1 Nov 1961)
Perhaps, it was unfair of me to review the story: “The Fantastic Four,” on it’s own, as it really is the first chapter in a larger saga. Published directly after the masterfully written, Fantastic Four origin story, “The Fantastic Four Meet The Moleman” is where the real adventure begins. In the story, the Fantastic Four go up against the Mole Man resulting in, by far, one of their best conflicts. This greatness is the result of a few aspects: team and character cohesion, a fully developed villain and a satisfying ending.
Oh that the world were perfect and all following Fantastic Four stories possessed this quality! Which, sadly, we all know is not the case.
The great thing about this story is that the later, nauseating, egocentric character ticks that became the soul theme, have not yet reared their ugly head; meaning the Four are a group the feeds off eachother. That is not to say they don’t squabble, there are plenty of moments where Thing has a playful go at Reed or Torch tries to goad Thing into hilarious rage, but there is none of the malevolent posturing that later flooded and sometimes, crippled, the group. Everyone seems to be a family. I often wonder in later issues why the Fantastic Four stays together, for they clearly hate each other. The Human Torch has not yet been forced to hold the Marvel Universe on his back single handedly and he remains just the youngest member of the group. When he saves everyone at the end, it feels real and not a moment of desperate writing.
On the subject of desperate writing, I can ably say without a doubt that it is not page constraints in later issues that cause the writers to not fully develop their villains. This is a normal length issue and not only is there a considerable time devoted to the origin of the group, there is also a great deal of paneling devoted to the development of the Mole Man. The Mole Man is a disgruntled, people hating (for good reason), half blind, mastermind who discovered a far away island called ‘Monster Island’ (King Kong reference, I am sure) where he founded an empire of mutated subterranean monsters. The complexity in his character is not equaled until, maybe Namor, two years later. Why is so much time spent, and I do not begrudge this as it makes for a more satisfying conclusion, on the villain? This is just the first issue.
Could this detail, be because Stan Lee wasn’t yet sure that these comics would take off, so, he had to put a lot of work and thought into it? I think that likely. The care in the issue could only be from fear of failure. We’ll see this again in other planned debuts.
The story in this one really is, well done. It begins with a simple inquiry from Reed as to why earthquakes were breaking out all over the world and then exploding into a giant underground monsters destroying nuclear power plants. Kevin Bacon, eat you heart out!
One of the monsters assaults a French platoon in French Equatorial Africa (again the detail in location that we’ll loose in later issues). This scene has to rank with the best moments in all comic history. Even though Jack Kirby’s classic undetailed background is present throughout, the complexity in the character design is evident in every panel. I love the way Thing has no neck. He is hideous. I can see why he thinks he is deformed. In later issues, his contours and face were softened and that is detrimental to the character.
Though I respect Stan Lee, as every self respecting fanboy should, I seriously wonder why so much of his work is inconsistent. Here we have a very well conceived story, (well one that lacks a female presence like Sue Storm, but this is clearly a problem in most 60s comics) but in the next comic the same writer gives us swill.
How is this possible?
Perhaps, it’s because, as one of my colleagues relayed to me, that Stan was behind most of the greatest comic heroes of the 20th century. He couldn’t possibly be expected to crank out brilliant work after brilliant work, in such high quantity, without some hiccups. Certainly, no one was meant to read these comics in marathon, like I am doing, so perhaps his laziness wasn’t as obvious upon first reading. At least we have these bastions of fantastic writing, to out weigh the gutturally terrible.
One well written comic can make you forget twenty poorly written ones.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Well developed villain, a satisfying climax and great team cohesion.
Cons: Lack of Sue Storm. Did the Mole Man blow himself up?
Upcoming Review: “Skrulls From Outer Space” (The Fantastic Four #2 Jan 1962)
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Posted on November 23, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged Fantastic Four, French Equatorial Africa, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Jack Kirby, Marvel Universe, Mole Man, Stan Lee. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.