For the tenth issue of a comic there sure are a lot of firsts in this issue. Right on the cover is the first of the firsts. This is the first Marvel comic (and I believe the first comic ever) to use the writer and artist of the comic as part of the story in the comic. It’s way more metaverse than Zuckerberg could ever get.
The issue starts off in fairly standard fashion for a Fantastic Four comic. Reed Richards is in his lab doing some tests to get a better understanding of how Sue Storm’s powers work. The team then sees the emergency signal in the shape of a 4 outside their window. They figure Ben Grimm must be in trouble since he’s the only member of the team not there. Somehow the lab door has been closed and we see Johnny and Reed try a couple different things to get the door opened. It’s not easy since it’s “nuclear powered” so heat won’t work and Reed has to basically stretch his way all through the building but he’s unsuccessful. Johnny tries again but with a flame concentrated so much it burns without heat. (Yeah I’m not sure how that works either but it’s a comic so I’ll go with it)
The team rushes out the door to head to Alicia’s place. She has now been established as the Thing’s girlfriend. But because the team is famous it’s a bit hard for them to navigate through the crowd. Reed has to stretch through legs to avoid a crowd, Sue has to go invisible after a creepy guy says, “How’s about a smile for one of your fans??” and of course the Human Torch just flies over everyone. They make to Alicia’s to find out Ben had just sent for the crew because he wanted to show them the sculptures Alicia made of some of their past foes. She clearly has talent as a sculptor and we get to see Mole-Man, Dr. Doom, Namor and a few others she has made. Sue doesn’t think Namor should be lumped in with the other ones. Reed very nearly talks to Sue about her feelings for Namor but Sue cuts him off. It seems Reed had the understanding he and Sue would eventually be married but it seems her feelings for the King of Atlantis may be making things a bit complicated.
The next panel is where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby make comic book history. I imagine they did this just to have something to put on the page and to see if it would work but for the first time ever we see the authors of the comic directly addressing the readers of the comic in the story. The panel narrates, “And that, dear reader, is as far as Jack Kirby and I got with our story, before the unexpected happened! But let us show you just how it all came about… our scene now changes to the studio of Kirby and Lee, on Madison Avenue, where we find…” And in the image we see Stan and Jack from behind, with lots of artwork around them. In the background you can see pictures of Hulk and Ant-Man. On Kirby’s art table is a picture of Thor and in his hands Kirby has an illustration of a villain he wants to call “false-face” who just really has a big mustache.
I call special attention to this panel for a few reasons. First, if there was ever any doubt, this firmly places the Fantastic Four right in New York City along with the offices of Marvel. Second, with the drawings scattered around Jack Kirby not only do we have a view of heroes we’ve been reading about, we also, very nearly, have the full Avengers team. And finally, we’ve known Marvel comics exist in the Marvel 616 universe ever since Johnny Storm remembered reading about Sub-Mariner but now we know that Marvel writers and artists also exist in the Marvel 616 universe.
The next panel has Stan lamenting that they can’t use a great villain like Dr. Doom again because he was lost in space. And then we get another first. Dr. Doom walks in to the office of Lee and Kirby. This is the first time we get to see a Marvel character meet a Marvel creator. Lee and Kirby are understandably worried but do want to know how it’s possible Doom survived. Doom says there is an explanation but he won’t give it now. He then takes off the mask he always wears. We as readers don’t ever get to see Doom’s face. We actually don’t see Lee and Kirby’s faces either as they are always shown from behind or with their hands over their faces. But either way, Doom’s face is disturbing to the Marvel men so we know there is some major disfigurement there.
Doom demands they call Mr. Fantastic to discuss a new story. This gives the reader the impression every issue we have read has actually been told to Lee and Kirby and we’re just reading the translation of that story by Marvel. And to confirm that, Reed does get a phone call in his lab from Lee and Kirby. The Thing even complains about how he’s drawn. Reed heads over to the office and as soon as he gets there he is gassed by Doom. Doom tells Lee and Kirby to pass on an address to the other members of the FF where they can go if they want to get Reed back.
Doom relates a rather silly tale to Reed about how he was rescued by space aliens called “the ovoids” who have oval shaped heads. Turns out they had advanced technology and were able to transfer their consciousness from one body to another. Doom being Doom he learns their technology and heads back to Earth. He switches consciousnesses with Reed thus setting it up so the other members of the team will attack Reed in Doom’s body. His ruse works for a time as the three do pummel what they think is Dr. Doom. He pleads with them but at first they don’t believe him. The team tries to think of different ways to keep Doom from menacing them permanently without, you know, actually killing him. Finally Doom as Reed suggests just putting him in a sort of glass cage he has. The other three team members leave, giving Doom a minute or two to gloat.
In the next section of the story there are a bunch of miniature zoo animals causing havoc in the Baxter building. Turns out Doom as Reed stole a bunch of zoo animals to see if he could miniaturize them. In truth it’s a reducing ray which will snap the Fantastic Four out of existence once Doom hits them with it. Doom fools them into thinking this is a good idea which will simply increase their powers. Except somehow, for Ben Grimm it would do the opposite and turn him back to human. The fact the ray is doing two opposite things doesn’t seem to occur to the rest of the group here.
Meanwhile Reed uses Doom’s facemask to break through the glass holding him prisoner. Reed is smart enough to go to Alicia’s apartment knowing she’s able to sense the good in people. Unfortunately for him, Sue is there in invisible form and bashes him over the head. There’s a bit of a fight amongst the group but Ben is just not quite able to smash Reed because in the back of his mind he knows Alicia is right. Johnny gets the idea to make it look like a stick of dynamite is in the room by using a “heat mirage” (yeah not clear how that works either). Reed as Doom immediately tries to shield the others from it while Doom as Reed tries to run out the door. The fact that the team turn on Doom is enough for him to lose concentration and switch back to his actual body.
In the fight that follows Doom accidentally trains his own reducing ray on himself. He shrinks to nothingness before anyone can do anything about it. Well, thank goodness we got rid of that guy. I’m sure there’s no way he could return again right?
This really was a groundbreaking issue in a lot of ways and it started a long tradition of the FF meeting writers and artists from Marvel. It’s a pretty clever gimmick and it’s a lot of fun.
Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking in on the insects once again as we catch up with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #39!