Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #11

Fantastic Four Issue 11 Photo Credit: Marvel

There were times when the early Marvel 616 comics could get a bit out there and experimental. Issue eleven of the Fantastic Four is one of these instances. There are two stories in the issue. For some reason the second story, the “B” feature, if you will, is listed in the Complete Marvel Reading Order is listed as happening first. I’m not sure if there is an actual story reason for this but I’m going to go through the features in the order listed on the website. Both stories do some sort of groundbreaking things and the end of the issue has a major tease which helps propel Marvel 616 into a more unified universe.

The second story in this issue is called The Impossible Man! It’s about an alien who lands in what is described as a “hobo jungle” where a bunch of vagabonds are having dinner. The green skinned alien with the pointy head asks for some food but is told he needs to pay for it with cash. The alien asks where to get cash and is told you have to ask for it at the bank. Not realizing what that means, the alien transforms into an airplane and pops into a vault at a bank. This freaks out the bank attendant enough for him to leave and the alien grabs some money. The cops immediately arrive on the scene and start firing at the alien but he turns to steel and the bullets bounce off of him.

The police realize this is more than a match for them and they can call the Fantastic Four to come help deal with the situation. They hop in the Fantasti-car and find the alien chowing down on a bunch of food in a restaurant. The FF demand to know what the deal is with this guy and he tells them he comes from “the planet Poppup!” The evolutionary processes on Poppup are so swift the inhabitants can change themselves into anything whenever the need arises to survive the constant attacks from predators and environmental hazards.

This idea of constant evolutionary change is actually a precursor to what we will see when mutants are revealed in the pages of The X-Men in the future. For now it’s a bit of a silly joke and an excuse for Jack Kirby to just draw whatever he wants to.

After his little backstory the Fantastic Four tell him he can’t just take money from a bank and it escalates into a skirmish pretty quickly. The alien, who is dubbed The Impossible Man by The Thing is able to evade capture by changing forms whenever he is attacked and negates all four of the member’s powers. Individually and collectively the team is not able to do anything to stop The Impossible Man.

Reed Richards is no slouch though and he has some ideas on how to deal with this guy. After Impossible Man does a few stunts and some major property damage, Reed tells the police and all the world to simply ignore the Impossible Man.

The Impossible Man first came to Earth because he was bored of his own planet. Reed figures giving him the silent treatment might just be enough to get this guy to leave. It takes a while but it works.

If you were to think of something else in comic books to compare this to, The Impossible Man is the analog of Mr. Mxyzptlk in DC comics who comes around to harass Superman every once in a while. Impossible Man is not quite as fun as Mr. Mxyzptlk but he showed the Fantastic Four are able to use their heads instead of their powers when needed. Also, for a while in the issue the world started to think Reed Richards was a coward but he didn’t seem to care. Instead, he just sticks to his plan, never bothering to explain his strategy or solution to anyone. This is a very typical Reed Richards move which sometimes lands him in hot water.

The last panel of this story teases a major milestone in Marvel 616. It tells readers to come back to read a “surprise-packed full length thriller– The Fantastic Four meet– The Hulk! Don’t miss it!”

This is the first major crossover from one Marvel 616 book to another. There were always suggestions and rumblings, including some pretty solid evidence in the way of newspapers and dialogue that these characters existed in the same reality. But to have a major Marvel character appear in the Fantastic Four will be a landmark event.

The first story in issue eleven of The Fantastic Four is in some ways much more interesting than the “B” story. While most issues of the FF deal with supervillains in some way or another, this one shows us a slice of life for the superheroes in a story titled, “A Visit With the Fantastic Four.”

Stan Lee proves once again here that Marvel is not afraid to try new things in comics. He breaks the fourth wall a bit when the FF meet some fans who are eagerly awaiting the next issue of a comic book magazine called The Fantastic Four. We also meet an important figure in the annals of Marvel history, Willie Lumpkin, the mailman who delivers mail to the Baxter Building for the Fantastic Four. In time he will become an important figure to the series who plays integral parts in multiple stories. Willie even tries to join the FF in this issue, telling Reed Richards that he doesn’t have any super powers but he can, “wiggle my ears real good.”

The story shows off a few secrets of the Baxter Building. The FF have special belt buckles which can send a signal to their personal elevator allowing them and only them access to their apartments at the top.

The team then spends some time opening their fan mail. The Thing gets a gag gift which is a boxing glove extender that punches him in the eye. He’s not real happy about it. Thing is convinced it’s from the Yancy Street Gang who we already know he has some beef with but this is the first time Thing has really called them out by name.

Reed gives Thing a serum and he once again turns back to the human form of Ben Grimm for a while. We then get a few flashbacks from before the heroes flew into the cosmic rays. We find out Ben and Reed were college roommates. Reed is the smart one but Ben was the football star. Reed made a name for himself by winning lots of prizes in the field of science and it probably didn’t hurt that he was the son of a millionaire. Ben becomes a marine fighter ace pilot and gets nationally known as a hero for it. It’s also revealed Reed worked underground for the O.S.S., the first independent U.S. intelligence agency.

While Reed was at the front of the war he would dream about the girl he left behind, Sue Storm. As soon as Reed brings this up Sue is conflicted. She has some mixed feelings due to her emotions about The Sub-Mariner. Reed gives her some space but of course, he’ll bring this up again in later issues.

After returning from the war, Reed decides, “We’ve got to reach the stars before the reds do!” and the fateful events are put into motion which result in the first team of superheroes in Marvel 616 continuity. This origin will get refined over and over again in later issues but this one shows us why Reed was so eager to have Ben pilot the spacecraft. He was a famous war hero pilot so it made sense and Reed knew he could trust Ben.

It’s ultimately Sue who convinces Ben to be the pilot. She and Johnny have agreed to come along and implies Ben is afraid to go. Ben is not one to back down from a challenge so he decides to go.

The rest of the flashback is the standard rehash of how they hit cosmic rays and got their powers using panels we’ve already seen several times in these first eleven issues.

Sue then tells Reed and Ben she’s been getting letters saying she isn’t contributing enough on the adventures of the team. Ben and Reed reassure her she is vital to their success and we get some more re-used panels of several times Sue has helped the team get out of different situations.

Ben suddenly turns back into The Thing. The serum lasted longer this time but nothing seems to be permanent with curing him. An alarm goes off and the team rush into the spaceship they kept as a memento of their adventure on Planet X. Turns out it was just a surprise birthday party for Sue. Still, small gestures like this show this team is more of a family than a superhero team. The story concludes with Willie Lumpkin complaining about his heavy mail bag full of comic magazine heroes and letters to the editor pages.

While you could argue this story isn’t super interesting, it does show more sides to the characters than most comic books at the time were showing. For all we know about Clark Kent in the pages of Superman there wasn’t ever just a story about him having a day with friends where no actual fights break out. This kind of storytelling is what makes Marvel stand out from the competition.

Make no mistake, no matter what you think of the story and issue itself, this is an immensely important moment in the history of Marvel 616 and comics in general. It just begins to scrape the surface of what superhero storytelling could be. There will be more slice of life stories to come but this is truly the first.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be shrinking down once again to catch up with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #40!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #10

The Fantastic Four Issue 10 Photo Credit: Marvel

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!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #9

The Fantastic Four Issue 9 Photo Credit: Marvel

Through the years the Fantastic Four have faced many, many villains. Some more memorable than the rest but if we were to put all of them in a room together and decide which one has come the closest to completely and irrevocably destroying the first family of superheroes there is a clear winner. Money problems.

That’s right, financial woes consistently plague the team and it’s an issue they continually have to face. But the first time it became a real issue for them was right here in issue number nine. This was actually a new innovation in comic book storytelling. Over at DC and other magazines where there were superheroes galore the only time money was mentioned was to let the reader know how wealthy Bruce Wayne was. Stan Lee, in his effort to make heroes more relatable to us struck upon a brilliant realization. Even people who can turn into fire, are strong as ten men, can become invisible, and stretch farther than any human has a right to, still need to pay rent. It’s what made the early issues of Marvel 616 so compelling. Yes these are super humans but we get to see not just the emphasis on the super part. They are distinctly human. And there’s nothing more human than needing pay for where you live.

At the beginning of the issue we see Namor, The Sub-Mariner, watching a news bulletin talking about the demise of the Fantastic Four. We don’t know what he is planning to do but he clearly wants to take advantage of the situation.

We’re then shown a group of debt collectors, landlords, and other sorted people trying to collect some money from the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards with all his brilliance made a bad stock move and the markets tanked a bit and now Reed is in debt. This doesn’t sit well with the team, especially The Thing but the FF are good guys so they intend to pay everyone back. Reed has come up with a scheme to sell off all of their cool gadgets for a bit of quick cash but it will mean the group has to disband and move out of their beloved Baxter building. (This is definitely not the last time this is going to happen either)

Ben Grimm even momentarily flirts with the idea of giving a thought to crime. He flies into a bit of a rage when people come to collect a plane Reed has sold to them. They calm him down but he walks out saying, “Those three do-gooders were beginnin’ to cramp my style!” Hailing a cab the driver refuses to take The Thing anywhere, knowing he can’t pay. Thing’s response? He chucks the cab up onto a streetlamp. He then uses the FF’s flare gun just to get a ride out of Johnny Storm. This allows him to go visit Alicia, the kind, blind woman who he met last issue. She happens to be the stepdaughter of an evil mastermind but she herself is very caring and makes Ben feel pretty lousy for how he was behaving just by being nice to him.

Next we see Reed commenting to Sue and Johnny, “If only we could be like the super heroes in some of these comic magazines, Sue! They never seem to worry about money! Life is a breeze for them!” Stan Lee is throwing some serious shade there.

Moments later Reed is given what might be their best hope. An offer of a million dollars to star in a movie. Ben comes back and off to Hollywood they go. They go to the newly formed S.M. Studios. Gee, I wonder what that S.M. could possibly stand for? Gasp, it’s the Sub-Mariner!

As taken aback as the team is, Namor assures them his offer is real and he backs it up by providing them with some cold, hard, cash up front. He has plenty of money because he can just plunder any underwater treasure he finds and he knows where all those pirates buried everything on all those deserted islands and can dig those up any ol’ time he pleases.

Even while the team is suspicious of his motives they agree to the situation and Sue still seems attracted to Namor as she thinks, “He’s so masterful–so confident!” It’s a continuation of the love triangle between Namor, Sue, and Reed from the first time they met.

We see a couple of scenes of Johnny driving fast cars with his newfound wealth and The Thing showing off his strength on Muscle Beach. Namor takes the opportunity to have dinner with Sue. She’s suspicious of Namor but acknowledges his generosity with the money.

Of course, Namor has laid a trap here. He takes Reed Richards to an island to fight a robot cyclops. Turns out it’s the real Cyclops from Greek myth. We already knew Norse myth existed in 616 but having a Cyclops here opens up a whole bunch of other potential characters who will show up eventually, including Hercules himself. Reed handily defeats this creature after Namor has left.

In one of the more uncomfortable sections of this issue, Namor dumps Johnny Storm into the, “Dense African Jungle,” to fight a group of natives in a village which causes Johnny to say, “How can a bunch of savages give me any competition?” Yeah, as good as Marvel comics of the day were, they were far from perfect and they do fall into some pretty bad tropes and stereotypes at times. Basically, this village has a magic potion where they are fire proof. Namor has asked them to capture Johnny. He also makes it out of this trap and pretty much burns away this magic potion by unleashing a dormant volcano on the village. He doesn’t harm any humans but he did literally erupt a volcano at them which seems a bit much.

With Reed and Johnny busy elsewhere, Namor just has to deal with The Thing. This fight he takes on himself. There’s a lot of punching back and forth here and Namor wisely stays in the water as much as possible. Thing is no slouch though and he really only loses because at an opportune moment for Namor a bolt of lightning hits Thing and turns him back into the human Ben Grimm. Namor is too weak to even realize this happened when he knocks Ben out cold. This really does prove The Thing is one of the strongest people in the Marvel 616 universe and if he can nearly defeat Namor, he might make a good match for a certain green dude with purple pants.

Namor heads back to find Sue Storm and seems to think defeating her brother and her two good friends would make her want to be his bride. Sue shows a bit of agency here by saying, “Perhaps if you hadn’t deceived us — if you had been honest with us, I might have answered you differently!” She then turns invisible, reminding Namor he hasn’t defeated all of the Fantastic Four. She puts up a good fight but because Namor can use the abilities of any creature in the sea he is able to grab her by using, “the radar sense of the cave fish from the lowest depths of the sea!” The moment he grabs her, the other three members of the FF bust through the door and go right for the monarch of the sea. Sue actually defends Namor saying they made a contract with Namor and they lived up to their part of the bargain so he should live up to his part. Namor, as much as he is a bad guy at times, is honorable so he pays right up. The Fantastic Four are now out of debt and can go back to doing the whole super team thing.

Truly, the most significant part of this issue is the financial aspect and for the time, this really was a new kind of story. There will be more innovations of this type in the years to come and as time goes by the Marvel characters start to feel more like people than gods flying through the air. The next most significant part of the issue is the ongoing relationship between Ben Grimm and Alicia. She has a huge influence on Ben and there will be many stories revolving around the two of them.

For our next issue we’ll be going back to check on what the golden haired god of thunder gets up to as we read about Thor in Journey Into Mystery #87!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #8

The Fantastic Four Issue 8 Photo Credit: Marvel

The Fantastic Four in their long and storied career have had several arch nemesis. Dr. Doom is probably the most famous of these but they have met their share of colorful characters. The Puppet-Master is introduced in this issue but it will be far from the last time we see him. He’s also a bit of an oddball who has a power that is quite dangerous and destructive.

At the start of the issue we see Ben “The Thing” Grimm trying to enter Reed Richards’ lab. Reed, Johnny, and Sue all try to stop him from coming in. They are successful but Ben is pretty put out and feels the group doesn’t want him around. He goes out for a stroll but The Invisible Girl follows along. Ben gets into a tussle with a couple of thugs and they get a kick in the rear from Sue. As soon as that’s over Ben notices someone climbed to the top of a bridge and looks like he is preparing to jump off.

Here we get the introduction of the Fantasti-Flare. This is a flare gun that writes a giant four in the sky to signal the group. It’s straight up ripped off from Batman’s bat signal but it’s still kind of fun to see. Reed and Johnny both try to save the man but only Johnny is fast enough to get there. We see there are some limits to Reed’s ability to stretch in this issue.

The person on the bridge was being manipulated by none other than The Puppet-Master. This villain has come upon some, “radioactive clay”. And like any good villain he immediately had the idea to carve the clay into the shapes of humans so he can manipulate them as if they were hypnotized. Yeah, pretty impressive clay. The Puppet-Master figures out the Fantastic Four stopped him from making someone jump off a bridge. To stop that in the future he decides to lure them to him, starting with Ben Grimm. Sue follows but is of course invisible.

When Ben gets there he meets one of the most important characters in his life. This is Alicia Masters who also happens to be blind and the stepdaughter of The Puppet-Master himself. Immediately she senses that Ben is a kind and caring soul and she finds his face rather interesting when she touches it. Puppet-Master successfully hypnotizes Ben and captures Sue. He then sends Alicia, dressed up as Sue back with Ben. It wasn’t very clear what this would accomplish but I guess radioactive clay may go to your head after a while. Ben attacks Reed and Johnny but he is stopped when Reed gets him to break a chemical container. Ben then changes back to human form. Of course Ben is happy about this but Alicia actually prefers him as the Thing.

The rest of the issue is a fairly standard story of the FF trying to defeat a villain. They also have to deal with a prison breakout Puppet-Master has caused. They mostly do it but The Puppet-Master, in the end, is truly defeated because of Alicia who trips him accidentally at exactly the right moment. It’s obvious Puppet-Master and Alicia are going to have huge roles to play in the lives of the Fantastic Four but especially in Ben Grimm’s life.

The final page of the issue has a neat little feature page where Johnny Storm answers questions about his costume and how he keeps from, you know, lighting everything on fire all of the time. Marvel does this somewhat frequently when they want to fill a little space. I think the unfortunate thing is these pages are more or less meant to be ripped out and pinned up so a lot of the original prints tend to have this page missing. But, it’s not like anyone knew these comics could become valuable at the time.

This is a key issue, mostly for the introduction of Alicia and The Puppet-Master. It also continues the ongoing struggle of Reed trying to cure The Thing, something he spends most of his life feeling guilty about.

Next up on the reading list, we are going back to tiny town as we get small with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #37!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #7

Fantastic Four Issue #7 Photo Credit: Marvel

The Fantastic Four are generally well regarded by the public but there is a subsection of people in the 616 universe that don’t like them for a variety of reasons. Issue seven of the series sees an alien from “Planet X” who is able to amplify these negative feelings on Earth.

This is Kurrgo who is a mostly forgettable villain and basically somewhat of a fuzzy alien who simply wants to dominate his people into subjugation. He has a problem though. You see his planet is faced with an impending disaster. It’s about to be hit by another planet racing towards its orbit. The habitants of Planet X only have a limited amount of space travel and they’ve only built two space ships.

Bizarrely, Kurrgo, thinks his best method of saving his planet is to amplify negative feelings of animosity towards the Fantastic Four so that he can capture them and then bring them back to his home planet where they will save his citizens. I guess it’s not much fun being an authoritarian when there are no people to boss around. After a bit of a fight and some showing off of the fantasti-car, the superhero team does end up on Planet X. Johnny and Ben Grimm don’t take very kindly to being abducted but Reed Richards is more interested in the scientific reveals and problem facing him.

I think the most significant moment of the entire issue has to do with one short encounter where Johnny Storm, aka, The Human Torch gets frustrated and tries to melt the robot that had a hand in abducting the group. Johnny realizes since he is not on Earth he does not have to restrain his powers. He says, “I can match the fiery blaze of an exploding star… a super nova!!” This is the first time we see him get close to his most intense power. It shows he has the potential for incredible destruction and lets us know how hard it might be for him to keep those powers in check. The only reason he doesn’t fully unleash his power is because it would hit his sister Sue Storm. We know now that even in his most powerful state, Johnny will take caution not to hurt those he cares about. And we also see that Johnny, despite constantly bickering with The Thing, truly cares about his friend. Johnny only attacked because the robot had flung Ben Grimm to the ground.

Reed does come up with a solution for the citizens of Planet X. He makes a “shrinking gas” that allows the whole population to fit on their two rocket ships. He also says he has an enlarging gas antidote that can restore these aliens to their original size. Kurrgo ends up trying to keep the enlarging gas for himself so he can still dominate his subjects. He’s out of luck though because they take off without him. I have no idea how they figured out piloting the ship when they were the size of ants but we’ll leave that question for now. Also, the shrinking gas is very reminiscent of Henry Pym’s formula that allows him to shrink to about the same size. It makes one wonder if Reed was aware of Pym’s research.

Reed seemingly outsmarts Kurrgo because there never was an enlarging gas. It was a little unclear why Reed would lie about it but it seems he knew Kurrgo would make the move to grab this gas and that the rocket ship would leave without Kurrgo. The most ironic thing about this is that when we get the big reveal of Reed tricking Kurrgo, there is a misprint and Reed says there was no reducing gas. We know for sure there was because earlier in the issue Reed had tested it. It leads for a moment of confusion as a reader but I guess we just chalk this one up to Reed being distracted as usual?

Fantastic Four Issue 7 Photo Credit: Marvel

Mostly, other than the incredible power Johnny displayed, this is a forgettable issue but there will be tons of adventures similar to this one as we go along.

Next on the list we will be stepping away from three quarters of the Fantastic Four as we look in on Johnny Storm on his own in Strange Tales #101!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four #6

Fantastic Four issue #6 Photo Credit: Marvel

By the sixth issue of The Fantastic Four they were a certified hit in the comics publishing industry. The books actually were flying off the shelves and although many of these issues still end up tossed in the trash once they have been read, there are some collectors out there who realize it might be more fun to hang on to these comics.

Because the book was such a hit, the action has to ramp up as much as possible every issue. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had already introduced two incredibly strong and sophisticated villains, Namor, who pre-dates the 616 universe and Dr. Doom who is the first of the greatest original villains in 616. So what could be more exciting than having those villains work together? The first real villain team up that matters happens in this issue and it is a formula for success.

At the start of the issue we see bystanders observing Johnny Storm and debating about whether or not The Fantastic Four are real. The bystanders are shocked to find out Invisible Girl was in their midst the whole time as she suddenly appears.

We follow along as she goes into the Baxter building and passes through some security measures devised by Reed Richards to keep others out. We even get a neat little diagram of the building. This will be something featured several times in these comics and as a comics reader, it’s always a little fun to be let in on the secrets.

The family is worried because Dr. Doom has not been seen since last issue and surely he is up to no good. But before the issue gets down to business, we see Reed Richards stretch his way over to a hospital to talk to a fan. There he gives an explanation to why his costume stretches with him. “…it is woven from chemical fibers containing unstable molecules that shift in structure when I affect the change!” This must have been a good enough explanation for most folks because they stick with that for a long time.

Meanwhile, The Thing gets a letter from the Yancy Street Gang calling him out to fight. I think this is the first mention of them but they become a huge part of Ben Grimm’s life so the letter is significant in Marvel 616 history.

Out in the ocean, Sub-Mariner is frolicking with a group of porpoise and Dr. Doom is flying above the waters, on the search for a worthy partner. He knows the FF and Sub-Mariner have fought before and he seems like an ideal partner but of course it’s all destined to go wrong.

As the two talk we get to see a little more of the background of Namor and why he hates the surface world so much. His home city of Atlantis was destroyed when an H-bomb test hit while Namor was away. In other words, he has justifiable reason to hate humans. Stan Lee was very good at humanizing certain villains and Sub-Mariner may be the best example of that. We also learn that Namor has feelings for Sue Storm and we see that Sue has a picture of Namor hidden away so there is some mutual attraction there.

Soon Doom explains his plan which involves a gadget that can use magnetism to life incredibly heavy objects. Namor is on board with the plan and off and running (or i should say swimming) to New York City. There, a crowd is amazed to see him and we have bystanders referencing stories they have read about Namor, once again establishing Marvel comics as a thing in the Marvel 616 universe.

Namor easily barges into the Baxter building to have a chat with the FF but of course they don’t want to listen. Except for Sue Storm that is. While they are checking out his story, the whole Baxter building gets lifted into the air by Dr. Doom.

Namor was promised Sue Storm wouldn’t be hurt but when the building rockets toward space, he realizes Doom has betrayed him. The villain team up is now over and Namor is going to have to help the Fantastic Four. Namor is consistently a great frenemy of the group who will do the right thing but only at the last moment or at the behest of Sue Storm.

One by one each member of the FF tries to stop the rocket but to no avail. Well, to be fair, Sue Storm didn’t try anything because, well, Stan Lee was not exactly great at giving equal time for female heroics. And the Thing does realize his strength isn’t going to stop a rocket so he just tries to bash Namor.

Conveniently there is a water tower in the building so Namor can power himself up enough to stop Doom. This also establishes the fact that Doom mentions earlier in the issue, Namor is one of the few people who could put a stop to Doom’s desires of global domination.

This confrontation ends with Doom launched onto a meteor but we all know he is coming back at some point.

It’s hard to overstate the complexities that early issues like these set up not just for the FF but for all of Marvel. The way that villains are multifaceted and complex makes for great reads even in comic books and they still work in modern culture. I think it’s why the MCU is such a successful franchise. We can relate to everyone, even the villains.

Next up on the reading list we’re getting micro once again as we go back to Tales to Astonish #35 and check in on Ant-Man!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #5

The Fantastic Four Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Fantastic Four Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel

There are some villains so memorable that they define the heroes they fight against. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Batman without The Joker as his arch-nemesis. What would Superman be without the deadly threat of Lex Luthor? In the fifth issue of The Fantastic Four, the villain that will be the biggest threat, the most dangerous rival, the most influential villain against Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, is introduced. He will come to define the team in many ways and will be a significant presence in the Marvel 616 continuity permanently.

The beginning of the issue starts with some mystery as to whom Dr. Doom could be and what he wants. However, he hates the group from his opening panels.

Once we enter the FF’s headquarters, we get another nod to the Marvel 616 universe containing Marvel comics as we see Johnny Storm reading an issue of The Incredible Hulk. Marvel isn’t the first company to have made what we now call Easter eggs, but they have always been masters of it.

Right from the outset, Doom is a threat. He starts off the issue by trapping the team in their Baxter Building headquarters. He tosses a net that is electrified and fireproof. Johnny can’t burn through it, The Thing can’t break it, and Reed can’t stretch past it. Doom demands Sue Storm be given to him as a hostage. Reluctantly, the team agrees to let Sue go to prevent Doom from causing harm to anyone.

Before that happens, Reed takes us on a flashback to his college days and reveals that he knew Victor Von Doom in college. At that time, Doom was obsessed with both science and the supernatural. He tended to conduct science experiments that were forbidden. During one of these experiments, Doom was disfigured and has covered his face ever since. We don’t see what the test was, but it’s evident it was not an innocent one. Doom gets expelled but continues looking for secrets in black magic and sorcery.

As soon as Reed realizes who has trapped them in the building, he understands what a threat Doom is. Doom’s demands are somewhat strange. He takes them back to his fortress and demands that The Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic and The Thing all travel to the past to get the treasure of Blackbeard, the pirate. He gives them forty-eight hours to bring back Blackbeard’s treasure chest. Doom obviously wants something inside the chest but he doesn’t phrase the request that way.

The story gets a little silly as the three heroes have to disguise themselves as sailors. They even equip The Thing with a black beard. There’s a bit of fighting, and soon it turns out to be the case that The Thing is Blackbeard, the pirate. This means the group is not actually stealing anything from anyone. Also, The Thing considers staying because he is seen as a regular, if intimidating, human in this era. Ultimately, the group does go back, and they do present Doom with Bleackbeard’s treasure chest. Since Reed is the smartest man in the world, he puts chains into the chest, thus fulfilling Doom’s request of getting the treasure chest but not giving Doom the ability to increase his powers. Doom tells the group the gems belonged to the ancient magician Merlin, which sets up the possibility of magic existing in the 616 universe. Johnny is also pretty quick to realize the gems are at the bottom of the sea and could be deadly in the hands of the Sub-Mariner.

Doom is outraged that he has been tricked, and a fight breaks out. We find out here that Doom is an intelligent foe. He has created a robot replica of himself, so he is in no danger of harm from the three heroes. This is the first instance of a Doom-bot showing up, but it will be used over and over to fool heroes in the future consistently.

For all his intelligence and arrogance, Doom is not infallible. He forgets about Susan Storm, and she destroys his machinery and frees the rest of the group from the room Doom has trapped them in. The group escapes and manages to force Doom out of his own fortress. He makes his escape with a rocket-powered jet pack and flees in order to fight another day. The issue sets up Doom as a repeat threat, and he will certainly deliver on that threat in years to come.

Next on the reading list is Amazing Fantasy #15 (A story), potentially the most significant Marvel comic book ever to be printed. This is the one that introduces us to a certain teenager who has quite the reaction to a little spider bite.

If you’ve been enjoying these posts and want to read some comics yourself, click on the link below. Note that I am an Amazon affiliate and will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #4

Fantastic Four Issue #4, Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #4, Photo Credit: Marvel

In the fourth issue of The Fantastic Four, the Marvel 616 Universe gets a whole lot bigger and a whole lot older.

The start of the issue finds Reed, Sue, and Ben arguing over finding Johnny Storm who abandoned the team at the end of the last issue. There is a flashback to the last issue to set the scene. The three remaining members of the team split up to search the city to see if they can find Johnny. And while Kirby’s artwork has heavily hinted that this story is placed in New York, Lee’s text finally confirms it in this issue. This issue also establishes that every member of the Fantastic Four is famous across the country. Although some people at this point still think Reed and company are made up, thus implying people in the 616 are reading about Reed in Marvel comics.

Despite Ben and Johnny constantly bickering, or maybe because of it, they know each other well. The Thing knows Johnny will be working on cars in an old garage and he confronts Johnny. In this scene, Johnny demonstrates that he can control his powers effectively because he can have his heat at the right temperature not to ignite the gas where he is. Also, in this issue, for the first time, Johnny says his famous catchphrase, “Flame on!”

Also, once again, The Thing changes back to human form albeit for only a little while. This further establishes Reed Richards could find a cure for him. It’s something Reed is going to work for years on to no avail.

After Ben and Johnny have their fight, Johnny goes to the neighborhood known as The Bowery and finds lodging for the evening. Here we get another meta-reference in Marvel 616. Johnny is reading an old comic book from the 1940s about The Sub-Mariner. The Sub-Mariner is a character Timely comics, the predecessor of Marvel debuted in 1939. He is Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Aquaman. Making this reference even more interesting is the fact that Sub-Mariner used to be one of Timely’s top three characters, the other two being Captain America and the original Human Torch. It’s perfectly fitting then that Johnny Storm, the most famous Human Torch is the one to find Sub-Mariner. Sub-Mariner is in a cheap hotel along with Johnny but seems to have lost his memory. The crowd at the hotel turns on Sub-Mariner but Johnny steps in to defend him. He then shaves Sub-Mariner and realizes this is the Sub-Mariner.

With the introduction of this character to Marvel 616, or maybe more accurately, re-introduction, the universe can now be dated back to at least 1939, although the Sub-Mariner’s adventures from that time period do not necessarily count in 616 continuity.

Johnny Storm knows Namor’s (aka Sub-Mariner) power comes from the sea. Johnny does what he thinks is the smart and merciful thing and tosses Namor into the sea. Namor certainly gets his power back. He quickly discovers his underwater home has been destroyed by Atomic testing.

This is a theme that will come back again and again in 616 stories. Atomic energy drives both good and evil depending on who uses it and how it is used. This is extremely relevant considering the cold war that continues for decades. Atomic energy is so important in these stories that the mutants in the X-Men comics will be given the title of, “Children of the Atom”. Sub-Mariner was able to give voice to those who could see the dangers of Atomic energy in the world at the time. Sub-Mariner will also become the most powerful and famous “frenemy” of The Fantastic Four.

After realizing his home is destroyed and the surface world is responsible, Namor calls upon a gigantic sea monster to attack the city and get revenge. At this point, Johnny signals the rest of the team by writing a giant 4 in the sky. This isn’t the first time the team has been signaled in the sky, but it is the first time that Johnny does it.

The team converges to stop the threat. This allows The Thing to strap a nuclear bomb to his back (again with the Atomic energy as both hero and menace) and enter into the mouth of the giant sea creature known as Giganto. The Thing has to fight a couple of creatures inside Giganto but he makes his escape.

While Johnny, Reed, and The Thing have some success fighting Namor, it’s The Invisible Girl who saves the day in this story. She is able to steal the horn Namor used to call the sea monster. Namor catches Sue while she is invisible and she decides since she is caught she might as well drop the invisibility. Namor falls in love with Sue Storm instantly. This sets up the first real rival to Reed Richards for Sue’s affections. Namor tells Susan if she will be his bride, he will give up his anger towards the human race. Sue Storm, of course, is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the world. Namor realizes that she is consenting not out of love or attraction. He thought he was offering her marriage as an extension of honor and quickly rescinds the offer, although it is clear he still finds her attractive.

The team has to fight Namor to save the world. Johnny, realizing Namor’s power is bound to the water, creates a vortex of air that lifts Namor away from the water so he is weakened and deposits him far out into the sea. Namor again swears he will have his revenge and the setup of a decades-long relationship between him and the Fantastic Four has been set.

While the events described above are truly enough to be of major significance to the 616 universe, there is one other detail in this book I have not yet mentioned. Sprinkled throughout the issue every few pages is what surely must have been a mysterious yet exciting tease for something to come. Every few pages we see a question. “Who is the Hulk?” And we are told, “You’ve never seen anyone like the Hulk!”

To this day we are still trying to get the true answer to the question “Who is the Hulk?” The statement is a little less true but we’ll get into why that is when Hulk finally makes his 616 debut.

But before we get there we have a couple of short Tales to Astonish stories to discuss.

Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #29 (A Story).

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #3

Fantastic Four Issue #3, Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #3, Photo Credit: Marvel

The third issue of The Fantastic Four introduces us to a few things that will come to define the team in the future. We are introduced to the Fantasti-car, a flying car that can separate into four sections and is docked at the top of a towering building in the city. While it is not named in the issue, this tower will be what is later known as the Baxter Building, and Reed and the team own it. Reed, the genius that he is, is able to build a dock on the roof that will hide the car so that no one knows who lives there. Also, Sue Storm designs the first costumes for the team. While Sue and Reed’s uniforms make perfect sense for them, Ben can’t stand most of his and The Thing goes on to fight mostly in the blue bottoms of the uniform. Johnny is shown in his costume but of course, it is not explained in this issue how this costume does not burn up when he flames on.

Also, we see the bickering between The Human Torch and The Thing increase. The antagonism gets so bad that by the end of the issue, Johnny Storm quits the team. This is the first time in the 616 universe anyone quits a superhero team but it will most certainly not be the last.

The issue itself deals with a rather forgettable villain by the name of Mister Miracle. He seems to be able to do all kinds of miraculous feats including taking a punch on the jaw from The Thing and making a movie monster come to life. Reed Richards figures out that Mister Miracle is simply an excellent hypnotist who can make a crowd think he is doing the things it looks like he is doing. Forgetting the fact that this is not at all how hypnotism works, we do get some scenes where the team gets to show off their powers. There is also another flashback to the origins of the team. This is the third issue and the third time we see the origin of the team. Lee and Kirby did an excellent job of making sure that no one could forget how this team started. We also get some hints of conflict to come. Ben is jealous of Reed for the fact that Sue is in love with Reed. Ben and Reed both blame Reed for the accident that gave them all powers. Reed tries to look on the bright side that at least they can help humanity but Ben would trade it all away to be normal again.

Once again, this issue is different from other comics on the stand at the time because the team fights among themselves. Ben sees his powers as a curse rather than a blessing. And with Johnny walking away from the team, Reed realizes Johnny would be a huge threat if he turned against the Fantastic Four. Other comics at the time were not posing the question of what would happen if one of their own turned against them. This is a uniquely Marvel trait and it works on so many levels that it becomes a staple in comics from then on. At one point or another, every member of the Fantastic Four will walk away from the team. They do come back but with this issue, the reading population would be left to wonder if Johnny was really serious and if he might even become a villain. It was groundbreaking in the fact that a hero could become evil and groundbreaking that Reed recognizes this as a fact.

While the most important things in this issue are more to do with the visual aesthetic, the costumes, the building, the radio transmitter the team uses to communicate, and the fantasti-car, the dynamic of the team arguing with one another is what propelled the universe forward. The story was not afraid to have conflict not only with the villain but with the team members. I can’t overstate how important this is to Marvel 616 comics. It’s what defines them. It’s so effective that in Marvel movies and movies like The Incredibles they don’t work if the team doesn’t argue with each other at some point in the movie. Next on the reading list is Fantastic Four #4

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #2

Fantastic Four Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel

While the first issue of the Fantastic Four birthed the Marvel 616 universe, issue two began to refine it. The issue starts with what looks like each member of the Fantastic Four committing a crime. The Thing destroys an oil rig. Susan Storm steals a diamond worth ten million dollars. Johnny Storm destroys a priceless statue and Reed Richards turns off all the power in the city. Of course, our heroes didn’t do any of these things. This is the work of the Skrulls from outer space. They are a group of villains that will be vital in the years to come. Skrulls are even in movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so they are still relevant.

These aliens are shape-shifters who through their natural abilities and with a little help from technology fake the crimes described above. The Skrulls wish to invade earth but because of the now-famous Fantastic Four, they know it will be no easy task. They have to stop these four humans before the invasion. They plan to get the authorities after the FF and then once they are dead, enter the planet with no resistance.

Newspapers show headlines of the Fantastic Four as declared enemies. Two of the papers will be staples in Marvel 616. They are the Daily Globe and the Daily Bugle. They become much more important in other series but this is where they are established in 616 for the first time.

The FF have hidden out in an isolated hunting lodge and are trying to figure out just what is going on. The Thing is angry and lashes out. It seems like he is full of anger and could become a danger to the human race if his power goes unchecked. Reed of course, still blames himself for Ben’s condition. We are treated to a flashback of the origins of the FF. This will happen over and over again in the early issues. It makes sense because so often these comic books were thought of as disposable. This gave the benefit of filling up pages, reusing artwork, and allowing new readers to understand the whole story.

While Reed is musing about the past, a group of soldiers captures the group. They are separated and put into cells. Sue Storm turns invisible and escapes. This is the issue that Johnny Storm meets his own kind of kryptonite – asbestos. Yep, that’s right. In those days asbestos was seen as a somewhat miraculous substance because of its ability to fireproof a room. It was not yet seen as the dangerous substance it is and so it appears in a lot of comics alongside Johnny Storm. Despite being put in an asbestos-filled room, Johnny finds an air vent and can escape through that. The group gets into a helicopter and escapes.

Back at a hideout of theirs, the FF argues about how to figure out who is impersonating them. Johnny and Ben fight with each other and this further establishes the dynamic that will exist between the two characters for years to come. Johnny goes to where Reed has assumed the next impersonation will happen. The FF captures the aliens and decides to go aboard the Skrull ship to tell them that Earth is just too hard to capture. Reed Richards shows the captain of the Skrull ship pictures of what he says are real pictures from Earth. This is where we get the first Marvel 616 meta-reference. Reed shows pictures from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. These are both titles that Marvel produces. This means that Marvel comics do exist in the Marvel 616 universe. Reed effectively tricks the Skrulls on the ship but there are still four of them left on Earth to deal with.

On the way back, the ship passes again through cosmic rays, and Ben Grimm for a moment is turned back into a human. Alas, this is only temporary, but it does establish that there could be a cure for Ben’s condition. Reed will dedicate a lot of his life going forward to figuring out that cure.

Once they land the army is ready to take the FF into custody once again but Reed promises to explain the situation if they go back to his apartment. Of course, the Skrulls attack and the army sees that the Fantastic Four are innocent. Reed and company defeat the Skrulls and the only problem left is to decide what to do with the aliens from outer space.

Reed hypnotizes them and tells them they have to change into what he says for the rest of their lives and they are good with that as long as they get to have a peaceful and contented existence. So what do they change into? Cows.

This is a significant and important development in years to come, so way down the line when I have reviewed a lot more of these, don’t forget that there are Skrull cows.

I’m guessing Reed didn’t tell the Skrulls that beef is one of the most popular foods in the country.

The issue ends with a pin-up page of The Thing. Probably a lot of kids did rip this page out and pin it up. That means that any issues with this page intact are going to be much more valuable than those without.Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #27.