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  1. #1
    All-New Member mcoorlim's Avatar
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    Post Reading Through Marvel's Silver Age

    I picked up a subscription to Marvel Unlimited so I decided to, with the help of a couple friends, start a podcast about reading through the silver age of Marvel Comics starting with Fantastic Four #1. I'm going to chronicle a bit of that here, giving my general thoughts and opinions on the issues, the development of Marvel as a whole, etc. For my fairly arbitrary purposes, the end of the silver age is going to be the death of Gwen Stacy.

    I'm not going to read and review EVERY Marvel comic released between those two points because frankly I don't have the time or the attention span; as such I'll be using the Complete Marvel Reading Order's essential list as a general guideline; I'll be adding a few that aren't on the list and skipping a couple that are, but this is a pretty good resource if you want a good foundation on the universe. This is still hundreds of comics and it'll be a miracle if I get through them all.

    The Marvel Unlimited copies are reprints. This kinda sucks as it frequently alters the color and linework of the originals. I'll do my best to compare them to scanned art where I can, but there's only so much I can do. It should go without saying that hey, spoilers abound.

    The Before Times

    In the early 50s comics and magazine distribution networks were mobbed up to the gills. In his zeal to fight organized crime, Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN) teamed up with other moral crusaders to form the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. These hearings decided that comic books were largely to blame for the decline in youth morality, a theory supported by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent.

    In response to the bad press and to head off government attempts at regulation, the Comics Magazine Association of America decided to implement the Comics Code Authority, inspired in part by the film industry's own 1930 production code.

    At the time the biggest sellers were the horror, true crime, and romance comics, and with their content severely curtailed, readership fell into a steep decline. Out of desperation DC comics turned back to their wartime superhero books, relaunching The Flash in the anthology book Showcase #30.

    This did well enough that Marvel - formerly a shell company under Timely and Atlas - saw fit to follow suit in 1961 with The Fantastic Four.

    Fantastic Four #1, a bridge between Giant Monsters and Superheroes
    Let's talk about the cover firs, a classic Silver Age "scene that never happens in the comic." It works fine as marketing, though, because it's eye-catching, has a strong composition, and brings to mind a lot of questions in the reader. While none of the Fantastic Four are in uniform, they obviously have some kind of strange powers. Superheroes in street clothes fighting a giant monster.

    This is, I think, the element that tells us that this comic is a bridge between the old-school aliens and monster sci fi of the 50s to the new age of superheroes we're about to embark upon.

    The comic opens with a sequence in which our protagonists use their powers in situations where it isn't strictly necessary - and in fact, makes for a lot of needless attention and unnecessary property damage. Unseen, Reed pops off the Fantastic Flare - which spells out the whole name of the team rather than the more reasonable '4' - and his teammates respond by:

    • Sue, visiting with a friend, turns invisible and leaves without saying anything.1
    • Ben is shopping for some threads. He sees the signal and kool-aids his way out through the wall, despite clearly having gotten inside without destruction, then jumps down into the sewers.
    • Johnny is hanging with a buddy at his garage, and when he sees it he just... flames on and melts through first the car then the garage. Some friend.

    Unnecessary property damage is going to be A THING with the Fantastic Four... especially when it comes to Reed's plans. But still, the point here is that it shows off their powers, a good way to get readers up to speed fast when we have a page budget to work within.

    This culminates in Reed giving a flashback to how they gained these powers - you know the story. Reed wanted to beat the commies into space, bullied Ben into serving as test pilot on an untested craft for an unauthorized flight, and let his girlfriend and her little brother tag along for REASONS2. There's an economy of story here in giving the reader the context they need to "get" what Lee and Kirby are going for here. Immediately upon being exposed to cosmic rays, the team decides to use their powers to fight crime. And good for them!3
    Reed explains the situation -power plants are going missing - and he's managed to pinpoint the cause to MONSTER ISLAND which is totally a real place. They go there, fight some monsters, meet the Moleman - our first Supervillain with the power of being really unlikeable.
    There's a lot less combat than you might otherwise expect - we're coming to the end of our page-count - but basically when danger rears its ugly head the Fantastic Four bravely turn their tails and... flee... escaping just as Monster Island is destroyed.

    And that's it! That's Fantastic Four #1, the issue that launched a thousand ships and several comic book universes. Stan's bosses are going to wait and see whether or not this experiment takes off, and in the early 60s Marvel's distributors are still owned by DC's parent company so it'll be a while before publication of new books picks up steam. I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on the issue, or my take on it, and I'll be posting my thoughts on Fantastic Four #2 in a few days.



    1 Back home we called this an "Irish Goodbye."
    2 Irresponsibility. The reason is irresponsibility.
    3 This origin gets a lot of revisions, starting with Issue #2 where I guess Stan realized that Yuri had already made it into space, so Reed's goal here becomes to be the first one to Mars. It sees more and more revisions due to the sliding timescale dragging the events of Fantastic Four #1 forward in time as the real world's decades roll on.
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    Last edited by mcoorlim; 04-24-2021 at 05:30 PM.
    I write books, develop games, and produce Baby Got Back Issues, a silver age Marvel review podcast. I like to keep busy.

  2. #2
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    Its a long time ago that I read it, but I always wondered what these cosmic rays were about?

    I think its explained somewhere don the line, years later or even decades, but at the time what were Stan (or Kirby if you believe Riesmans book) thinking when it came to the cosmic radiation?

    I also dislike the muddy Thing instead of the later version of the rocky Thing. The constant bickering between Jonny and Ben is also tiring. I am not a big fan of older FF issues, but appreciate it.

  3. #3
    All-New Member mcoorlim's Avatar
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    Yeah in 200 issues they say that it was a combination of cosmic rays and sunspot activity, and in 500 or so the rays become a message sent by the Entity. Other changes include the Moloids being redefined as Deviants - or the creation of Deviants.

    Agree with you on muddy/reptillian Thing's look being not as good as the later rocky/craggy one. And Thing has a lot of growth to hit in terms of character - he's as brash as always, but isn't written with the charm that lets him get away with it.

  4. #4
    All-New Member mcoorlim's Avatar
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    Post Fantastic Four #2: Meet the Skrulls



    Our second issue provides us with a cover that actually depicts a scene from the comic. We see Reed, Ben, Sue, and Johnny going to town on some Skrull. Amusingly the reprint coloring job makes Ben look like he's bare-ass naked. Good exhibition of the group's powers, with Sue ready to go berserker with that vase.

    The story opens with a "everybody thinks the heroes are villains" trope, with the Skrulls taking the form of the Four to commit various crimes. Ben swims out to an offshore oil rig, Sue steals a diamond, Johnny melts a statue, and Reed causes a brief blackout. Chortling, they reunite to commiserate their deeds.

    What's revealed here is that the Skrulls' technology allows them to replicate Ben and Johnny's powers, and that they basically ALL have Reed's power... except that they can also shrink small enough to seemingly vanish, making them in effect a race of more powerful Reeds with better tech. We also see that the workers on the oil rig know who Ben is as The Thing, meaning the Fantastic Four have gotten recognition since issue #1.


    Why does Johnny have a rifle? He can throw fireballs.

    Still no costumes, and the F4 have secluded themselves away in a wilderness cabin to lay low. The military shows up and the team surrenders to them purely so Kirby can draw them using their power to escape the special cells constructed to keep them. This is also Johnny's first (of many) exposure to asbestos.

    Free from the military, Johnny manages a clever plan to sabotage a rocket launch, guessing that the imposters would be in the vicinity. He is correct, and is able to signal the others from the Skrull infiltrators' headquarters. A melee ensues, and our heroes win the day in that scene from the cover of the comic. They're able to use the Skrull ship to fly up to the orbiting Skrull mothership, where through a clever ruse Reed convinces the Skrulls that some comic book clippings are photographs and that earth is protected by the sorts of science fiction shenanigans you might find in Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales anthology books.

    The Fantastic Four return to earth, defeat the Skrulls they left behind, and Reed hypnotizes them into thinking that they're cows - something that will in no way come back to bite everyone in the ass in the future.


    The writing and the action were better in issue #1 than #2, with the Skrulls a more engaging threat than the Moloids. Characterizations are still a bit rough, though Sue had more to do in this episode.

  5. #5
    Extraordinary Member Raffi Ol D'Arcy's Avatar
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    I take my hat off to this project of yours. Great stuff.

    Btw, I haven't read any SA FF in a very long time. I appreciate the in-depth comments and know where to go to for commentary on SA key issues in the future. I'll be curious as to your SA Daredevil reviews as I've read all of Daredevil from DD #1 to the current run.
    Last edited by Raffi Ol D'Arcy; 04-07-2021 at 02:16 PM.

  6. #6
    Fantastic Member hyped78's Avatar
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    Great read, thank you!

  7. #7
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    Was it in issue 2 where Reed had Jonny build a house made of asbestos? And Jonny was thinking: I am glad that Reed build me a house completely made out of asbestos?

    Hilarious. No one knew how dangerous that stuff is/was.

    Ah, I've just seen it. I missed it in your text. That was the issue.

  8. #8
    All-New Member mcoorlim's Avatar
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    Oohhhhh the Asbestos industry knew how dangerous it was going back to the 1930s. They just... didn't tell anyone!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcoorlim View Post
    Oohhhhh the Asbestos industry knew how dangerous it was going back to the 1930s. They just... didn't tell anyone!
    Or, asbestos isn't really dangerous and its all a myth. Or do you think a genius like Reed Richards wouldn't have known about that before he build Jonny an asbestos house?

  10. #10
    Fantastic Member hyped78's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanMad1977 View Post
    Or, asbestos isn't really dangerous and its all a myth. Or do you think a genius like Reed Richards wouldn't have known about that before he build Jonny an asbestos house?
    Or he was secretly trying to kill him?

  11. #11
    All-New Member mcoorlim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hyped78 View Post
    Or he was secretly trying to kill him?
    I mean, have you *met* Johnny?

  12. #12
    DC Enthusiast Tony's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcoorlim View Post

    Agree with you on muddy/reptillian Thing's look being not as good as the later rocky/craggy one. And Thing has a lot of growth to hit in terms of character - he's as brash as always, but isn't written with the charm that lets him get away with it.
    For me the Thing doesn't become the Thing I love until 25? the two parter where he fights the Hulk.

  13. #13
    All-New Member mcoorlim's Avatar
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    Default Fantastic Four #3: That's not how hypnosis works, not how any of this works

    Issue 3 brings us the Brand New Fantasticar and Team Uniforms. We also get to see, for the first time, the Baxter Building - the team has moved from Central City, CA, to New York. They even provide us with a cool little cut-away of the base.



    What's that? The villain? The plot? No idea, if you look at the cover.



    Clearly Marvel knew this issue was a bit of a turkey as they make no effort whatsoever to go into the plot or villain - it's the Miracle Man, a stage hypnosis whose powers are limited only by Stan Lee's understanding of what hypnosis is capable of. Turns out that that's a lot, from making statues walk around, to hurting people, to whatever else he wants it to do, really.

    However, when it comes down to serious business - like taking out Mr. Fantastic - our antagonist goes with the tried and true: a brick.



    Not a great issue, but an important one, if only for all the "firsts" it introduces as the team evolves. And we do get some interesting uses of the team's powers, so that's always welcome.
    I write books, develop games, and produce Baby Got Back Issues, a silver age Marvel review podcast. I like to keep busy.

  14. #14
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    The cover doesn't tell you anything, but its kind of iconic today. The image is very well known.

    I always liked the cut aways. FF had them more than once, and I remember some of the Batcaves or the Fortress of Solitude. Even Peter Parkers apartment

  15. #15
    Fantastic Member hyped78's Avatar
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    I had no idea about the existence of Miracle Man - he sounds as lame as he is haha

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