Origin stories. By this point people are kind of sick of them and for good reason. When it comes to comic book movies, it appears that almost every movie has to have an origin story attached to it. Yeah that’s an over exaggeration but the fact is too many origin stories have been told the past twenty years for most folks to care about them anymore. They all follow a formula. If it’s done well you can forgive it, examples being Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Iron Man.
An origin story will make or break you. If you can’t snare in readers from the first story, they are not going to care what additional stories you have to tell. And why should they? If you’re characters are so boring in the first issue, what is going to bring them to issue two? That was the dilemma Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had with the Fantastic Four. Everyone knows the story by now. Stan was close to leaving comics for good. He told his wife his intentions and she challenged him to write a comic that he would want to read. The worst that would happened would be that he would be fired and since he didn’t want to stay employed there anyway, what was it going to hurt?
That challenge brought us The Fantastic Four. Comics to this point, while fun reads, thanks to the Comic Code, were to put it nicely simplistic. For proof, check out any of the great collections that DC Comics have put together for some of their long time characters and read their stories from the 40’s and 50’s. They’re stories that would not make good children’s books now. Just horrible, horrible stuff.
Now don’t get me wrong, this was a bit of a hard read by today’s standards. The story itself does not stand the test of time. But much like Love Me Do from The Beatles, you can see from the first page on the foundations of what was to come. The simple fact alone that the characters, while they had a deep seated respect for each other, didn’t really like each other in this issue, is great to see. Ben Grimm, from the start, is pissed off at Reed Richards for directly ignoring his warnings about going into space. And speaking of the space trip, if Reed Richards created the spaceship they used to get into space, why would the four have to sneak onto a military base in order to covertly go into space? You would think that if he built the ship, he could fly it into space whenever the hell he wanted.
I did not care for Sue Storm this issue. She wasn’t really given much to do apart from be invisible and challenge Ben Grimm’s manhood by calling him a commie for not wanting to go into space. They may have well just had her cluck like a chicken. They could have had her ask if he wanted to borrow one of her dresses because there was no way he was a man anymore. I get that this was the sixties and this time was NOT kind to women in fiction, especially comic books, but much like Amos and Andy or Bugs Bunny talking about getting Japs, you just cringe at how wrong they present her.
This is the absolute worst part about reading older comics because you can’t help but read the story through modern lenses. Me personally, I want the women in stories I read, or write (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48189), to be strong. Sure, they can be damsels in distress. As a guy, it is instinct to want to save someone that is weaker than you. But seeing characters presented as nothing more than eye candy simple due to the lack of male genitalia is just simply a waste. There was so much more they could have done with her that they ultimately did over time.
The art work was crude but again, in the realm of comic history it is important work. Using the music analogy I used earlier, this very much was crude compared to later work that he drew. But when your work influences an industry like Jack Kirby’s work did, my god, that is a legacy worth having. At the end of the day, while more average folks may know who Stan Lee is, even more people know of and are conditioned to the work of Jack Kirby and the legacy he has in comics. The man was a legend. Admittedly when it comes to art I am not the greatest critic. I know what I like and don’t like and can pretty much say a lot of words saying one or the other. Little details that happen in art will slip by me. It is something that I am working on and reading a comic book a day has definitely helped in that regard. So for a novice with art like myself, there are not enough words I can put together that will reflect the impact Jack Kirby has had on comics and pop culture as a whole.
While this comic can be hard to read in 2015, you can not deny the impact this issue had on comics. The fact that the heroes in the story acted like real people, arguing and all, brought much needed reality to stories that bordered on inane. While I cannot recommend this as a must read comic it would still be something I would say you should own. No, not the original comic that is hard to find originals of and cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. I’m talking about heading to Marvel’s website, Comixology, or wherever you buy your comics and buy yourself this issue. While someone may have come along over time and did something comparable to what Stan and Jack did, they were the flag bearers. They ushered in the Silver Age of comic books with this issue. The world would be a much different place if we didn’t have this issue.