Every now and then I like to take a step back from my usual bargain bin fare and shine the spotlight on some of the older and more "valuable" comics I own. I crank up the old Longbox Junk paper time machine and see what's going on in the Bronze, Silver, and Golden Age corners of my collection. It's a nice little occasional diversion from the dollar box.
The comic at hand is a very recent addition to my collection. As of this writing, I just got it last week for my birthday from my comic-lovin' daughter. She took quiet notice of me admiring that sweet cover every time we hit the comic shop for our weekly fix of four color fun over the past year or so that it's been hanging up among the "premium" comics behind the counter. It was a great birthday present!
BUT. . .
I can't actually read it. See, I had to cheat a little on this particular Longbox Junk Retro Review because the copy I have is encased in a plastic prison. Slabbed and graded at a very nice 8.0. I might one day break it free, but for now it's "cover only" for my actual copy of this comic.
What that means is that the pristine pictures to follow are from the digital version of the comic. Like I said, I had to cheat a little and go online to do this review. . .but with a cover like that, I just HAD to see what the story was!
SO. . .
Disclaimers aside, let's see what this comic has to offer. Step into the paper time machine with me and travel back to 1967 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were hard at work on "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" Ready? Let's do it!
THE DISMAL DREGS OF DEFEAT!
SCRIPT: Stan Lee
PENCILS: Jack Kirby
INKS: Joe Sinnott
COLORS: Stan Goldberg
COVER: Jack Kirby
The cover of this comic is what caught my eye and convinced my daughter to buy it for me, so let's linger here for a moment. Awwwwwwwwwww. . .Yeah! Just look at that. Nice. VERY nice. Do I really need to say much about this Silver Age spinner rack eye-catcher? It's just so. . .great. The colors, the composition. . .there's nothing I don't like about this cover! THIS is the kind of cover that makes me want a comic book. Let's move on before I just sit here all day. . .
Our story begins with Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, and The Thing on top of the Baxter Building, where the lightning flashes of a strange thunderstorm reveal images of their enemy, Doctor Doom!
Little do our heroes know that (in the previous issue) Doctor Doom has vanquished and imprisoned the mighty Silver Surfer and somehow stolen his cosmic powers. Doom was using the storm as a test of his new powers. Satisfied, he begins planning to destroy the Fantastic Four!
Later that day, Reed and Sue Richards (AKA Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman) leave for a quiet weekend alone together at a cottage they've rented upstate, leaving Ben Grimm (AKA The Thing) to keep an eye on things at the Baxter Building. But shortly after the newlywed Richards couple leave, Doctor Doom attacks!
The Thing puts up a good fight, but his brute strength is no match for Doom's new cosmic powers, and Doom stands victorious! The Thing is placed in a state of suspended animation. . .helpless and unable to speak or move.
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
Johnny Storm (AKA The Human Torch), Wyatt Wingfoot (AKA normal human supporting character), and the giant teleporting dog called Lockjaw (Who belongs to the Inhumans, but is temporarily providing the Fantastic Four Deus Ex Machina travel support) suddenly appear in New York.
The stop is an unintended interruption to their continued attempts to breach the Negative Zone barrier trapping the Inhumans so that Torch can be reunited with his new Inhuman girlfriend, Crystal. . .But THAT'S another story!
Torch and Wingfoot don't understand why Lockjaw has brought them to New York when there's more important business to tend to, until they notice the gaping hole in the side of the Baxter Building! Johnny Storm quickly investigates. . .
AT THAT VERY MOMENT. . .
At the quiet upstate cottage Reed and Sue Richards are spending the weekend at, the couple's mild bickering over Reed's inability to stop tinkering with machines long enough to have a weenie roast with his new wife (Hey-O! But seriously. . .it's just a cookout) is rudely interrupted by Doctor Doom!
Using his stolen cosmic powers, Doctor Doom not only takes Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman by surprise, he is able to easily counteract their abilities. As Reed and Sue Richards fight for their lives against Doom.
Back in New York City, The Human Torch has discovered the Thing. He remembers a device in Reed's lab that might work to bring his friend out of suspended animation. He decides that's a job for Wyatt Wingfoot as he rushes to Reed and Sue's rental cabin to warn them that something's going on.
The Human Torch arrives in time to hear Doom ranting about his new powers and the havoc he's going to be able to wreak. Johnny rushes in on the attack, heroically intending to sacrifice himself to give Reed and Sue Richards time to escape and come up with a plan to defeat Doom.
Torch quickly realizes he's outmatched by Doom's new powers, and in a last-ditch effort, causes a massive explosion that Reed and Sue barely escape. Meanwhile, back in New York City, Wyatt Wingfoot uses Reed Richards' "Metabolism Accelerator" on The Thing, bringing him out of suspended animation. . .
Back at the cottage, Johnny Storm is defeated and frozen by Doom. . .but somehow manages to summon the strength to release one last massive blast of fire to free himself!
As The Human Torch escapes to regain his strength, The Thing and Wyatt Wingfoot arrive to join the battle! Wingfoot is armed with Reed's experimental "Anti Grav Disrupter", and he wastes no time in using it on Doom, causing a massive explosion but seemingly having no effect on Doctor Doom!
Reed Richards realizes that there's nothing they can do against Doom with the stolen powers of the Silver Surfer and orders his team to stand down and surrender. The Fantastic Four have been beaten!
Doom gloats that Richards has made the right choice, and although he WAS planning on destroying the heroes, a more fitting punishment will be to let them live, knowing that they no longer even matter to Doom. As the mocking villain makes his exit, Reed lets the rest of the team know that he was just buying time and will never give up!
The End. To be continued. . .
I've mentioned it before, but I'm not really a fan of The Fantastic Four (or super-team comics in general). Don't get me wrong. . .I've read some mighty fine individual FF stories here and there over the years. I just can't get into their adventures on a continuing basis for some reason. I guess I just prefer my FF in small doses.
THAT SAID. . .
I liked this story a lot! A while back, I did another Fantastic Four Retro Review on the superb issue #50 (You can read it RIGHT HERE
), also by the original Stan Lee/ Jack Kirby creative team. What impressed me most about #50 was that it was an unusual story for the time in that the title heroes actually LOST the fight and were pretty much useless through the issue. . .and in the next issue, Reed Richards was consumed with what almost seems like PTSD brought on by the experience of being helpless in the face of a cosmic powerhouse like Galactus.
We sort of have the same thing here. As the cover and title indicate, this is a story where the heroes basically are beaten down and have to admit that they are helpless in the face of a superior enemy. This was NOT the typical Silver Age comic book superhero story! There are those who like to bag on Stan Lee's writing, but I give him credit for being able to write a story that steps outside the box a bit (for that time) and gives us a tale of superheroes defeated!
It's a simple story at heart. . .basically Doctor Doom using his new powers to attack his worst enemies until they ultimately surrender and become the object of Doom's scorn and pity. But within that simple framework, Stan Lee fills the pages of this comic with one little moment after another that kept even someone that's not a fan of the Fantastic Four turning the pages. And when I got to the last page, I wanted more! It's a testament to the storytelling ability of Stan Lee that I started off reading one comic to review and ended up reading forward six MORE issues (since I was online anyway)!
I'm not going to go so far as to say it made me a Fantastic Four fan, but there for a short while, I totally got it. It passed after a half-dozen issues, but this issue's tale of demoralizing defeat gave me enough of a starting point that I was able to enjoy what comes next as Reed once again fights through the depression and anxiety of being helpless and figures out a way to come back out on top. . .then moves on to the next challenges with his family and friends at his side.
I'd say that's a job well done on the story side of things.
But in comics, the story is only half of the equation. Let's take a look at the art. . .
I admitted in that same Retro Review of Fantastic Four #50 (that I've mentioned several times now, sorry to keep bringing it up) that I've never really liked Jack Kirby's art much. I realize that Kirby stands SO tall in the minds of many comic fans that ANY criticism is pretty much ignored. . .no matter how honest it may be. And so it won't matter to a lot of people that in MY extremely humble opinion, I find most of Kirby's art that I've seen to be pretty basic compared to some other Silver/Bronze Age artists when you take a good hard look at it. It's a sort of unpopular opinion, but please don't hurt me.
THAT SAID. . .
While Longbox Junk isn't a comic idol worship blog, neither is it the place to try and topple said comic idols from their well-deserved pedestals. At Longbox Junk, EVERY comic deserves a fair chance, whether it costs a buck from the bargain bin or it's a slabbed and graded "collectible".
So taking a fair look at this comic, I'd say that Kirby's art holds up its end of the bargain and more!
Most of my comics with Kirby art are actually from the 70's when I've been told he was on a bit of a decline . .this is only the third comic from the 60's I have with Kirby art and I can definitely tell the difference. Where Kirby's later Bronze Age efforts seem lazy, here his art crackles with energy and motion!
Thanks to Kirby's simple, clean lines and sparse backgrounds, the characters practically leap off the page and right into your face as you read this comic, especially in the action scenes. I have to give some credit due to the extremely sharp inking of Joe Sinnott and the glorious colors by Stan Goldberg as well. . .even though I AM looking at a modern digitally-recolored version on a computer monitor, so I can't speak for the actual coloring on my slabbed-up copy. Still. . .a big round of applause for the whole art team on this comic!
From the eye-catching cover to the final cliffhanger, this is one great-looking comic! Between this issue and #50, I can certainly catch a little glimpse of why Kirby is held in such high regard. I'm still not a fan of his later work, mind you, but THIS is some good stuff!
What we have here is a perfect storm of writing and art delivering an unusual story that makes the reader want more. Stan Lee throws down some trademark Mighty Marvel bombast that makes even a tale of superheroes taking a beating great. Jack Kirby ups the ante with artwork that practically jumps off the page. In this issue alone it's easy to see why the Stan Lee/ Jack Kirby combination has gone down in comic history as one of the greatest creative teams.
I said above that Longbox Junk isn't in the business of comic idol worship, but Lee and Kirby deserve a well-earned round of applause from me for hooking me in to the story of a superhero team I don't even particularly like, and doing it with a tale of them getting a solid beatdown!
Overall, I have to say that this has been one of the best Silver Age comics I've read in quite a while and I give it two thumbs-up and a Longbox Junk seal of approval. It might be a little pricey to find the original in decent shape, but I see it's been collected, reprinted, and available online, so check it out!
Up Next. . .
Another Longbox Junk Retro Review!
But which one is the question. . .
Phantom Stranger? Black Lightning? Savage She-Hulk? The Shadow? Iron Man? SO MANY MORE! I might just have to roll a die or something. In any case. . .
Be there or be square!