Wednesday, June 15, 2011

March 1962: The Greatest Comic Magazine In The World??

 Fantastic Four #3

Our Story
The Fantastic Four take in The Miracle Man’s magic show and are impressed with the magician’s amazing feats (all except The Thing, who wants to clobber the guy for showing The Four up in front of a live audience). As the Four are riding home in their newly invented Fantasti-Car, Reed solemnly declares “It is fortunate for us, and for the world, that the Miracle Man is not a criminal. For if he were… he might be the one foe we could not defeat.”
Little does Reed know, at that very moment, The Miracle Man is planning to wreak havoc on New York by bringing a statue of a giant (very Kirby-esque) monster, an advertisement for a local theater showing a science fiction flick, to life. 
Lucky for the city, the Fantastic Four are lounging around, trying on their new uniforms (the classic blue with the circled 4 on the chest), when they catch the local news showing the premiere of “Monster From Mars.” They witness the monster’s display of power as he crushes automobiles and fouls red carpets. They phone the commissioner to let him know they’re on the case but the Commish has already been contacted by The Miracle Man, who “declare(s) war on the whole human race” and “intend(s) to conquer the earth!”
Splitting the Fantasti-Car in four pieces, the team searches the city for any sign of a 100-foot tall Dimetrodon (it’s a big city!), finally espying it robbing a jewelry store of millions in diamonds. After a heated battle, The Torch burns the wood and plaster monster to the ground. In the excitement, the Miracle Man gets away but not before The Invisible Girl can hitch a ride in his truck.
Gathered together to go over a plan of attack, our three male team members take time out for some origin recollecting (or as they say in the biz, “padding”), some bickering, and our first-ever “resignation of a superhero” as Johnny Storm tires of Ben Grimm’s constant whining and general pissiness and grabs a hunk of the highway.
Back in the magician’s Fortress of Solitude, a junkyard, Sue Storm’s anonymity is short-lived as a guard dog rats her out to MM, who hypnotizes the blonde and coerces her to draw her partners to him. Putting aside their differences for a moment all three show up to battle the conjurer. The Miracle Man loses his power, mass hypnosis, when The Torch’s flame blinds him, revealing to the world that he’s a fraud, but a pretty good fraud.
Not able to help themselves, The Thing and Torch pick nits yet again and The Torch quits the FF for the second time in one issue (surely that record will be broken some day?) and Storms off to find himself sans responsibility.

Peter Enfantino: After only three issues, Stan Lee pronounces Fantastic Four as "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World." Purists will argue that pretty soon it would earn that title but so far there's really nothing here to differentiate it from Justice League aside from the endless bickering. Granted, in its day this was groundbreaking as most teams just got along but every other page we're subjected to cat fights.

John Scoleri: Thanks for that tip—I'll be sure to skip Justice League.
PE: Do you think Reed might be one of those superheroes who worries about everything? He sees the Miracle Man saw a log in half, turn himself into gaseous vapor, and grow big, and opines that it’s good news for mankind that The Miracle Man is on our side or else the FF might not be able to handle him. This, after the team defeated a giant monster and Skrulls from Outer Space.

JS: The burning question for me is how much longer until we transition away from the Giant Kirby monsters? And art-wise, I'll be glad to see The Thing finally settle in to his rocky-self soon. Though I must admit I liked the stylish rock-star-hairdo he was sporting.

PE: We're treated to a diagram of what will eventually be the iconic Baxter Building (but is now known as "back home" or "the base"). The diagram refers to it as the "secret headquarters" but, given that Reed Richards is fond of cracking the window and shooting off "Fantastic Four" flares in the sky, it doesn't seem to be much of a "secret."

JS: Perhaps the secret is the missile silo built right in the building. At least they had the good sense to put it on the opposite side of the building from their living quarters and a pretty spiffy home theater (for the 60s). You know, in case there was an accident or something (like, um, a launch?).

PE: The explanation that The Miracle Man’s power is mass-hypnosis is hard to swallow when you see the damage his prehistoric “illusion” causes to the city. Can you hypnotize an entire city to believe in after-event damage? And Reed’s expository at the climax, letting everyone know how he knew MM’s power was mass-hypnosis, is a full pound of Deli-style bologna if you ask me.

JS: Forgetting about all that, Sue continues her unsympathetic dismissal of Ben (check out the bucket that he's supposed to wear over his head as part of his 'costume.' And we're also introduced to what would become (until someone's untimely death earlier this year) a FF staple - the playful fighting between Ben and Johnny.

PE: Reed spends a lot of time in this story worrying about what mankind will do should (fill in the name) go bad, first with the magician, then with The Torch.

JS: Reed worrying, Ben complaining... sound like those come right out of the Stan Lee characterization playbook.

PE: The Miracle Man was one of those fourth-tier level villains who never really amounted to anything. In fact, he was pretty much forgotten until he made an appearance a decade later in Fantastic Four #138 (September 1973), sporting a new costume and a buff physique. 

JS: And here I was concerned we had seen the last of such a high caliber villain.

PE: Debuting is the first Fantastic Four Fan Page (and thus the first fan page of any Silver Age Marvel comic). Featured are letters from future Marvel artist Alan (Steelgrip Strakey) Weiss and S. Brodsky. Brodsky just happened to be Marvel's production chief at the time. It was also revealed years later that this issue of FF was inked by Brodsky. Years later, in the early 1970s, Brodsky would join forces with fellow comic lifer Israel Waldstein to create the comics company, Skywald, known today for its notoriously sleazy comics Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream.


Also this month

Amazing Adult Fantasy #10
Gunsmoke Western #69
Journey Into Mystery #78
Kid Colt Outlaw #103
Linda Carter, Student Nurse #4
Love Romances #98
Millie the Model #107
Strange Tales #94
Tales of Suspense #27
Tales to Astonish #29
Teen-Age Romance #86 (final issue)


Steve Ditko strikes again in "Those Who Change" (Amazing Adult Fantasy #10), a riff on the old  science fiction standby about time travel changing paths of time. EC used to do these in every other issue of Weird Fantasy and Weird Science and there's no argument from me that they did it the best. Having said that, "Those Who Change," on its low-budget post-Comics Code, pre-Marvel explosion, pushes all the right buttons and ends on an amusing note (albeit, as already stated, a note that's been played several times). It actually begins on a somewhat amusing note as well: Ditko's splash page seems to depict a lizard creature emerging from a toilet!

Our monster title of the month goes to "Kraggoom! The Creature Who Caught an Astronaut" from Journey Into Mystery #78. Elsewhere in JIM, we meet Charlie and Mike, two partners in a sideshow carnival. Business is far from booming until the duo open up their tent one morning to find "The Clutching Hand." Suspended in air, disembodied, the hand opens new doors for the entrepreneurs who market it as "the marvel of the age" and attract big audiences. Charlie, always the softie of the firm, begins to feel sympathy for the limb's plight and loans the hand a pencil to write out a message. Based on the answer, a list of instructions to set the hand free, Charlie sends the hand back from whence it came. This enrages Mike, who pulls a gun and steals all of the pair's assets. The joke's on Mike though, as after he leaves, the clutching hand returns to pay Charlie back with for his kindness. A bizarre concept, delivered with decent artwork from an uncredited Joe Sinnott. The type of "soft-core horror" that was fast dying out in the pages of Marvel but had dominated in the 1950s. Special shout-out for "The Sorcerer." The story itself is a yawner but the Jack Kirby cover illo is effectively creepy, with strange shapes emerging from a desert sandstorm.

The words you never thought you'd hear: "I'm Callin' Yuh Yellow, Kid Colt" scream from the cover and splash page of Gunsmoke Western #69. Once more trying to prove he's got the biggest heart in the wild, wild west, Kid Colt comes to the aid of the townfolk of Flat Rock, who are being run out by outlaws led by the classless Hunk Horgan. The Kid promises the band of outcasts that he'll run Horgan out of town within 24 hours but, on the way into Flat Rock, Colt and his trusty steed Steel run afoul of a hole in a crick and the gunman's pistolas are drenched. Once in town, he realizes he can't draw with water-logged weapons so must avoid and ignore any insult or challenge (including the titular proclamation). This makes for plenty of panels of embarrassment for the gunslinger until he can take no more and whips out his six-shooters, blazing away at any wall or spur that moves. Absolutely no one is shot, winged, or otherwise harmed but Horgan and his men hightail it out of Flat Rock in record time. The usual nice Jack Keller art job.

As is the art on "Jack Krull, the Man who Outdrew the Kid!" over in Colt's own comic (#103), where the Kid finally meets his match. Being the fastest gun in the west ain't always what it's cut out to be. Sure, you get your whiskey faster, the cutest saloon girls and the best seat at the poker table, but it has its drawbacks. There's always someone in the next town who wants to prove they're faster at the draw. So it is with Jack Krull. Only problem is, the Kid has seen Krull draw and he knows the man is faster than he is. That presents a dilemma that the Kid Colt's never been victim to: staying one town ahead of the enemy, running and hiding. Finally tiring of the chase, the Kid resigns himself to the inevitable showdown but fate plays a major role in the outcome. We all know there was a Kid Colt, Outlaw #104.

In one of the most misunderstood Marvel titles of all time, the cover of Strange Tales #94 beseeches "Save Me From The ... Weed!" But rather than a plea from a marijuana addict, this is yet another story of science gone horribly wrong. Experimenting with their Neutron Ray, two scientists accidentally unleash a radioactive cloud into the atmosphere. The dust settles on the beautiful garden of Lucius Farnsworth, "retired millionaire. Farnsworth's gardener George has one hell of a green thumb but, Farnsworth observes sadly, lacks any ambition to strike out on his own. Lucky for the lazy millionaire that's the case as the radioactive particles have found their way to the only cross-dressing flower on the estate, mutating the little sprout into an evil, intelligent, albeit green and hairy, man-hating WEED!!! The horticulturist's nightmare doesn't count on George, who simply snips the plan for world domination in the bud and walks away to tend the rest of his flowers. Kirby's art does manage to help the reader make it to the end of the story despite the obvious downside of reading through tears of laughter.

In the pages of Tales of Suspense #27, "Oog Lives Again!" Lee/Kirby's rip-off seamless melding of The Thing From Another World and The Day The Earth Stood Still details the finding of a giant monster in the ice of The Arctic and the expedition that brings the thing Oog back to civilization. Eventually, we find that Oog isn't the creature's name but is an SOS to the rescue ship on his planet. Once Not-Really-Oog breaks free of his prison and ducks fighter pilots, he delivers his impassioned speech to the people of earth: "You people are losers. Why would we possibly want to invade you?" before being whooshed away in a saucer.

Happy Harper, the protagonist of Steve Ditko's "The Last Laugh" (Tales to Astonish #29) gets his kicks playing practical jokes. Not whoopie cushions or hand buzzers but big-time stunts like removing the stairs outside his neighbors' place or balancing water buckets over doorways. His winning streak comes to an end when Happy Harper steals some TNT for a future prank and becomes Heavenly Harper. This doesn't seem to faze our jokester though as he's already planning hot feet for his fellow angels. Happy soon finds out that he's not the only one who can turn a good prank. Fabulous short-short with a neat twist ending.



  1. I love the cover to FF #3--so innocent! But the cover to FF #138 really brings back memories of when comics were just about the most important thing in my life!

  2. I used to have FF #138. If I remember correctly The Thing actually had a pretty good brawl with the pumped up villain.

    FF#3 might have left a lot to be desired, but at least it established the uniforms that are still worn today by the heroes.

  3. Jack- I know that feeling. I have a lot of issues like that; easier to mention them along the way. Some I just remember as issues I first saw on the newstand, then there were the first "older" issues I bought, etc.