Friday, June 10, 2011

New Year New Line-Up: January 1962


Fantastic Four #2


For a bunch of do-gooders, The Fantastic Four seem to be up to some bad things lately. The Thing is spotted wrecking a giant oil rig, Sue Storm steals a ten million dollar diamond, Johnny Storm zooms into a dedication ceremony and melts a priceless marble statue, and Reed Richards shuts down the city's power. But things are not, you guessed it, as they seem! The Felonious Four are actually The Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting aliens with a plan to conquer Earth. They feel the only obstacle in their way would be the FF and so they set out to tarnish their image and make them wanted outlaws.

Meanwhile the real FF happen to be vacationing at an isolated hunting lodge while all this mischief is going down. When they hear a radio announcing that they are now wanted criminals, The Thing goes nuts and trashes the lodge, eliciting fear from Sue that something must be done about Ben before he becomes unstoppable. What they don't know is that the Army is right outside their cabin, waiting to take them down. The team eludes the soldiers and set to making a plan to draw out their imitators.

The FF manage to trick the Skrulls into surfacing and spilling the beans on their invasion. Reed has the genius idea of disguising themselves as Skrulls (disguised as the FF--make sense?) and hoofing it back to the mothership hovering just beyond Earth's atmosphere via the Skrulls' spaceship, disguised as a water tower. Once there, they explain to the Skrull Chief that there can be no invasion as Earth is protected by vicious monsters (actually, Reed notes, clippings from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery!!). The ruse a success, Reed explains to the head honcho that the four of them will return to earth, sacrifice themselves, and remove all evidence of Skrulls.

Passing through the radiation belt that gave them powers in the first place, The Thing temporarily returns to human form but it lasts only a short time. Once back on earth, the Four are confronted by the police who inform Reed that they are to be arrested. Richards insists that if the chief follows him back to their apartment, all will be revealed. When the police chief witnesses the captured Skrulls transforming into giant monsters, he issues an on-the-spot pardon. That leaves only one quandary in the hands of the Fantastic Four: what to do with Earth's newest resident aliens. The three Skrulls agree to live a life of grazing cows.

PE: Second issue, second inhuman menace. Kirby and Lee keep the FF grounded firmly in the science fiction genre. I realize the exploits of a band of humans that can change shape, catch fire, etc. necessitates a label of science fiction but rather than some of the other comics of the day that saw superheroes fighting guys with guns, guys with poisonous umbrellas, guys who could hypnotize, The Fantastic Four wasn't afraid to dish out the monsters.

JS: I had no idea the Skrulls were introduced so early in the FF run. Of course, I also had no idea the FF had so many secret hideouts and spaceships at their disposal, either.

PE: If anything, Ben Grimm has regressed this issue, now resembling John Agar in the obscure horror flick, Hand of Death (no more than a coincidence though, since the Agar film wouldn't be released until later that year), more than the Glopman of last issue. Evidently, stretching isn't the only power Reed Richards has been blessed with. He can also talk with a pipe in his mouth.

JS: I know Grimm's (short-lived) regression to human happens several times down the road, but I didn't realize he was getting jerked around this early.

PE: Lee/Kirby's in-joke, the giant monster picture, is priceless.

JS: No, priceless is Sue constantly calling Ben, 'Thing.' It would be one thing if they were in public trying to hide their identities, but when you're hanging out with friends, wouldn't you use their first names?

PE: At some point, one of the four Skrulls disappears. Reed explains that the alien is "on his way to another galaxy with the rest of his invasion fleet." Why would they let this one Skrull free but feel the need to hold on to the other three? Makes no sense to me. Is there something I'm missing? And at what point did he vanish?

JS: I can't get over the fact that four people, even with special powers, can scare away an alien invasion.

PE: Those of you who have cheated and skipped ahead know the Skrulls will be back soon and are stars of the epic "Kree-Skrull War" arc in The Avengers #89-97 (1971).

JS: Kirby's art, while still not representative of his famous style that we'll soon get to, is a lot cleaner in this issue than in the premiere.

also this month: 
Amazing Adult Fantasy #8
Gunsmoke Western #68
Journey Into Mystery #76
Kid Colt Outlaw #102
Linda Carter Student Nurse #3
Love Romances #97
Millie the Model Annual #1
Millie the Model #106
Strange Tales #92
Tales of Suspense #25
Tales to Astonish #27


A humorous Lee/Ditko quickie, “Inside the Flying Saucer” (Strange Tales #92) transports us to a movie theater where an audience thrills to the latest science fiction blockbuster about alien invasion. It’s only at the climax that we learn these are Martians watching a film about monstrous Earthling invaders. In case we don’t get the gag, a car bearing the word “MARS” on its plate is seen driving from the theater parking lot. Story is a kick but Ditko isn’t given much to work with in terms of visuals (or he didn’t make the most of what he was given).

In “Follow the Leader” (Journey Into Mystery #76), four space explorers investigating an “uncharted world” are attacked by a horde of vicious creatures who seem to follow the command of one “larger, fiercer-looking than the others” (I can’t tell the difference as they all look pretty fierce in that Kirby-esque way). The men decide to take out the leader (with Gamma Rays!), thinking this will leave the other beasts dazed and confused (that wouldn’t be my line of thinking on an “uncharted world” but, hey, otherwise it wouldn’t be a “journey into mystery,” right?), but it has just the opposite effect. In the end, our travelers learn that the big guy was actually an android and hypothesize that it was put there to keep the others in check by an alien civilization. Could be our intrepid travelers’ troubles are just beginning.

Gravekeeper Enrico just wants to fight bulls in the arena rather than tend to the wishes of dead folk. Not much to ask. One night, his prayers are answered by an old crone who guarantees Enrico will be a champion fighter if he will become “The Man Who Sold His Soul” (Tales of Suspense #25). After some deliberating, Enrico agrees and is immediately whisked into the arena, only to find out he’s the bull not the matador. Fabulous twist tale with great John Romita art harkens back to the pre-code era of the early to mid-1950s (albeit with quite a bit less gore than would be found in one of those titles). A nice break from Tim Boom Ba and Krogarr.

Did the balloon writer fall asleep on this one?
The most interesting thing that can be said about “The Coming of the Krills” (Amazing Adult Fantasy #8), aside from the Ditko art, is that it was remade in 1968, with Gene Colan art, as a “Tale of the Watcher” feature in Silver Surfer #2. Otherwise it’s a standard invasion story highlighted by a funny twist. I do find it amusing that AAF's cover blurbs scream "spine-tingling, supernatural thrillers for the more mature reader!" and "the magazine that respects your intelligence!" I'm not one to argue those points but I would argue that these stories are just as dopey or just as mature (whichever you'd like to look at it) as those run in the Marvel monster comics that didn't respect our intelligence. The one plus to this particular antho was that it featured nothing but Steve Ditko art. That's right, even though we get lame EC rip-offs about yo-yos from the future and con-men who end up haunting their own haunted houses, at least it's told with a bit of visual flair and crooked fingers.

No one knew yet (not even Lee or Kirby) but a future Marvel super-hero title was previewed with "The Man in the Anthill," (Tales to Astonish #27) introducing Professor Henry Pym. Weary of his colleagues at the country club making light of his eccentric theories, Pym sets out to show those guys by creating a serum that can shrink anything down to a miniscule size. (A serum that works on inanimate objects. Yeah, right... -JS) The scientist has grand dreams of shrinking furniture to ship for pennies (the Post Office would have found a way around that!) and entire armies flying to the battlefield in one plane. For a big-headed science whiz, this guy's not the sharpest tool in the shed. He shrinks himself down to a size roughly equal to the brain of a reality show star and then forgets that he's left the beaker of antidote on his window ledge (now soaring above him). Blundering out the back door, he's accosted by his garden ants and seeks refuge in an anthill. I told you this guy wasn't really bright. In one of the catacombs he falls into a puddle of honey and is saved by a warm-hearted ant (He must have seen Pym use his Judo on another ant. -JS). To show his thanks for being rescued he lights a handy match on fire and hightails it. The aforementioned ant gives him a ride up Pym's wall and there Henry bathes in his antidote. Unfortunately, artist Jack Kirby omits the panel where Henry Pym grows too large for the beaker he's crawled into and then tumbles out his window. Pym decides that his formula isn't for mankind's consumption and he destroys it, swearing he'll never again be small. On that note, stay tuned...

In "The Anatomy of a Gunfight" (Gunsmoke Western #68), Kid Colt finds himself backed up against a bar by Pebble Rock's sheriff and best gunmen. The Kid just wants out of town peaceable like but these guys want The Kid to draw. Colt manages to trick his way out of the bar and moseys for his stallion On the way out of town, however, he sees the infamous Morgan Brothers on their way into Pebble Rock for some carousin' and bank robbin'. Never one to walk out on a defenseless town, the Kid heads back in and positions himself between the town and the bad guys, inviting the Morgans. to a shootout. The three Morgan Brothers obviously have Comics Code badges on because, as they open fire, the Kid ducks back behind a water trough rather than pull his infamous six-shooters. In a particularly visious move, Kid Colt dumps out the trough and one of the gunmen slips. The other two are only moments away from giving up their arms peaceably. Nice art by Jack Keller, whose style very much reminds me of John Severin.

Meanwhile in his own magazine (Kid Colt Outlaw #102), The Kid faces "The Ghost of Silver City." Our wanted hero is accused of shooting The Ringo Kid in the back and now the ghost of Ringo is haunting Silver City. Actually, we've just slipped into Scooby-Doo territory as the death of The Ringo Kid was cooked up by Ringo himself so that he could easily rob the city's bank ("Whoever heerd of arrestin' a ghost" as Ringo so eloquently states). The hooligan is shown to be a charlatan and Kid Colt's bad name is cleared. He's still an outlaw but this is one crime not to be found on his stat sheet. No explanation is given for the unearthly glow Ringo gives off while he's in ghost mode. Another nice art job by Jack Keller, whose long run on Kid Colt began with the 25th issue and lasted until the late 1960s.


  1. Looks like FF #2 was a big improvement over FF #1! Good to get that origin issue out of the way. And it's interesting to see the prototype for Ant Man. More! More!

  2. I always like d the Skrulls. The upcoming Super Skrull in F.F. #18 is one of my fave villains in these early issues.