Fantastic Four origin

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Anyone interested in reading or collecting comic books should be familiar with the first issue of Fantastic Four and the timing of its publication. It is not just a classic story created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, but also helped define the time when The Silver Age of comic books began. Published in 1961, it steered comic books away from what used to be popular during World War 2 and into a new age of heroes and newly interested readers. This chain of events was propelled forward by this comic that introduced the origins of not just a new crew of superheroes, but villains as well.

The comic book was the brainchild of two of the industry’s most influential figures: writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. Their collaboration on Fantastic Four issue 1 was pivotal, setting the stage for a new era in comic book storytelling. Stan Lee’s scripting brought a unique voice to the characters, infusing them with personality and depth previously unseen in the medium. Jack Kirby’s dynamic artwork provided the visual excitement that captured the imaginations of readers everywhere.

The concept for Fantastic Four was born out of a desire to innovate within the superhero genre. According to apocryphal legend, Marvel Comics’ publisher Martin Goodman was inspired to create a new superhero team after hearing about the success of DC Comics’ “Justice League of America”. Stan Lee, tasked with developing this new team, decided to break away from the archetypal superhero mold. He envisioned a group of heroes who were also a dysfunctional family, dealing with their powers and personal issues realistically. This approach resonated with the audience of the time, who were looking for more relatable and human characters.

The Fantastic Four Members and Their Powers

In order to further understand the comic and its history, we need to first discuss the characters.

  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards): The brilliant scientist leader of the group, with the ability to stretch his body into incredible lengths and shapes.
  • Invisible Girl (Susan “Sue” Storm): Reed’s girlfriend, who can render herself invisible and, developed over many comic issues later, began to be able to project powerful invisible force fields.
  • Human Torch (Jonathan “Johnny” Storm): Sue’s younger brother, who can generate flames, surround himself with them, and fly.
  • The Thing (Benjamin “Ben” Grimm): A former college football star and Reed’s college roommate, who possesses tremendous superhuman strength, durability, and endurance due to his stone-like flesh.

The four of them are inseparable, and all suffer the fate of Reed’s experimental rocket vehicle when it encounters cosmic rays that alter their physical attributes. Their new abilities compliment each other as they work as a team.

Plot Summary of First Issue

Reed Richards and Johnny Storm falling

The inaugural issue begins with a mysterious flare in the sky spelling out “The Fantastic Four!” This signal gathers the four individuals, each with newfound fantastic powers, to the call of Reed Richards. The story then takes us back to their origin: an unauthorized space mission led by Reed. During the flight, they are bombarded by cosmic rays, which grant them their extraordinary abilities. Upon crash-landing back on Earth, they discover their transformations and vow to use their powers for the greater good. The issue also introduces the antagonist, The Mole Man, and sets the team on their first adventure to thwart his plans.

By studying mysterious cave-ins occurring, The team goes to Monster Isle to investigate. Reed and Johnny fall through a cave and finds The Mole Man. He explains that he found a huge cavern to find refuge in, but a violent avalanche causes him to fall, losing his eyesight in the process. Being stranded in the center of The Earth had made him a human mole. His blindness had caused him to learn how to sense things in the dark, and possess a natural radar sense that warns him of danger. He then reveals his plan to attack every atomic plant from underneath the surface.

Susan and Ben find the rest of the group underground, and together they escape the dangers of the cavern by causing a rockslide, sealing off The Mole Man and the creatures that follow his commands. The team flees the island by airplane, while an odd explosion seals The Mole Man underground.

Turning Point in Comic Book History

Fantastic Four issue 1 is not just a comic book; it’s a cornerstone in the history of graphic storytelling. Released on August 8, 1961, it marked the first superhero team created by the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This comic book was instrumental in ushering in a new level of realism within the medium and is renowned for introducing the “Marvel method” of comic book production. It set the stage for what would become the expansive Marvel Universe, influencing countless stories and characters that followed.

The debut of the comic was a game-changer, showcasing complex characters with relatable problems, setting it apart from the archetypal superheroes of the time. It laid the groundwork for Marvel’s approach to character-driven storytelling, where heroes were flawed and the lines between good and evil were often blurred. This issue’s release heralded a new era in comics, one that would evolve into a cultural phenomenon spanning various media, including movies, television series, and an ever-growing range of merchandise.

The Silver Age

The release of Fantastic Four issue one marked a pivotal moment in comic book history, heralding the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics. This era, stretching from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, was characterized by a renaissance in superhero storytelling, with a renewed focus on character complexity and narrative depth. The Fantastic Four, created by the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, stood at the forefront of this transformative period.

Prior to the advent of the Silver Age, the comic book industry had witnessed a decline in the popularity of superhero tales, with genres such as crime, horror, and romance dominating the market. However, the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, which aimed to sanitize comic content, set the stage for the resurgence of superhero narratives.

DC Comics initiated the Silver Age with the introduction of the modern version of The Flash in “Showcase #4” in 1956. This revival of superhero stories saw the reimagination of characters like Green Lantern and Aquaman, and the formation of the Justice League of America. Marvel Comics, however, took this revival to new heights with the first issue of Fantastic Four in 1961. The issue introduced readers to a group of astronauts who, after being bombarded by cosmic rays during a space mission, gained extraordinary powers. Unlike the infallible heroes of the past, the group members were flawed, relatable, and burdened with personal conflicts, resonating with a more mature audience and reflecting the complexities of the human condition.

The characters’ exploration of themes such as science and exploration mirrored the real-world excitement of the Space Age, capturing the imagination of a society captivated by the possibilities of space travel and scientific advancement. The comic’s emphasis on character-driven narratives set a new standard for the industry, encouraging creators to delve deeper into the personalities and motivations of their characters. This shift in storytelling redefined the superhero genre, moving away from simplistic crime-fighting plots to more nuanced and compelling narratives that explored the heroes’ personal lives and the moral dilemmas they faced.

The impact of the comic series extended beyond its narrative innovations. The series’ success catalyzed the creation of other iconic Marvel characters, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Thor, and popularized team books, which became a staple of the superhero genre. They were dynamic as a family unit, with each member bringing their unique personality and abilities to the team, became a template for future superhero teams.

The legacy of is evident in the enduring popularity of the characters and the influence they have had on the comic book industry. The issue’s rarity and historical significance have made it a highly sought-after collectible, sometimes selling for around a million dollars, underscoring the lasting impact of the Silver Age on the comic book market.