Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961)

THIS is THE comic book that started it all for Marvel. It wasn’t their first comic (that was actually 22 years before! – Marvel Comics #1), and they weren’t even the first Marvel Superheroes (Captain America Comics #1 in 1941). This comic, however, brought realism into the fold of comics – and was one of the first that featured more true-to-life dynamics and storylines.

For example, most comics in those days featured archetypal cardboard cutout heroes. They would save the day and that was pretty much it. The Fantastic Four were a group of unlucky people who were transformed beyond their control. While three of them were happy to use their powers to help others, the fourth member (The Thing), saw his “blessing” as a curse. He was depressed, bitter, and unappreciative towards the other members of the group. This change made for a great and refreshing dynamic.

I grew up reading comics, so I’ve always known the basic synopsis for this first issue. I also remember the legendary cover quite fondly – though I had never gotten a chance to peek inside until the age of the Internet. I was surprised by the overall feel of the story. It definitely feels like another era – with callbacks to the Red Scare, the Arms Race, and the overall early Cold War era mindset.

One particularly interesting thing about this story is that it’s set up to almost make the Fan-Four seem like villains at the beginning. Mr. Fantastic is a man holding a flare-gun in the shadows, while The Thing is running amok on the streets. Near the end of the first chapter we finally get to see a flashback that describes the events that led to their biological changes.

The main antagonist of this story is The Moleman, whom I’ve actually never found frightening (until now). He commands a horde of strange cave-dwelling monsters that live on a secluded island, which reminded me of something out of King Kong. I found his origin story to be sad and pathetic, akin to The Penguin’s story from Batman Returns. He was too ugly for the world around him, and after being shunned by society, he ran away in order to find a new world in which he could be King (a legendary land in the center of the Earth). He eventually found the cave that led to the supposed center of the earth, and was so excited that he screamed for joy. The scream caused a cave-in, which physically left him permanently blinded.

At the end of the story we find out that The Moleman gets away (DAMN!). Overall, it was a great introduction into the world of Marvel, and it left me wanting more!

(This article originally written on May 6th, 2011 at comicbookcurios.blogspot.com)

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