Monday, April 09, 2007

The FF at 45

Around 45 years ago a new comic book appeared on the stands. Labeled "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" it featured a new superhero team, the Fantastic Four. The members weren't very original. Their powers (stretching, invisibility, fire, and a hideous monster) had all been used before. Still, there was something different about the team.

Not all of the original stories were gems. It took a couple of years for things to really gel. Some of the early villains weren't worth remembering and not all of the plots made sense. For example, a statue was brought to life and went on a rampage. The Torch burned it up, proving that it was still just plaster and wood. Eventually it turned out that the villain was a hypnotist who made people think that he had done these things. Which begged the question - if the statue never really came to life then how did the Torch burn it up some distance from where it was originally standing? For that matter, how did people in the street get hypnotized?

The interesting thing is that people wrote in and complained about this sort of goof. The creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, never made that sort of stupid mistake again.

Within a couple of years both Lee and Kirby had grown as story-tellers - an interesting feat since both had been in the industry for years. The stories became "cosmic", the characters came into focus. Kirby became a major influence on new artists.

The public reacted and sales went up. Who wanted to read about the Justice League fighting the Queen Bee when the Fantastic Four had to take back their headquarters from Doctor Doom without their powers? Who worried about a giant startfish when a giant in armor was planning to eat the planet?

Along the way they populated the Marvel Universe. The Kree, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer and the Black Panther, even the golden guy who eventually was named Adam Warlock were all introduced in the pages of the Fantastic Four.

As the stories got beer, the audience got older. 45 years ago the average comic book reader was grade school age. Now he's college age.

While I wasn't there at the first issue, I was reading the FF partway through their second year. It's scary to think how long ago that was.

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