Monday, December 29, 2008

Family Matters: The Fantastic Four's Triumphs and Tribulations, part 1

Sue Reed Wedding-Annual 3

Part One – The Wedding of Reed and Sue

Fantastic Four Annual #3, 1965

“Bedlam at the Baxter Building!”
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Vince Colletta

Doug: The story begins with a raging Doctor Doom at home in Latveria, railing about revenge against Reed Richards, the only man to defeat him. As a means of in turn humiliating Reed on his wedding day, the good Doctor seeks to bring forth an army of do-badders to bring terror and turmoil to the nuptials. Doom reaches for his “Emotion Charger” and begins to kindle hatred in already black hearts. This was not a weapon that we’d seen prior, nor do I think it’s been used since – am I wrong?

Karen: I think this was the first and last time it appeared. Regarding the plot though, if I recall correctly, I believe it was mentioned in the Ronin Ro book, Tales to Astonish, that Kirby intended for Doom’s ranting to be directed towards the Thing, and not Richards. The Thing had crushed Doom’s hands in issue 40 (not long before this annual), and if you look at those drawings, the way Doom is holding his hands up, he seems in pain, so that seems to verify it to some degree. However, it does seem like Stan took the more logical route, that Doom would be out to ruin Richards’ wedding, because he hates Richards.
Doug: Right away I noticed Colletta’s clean line over Kirby’s pencils, in spite of the fact that most panels have backgrounds! This issue had a very similar look to the Thor books those two collaborated on – it’s still Kirby action, but somewhat softer, as opposed to Joe Sinnott’s more vibrant embellishing.

Karen: While I find Colletta’s inking agreeable on Thor, I’d much prefer to see Sinnott’s smooth lines here. But still, the issue overall looks really nice.

Sharon: I really like Colletta's inks here, but this issue is kind of the last we see of the "old school” FF; after this, the book adopted a new look and really took off. With the very next issue in continuity- - #44- - Joe Sinnott starts his run as the regular inker and the book's look immediately moves from old-fashioned and soft focus (as here) to high tech and modern; it even becomes futuristic. The stories themselves reflect this change as well, becoming more and more cosmic as the FF embark on what many consider their greatest run--the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther. Now, I think this progression would have occurred if Colletta or Chic Stone or whomever was the inker--obviously Jack was the mastermind of all the new characters and plots; and he had introduced Medusa months earlier in #36--but the Kirby-Sinnott pairing was certainly a matter of right place, right time; and it served as a very clear, distinct visual earmark of the new direction.

Doug: Stan’s dialoguing is pretty standard fare from this time period. Really, you could pick up a DC from 1965 and not find a lot of difference. The heroes still speak with bravado and in clich├ęs. The women still seem dumb – “Reed, what does it mean?” “We’re under attack by some powerful unknown foe, darling!” Well, duh! What was your first clue??

Karen: It was 1965, so the women (where was the Scarlet Witch, or the Wasp?) were pretty useless. Marvel Girl contributes, but when the big fight occurs, Sue is back at the Baxter Building, no more useful than Alicia. As for the dialogue, I’m certainly no DC expert, but I think the Marvel folks always spoke with a little more panache.

Sharon: Really ridiculous that Sue is relegated to staying with Alicia. Thank goodness Sue would finally begin to show some backbone in the early 1970s!

Karen: I still wish she’d left Reed for Namor…but more on that in our later reviews!

Doug: Kirby really did a Perez-like job, cramming so many characters into one story. To list:

The Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom, Tony Stark, Patsy Walker and Hedy Wolfe,Puppet Master, Nick Fury and SHIELD, Red Ghost and his Super Apes, Professor X, Mole Man and the Subterraneans, The X-Men, Dr. Strange, The Mandarin, The Black Knight, Kang the Conqueror, The Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android, The Grey Gargoyle, Thor, The Super Skrull, Matt Murdock, Karen Page, and Foggy Nelson, Daredevil, Hydra, Iron Man, Captain America, Quicksilver, The Cobra, The Executioner, The Enchantress, Mr. Hyde, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Electro, The Unicorn, The Melter, The Beetle, The Eel, The Mad Thinker, The Human Top, Attuma and his Atlantean army, The Watcher, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

NOTE: The cover contains even more characters that are not in the story, including the Sub-Mariner, Kid Colt, the Hulk, Sgt. Fury, the Wasp, Medusa, the Leader, the Red Skull, Loki, the Scarlet Witch, and the Wizard.

Sharon: Quite a list. The cover is magnificent, even if some characters did not appear in the story (as you noted, Doug). It's a cover that has been paid homage to many times; one such famous instance is Byrne's cover to FF # 236.

Sharon: Also, this issue would have been contemporaneous with Avengers #21, so this could be said to be the first time since Avengers #16 the old Avengers (at least, Thor and Iron Man) appeared with the new Avengers (even if Wanda was conspicuously MIA in the story, you have to assume she was there with the rest of the Kooky Quartet…in the Marvels version of this event, she’s actually shown at the wedding).

Doug: Yes, and this could be a slight continuity gaffe, as I recall that it was a big deal in Avengers Annual #1 when Thor and Iron Man returned – seemed at the time that none of the newbies had been with the veterans since Avengers #16.

Sharon: Here, Quicksilver says he's heard of the Human Top and promptly bests him with a single punch. But a few years later (Avengers #46) Pietro acts as if he'd never met the Human Top before (now known as Whirlwind, but still sporting the same costume as he did in FF Annual #3).

Doug: Do you suppose Roy Thomas hadn’t read FF Annual #3? Surely he had… Of course, with Roy always telling us how faulty his memory is, perhaps this has been an ongoing problem for him!

Karen: I first read this book as a small kid, in reprint form, and the sheer number of guest stars was over-whelming (and exciting)! The reader really got a sense of a thriving, interconnected universe. I really got a kick out of Stan and Jack’s cameo. Just another reason Marvel was always so much fun.

Sharon: It was always a treat to see Stan and Jack in a story!

Doug: I have one minor coloring complaint – I used the FF DVD-ROM as my resource, which contains scans of over 500 comics. So I’m assuming that the copy I read was indicative of an entire print run back in 1965. My complaint is the coloring on Kang’s outfit. Where it should be purple and green, it is instead orange, blue, and purple.

Karen: I used the DVD too, and heck, on the final page, Gabe Jones is purple!

Doug: Overall, this book is everything that Annuals were meant to be – a plain old FUN story, lots of good guys and bad guys beating each other’s brains in, and a happy ending. The book also contained three reprints from early in the FF’s career.

Karen: All in all, I agree with Doug: a very enjoyable, action-packed romp! I liked the sub-plot with the blind Daredevil driving the truck loaded with the explosive to the Hudson River – only to accidentally (and fortuitously) drop it right on top of Attuma and his army! We also get one of Kirby’s photo collages (could this be his first one?) when Reed travels with the Watcher.

Sharon: Kirby had been using photo collages here and there for about a year or so prior to this issue, most famously on the cover of FF #33. From what I’ve read he was enamored of this technique, though I must confess this reader didn't like it--I wanted to see his art, not photographs! And I am in good company; I’ve read Joe Sinnott felt the same way about Kirby. But who am I to begrudge the King the right to experiment with new techniques.

Doug: I can take or leave the Kirby collages. I recall the first time I saw one, in the pages of a Marvel’s Greatest Comics, that I thought it was a little odd, yet powerful at the same time. I think they work for scenes like “universe travel” or the Negative Zone. Kind of gimmicky and probably shouldn’t have been overused.

Karen: It’s fun to look at his collages and identify individual photos; I was reading through the Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, vol.1, and noticed a lot of strange stuff in the numerous photo collages: bottles on a conveyor belt, skulls, the soles of shoes, buddhas, karyotypes, circuit boards…everything but the kitchen sink. All very trippy.

Doug: Now, some specific thoughts on the plot – Stan seemed to borrow from this story about a year later, in regard to the scene where the Watcher takes Reed away and gives him a device that will undo the damage that Doom had wrought. The Watcher will repeat this with Johnny in the glorious Galactus trilogy only a year after this story.

Sharon: Actually the Galactus trilogy was closer to four-six months later, that is if we go by issue release dates. This Annual was issued around the same time as FF #44 and a mere four months later Stan and Jack produced the Galactus trilogy, which started in FF #48 (concluding in #50).

Karen: I hadn’t thought about that before, but it’s true. The Watcher saved their bacon at least twice, if not more often. I think eventually he was put on trial by his fellow Watchers in the late 70s, in Captain Marvel, not long after Starlin left.

Doug: As for the wedding – of course it comes off, and quite nicely.

Sharon: Yes, but will someone please explain to me how, in the scene where Sue and Reed are actually pronounced man and wife, Professor X appears to be --standing? Sure, Sharon, there’s a simple explanation: would you believe the Professor’s supporting himself by his mental powers, with Jean throwing in some telekinetic help? Or that Dr. Strange is levitating him? Or that he is standing by means of less mystical methods, such as crutches?
Doug: Poor Charles probably had no choice but to stand – these were the days before the ADA!!

Doug: This story has all of the elements of a Silver Age Marvel: colorful characters, characterization done right so that readers new to any of the characters in the book might feel comfortable in giving another magazine a try-out, and an ending where good triumphs over evil with no body count left in the wake. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reveal on what Doom thought when his plan was undone – in fact, Reed never does figure out (or at least he doesn’t let on that he has) that Doom was behind it all.

Karen: Whoa, partner, Reed’s thought balloons on the next-to-last page show that he has concluded Doom was behind it all! Maybe he used the sub-atronic time displacer on you, so you forgot you read that page!

Doug: Gah!! On the fourth look, I see it as plain as the nose on Ben Grimm! Man, I looked at that panel with Hawkeye in it three times (3x!!!) and did not read the balloon, skipping to the panel at the top of the next page. Like you’ve said before, Karen, all of these words – just not used to it in comparison to today’s mags!

2 comments:

dan said...

I must say that you guys have come up with a great blog! Interesting to read halfway decent comments about the great Vince Colletta's inking. Best of luck.
Dan
http://ismarkevaniermentallyill.blogspot.com/

Sharon said...

Thanks, Dan!

I have been a Colletta fan since I started reading comics in the '60s. His style is unique and he brought out special qualities in pencilers as varied as Kirby, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Don Heck, George Tuska, among others.

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