Saturday, December 4, 2010


  • Fantastic Four #6
  • The Incredible Hulk #3
  • Journey Into Mystery #84
  • Tales to Astonish #35

Fantastic Four #6
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"The Captives of the Deadly Duo!"

Lee and Kirby up the ante once more, building on the previous two issues, the best so far, and tops them both. How, you ask? Did you not see that cover? Doctor Doom and Namor, The Sub-Mariner team up to defeat the FF! Who wouldn't snatch that book off the shelves?

I've been a trifle remiss in not talking up Kirby's art in the last couple of columns. The first issue or two of Fantastic Four were okay, but didn't seem to be getting Kirby's full attention. However, with the last couple of issues, Fantastic Four has become a joy to look at. Issue 6 really drives this home. From the detailed variation of the New Yorkers in the crowd scenes and the realistic New York City backgrounds, to the undersea creatures that swim around and interact with Namor, Kirby is bringing his A-Game this book and making it look like "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" for sure.


  • Journey Into Mystery #83
  • Amazing Fantasy #15

Journey Into Mystery #83
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Larry Lieber
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Sinnott
"The Stone Men From Saturn!"

Wow! This is an interesting debut for a number of reasons. Not only does Earth seem to be such prime real estate that we're a favorite target for alien invasion (this is Invasion Attempt #3 for this year, and the second in two months!), but it also introduces a very interesting element to the Marvel Universe: Gods. That's plural. Oh sure, Thor's the only god to show up this issue, but there's an entire Norse pantheon that, by extension, is just waiting in the wings.

But more on that in a moment. I find it intriguing that Marvel's most traditional "Super Hero" is the Norse God of Thunder. There's no ambiguity about his morality practically from the moment he first appears. He's a good guy, through and through. The contrast between this character and the Hulk is shocking, really. Especially since there are some basic similarities in the way Lee and Kirby have designed the characters.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

JULY 1962

  • Fantastic Four #5
  • The Incredible Hulk #2
Fantastic Four #5
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"Prisoners of Doctor Doom!"

After last issue's run-in with the Sub-Mariner, it looks like the FF have their plate full yet again with the arrival of Doctor Doom. From the very opening page Kirby lets us know that Doom is someone to be reckoned with, not only because of his intimidating armor, but he also has a vulture by his side and books called Demons and Science and Sorcery on his desk. This is an interesting departure from our previous antagonists, particularly from The Miracle Man of issue 3. If you remember, that was the first story to insinuate that there was magic in the Marvel Universe, only to reveal in the end that all the miraculous things Miracle Man did were the product of hypnotic hallucinations.

Well, here we are getting actual references to "Mystic Rites," "sorcery," and "black magic." And while we don't actually get a taste of Doctor Doom's sorcerous side, he clearly believes he has dark skills to balance out his scientific genius. How do we know he's a scientific genius? Well, not only does he have a giant, electrified net, a time machine, a flying harness, death traps, and robot doubles, he also went to school with Reed, who recognizes his voice! Interestingly enough, Reed knows all about Victor Von Doom and his tragic, disfiguring accident; knows enough to realize that he's the real deal and maybe their "most dangerous adventure" yet.

MAY 1962

  • Fantastic Four #4
  • The Incredible Hulk #1

Fantastic Four #4
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"The Coming of ... Sub-Mariner!"

This issue opens shortly after the conclusion of the previous issue. Johnny is missing, Sue is worried, Ben is glad he's gone, and Reed not only tries to make Ben feel worse about himself, he seems to have built up Johnny's contributions a little more than they actually were. Granted, Johnny is the one who's been getting things done, but he's not all that. I don't think the burning down of the fake monster last issue was real, but Reed seems to think so. The search for Johnny is kind of silly, but we do get another Ben Grimm transformation scene. He only reverts to human for a minute or two, but if it keeps up, he's seriously going to lose his mind. Johnny, meanwhile, ends up in --- The Bowery!

Something strange goes on this issue, and it's something that, while hinted at in the Skrulls issue, is made explicit here. Comic books, particularly Marvel Comics and their previous incarnations, Timely and Atlas, exist in the Marvel Universe. It was one thing when Reed used monster pictures from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery to fool the Skrulls, as those were clearly presented as fantasy comics. But this issue, Johnny is casually flipping through an old copy of a Sub-Mariner comic and then moments later, discovers Namor in the flesh. Sure, he's got amnesia and is living as a derelict bum, but it's him. A comic book character come to life.

MARCH 1962

  • Fantastic Four #3

Fantastic Four #3
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"The Menace of the Miracle Man"

This is easily the weakest issue so far. One would think that with a bi-monthly schedule, the stories could be a little better thought out. The Miracle Man turns out to be (surprise!) a hypnotist who just makes people think they're seeing giant monsters and amazing displays of power. That's all well and fine, but it doesn't explain how the giant monster actually accomplishes the theft of jewelry or the atomic tank. Does that mean that when the Human Torch burns it to the ground, he really burned nothing? Is the monster still standing back at the theater? Seems like it would be, but that doesn't look to be the case. That's just not very well thought out. And I guess The Miracle Man is just running around discreetly filling his wheelbarrow with trinkets and loading the tank into the back of his semi by himself.

That's pretty much all there is to this story: some bad plotting that doesn't hold up to even the barest of attention and a silly villain with melodramatic, goofy plans. On the plus side though, we do get some interesting developments with the team and how they're seen by the public.


  • Fantastic Four #2

Fantastic Four #2
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls From Outer Space!"

After a fairly ineffectual first adventure that relied more on the Mole Man "killing" himself than on the FF actually doing anything, the second issue gets a little more entertaining and less paranoid and depressing. Once again, Lee and Kirby kept this comic firmly planted in the genres that they were comfortable with, moving adeptly from the previous issue's giant monsters to aliens from, where? Outer Space, of course.

There's an interesting slight shift in tone with this issue, as the Fantastic Four are apparently known entities in the Marvel Universe already. The Skrulls see them as the only threat forestalling a full-scale invasion, and while the Skrulls are impersonating them, the FF are recognized by everyone they meet. There's an element of celebrity to them already, or at least notoriety on Ben's part, that implies that they've been much more busy and public than events in the first issue indicated they would be. Have they been doing stuff we haven't seen during the month they've been off the comics rack? That's an interesting opportunity for "untold stories" somewhere down the line.


  • Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four #1
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Marvel Universe in 1961 is that while there are no Superheroes in sight, there is a plethora of alien races and monsters to be found. In fact, the cover of Fantastic Four #1 could easily have been the cover of any number of other titles on sale this month, from Journey Into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, or Strange Tales, but for the fact that the human characters were displaying "fantastic" abilities themselves.

I also love that right out of the gate, the name of the team is written across the sky in smoke, and the citizens of New York are getting panicky about it. Stylistically, we are being presented with a story that isn't placed in some fictional burg; the narrative conceit here is that this is happening in our world, albeit, our world with monsters. And right from the beginning there is a palpable sense of dread.

Introduction To the Site

Welcome to the Grand Experiment! My name is Paul Brian McCoy and I would like to invite you to come along with me on a strange and wondrous journey, as I explore the creation of the Marvel Universe, beginning with 1961's Fantastic Four #1 and going all the way through everything published in December of 1969.

For those of you who've been along for the ride since the beginning, and those of you just discovering this column, I've been writing it for the past couple of years over at Comics Bulletin.  As there are already a pile of entries ready to go, I'll be re-posting them here, with minor edits and corrections along the way.  There's no drama with CB; I just wanted to have a place where I can easily access them at my leisure.  Future posts will be entered here shortly after going live at CB.

Here's the plan: I will be reading each of Marvel's superhero titles in chronological order, critiquing and commenting on how each successive issue worked to build and expand the Marvel Universe. I want to try to do so, however, without acknowledging what I already know about the development of the shared universe. I'm going to try to treat each issue as if I am reading and experiencing it for the first time, in order to get a real feel for how this world was put together.

I will be going by cover dates, which we all know aren't representative of the actual publication date, but should provide an easy way to keep track of things like the timing of first appearances and reappearances, the orchestration of cross-overs, and the occasional testing of the waters for giving characters their own features or independent titles.

The good news is that pretty much every one of Marvel's superhero titles from the Sixties are available in the very affordable Essentials collections, in case anyone would like to read along with me (or at least fact-check me as I go along).

The titles that aren't readily, or cheaply, available (Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., from Strange Tales and his own series) didn't begin publication until 1965. With any luck, by the time we get there, I'll have found a reasonable alternative source for those books. We'll see.

I intend to give every book, and every story, at least a short mention. Clearly some stories will be more substantive than others (I'm looking at you, Human Torch solo stories), so my attention will be adjusted accordingly, but they all should be in there when everything's said and done. And be sure to leave comments to tell me what I've missed or forgotten, as well as your own spins on what happened each month in the classic MU!