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The Fantastic Four Debuts! A Marvel Essentials Comic Book Review

Updated on October 25, 2014

The Fantastic Four Ushers in the Marvel Age of Comics!

The Essential Fantastic Four Volume 1 contains some of the most important stories that Marvel Comics ever published. This book contains the first 20 issues of the original Fantastic Four series, plus its first annual.

The first issue, published in November 1961, introduced the world to Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, Human Torch and the Thing, a group of superheroes who had failings, jealousies and emotions just like normal people. The deeper characterization contrasted with other superheroes of the era, making the comic a runaway hit and ushering what would be called the Marvel Age of Comics!

Here are some of the highlights of the volume, which has an ISBN of 0-7851-0666-9.

Fantastic Four 1
Fantastic Four 1

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Start a Revolution in Comic Books

The Fantastic Four Debuts in November 1961!

The first Fantastic Four issue appeared on the newsstands with a November, 1961, cover date, and brought with it a major change to the comic book industry.

Writer Stan Lee has told the story of the Fantastic Four's creation many times, including in his 1974 book Origins of Marvel Comics here.

Lee had started in the industry in 1939, just after comic books began, and worked as editor, artwork editor, writer and just about everything else except artist at Timely Comics (which later became Marvel). By 1961 he was tired of the business and was planning on leaving when his publisher, Martin Goodman, ordered up a comic featuring a superhero group to compete with the Justice League of America (published by the predecessor of DC Comics).

With the encouragement of his wife, Lee decided that this time he would do a comic book the way he'd like to, with characters that sometimes quarreled and sometimes were bitter, and who didn't hide their identities or wear silly costumes. And the villain of the tale would be somewhat sympathetic.

Longtime artist Jack Kirby was chosen to illustrate, and together they put together a tale that still holds up five decades later. The art of the first issue seems a bit crude by today's standards, but the story flows well and Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, Human Torch and the Thing all come across as having the same feelings as real human beings.

Buy Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 Today!

Fantastic Four No. 4
Fantastic Four No. 4

The Return of the Sub-Mariner!

Fantastic Four No. 4 Starts a Love Triangle!

The Fantastic Four was a hit right from the start, with fans writing in saying how much they loved the characters. One thing they demanded, though, was that the group wear costumes! So in issue No. 3 Jack Kirby designed costumes that are still the basic look of the team decades later -- except for the Thing's boots, which he later discarded (You can see them on the cover of issue No. 4 shown here).

Issue No. 4 featured the return of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, a character that had first been introduced in the spring of 1939 (making him one of the first superheros ever). The Human Torch, after a fight with the Thing, has fled the Fantastic Four and is sleeping in a flop house in the Bowery when he discovers the amnesiac Namor.

After Namor recovers his memory, he tries to return to his underwater people but finds their city has been destroyed by the undersea testing of bombs. Namor swears vengeance on the surface dwellers and returns to fight the Fantastic Four. They beat him and send him back to the ocean.

Before he leaves, Namor expresses interest in the beauty of the Invisible Girl. This would lead to a love triangle, with the Invisible Girl struggling to choose between Namor and Mr. Fantastic. Lee and Kirby would stretch out the tension for another 40 issues or so, until Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl got married in 1965.

Fantastic Four No. 5
Fantastic Four No. 5

The Fantastic Four Meet ... Dr. Doom!

Fantastic Four No. 5

Writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby followed their re-introduction of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, with the debut of Dr. Doom, who would go on to become one of the top villains of the Marvel Universe.

The story in Fantastic Four No. 5 is typical of the early Marvel tales, completely over the top and jammed with as much excitement as possible. Dr. Doom holds the Invisible Girl hostage to force the Thing, Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic to travel back in time to steal Blackbeard's treasure! Yes, it's as silly as it sounds.

But the story is still an important one for the Marvel Universe, as Dr. Doom would go on to being one of the greatest supervillains of all time. Writer Stan Lee makes Doom a former college classmate of Mr. Fantastic who disfigures himself while pursuing knowledge of the mystic arts. In later issues it would be revealed that Mr. Fantastic had pointed out a mistake Doom was making in his calculations just before the accident, causing Doom to forever hate his former college rival.

Lee and Kirby must have known they'd struck gold with Dr. Doom, because they brought him back the very next issue (teaming him up with Namor, the Sub-Mariner). Doom would also appear in issues 10 and 16-17, included in the collection.

Fantastic Four No. 12
Fantastic Four No. 12

The Fantastic Four Meet the Hulk!

Fantastic Four No. 12

The Hulk was created as the follow-up to the Fantastic Four and first appeared in the first issue of his own comic book about six months after Fantastic Four No.1. Stan Lee has said he chose to create a super-strong character in part because initial fan letters indicated the Thing was the most popular member of the Fantastic Four, and because he always like the Frankenstein Monster.

Since the Thing helped inspire the creation of the Hulk, it was only a matter of time before the two matched strength in battle. And so in Fantastic Four No. 12 the group is enlisted to help catch the Hulk, who is accused by the government of sabotaging missile installations. The Fantastic Four and the Hulk do fight each other, but there's not as much intensity or drawn-out fireworks as there would be in future match-ups. And the focus is on the Hulk vs. the whole group, where in the future many times the spotlight would be more on the Thing vs. the Hulk.

One thing you'll notice reading this tale is how different the Hulk's speech pattern is. He sounds more like a typical tough guy, than the later monster who can barely string two sentences together.

While this fight between the Hulk and the Fantastic Four would rank pretty low among the many encounters they have had, it's still pretty important because it was the first one.

Invisible Girl, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch or the Thing

Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four

Who is Your Favorite Member of the Fantastic Four?

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The Stories Grow Deeper as the Marvel Universe Expands

Essential Fantastic Four Volumes 2 + 3

If the first 20 issues of the Fantastic Four were about introducing the team, its foes and the Marvel Universe, the second 20 issues were focused on making the characters deeper and the stories more complete. Stories began to develop a bit more slowly, as if writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby trusted the reader to have more patience. Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 2 contains issues No. 21-40, plus Fantastic Four Annual No. 2 and Strange Tales Annual No. 2.

Then a truly amazing thing happened to the Fantastic Four series: It got better! Inker Joe Sinnott joined the comic with issue No. 44, which began an absolutely awesome run of tales that may never have been equaled. Over the next 10 issues, Lee and Kirby introduced the Inhumans; created the Galactus Trilogy that included the debut of the Silver Surfer; and broke the color barrier with the first black superhero, the Black Panther. Along the way they created a single-issue story called ''This Man, This Monster,'' which has long been hailed as a true classic. These stories are included in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3, which contains Fantastic Four 41-63 plus Annual 3 and 4.

Here are my full reviews of the two collections:

Marvel Essential Fantastic Four Comic Book Review: Dr. Doom and Daredevil Guest Star as the Legend Grows!
The Fantastic Four rocked the comic-book world when it debuted in 1961, with writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby introducing more characterization and real...

Marvel Essential Fantastic Four: Galactus, Silver Surfer and the Black Panther Debut!
Marvel Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3 contains perhaps the most-sustained run of great comic book stories of the 1960s. This collection of Fantastic Four No...

The Marvel Essential Series - A Great, Inexpensive Way to Collect Your Favorite Stories!

The Marvel Essential series reprints many of Marvel Comics' stories in large volumes that contain several hundred pages. The series began in 1997 with the publication of the Essential X-Men No. 1 and Essential Spider-Man No. 1. Many of the collections have been republished with different covers, so don't let that throw you off when buying. Check to make sure which volume number you are considering.

The huge advantage to these volumes is cost: a reader can get 30 or more stories for about what a half dozen new comic books cost, and the old stories have more pages of action per issue. The Essentials books are much more cost-effective than buying all the original comics as well.

A quick search for ''Marvel Essentials'' on Amazon reveals a whopping 674 items. I'm sure several are duplicates, but even so there should be one available for every comic-book fan!

Marvel Essentials or Marvel Masterworks? - More Stories Per Book, or Each Tale in Full Color?

Marvel Comics reprints its old stories in two series, Marvel Masterworks and Marvel Essentials.

The Marvel Essentials books publish the stories in black and white, on lesser quality paper, but each collection contains more than twice as many tales as a Masterworks.

The Marvel Masterworks series has fewer stories in each volume, but they are published in their full-color glory.

Do You Prefer the Marvel Essentials or the Marvel Masterworks?

Marvel Essentials -- Give me as many stories as I can get!

Marvel Essentials -- Give me as many stories as I can get!

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Marvel Masterworks -- I want all the color!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading this review as much as I have revisiting these old comic books. Please share what you think of the Fantastic Four, comic books or anything else about this lens!

What Do You Think of the Fantastic Four?

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    • Montecristodog profile image

      Montecristodog 4 years ago

      I liked them. They were one of a kind and their stories put you on edge. Great artwork from King Kirby and the Stan the man Lee. Those were the days. Great memories. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      grannysage 4 years ago

      I loved the Fantastic Four and made sure to get every new issue when they came out. The fact that they were complex characters added much to the stories. Flame On!