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Marvel Essential Fantastic Four: Galactus, Silver Surfer and the Black Panther Debut!

Updated on October 1, 2014

The Fantastic Four Against Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther and the Inhumans!

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. 41-63 plus Fantastic Four Annuals 3 and 4 contains the original Galactus saga, with its introduction of the Silver Surfer; the first appearances of the Inhumans, Black Panther and Wyatt Wingfoot; and a four-part fight against Dr. Doom.

This volume also has the acclaimed "This Man, This Monster" tale from Fantastic Four No. 51, a character-driven story that illustrates that writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby didn't need to rely on fisticuffs and supervillains to present a timeless masterpiece.

The ISBN for this book is 0-7851-0782-7 (0785107827)

Fantastic Four 54 Human Torch Inhumans
Fantastic Four 54 Human Torch Inhumans

The Fantastic Four's Cast of Characters Expand!

Lee and Kirby, Joined by Sinnott, Expand the Marvel Universe!

The stories in this volume were originally published from August 1965 to June 1967. Writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby had been collaborating on the Fantastic Four for more than four years, and their feel for the characters was at an all-time high. The artwork rose dramatically in quality with issue No. 44 when inker Joe Sinnott took over from Vince Colletta -- you can see the boldness to Sinnott's lines highlighting Kirby in ways that Colletta's work never did

The other reason this run of comics achieved the high level of greatness: depth. By this point the Fantastic Four had a regular cast of supporting characters (including the Watcher, Alicia Masters, the Frightful Four, and Dr. Doom, all of whom appear in this run) and readers were familiar with their lives, so Lee and Kirby no longer felt constrained to explain everything in detail each issue. During these years the two creators would continue to add new heroes, villains and friends, giving the book numerous subplots that seemed to stretch seamlessly from book to book.

Lee and Kirby also felt the book was established enough for multi-issue sagas that wouldn't turn off readers who had to wait until the next month to find out what happened. In fact, the men were so sure of their storytelling that more than once during this run they would actually end one saga in the middle of an issue and flow directly into the next, hardly giving the reader a chance for a breath.

Here are some of the major highlights of the stories collected in this edition of Marvel Essential.

Fantastic Four Annual No. 3
Fantastic Four Annual No. 3

The Wedding of Reed Richards and Susan Storm!

Fantastic Four Annual No. 3!

The Fantastic Four Annual No. 3 from 1965 focused on the wedding of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, and it was a wild, over-the-top tale. Dr. Doom devises some weird machine that brings just about every bad guy in the Marvel Universe to New York City to attack the couple on their wedding day, and that leads to a great battle with the wedding guests -- who just happen to be almost every superhero in the universe!

Mr. Fantastic, using a different weird machine, with the help of the Watcher, saves the day, sending all the bad guys away and making them forget what they had been doing. OK, so it's silly. But that's fine -- the fun part is watching all the heroes fight all the bad guys anyway (see accompanying picture).

Lee and Kirby also make guest appearances themselves in the final panels. And they even squeeze in Patsy Walker, from a teenage humor comic Marvel produced back then (she would become more integrated into the Marvel Universe as Hellcat many years later.)

Oddly enough, the Hulk and Sub-Mariner don't appear in this issue, with editor's notes saying they are involved in other adventures. I'm not sure why Marvel decided not to include them.

Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, Invisible Girl and the Thing - Who is Your Favorite Member of the Fantastic Four?

Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four

Who is Your Favorite Member of the Fantastic Four?

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Fantastic Four 46 Inhumans Black Bolt
Fantastic Four 46 Inhumans Black Bolt

"Among Us Hide...The Inhumans''

The Human Torch Finds Love!

This collection starts with a three-issue fight with the Frightful Four from Fantastic Four 41-43, in which the bad guys include a mysterious woman named Madame Medusa (who has living hair that can turn into a weapon). The adventure is a good one, with the Frightful Four turning the Thing against the rest of the Fantastic Four leading to a dragged-out fight in the heroes' headquarters.

On the surface it's a self-contained story, but in actuality it's the beginning of the Fantastic Four's greatest period of creativity. From this simple story writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby weave a saga that reveals itself over the remaining issues in the collection, with each issue adding a layer to the world of the Fantastic Four.

In issue No. 44, Medusa -- she would drop quickly the ''Madame'' -- reappears, being chased by representatives of her people who want her to return to their homeland. Over the next four-plus issues the Inhumans are introduced and the Fantastic Four will travel to their Hidden Land to fight the dictator Maximus.

Also debuting: Crystal, the beautiful Inhuman who would become the Human Torch's first real love. The Human Torch loses her when the Inhumans cut themselves off from the world, and his attempt to reunite with her would become a subplot of the comic for dozens of issues.

And almost as proof that Lee and Kirby wanted this run of comics to be seen as one long saga, the story of the Inhumans ends in the middle of issue No. 48 so we can be plunged directly into the coming of Galactus!

P.S. the title of this segment is from Fantastic Four No. 45 (see poster below), while the cover is from the following issue.

Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Crystal...Inhumans All!

The Inhumans
The Inhumans

The Inhumans became semi-regular characters in the Fantastic Four after their introduction, then appeared in their own series in the early 1970s' comic book Amazing Adventures. Then in the mid-1970s the group had its own self-titled comic. Both of the series were short-lived.

Since then, the group has starred in several limited series and has remained enduring secondary characters in the Marvel Universe, making appearances in other comics.

Who is Your Favorite Inhuman?

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Fantastic Four 49 Galactus Silver Surfer
Fantastic Four 49 Galactus Silver Surfer

The Coming of Galactus, the Greatest Danger Earth Has Ever Known!

Plus the Debut of the Silver Surfer!

Fantastic Four No. 48-50 has the Fantastic Four face Galactus, an extraterrestrial being so big that it needs to devour the energy of entire planets to survive!

But before Galactus even threatens Earth writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby ratchet up the suspense with a few panels showing a figure flying through space (on a surfboard!). Here's a great example of Lee and Kirby's storytelling ability. Instead of simply telling the reader who this mysterious stranger is, they show the Fantastic Four's longtime space alien foes the Skrulls watching the flying man. The Skrulls order their entire solar system blacked out for fear that the being, whom they call the Silver Surfer, will spot them. For, as one Skrull says ''Wherever he appears, it is certain that Galactus cannot be very far behind.''

Lee has long recounted that the Silver Surfer was Kirby's idea. Kirby said such a powerful being as Galactus would almost certainly have a herald, and so he created the Silver Surfer.

The rest of issue No. 48 is a long buildup to the arrival of the Silver Surfer on Earth and the last-page revealing of Galactus! Over the course of the next two issues the Fantastic Four fight hopelessly against Galactus, trying to stop him from starting the process of sucking the energy out of the Earth.

Meanwhile, the Silver Surfer learns about the nobility of the human race from the Thing's longtime girlfriend, the blind Alicia Masters, and turns against Galactus. That buys time for the Human Torch to travel across the universe to obtain the one weapon that can stop the danger.

Galactus, defeated, retreats, but before doing so he takes away the Silver Surfer's space abilities, forcing him to stay on Earth and adding another character to the growing Fantastic Four family.

Fantastic Four 51 The Thing
Fantastic Four 51 The Thing

"This Man...This Monster'' from Fantastic Four No. 51

Rightly Considered a Classic By Everyone!

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby followed their cosmic Galactus tale with a self-contained, one-issue study focusing on the characters of the Thing and Mr. Fantastic; the ideals of friendship; and the whole concept of heroism.

The story starts with the Thing wandering alone in the pouring rain, upset that he may have lost his girlfriend's heart to the Silver Surfer. He is taken in by a mad scientist, who has invented a machine that will turn him into a duplicate of the Thing (and turn the Thing back into his human self, Ben Grimm).

The scientist, who goes unnamed, is jealous of Mr. Fantastic's fame, and heads off to the group's headquarters to destroy him. There's a nice bit when he arrives at the Baxter Building. The Invisible Girl shows concern, while Mr. Fantastic immediately puts him to work. Ben Grimm shows up, saying the Thing is a fake, but isn't believed and is turned away.

Then what does Mr. Fantastic do? He explains to the fake Thing that he is working on a defense against extraterrestrial beings, and needs to attempt to master the space-time principle (the machine he is going to use is an absolute classic by Kirby). He is going into the Negative Zone, and the only thing that may keep his life safe is a cable to be held by ... the fake Thing.

Of course, when Mr. Fantastic signals he needs help by tugging on the cable the bad guy hesitates to save him. The fake Thing then recognizes Mr. Fantastic's bravery and tries to pull him to safety. But the cable breaks! The fake Thing plunges into the Negative Zone and reaches Mr. Fantastic standing on an asteroid heading to certain doom. Mr. Fantastic's only regret is that his best friend will share his doom.

But the fake Thing, touched by Mr. Fantastic's show of friendship and realizing that his jealousy was misplaced, does only heroic thing possible: He throws Mr. Fantastic to safety and floats down to his doom.

It's really an amazing tale, and one that has rightly been considered a classic from the moment it was published.

Fantastic Four 52 Black Panther
Fantastic Four 52 Black Panther

The Black Panther, Mainstream Comics' First Black Superhero!

Fantastic Four No. 52

Writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby didn't let up, going straight into a multi-issue tale that had the Fantastic Four (plus the Human Torch's college roommate Wyatt Wingfoot, introduced in issue No. 50) traveling to the African country of Wakanda to meet the Black Panther.

The Black Panther is considered mainstream American comics' first black superhero (although there had been a few black characters in the comics in prior decades). It's pretty amazing that it wasn't until the summer of 1966 with this issue that there was a full-fledged black superhero -- and note that he's an African king. It would be another three years before the first black American superhero, the Falcon, would appear in Captain America (for more on the Falcon, see here.)

The action in the tale is aimed mainly at highlighting the Black Panther, and Lee and Kirby do a great job of creating an African country that is high-tech while still holding on to some old customs.

Fantastic Four 57 Silver Surfer Dr. Doom
Fantastic Four 57 Silver Surfer Dr. Doom

Dr. Doom Triumphant! The Silver Surfer Defeated!

Another Four-Part Saga from Lee and Kirby!

The action doesn't stop after the Fantastic Four's visit to the Black Panther's country.

In issue No. 57, the Fantastic Four's main enemy, Dr. Doom, steals the cosmic power of the Silver Surfer and uses it to wreak havoc on the superheroes. The Fantastic Four are beaten by Doom, but as heroes always do, they come back and by the end of issue No. 60 they are able to end Doom's menace. Over the four issues, each of the Fantastic Four get some time in the limelight, as the Human Torch and the Invisible Girl get more solo action against Doom than usual.

During the four issues, we learn the reason why the Inhumans' leader, Black Bolt, has been silent since his first appearance back in issue No. 45.

In another example of how Lee and Kirby were making long-term plans, issue No. 57 starts with a short fight against the Sandman at the local state prison, followed by another battle in the Fantastic Four's headquarters. The Sandman escapes with some lab equipment, and the action turns to Dr. Doom for the next three issues.

And then in issue No. 61, when the Fantastic Four return to the HQ from their triumph against Doom we find the Sandman has been lying in wait, setting off yet another multi-issue tale.

Marvel Essential Series - A Great Way to Read All 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 volumes have been printed more than once, 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 more than 700 items! I'm sure several are duplicates, but even so there should be one available for every comic book fan!

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Marvel Essentials Or Marvel Masterworks? - More Stories For the Money? Or Full Color?

Marvel Comics has two reprint series: Marvel Essentials and Marvel Masterworks.

The Marvel Essentials series of books publish the stories in black and white, on lesser-quality paper, but each volume contains more than twice as many tales as a Marvel Masterworks. The Marvel Masterworks have fewer stories in each book, but they are published in full color that presents the tales in all their original glory.

Which do You Prefer -- Marvel Essentials or Marvel Masterworks?

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See Early Fantastic Four Comics in Baltimore!

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