“Fantastic Four” #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby birthed the Marvel Universe we know and love. Without it, the fantastic characters and stories that currently populate the comic book universe and appear on the screen delighting millions of fans worldwide simply would not exist. Within the pages of the 101 issues they worked on together, Kirby and Lee introduced the foundation of Marvel Comics storytelling, bringing an incredible sense of design and graphic storytelling to stories that featured high concepts and amazing adventure.
Almost every issue of “Fantastic Four” seemed to introduce an idea that would be expanded upon by future creators. Lee and Kirby not only introduced fans to the Marvel Universe’s first heroes — Mister Fantastic, Invisible Girl/Woman, Human Torch and The Thing — they also laid the foundation for comics’ first shared universe. It’s chaotic on paper, but completely functional in practice.
In the second and final part of our “Fantastic Four” retrospective, CBR once again looks back on “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” as it took readers into the far reaches of space to bring about the Devourer of Worlds, an inhuman race of beings, the cosmic entity known as Him and much, much more.
If you missed Part 1, be sure to check it out first before reading on, true believers!
“Fantastic Four” #36 (1965) “The Frightful Four!”
This issue is important for two reasons: First, Lee and Kirby introduced the world to the Frightful Four, a team that would go through many membership changes but never lose sight of their goal to destroy the FF no matter the incarnation. The team consisted of three true villains: The Wizard, Paste Pot Pete and perennial Spider-Man nemesis The Sandman. It’s the fourth member that makes this issue notable, however: the mysterious Madame Medusa. Soon, Lee and Kirby would introduce a race of super-powered beings known as the Inhumans, with Medusa revealed as their queen.
“Fantastic Four” #44 (1965) “The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!”
The slow burn introduction of the Inhumans continued in “Fantastic Four” #44 with Gorgon, the thunder-footed member of the Royal Family. Gorgon was a constant presence in the world of the Inhumans after this issue, which was also beginning of the long-running Thing/Gorgon rivalry.
“Fantastic Four” #45 (1965) “Among Us Hide… The Inhumans”
For nearly a year, Lee and Kirby teased and slowly built up to this, the first appearance of the Inhumans. If you’ve been watching “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”,, or reading Marvel’s current crop of comics, you know the Inhumans are a pretty big deal. Well, Black Bolt, Karnak, Lockjaw and more premiered right here in one creative burst of energy, along with concepts like the city of Attilan and the Terrigen Mists.
“Fantastic Four” #48-50 (1966) “The Coming of Galactus!”
These three issues introduced Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, and the Silver Surfer and stand as the high water mark of Lee and Kirby’s partnership. Comic readers of the era had never seem a creation like Galactus, a titanic, malevolent god bent on literally devouring the Earth, something that could have been found in the works of horror legend H.P. Lovecraft. But there he was, larger than life, crackling with the kind of energy that only the King of Comics could give him. Along with Galactus, Lee and Kirby also introduced his herald, a character who became the centerpiece of the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe. In three fabulous comics, Lee and Kirby not only created two comic cosmic icons, they defined an era of storytelling through their creative daring.
“Fantastic Four” #51 (1966) “This Man… This Monster!”
This issue, the follow-up to the “Galactus Saga,” didn’t feature the creation of a new hero or villain, but of a realm that would play a key role in the Marvel Universe. “FF” #51 marked the first appearance of the Negative Zone, a realm of true cosmic horror that the heroes of Marvel would visit again and again. It would not be long before Lee and Kirby began populating the Negative Zone with some truly unforgettable menaces.
“Fantastic Four” #52 (1966) “The Black Panther!”
Consider this: in the span of eight issues, Lee and Kirby introduced the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Negative Zone and the Black Panther. That has to be the most ridiculously amazing creative output in comic book history. The Black Panther will soon star in his own movie, but his comic book roots are firmly entrenched in the pages of “Fantastic Four.” Lee and Kirby did some amazing world building with the high-tech African kingdom of Wakanda, creating a locale vital to the Marvel Universe. They infused T’Challa with a heroic spirit and an almost mythic energy that defined the character — Marvel’s first Black costumed hero — for every creator that followed.
“Fantastic Four” #62 (1967) “…And One Shall Save Him!”
We just mentioned the Negative Zone, and in this issue Lee and Kirby began to fill that fearsomely chaotic realm with the most vile of villains, Blastaar. A cosmic despot whose savagery and brutality truly stood out in the Silver Age, Blastaar remains a cosmic menace to be reckoned with and any time a Marvel hero travels to the Negative Zone, it’s a good bet he could rear his hairy head.
“Fantastic Four” #64 (1967) “The Sentry Sinister”
The Sentry Sinister might have seemed like a generic robot foe, but in truth, the introduction of this automaton signaled the beginning of some more masterful world building as another important alien race in the Marvel cosmos — the Kree — was about to be introduced.
“Fantastic Four” #65 (1967) “– From Beyond This Planet Earth!”
Before the Kree threatened the Guardians of the Galaxy on film, they made their presence known in the pages of “Fantastic Four.” Before long, this FF story would inspire the creation of the original Captain Marvel, as the Kree became Marvel’s go-to alien race for classic cosmic space opera. It would be a long time before the Kree would go to war with the Skrulls, but the fact that both races appeared first in the “FF” speaks to the boundless creative energy that defined Lee and Kirby’s run.
“Fantastic Four” #66-67 (1967) “What Lurks Behind the Beehive?”
In this issue, Lee and Kirby introduced yet another of Marvel’s major space heroes. Originally known as Him, before long this being would change his name to Adam Warlock and become one of Marvel’s central cosmic protagonists, most notably in the pages of the seminal “Infinity Gauntlet.” The Kirby-crafted cocoon he arrived in has popped up in a few Marvel films, so it might only be a matter of time before Adam Warlock arrives in live-action, but it was in the pages of “Fantastic Four” the character was introduced to the world.
“Fantastic Four” Annual #6 (1968) “Let There Be… Life!”
In addition to 102 issues of magnificence, Lee and Kirby also managed to fit in six “Fantastic Four” annuals. In Annual #6, the pair introduced the world to Annihilus, the Negative Zone’s most fearsome threat. Another insanely creative concept, Annihilus is a malevolent insectoid being made of energy and bent on destruction. In addition to being one of the FF’s most persistent foes, Annihilus was the evil intelligence behind the “Annihilation” event, a storyline that led to the resurgence of cosmic Marvel.
There you have it — the blueprint for much of the Marvel Universe as laid out by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Fantastic Four.” Know of anything we missed? Let us know in the CBR Community!
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