(Annual 5) Reed and Sue's wedding causes...
(FF44-47) the cultural awakening of the Inhumans, which causes...
(FF48-51) the arrival of Galactus, which causes...
(FF52-56) relationships to turn upside down (and a focus on equality) which causes...
(FF57-60) the union of science and magic
The mid 1960s was an era when everything was questioned: God, war, the family, race, everything.
This era is the FF's greatest, and is dominated by one story: Galactus! We are promised "WONDERS WITHOUT END": we see the team, like America, being turned upside down.
Stan Lee famously told Kirby to "have the FF fight God". The story climaxed in 1966, a couple of months before Time Magazine (April 8th) asked, "Is God Dead"?
Galactus was not about denying God, of course...
The mid point, story-wise
Act 3 in the five act structure is "the ball": this is the wedding of Sue and Reed! Everyone gets together to celebrate, and all seems to be going very well, before the inevitable crisis. It may seem strange that the period 1961-1989 had its middle in 1965-1969, but the timescale is distorted for two reasons: (1) In most plays the later parts are longer than the earlier: the introduction can be dealt with quickly while the final crisis is stretched out. (2) The rise of Marvel Time means the final three years took twenty years to publish.
Act 3 sees the greatest triumphs: the wedding, the defeat of Galactus, and the defeat of Doom with Galactus-spawned powers. The wedding is a kind of great council, where the Fantastic Four are publicly accepted (by the presence of almost all other Marvel superheroes) as the great defenders of mankind. This is where Reed becomes a true hero: the beautiful Susan Storm is a good influence on him, and he no longer undermines the team.
Act 3 is all about the negative zone portal
Act 3 is all about the portal. Just look at the motivation for every adventure. This list only includes the stories where Reed had a choice. Other events, like the appearance of Galactus, were thrust upon him and he just had to react.
This is a historical landmark, one of the greatest moments in
comic book history. And if the Fantastic Four (1961-88) is as good as I argue it is, then
this is one of the great moments in all literature. The original
Marvel Universe is the largest single story ever told, and this
wedding was the first time the story moved forwards in time in a
major way. Unlike previous comic weddings or comic events, these
were not minor characters, this is not a dramatic origin or death,
this is a major permanent change to the status quo in a very
successful story that then continues to even greater success.
This annual continues the development of Doom's character. In
annual 2 we saw his pride leading to the illusion of victory, then
when the truth was revealed Doom felt humiliated and launched an
ill judged attack. Now in annual 3 he continues to act rashly,
without proper planning. After this abject failure he begins to
plan more carefully: his next appearance shows far more
preparation (the development of robots, so much more obedient than
people), and more maturity (the Latveria trilogy shows Doom at his
most majestic). This indicates that, while Doom forgot the details
of the plan, his mind retained the lesson.
Note the irony that Doom, the mind controller (see the discussion
of robots in annual 2), had his mind controlled (this time via the
Watcher's machine). Note the design of the machine, with the thin
tube attaching to the forehead, is similar to the device used in
annual 2. This is Reed's greatest victory over Doom, surpassing
even the dramatic victory in FF200. This is because the annual 3
victory is permanent and is never detected: after shaming Doom
though superior intellect in annual 2, Reed on his triumphant
wedding day enjoys the delicious pleasure of defeating Doom again
in the same way. And this time Doom never finds out: for an ego
the size of Doom this is the greatest possible humiliation.
Other points to note
Doom's character development
For an overview of Doom's development in his twenty appearances see his own page.
The zeitgeist is strong in this one: note the wild "anything
goes" mood of the mid 1960s, the Sting Ray car, the reference to
Ozzie and Harriet, etc.
However, this also shows the FF at its most creative. "The
prodigious originality of the Inhumans was stunningly obvious. The
Royal Attilans owed very little to anything comics had ponyed-up
in the past. Their roots could be traced back to ancient mythology
more than anything." - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The
What brought about this sudden burst of quality?
The Fantastic Four saw two great bursts of new ideas: at the very
beginning (which led to other comics like the Hulk, Iron Man,
X-Men and Avengers), and now with the year that saw the Inhumans,
Galactus, the silver surfer and the Black Panther within a few
issues. Both periods were caused by Stan Lee telling Jack Kirby
"were in trouble!" and so Kirby put in an extra effort. In the
early days the company was on its knees, and in 1965 it looked
like the same thing might happen again: Archie comics created an
imprint to rival Marvel, called "Mighty Comics Group." In
response, Martin Goodman (Marvel's publisher) told Lee to invent
some new characters. So Lee went to Kirby, the ideas man. Within a
single week, Jack Kirby invented the Inhumans and the Coal Tiger
(later renamed the Black Panther). Mighty Comics then flopped,
they were just a pale shadow of Kirby's work. So the characters
were added to the FF instead.
The role of money in great art
This is the first regular Joe Sinnott issue. More than anybody
else, Joe's superb inking gave the FF its unique power and
consistency over the years. He previously inked FF5, and Stan
wanted him as the regular inker, but at the time Marvel paid the
lowest page rates. Sinnott, who unlike Kirby had never offended or
challenged anyone, but was perhaps the best inker i the business,
could always get higher paying work elsewhere. "The wedding of Sue
and Reed would prove to be Vince Colletta’s final farewell to
Fantastic Four, and the images/misc/Colletta mismatch would have an
ironic twist. Martin Goodman was so appalled at the way Vinnie was
desecrating Marvel’s lead book that he agreed to disburse
sufficient funds to lure Joe Sinnott into the fold. In an odd
sense, if it hadn’t been for Colletta’s incompatible inking, Kirby
and Sinnott may never have united." ... "In later years Joe would
cite specific pages from Fantastic Four that he lost money on due
to the amount of labor he put in." - Mark Alexander, "Lee &
Kirby: The Wonder Years"
Sinnott was not the only one who benefited from the loosening of
the purse strings. "Due to a pay raise, the King was able to cut
his workload almost in half, and he began to delve deeper into his
craft." - Alexander again
The new marriage: the significance of Gorgon?
This is the issue where Johnny meets Crystal. For details of
their love story, see Crystal's own page.
It's also the first appearance of Lockjaw, the
world's greatest super hero (in my opinion).
What more can I say?
Sometimes I feel there is no point in writing these comments. This issue is just superb: if you can read it and not agree then maybe this isn't the web site for you. The humor, the romance, the action, the pathos, the character development, the historic events... it has everything. This is what it's all about.
Dragon Man and She-Thing
With Dragon Man, Ben sees another like himself. This foreshadows the significance of the She-Thing in act 5. But see the contrast: at this point Ben is as his most miserable, and sees this as a reason to hate himself. But in act 5 he will finally achieve peace and the happiness he deserves, and see another "Thing" as a reason to accept himself and rejoice in his strength.
Note the realism even in the apparently silly parts. For example, the big image of the lab is dominated by something Reed calls an "iconometric frammistat"
Iconometric: Iconometric means relating to an iconometer, "an instrument for determining the distance of an object of known size or the size of an object at known distance by measuring the image of it produced by a lens of known focal length" (source)
Frammistat: Frammistat is from the Italian Framista (female form of frammisto), an adjective meaning "mixed." Marconi (inventor of the radio) and Fermi (inventor of the first nuclear reactor) were famous Italians, from just before Reed's era. Perhaps this device is based on their work. Frammistat (two "m"s) should not to be confused with "framistat" (one "m"), "A nonsense word invented by a radio comedian of the 1940s, meaning a (usually technical) part of some machine or device that he didn't really understand or know the proper name for." (source) So an iconometric frammistat is a mixed ability telescope, hence the large size and delicacy (it contains high precision lenses). This fits perfectly with Reed's interest in outer space. Note the large telescope in every plan of the Baxter Building. Realism is the key to the Fantastic Four's greatness,
we have characters acting and their motivations are only
explained several issues later. The story started two issues ago
with Medusa on the run, and we found it was because Gorgon was
chasing her. Now we find out why he was chasing her, which was
because the Inhumans were all under the threat of discovery from
The Seeker who has been hunting them in order to return them to
The Great Refuge. Whether by accident or design, this is rather advanced
storytelling. Even today with any writers’ six-issue
arc story, you wouldn’t get such a restrained approach to
character motivation, at least not without a whole lot of
foreshadowing. In fact, it’s the lack of foreshadowing here that
adds to the off-balance feel of the story, and which keeps the
reader just like the FF — always trying to catch up and make
sense of what is going on." - ff1by1.com, emphasis added.
The first page of this issue is arguably the single most
important action of the entire 28 year story, and it generally
goes unnoticed. By saving Triton's life, Sue turns them from
enemies into allies. The importance of this cannot be
overemphasized: a companion species to humans, but far more
powerful and with far more advanced technology, was previously our
sworn enemy, and Sue turns them into friends. The Fantastic Four
are important because the world gained four super powered
defenders: Sue has now turned that number into perhaps four
thousand or four million.
This issue is the perfect example of subtle storytelling. So many
people read this story and only see Reed criticizing Sue and Sue
doing her hair. She does it for a reason: a way to distract the
boys from their gloom. Throughout the story it's Sue who makes the
wise decisions (becoming allies, leaving the Inhumans alone,
counselling and encouraging the others), and the boys who ignore
her and either want conflict or mope around depressed. But this is
only clear if you look at what the people do, and the outcomes,
and not what they say.
The Great American Novel
Reed and Sue parallel the modern and early American leaders. Once
again in this issue Sue argues for non-intervention: the Inhumans
have gone home, leave them alone. She has earned their friendship
and gratitude, that is the best form of security. but Reed argues
that they should invade the Inhumans' lands. The American founding
fathers were generally like Sue: non-interventionist. They were
tired of the wars in the old world. Modern presidents are
generally like Reed: they feel the world would fall apart without
America as global policeman.
This is why the Fantastic Four is the Great American Novel. It's all
about the real world, but bigger. Here's an example. They could focus on
an amazing bit of science, but they don't. They focus on the reactions
instead. And yet the science is mind expanding! Then mind blowing! Let's
start: here we learn that the Great Refuge is in the Andes, and the art
confirms the fact.
The bubble starts beneath the Andes mountains, moving and being repelled by the surrounding rock. It does not stop being repelled until it runs out of rock: on the exact opposite side of the planet, in the Himalayas. Just a minor detail, barely mentioned, yet an unavoidable conclusion! As "the days roll endlessly by" it begins in the Andes and ends up in the Himalayas. And why does it stop there? because it is no longer repelled, but sits on top of the surface. Why does it not float away? Because gravity still applies. The negative barrier repels matter only on contact, not at a distance.
This conclusion solves at least three problems:
Why do we have several names and events that sound the same? (Atlantis, negative zone, sinking etc.) because they all trace to the same events.
Why does so much time pass between FF 51 and FF 52? Most issues in this period are separated by just a few minutes. but here, Johnny enrols in college and studies long enough for his first series of exams and then vacation. Yet he is thinking of Crystal all the time. Why doesn't he keep pestering Reed to find a way to rescue her? Surely he must do, but Reed has a very good reason why he cannot try until months later. (According to FF 51, Johnny does not know about it sinking into the Earth, so he must learn about that later.)
Why does Johnny then know to look in the Himalayas, but does not now exactly where the city is? When he first visited they landed a plane right next to it. But now they have to "search" for it somewhere in the Himalayas, .
Why don't they just say "the city sank through the Earth and came out the other side?" For the same reason that we don't see the details of amazing science and races and all the other stuff the FF deal with daily. We know they live in an amazing world, full of amazing happenings. But most of it is not relevant to the story.
Applying the Skrull milk theory
This is not the first example of a dome sinking into the Earth. Kala does the same thing, in the original story drawn (and therefore probably plotted) by Kirby. She later features in FF 127-8.
Occam's razor means shaving off unnecessary details: why have two unlikely events when the same event would explain it all? Rather than two Atlantis cities (or three if we include Attilan, originally an island) there was just one. And instead of three unrelated sinkings there was just one, but three parts of the same city. And instead of two different kinds of negative zone we have one. The Skrull Milk theory explains it all. It suggests that Reed created armies to protect the Earth from Skrulls, and hid them under the water and under the Earth. His obsession with the negative zone would give them the ability to form protective bubbles as used by Maximus and Kala. Implanted memories would help them interpret their real history in a new and more dramatic way, but all the most dramatic events happened after 1930. The initial move of Attilan from the sea to the mountains, for example, took place not thousands of years ago but in the 1950s (see "Untold Tales" in "What If" issue 30).
I know this sounds crazy, but follow the logic on the Skrull Milk page. Unlike any other theory, this one accepts what the comics actually show us: for example, that Attilan was in the Andes first, then sank into the ground, then was in the Himalayas. other comic readers have to change the comics and say the Andes was a mistake. I don't change the comics. That's the difference.
This issue is the high point of Act 3, the greatest triumph of all. it demonstrates the central theme that Reed's attempt to be Mr Fantastic does not work. They meet an enemy that Reed cannot beat, no matter how hard he tries. Johnny sill give the needed perspective: no matter how fantastic they may think they are, they are just ants. So ultimately Reed's method (be more and moper fantastic) cannot work, and Sue's method (be humble, need others, be sensitive to others' needs) is the only one that can work. In both FF48 and FF50 we see how Reed shuts Sue out of his life. This is the theme of inequality will cause the crisis at the start of Act 4 and will not be resolved until Act 5.
In contrast to Reed's strategy (planning) and Sue's strategy
(sensitivity), Ben's strategy is to act now, talk later, and he
saves the world at the crucial moment while Reed is busy
talking.There is also a hint (in the following two issues) that one day the team will rely on
Johnny. We see the most powerful being of all, the herald of
the child Franklin (though they cannot know this yet), and the
first major fissures in Sue and Reed's marriage. For the
significance of Galactus, and why he changes, see the discussion by FF74.
From "Imperialistic Themes in the Galactus Trilogy" by Mark Ginocchio:
“This planet [Earth] shall sustain me until it has been drained of all elemental life!” in many ways draws parallels with one of defining moments of the Cold War era, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. One would assume that the book’s “good guys,” the heroic Fantastic Four, would symbolize the United States in this allegory. But in many sections of this three-issue arc, that is not the case. This Silver Age classic is as much of a statement against American imperialism and hubris as it is about the “doomsday” scenario [of The Cuban Missile Crisis].
Galactus’ declaration of his intentions all but reads like the mission statement of Western imperialism: “This planet contains the energy I need to sustain me! I shall absorb it and will… as I have done for ages in countless galaxies throughout the cosmos.” Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the United States occupied territories such as the Philippines, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico. [and add the Spanish American War and America's imbargo of Cuba] In effect, the United States absorbed these countries and their resources in order to grow and then sustain itself politically and militarily.Ginocchio notes the balance of power: America had nuclear missiles in Turkey, so Russia wanted them in Cuba. Galactus would destroy the world, so the humans would destroy Galactus. But crucially, the FF here play the role not of America, but Russia:
“The thing is we were not going to unleash war,” Khrushchev told his advisors according to Fursenko and Naftali. “We just wanted to intimidate them, to deter the anti-Cuban forces.”The Bay of Pigs fiasco was the year before Galactus: the Cuban government had good reason to fear America, just as the FF had reason to fear Galactus. This strange role reversal, the FF against a symbol of American power, foreshadows discontent with the government that would rise during the Vietnam war and reach its peak with Watergate. The American people and America's government are sometimes different entities.
How would that save you from Galactus? FF 49 shows Galactus' machine is effectively a gigantic sensor that seeks out the desired kind of energy one piece at a time: first in the oceans, then the cities, then anywhere else it can find, including the planet's core. It then leaves behind huge chunks of the planet (the planet is no longer a sphere, but a mass of drifting debris). The whole point of the negative zone barrier is to hide what was inside, and make it extremely hard to penetrate, so it would be safe from anything less than a targeted and specialized attack (such as Black Bolt later managed from inside). For that reason I think he barrier was specifically designed to avoid the energy seeking device, as well as protect from accidental collateral damage. It would appear to be completely inert and uninteresting to the machine (or perhaps entirely absent, a blank spot on the sensors), so would never be directly attacked, so would be among the fragments that survive after Galactus leaves. From the Inhumans point of view, Galactus would merely then have achieved what mankind later achieved: making the Earth unusable to Inhumans. So the Inhumans would relocate to the Moon a little earlier. I think this is definitely a case where Kirby's original art is the key: the machine was a seeker, a searcher, not a "boil everything" device. So Maximus' main objective would be to appear uninteresting to Galactus' searches, in the same way that the Skrulls and the Watcher were able to hide entire planets.
Readers may be confused by Byrne's later description of the destruction of the Skrull world where Galactus sinking into a bubbling inferno. Yet in MTIO 50, a story illustrated by Byrne, Galactus's attack on Earth was survived by regular people: it was more like a nuclear war than a planer-eating. This difference is easily explained: Galactus seeks out certain kinds of energy, and as the throne world to a galactic empire, the Skrull world had much more of that kind.
Why the seeker?
It then becomes clear why the seeker was to return the Inhumans to the Great Refuge: anybody outside the refuge when the barrier was raised would be destroyed when Galactus came. This also explains why Black Bolt and the others were unwilling to come back: the other Inhumans would never agree to this insane plan as long as their royal family were outside, in danger. But once the royal family were captured Maximus could happily give up the throne because he knew he had won.
Why the Watcher protected Earth
With this in mind we can see why the Watcher, normally passive, chose to protect Earth, Galactus was attracted by Maximus;' device. But why, after all these thousands of years did some Inhumans suddenly decide to kill everybody else? Because the outside humans had changed. Super powered mutations had begun to be triggered, which would make humans (in time) just as powerful as Inhumans. They were becoming a threat. These mutations were triggered by the Beyonders' plans (see the discussion to FF 319). So the higher beings caused the problem: it is therefore their responsibility to solve it. For links between tn Beyonders and the Watchers, see the page on cosmic topics
The story behind the story: Galactus v the Watcher
This is the center part of the Galactus trilogy.
"By now their adventures had
grown to mythic proportions. FF #49 was the showdown of the
gods. Comicdom’s collective consciousness was thunderstruck by
Kirby’s full-page piece de resistance on page 2. It demonstrated
an unprecedented sense of scale and an opulence befitting
religious art. As they tower over the New York skyscrapers
Galactus and the Watcher stand huge, ponderous and messianic,
vying each other like rival gods on this Day of Reckoning.
Meanwhile, the horrified denizens of Manhattan look on in
disbelief, fear and awe. It was a cosmic spectacle of Biblical
grandeur. It was a defining comic book moment, a defining Kirby
moment. It was probably the crowning achievement of the entire
Silver Age. More than anything, it epitomized what this magazine
was all about." - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The
For most of the trilogy the humans are helpless, and only the watcher can make any real difference. But there is one person who does turn the tide by her actions: Alicia. By inspiring the surfer to higher things she turns him against his master, and turns the tide of the battle. Uniquely among super hero titles, the Fantastic Four teaches shows that love is more effective than conflict. In FF72 the Watcher states this explicitly.
What can be said about perhaps the most famous story of all? The one by which all other superhero comics are judged? This is Mr Fantastic's greatest triumph, yet he just follows orders (a lesson in humility that he will refuse to learn until Act 5). The real hero who saves the world is blind Alicia, by touching the surfer's heart. The Watcher is the other key figure, and he helps because he is impressed by mankind's potential He is hardly likely to be impressed by our capacity for confrontation and violent solutions, so the Earth is saved because people like Alicia exist. (Note the parallel with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where God would have saved the cities from being destroyed by fire and brimstone, if only ten righteous people could have been found.)
of a Classic: 'Fantastic Four' #50 by Chris Sims (Sep
"It all hinges on Alicia. In essence, she and the Surfer are the same character. She rejects her creator -- her father, of course, being the villainous Puppet Master -- to stand with the Fantastic Four, and despite being blind, she's the only one who can see the humanity within the monstrous form of the Thing, and love him for the goodness inside. It's down this exact path that she leads the Surfer, to embrace his new found compassion and reject his creator, regardless of whether his intentions are evil.
Alicia: the most powerful of all?
So we see that Alicia defeats Galactus. See the notes to FF199 for how she defeats Dr Doom, and annual 13 for how she turns the Mole Man into a friend. Then at the end of act 4 she solves all the team's problems. This reflects the wise Watcher's statement in FF71 that the greatest power of all is love.
Johnny at school: why now?
The Wait, What podcast
consider the last few pages, where Johnny begins school, to be
"filler". I have to disagree in the strongest terms. This is where we
see the much bigger story. Galactus was called by Maximus: this is part
of the battle between two species to rule Earth: the Inhumans and the
humans. Johnny and Crystal are destined to be the couple who unite these
two halves. The Watcher must know this: he and Galactus operate on
levels we cannot even imagine, and time is nothing to them. They see it
all. Part of Johnny's education was to experience the full cosmic truth -
the experience that just blew his mind. After that he knows that
he must do better: he must grow up and move on. Starting school then
unconsciously becomes his top priority. Johnny does not know why, he
just feels he has to. There he will be guided by Wyatt Wingfoot to keep
him in the right way (think of Luke Skywalker and R2D2). Then, once
established at school he will go hunting for Crystal.
Now energized by his glimpse of eternity, Johnny will try to do it
himself, finding the Evil Eye (a kind of small stand-in for the Ultimate
Nullifier) and later trying to defeat the cosmically powered Doom
single handed, but moth times he will not be ready. (Think of Luke
Skywalker battling Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back). So Johnny
will be guided by Lockjaw, in his dragon rider role. To cut a long story
short Johnny will fail, but his destiny will remain, and one day he
must take over the team, marry Crystal and unite the Earth's people, and
a torch to light the way for mankind. I am getting ahead of myself
here, but the point is that Johnny's development is key to Earth's
future. Johnny is central to the plan. So Johnny must
leave home and become a man. Johnny will then one day guide Franklin as
he grows up. It is all part of the same story.
The Watcher must know this. Galactus must know this. Galactus did not leave because of the nullifier, but because he saw that the Surfer and Watcher were right: mankind does have a future, and that future is in Johnny.
Other points to note
The language in the battle between Galactus versus the Surfer is superb. It may sound corny, but it is the best words for the purpose, and it is sincere. it works because it is not ironic, it is not knowing, it is earnest and genuine. You don't read it thinking "this is a Fantastic Four story," you read it and think "this is real."
The infinite cycle emblem:
Some people mock the big "G" on his chest, but as FF262 shows, Galactus appears in whatever form people can most easily understand. if having a big "G" helps us, then he has it. Also, based on FF262, Galactus exists in order to keep the universe healthy by weeding out the weak. So what looks like a "G" may actually be a circle with an arrow, a symbol of death and renewal.
Galactus was neither good nor evil. "The ambiguity surrounding Galactus’ nature was a novel concept and another idea which elevated Marvel comics beyond any comics ever printed at that time. ‘The House of Ideas’ was no lie back then!" - Karen in "Two Girls, A Guy, and Some Comics"
Why did Galactus keep such a dangerous weapon in existence (albeit so far away that only the Watcher could reach it)? "Perhaps the Big G kept it around as a way to end his existence? He expresses emotions, and it’s not impossible to think he could feel some despair at his destiny. Just a thought." - Karen in "Two Girls..."
"Armageddon is barely averted, like Soviet ships begrudgingly turning back in the Cuban Missile Crisis. As with the Cuban crisis, the Thing's comment is apt: 'If I was to take what just happened serious, I’d probably end up blowing a gasket or somethin’!'” (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute"). Galactus' final words are again reminiscent of "the Day The Earth Stood Still."
While the Galactus trilogy is the usual reference when people talk of powerful comics, "this Man This Monster" is the one people refer to when asked for a personal favorite. This is the one that most often tops the polls It is both a tiny, personal story, and the whole cosmic narrative in a nutshell.FF51 is often considered to be a small scale story, after the gigantic cosmic Galactus story. The thinking is, "how can we do a bigger story than Galactus? We can't. So we'll do a small personal story instead." However, if we read this in conjunction with the final everything-cosmic-is-now-explained story at the end of Act 5 (FF319) we see that this story is actually the next step up from Galactus. This is why:
FF51 is a story about subspace. Subspace is the space between dimensions. Between is not somewhere we can stay, so we tend to pop into somewhere else. So Reed's radical cube that was designed to enter subspace actually flips you into the Negative Zone. Other kinds of portals might flip you into other universes (e.g. the Fifth Dimension or some parallel Earth). But what we call the negative zone portal is actually a subspace portal, it is not called the Negative Zone portal until later.
Subspace is a step upwards from Galactus. Galactus uses it as
transport, but he always comes back to this universe: Galactus's
role is in this universe (see FF262), so when he was once exiled
in the Negative Zone he had to come back.
For how Galactus fits in with other cosmic beings, see the page on the cosmic.
If all these cosmic beings are confusing, all is explained in the backup story to FF Annual 23. The take home point is that scale is an illusion, and what matters is wherever we are. Hence the story told in its purest form in FF51: Reed goes beyond Galactus to explore subspace. An envious man wishes to become like Reed Richards, to gain his power. And finally realizes that to become like him he must give up all concern for himself: it is not really about power at all.
Great literature: in praise of Stan Lee
On this site I credit Jack Kirby for the plots, but sometimes Stan's dialog is just perfect, and better than anything Jack wrote. (Other times I feel that Stan detracted from Jack's superior ideas, but on balance I think he added more than he took). This is exhibit "A", thought he previous issue comes close. People who say Stan Lee cannot write natural language need to read the first few pages. Anyone who has been depressed will recognize the language style: cold and matter-of-fact. The unnamed scientists tries to sound important (in keeping with his self image), but Ben's dialog with him, and later with Reed, is just beautiful. My favorite line? "You sure come on strong, mister." It's the perfect line. There are nine frames on that page, but you can hear the pauses, and the tone, better than if they were spelled out over ten pages.
Real science: why mesons?
Reed is building a portal to subspace, so he asks Ben (actually the impostor) to move a meson particle smasher. This is some real world science.
Mesons are the key to detecting time dilation. Stephen Hawking explains:
"Deep underground [at CERN], in a circular tunnel 16 miles long, is a stream of trillions of tiny particles. When the power is turned on they accelerate from zero to 60,000mph in a fraction of a second. Increase the power and the particles go faster and faster, until they're whizzing around the tunnel 11,000 times a second, which is almost the speed of light. But just like the train, they never quite reach that ultimate speed. They can only get to 99.99 per cent of the limit. When that happens, they too start to travel in time. We know this because of some extremely short-lived particles, called pi-mesons. Ordinarily, they disintegrate after just 25 billionths of a second. But when they are accelerated to near-light speed they last 30 times longer. It really is that simple. If we want to travel into the future, we just need to go fast. Really fast."
So if Reed Richards is studying faster than light travel, his first step is to understand particles that approach the speed of light and experience time slowing and space compressing. Hence Reed needs to study mesons!
Other points to note:
The Black Panther was introduced at the height of the civil rights era. There had been black characters before (such as Gabe Jones) but they were bit parts. This is the first major black superhero, and is presented as a man of high class and high intelligence. The name was chosen when the movement first appeared in the newspapers, but before it became controversial: showing how the FF was at right at the front of the zeitgeist. ("Neither could actually claim originality, however, since a segregated Black Panther tank battalion had already fought fascism in World War II." - Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
Other points to note
Before discussing this issue, this may be a good time to pause
and discuss the quality of comics as a medium. On the surface we
see African warriors dancing: it's the old two dimensional trope of the
hidden jungle city. But by showing that these people are more
scientifically advanced than us the comic preaches equality without
having to preach. And when we look close r we see that the message of
equality goes far deeper. Perhaps more than any other medium, comics
work on multiple levels.
Ben and Johnny are racially insensitive here, and this shows why these stories have to come at this point, after the Galactus story. They are about Ben and Johnny's progress (or lack of it).
Johnny grows up
In FF 48-51 Galactus was stopped by Alicia and the Watcher persuading Galactus that mankind had potential. That potential was represented by Johnny's mind expanding experience. After that he immediately realized (unconsciously) that he had to grow up and be a man, and enrolled in college as quickly as possible.
Ben must face himself
In the Surfer Ben saw somebody who was more handsome and powerful, and Alicia treated him with kindness. This became a test: would Ben see beyond that, that Alicia loved him as a person and not just because he was famous and could protect her? Ben failed the test. This led to him becoming just Ben Grimm again, so he had a chance to make up with Alicia - but the moment he became The Thing again he ran. He could not face her. Ben was weaker than Alicia.
Both stories were about racism
The Galactus story was about one group (Galactus and the Watcher) seeing the other group (humans) as inferior. Meanwhile the humans were themselves racist: the humans believed they owned the world, ignoring the claim of the Inhumans, the Mole Man's people, the animals, or anyone else. But Johnny went on a great journey and saw they humans really are ants. So all beings are equal. In FF62 we learn that Galactus himself is now a force of nature, like a storm or the seas: he is compared to elements that do not even have minds, so we consider them far beneath us: so none is greater than another. This point (that scale is an illusion) is emphasized in the summing up at the end of FF annual 23. And finally we learn that Galactus himself is but a herald to an as-yet unborn helpless baby, Franklin. The great cosmic truth of Galactus is that we are all equal. One day you are the masters (humans), the next day you are just somebody's meal. The only way to end racism is to understand that any such differences are trivial, and only the great eternal principles matter.
"This Man This Monster" is the same
FF51, "This Man This Monster" shows the same principle (equality, the core theme of the Great American Novel). The un0named scientist believes he is greater than Reed Richards, and proves it by doing what Reed cannot (curing Ben Grimm). Ben feels that in his human form he is superior to his rocky form. The scientists as Ben is actually just the same as Ben - equally noble. Reed is not in fact above others, but just a man trying to do the best. In the end everyone is equal: nobody is greater than any other and nobody is less, everyone is in the same great struggle of life.
So we come to T'Challa
The T'Challa stories take this to the next step: the reader has seen the principles of racism and now must apply them to actual racism. And we have to see that Ben and Johnny have not yet learned their lesson. (Note how the dancers focus on Ben: he is the one who still has to learn.)
All of these issues (from FF 36 to the end of Kirby's run, the end of Act 3) are about the struggle between humans and Inhumans: about seeing another group as "inhuman", as not fully human. it is about immigration and racism, about Americans and Asians, about whether we really believe in equality and friendship of whether we just want to fight like animals. (Note how the first time we see an Inhuman she is like an animal, and the most advanced Inhuman, Lockjaw, appears to be an animal.) it is all about learning wisdom: learning not to fight everyone who is different but to work with our friends and try to understand, to broaden our minds.
In short, it is about one of the core themes of the Great American Novel: equality. See FF 200 for more details.
It's all about respect
The Wait, What podcast argues that T'Challa changes greatly since the last issue: they say he was previously a villain, a cross between Kraven the Hunter and Doom, determined to prove his superiority, and now he is a friend. But I disagree. I think that conclusion is another example of seeing the FF as just another comic, with black and white heroes and villains. But if we look closer, T'Challa is all about respect.
To T'Challa respect is everything. Yes, a great hunter will kill a lion, but he also respects the lion and bears it no ill will. It is just the law of nature, and next time the positions could be reversed. The great hunter does not take any unfair advantage and does not feel above his prey. Similarly the ideal king is not above his people, but must rule by earning their respect. So T'Challa had to prove his superiority to these incomers in order to remain king. But in this case they each proved their worth and emerged with honor: the FF won, but only because they had extra help - were it just the FF then T'Challa would have won. All observers can see this, so honor and respect are maintained. They can then be the best of friends.
Racism and independence
The Wait, What podcast argues that this issue is racist because Wakandans must get their money from the west, and T'Challa must tell Reed that he studied in the west before Reed will respect him. But ignoring the fact that it is the westerners who are racist, is independence the only alternative to racism? Isn't that a form of racism itself, saying we can never be dependent on outsiders? Surely a wiser view is that we are all dependent?
America's technology is all dependent on other
nations. Ever heard of Einstein? Von Braun? Maxwell? The paper on which
comics are printed was invented in ancient China. Mutual dependence is how science and society advances. T'Challa is showing
his moral and intellectual superiority in that he is not afraid of
The dependence goes both ways: the first time we hear of Wakanda it is because Reed receives a ship that is more advanced than anything that could be made in America. Then in a couple of issues the FF will only survive because the Wakandans can deliver vital technology: even their delivery system is more advanced than ours. Interdependence is the basis of world peace. Being totally independent is the beginning of hatred: the outsider becomes expendable, and we do not understand them because we never have to meet them. Only primitive minds think that being totally independent is a strength. In my opinion.
The podcast also argues that it is racist to have a white man play
the piano, as it might imply that a black man lacks the talent. But I
disagree. I think it shows the opposite. The Wakandans were already
shown playing drums and dancing, presumably with great skill. Why do we
think that drums are inferior to the piano? Why should we think western
instruments are a measure of sophistication?
The panther as a mirror of Doom
The Fantastic Four contains many parallels with Reed for comparison, but two stand out. They are surprisingly similar, but one is good and one is bad.
"In this issue we discover that T’Challa was born into an isolated African tribe in the land of Wakanda, which had no contact with modern civilization. T’Challa’s father was murdered by a Westerner named Klaw, who had come to Wakanda to plunder the rare metal 'vibranium.' Young T’Challa vowed vengeance, then went abroad to study science. On his return from the West, he survived a ritual that earned him the right to wear the mask of the Black Panther, Wakanda’s symbol of strength and nobility. In the above paragraphs, if you change the name 'T’Challa' to 'Doom,' and 'Wakanda' to 'Latveria,' you almost have the origin of Doctor Doom as seen in FF Annual #2" - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years"
By showing an alternate version of Doom we highlight the
differences: again and again the big 28 year story drives home the
point about the choices facing Reed Richards
The natural affinity is finally made explicit at the end of the
28 year story, in FF311, when despite their opposition, T'Challa
assists Doom, monarch to monarch.
Vibranium and real world science
"Kirby modeled it on real-world uranium, with Los Alamos scientists finding through their x-ray and neutron scattering experiments random localized vibrations, called lattice solitons, in uranium crystals at high temperatures, possibly caused by strong electron-phonon interactions." (Ian Watson, quoting Nathan Adler)
Other points to note:
In this issue Johnny finally takes matters into his own hands. He is 21 years old now, in 1966, the traditional age of becoming an adult. He's tired of being treated like a child. But he has never had an adult male role model: his father went to prison when he was young, and since then he's tagged on to Reed. Reed treats everyone as a child, even a WWII fighter pilot like Ben. So it's no surprise that his first adult action is to jump in a metaphorical Volkswagen and take a road trip.
"After FF #54 (Sept. 1966), there was a tacit understanding among the True Believers that the Torch had dropped out of Metro College (which he began in issue #50), to pursue Crystal with Wyatt Wingfoot. It was a 1960s cultural cliché—cut school and take a road trip. But in typical Kirby fashion, Johnny and Wyatt would forgo the standard big American car and take the Panther’s gyro-cruiser. Instead of driving to Tijuana, they would visit savage, labyrinthic landscapes inhabited by bizarre, otherworldly beings." (Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years")
"Like a lot of introspective young men in the Sixties, Johnny and roommate Wyatt Wingfoot dropped out of college, hopped in a Volkswagen van (a metaphorical brown one in the shape of Lockjaw, the Inhumans’ teleporting dog) and took a year-long road trip to alternate dimensions (FF #52-60, Annual 4)." (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
The role of a truly great novel is to expand the mind,. It takes
you to places and emotions you would not otherwise see, and this
issue has it all.
Critics (such as Mark Alexander in "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years") say there were no new memorable characters after FF53. Yet then in FF54 we have Prester John. It is hardly Kirby's fault that other comic writers lacked the experience to use such a magnificent creation. Kirby then reintroduced the original Human Torch and created Quasimodo and Tomazooma: characters who's depth was seldom appreciated, and other writers lacked the sophistication to use.
Other points to note
The zeitgeist (in addition to the 1960s drop out culture): The Great American novel naturally includes, at the start of this issue, the great American sport. "Baseball was still the national pastime in the Sixties. And a lot of comic readers collected baseball cards. The two hobbies even taught some kids more about reading and writing than any classroom. On the obverse of Topps baseball cards were descriptive biographies and captioned caricatures… 'Bobby reads funny books'." (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
The unreliable narrator: On page 6, Medusa wonders if Maximus can be flattered into breaking his barrier: "Will he do it? Or is he too mad? Everything depends on what happens next!" The unreliable narrator: there is a third option, suggested by his behavior, that Maximus is not as mad as he appears: he is yet another prideful genius, another mirror by which we can compare Reed. He could not be flattered into anything because he does not care what others think. but he is able to use flattery to his own ends, so next time we see him he has chosen Triton as his friend. Triton, we saw before, is the most open to explore new possibilities.
"What a revoltin' development"
This is the first appearance of Ben's catchphrase "what a revoltin' development" - “Well, there goes the blasted ball game! What a revoltin’ development!” The catch phrase was a popular part of the show "The Life of Riley" in the 1940s, and helps to ground Ben's character as a man who grew to adulthood in that era.
Before Galactus we have several; issues on the Frightful Four, then four issues on the Inhumans (FF44-7). After Galactus we have four issues on the Black Panther and his enemy Klaw (F52-54,56) then four on the cosmic powered Doom (FF57-60). These stories deal with large topics that flow into each other. But this one issue (FF55) stands out: the surfer story interrupts the flow. Why? See the Lee and Kirby page for details. Jack Kirby normally plotted these stories, with very little input from Stan Lee, but while planning this issue a journalist visited. So Stan made a bigger show of telling Jack what to do. Unfortunately Stan could not remember the recent issues (what he said either ignored or contradicted them). Jack ignored most of what Stan said, or did the opposite, but he could not ignore all of it, so we get this story parachuted in from nowhere.Other points to note
The story begins with a comment on the reality of paying bills. it may not be clear on the surface, but that is the topic of the story: the Mad Thinker (like the mastermind behind Marvel Comics) has tracked down the original Human Torch after "more than twenty years" (as Reed helpfully points out), and the Thinker makes the original Torch serve his new owner with a revised story. And the Thinker's goal is ultimately money, as we saw in his early appearances where he runs organized crime.
The 1960s saw a massive growth in US business, and a growing
awareness of Intellectual Property, or IP. The major debates took
place in the late 1960s.
"The major contributions made by lawyers to the history of copyright date from the late 1960s when, within a year of each other, two American scholars, Benjamin Kaplan and Lyman Ray Patterson, published their works. Of these two books Patterson’s offers the most detailed account of the development of copyright." - (source: via Wikipedia, Bowrey, Kathy (1996). "Who’s writing copyright’s history?". European Intellectual Property Review 18 (6): 322–329)
The Fantastic Four is an expression of the American zeitgeist,
and so it also reflected the growth of IP. Nowhere is this clearer
than in FF annual 4.
The Human Torch and IP
Back in 1961 it seemed like a good idea to include someone called "The Human Torch" in the team, because the name "The Human Torch" sold comic books. In other words, it was valuable IP. But the Human Torch first appeared in summer 1939, and under the 28 year copyright law of the time it would become free for others to use in the summer of 1967. But in 1966 the Fantastic Four was licensed for use in cartoons and other merchandise, and the publisher (Martin Goodman) began to see how valuable they were. Before that he treated them as just another comic, and comics were a very unimportant corner of his publishing empire.
In 1966 (the date of this annual) Cal Burgos, the creator of The
Human Torch, was planning to claim ownership of the original Human
Torch when it expired the next year. So exactly one year before
that, 28 years to the month since The Human Torch first saw print,
Goodman instructed Stan Lee to include the original Human Torch in
the Fantastic Four. To make it clear, the cover states the date
explicitly: "you'll finally see the origin of the human torch, as
created in 1939!!"
The Torch only needed to appear for a single issue and be killed off, but this was enough to muddy the waters legally and make Burgos's claim much harder to pursue. As if speaking to Burgos, the Thing at the end of the story says "ya win a few, ya lose a few." No doubt Goodman was prepared to go further if needed. The Mad Thinker says "if the Torch fails me, throw the destruct switch!"
When Burgos saw that issue he knew he was beaten. His hopes and
dreams were up in flames. He took every Marvel Comic he owned and
burnt them in his yard in front of his shocked daughter. He made a
legal claim in 1967 anyway, just in case, but of course it failed.
Burgos then left comics forever. He later said "If I knew how much
trouble and heartache the Human Torch would bring me, I would
never have created him." For the full story and context see
chapter three of Sean Howe's "Marvel Comics: the Untold Story."
Then who are the good guys?
This is a clear example of the FF as the zeitgeist in print. it is tempting to think of the creators of these comics as heroes (or sometimes villains) but in fact they are a product of their times. They have value to us today precisely because they reflect life as it really is, and not as we might like it to be. The irony is that on the surface they are the opposite: merely escapist fantasy. But dig a little deeper and we see all human life is here. There is no happy ending in the FF for Jim Hammond. He is the good guy, like Carl Burgos, but cannot control his life and is destroyed. The story then ends with another unforgettably ambiguous sequence: the bad guy, Quasimodo, is presented sympathetically. He, like the fictional Hammond or the real Burgess (and the real Kirby), is a powerless victim of forces bigger than himself: all he ever wanted was his chance of life and it was denied him.
So is Martin Goodman the real villain? Is he the Mad Thinker? He owned Marvel Comics and made all the unpopular decisions, so it's easy to see him as a callous capitalist. yet without Goodman there would be no Marvel Comics. He created it, he paid the bills from month to month. Without him there would be no Marvel. While Stan Lee presented himself as the face of Marvel it is clear in his interviews that Goodman made all the big decisions. Lee was like Quasimodo, the Thinker's trapped servant.
As with Shakespeare, the Fantastic Four has no pure good guys and no pure bad guys, just three dimensional characters. No, not even Ben Grimm, the closest thing to a pure hero, is pure: remember his violent early days? And Sue has a point in 296 when she points out that he won't face his problems but prefers to blame others. All the characters are complex, and that's why we love them.
Why Quasimodo? IP and cyberspace
It is perhaps no coincidence that a story about intellectual property is followed by a story about cyberspace. Both are examples of abstract concepts that grow bigger than the people who created them: even bigger than some nations. For more about Quasimodo and cyberspace see the notes to FF 202 and FF212.
Other points to note
We are still in the golden age, but already Sue is seeing that
all is not right with the marriage. The signs were all there
before the wedding and things will only get worse. Yet no marriage
is perfect, and Reed is still a hero. What do do? There are no
easy answers for Sue.
Once again we see Reed doing work that is not needed. Reed's work
is speculative: no immediate threat. Learning is good, but he
could just as easily chose to learn from Sue. Note also that
teamwork saves the day, and that is Reed's weakness: if he had
spent more time getting to now his wife and encouraging her input
then they might have been able to defeat Klaw without T'Challa (it
was only luck that T'Challa was not busy!) Perhaps Sue's force
field could be adjusted to work on Klaw? If not, she could at
least keep him confused by tossing him around until Reed finds a
better solution. Reed's time would be better spent on Sue than on
trying to fix things alone.
Other points to note:
This issue is usually remembered for the unforgettable image of Doom standing triumphantly over the Surfer. But regarding the long term 28 year story the key point where Reed admits that Sue's intuition has never been wrong before. he realizes this yet will not act on that fact. Sue's intuition has proven to just as useful as Reed's inventions over the years: it enabled her compassion that turned the biggest empire in the world (the Atlanteans) into allies, turned the most powerful civilization (the Inhumans) into allies, will later save the world from Galactus (thanks to showing compassion to the Impossible Man in FF11), and has enabled her to do the right thing numerous times. Most important, it will guide her to put Franklin first. If only Reed would listen to her intuition he would solve all his problems. Worse than that, despite knowing that her intuition is always right, he withholds vital information from her!!
After this issue Reed has no excuse. He knows, but he does not
act on that knowledge.
How could her intuition help? If they discussed it, what help
could she possible be? Surely the only way to defeat Doom is with
some technological solution, right? No, there is another way, and
it's staring them in the face if only Reed would be humble enough
to invite some brainstorming. Lockjaw
is right there. Lockjaw is intelligent enough to trick Doom into a
different dimension. But wait, Lockjaw isn't there: why? Because
Johnny felt so frustrated with Reed that he stormed off. If Reed
had listened to Johnny then Johnny would still be around, so would
Lockjaw, and they could have defeated Doom. Reed's ego gets in the
The surfer's character
"According to Kirby-historian Mike Gartland, 'It was Jack’s original intention for the Silver Surfer to enter mankind as a blank slate, absorbing new lessons about the human condition with every subsequent adventure.' Gartland’s remark was totally on-target. In FF #49 the Surfer learned the value of human life. In FF #55 he learned about human emotion through Ben’s jealousy. Here, in FF #57, he discovers human treachery." - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years"
This is exactly how it works in the pages of the FF,
whereas in other comics (notably the Surfer series written by Stan
lee alone) it may be different. In this web site the FF story is
canon and all others are secondary.
Other points to note:
Doom's character development
For an overview of Doom's development in his twenty appearances see his own page.
This section of Act 3 ends with a summary of Reed metaphorically
hitting a brick wall.
While it is true that he did defeat Doom it's a Pyrrhic victory: it's not progress, because he could have done it sooner if he had listened to his friends. Note that he defeats Doom, a reflection of Reed, by making Doom hit a wall.
Crucially, while his plan is to make greater and greater discoveries, he has hit the limit of his team mats' respect. They still respect him, but they also see his weakness. Ben has told him to his face, correctly identifying the problem: if Reed can't be the hero then he doesn't want to play.
Reed hits another Brick wall - Ben. He insults Ben but Ben is
used to that by now. Reed accuses him of tantrums, the
language indicating that Reed considers Ben to be a child.
But Ben was right:
Ben's power has never been tested to its limit - ultimately all powers are the same, so it is possible someone with his will could rise to Doom's level. And in FF58 Doom said he would not kill the FF; to kill them would be to admit weakness, that he felt threatened.
Reed's solution is based on annoying Doom. Who better than Ben? Send something into space and tell Doom that it is there - he will chase it.
A better solution is to send the team to Latveria to get the surfer's input!
If nothing else, Ben can be kept busy helping others . For
Ben to do nothing is the worst possible choice.
Doom is Ben's mirror as well: he is frustrated by Reed, encased
in armor, and disfigured. Ben humiliated Doom in FF40 (by
crushing Doom's hands), humiliated him again in FF58, and does so
again here. Although Ben lacks Reed's genus level intelligence, he
has the ability to get inside Doom's mind just as effectively.