NEW: 1967

August 8, 2016


#58: The Dismal Dregs of Defeat! (****), #59: Doomsday (****), 
#60: The Peril and the Power! (****), #61: Where Stalks The Sandman? (****), 
#62: … And One Shall Save Him! (****), #63: Blastaar, The Living Bomb-Burst! (****), 
#64: The Sentry Sinister! (****), #65: - - From Beyond This Planet Earth! (****), 
#66: What Lurks Behind The Beehive? (****), #67: When Opens The Cocoon! (****),
Annual #5: Divide - - and Conquer!/This Is A Plot?/The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer (****),
#68: His Mission: Destroy the Fantastic Four! (****), #69: By Ben Betrayed! (*****)


A debate that rages around the Lee-Kirby issues even to this date is the question of who did what. Various conflicting stories have been touted, from some suggesting Kirby did almost everything and Stan took credit, to stories suggesting that Stan was heavily involved in the creative process. As there are only conflicting opinions and not cast iron facts regarding this point of Marvel history, this site chooses not to press for a "side", merely to acknowledge that there is contention regarding the matter, and to look at the few rare instances where Stan and Jack brought up the matter in direct conversation with one another.

Perhaps most intriguing was a radio interview with Jack on WBAI in New York City in August 1987. At the end of the show, Stan calls in, and a cordial, respectful conversation takes place between the two, before the subject of who wrote the dialogue comes up and is clearly still a sore point years later. Kirby states that he wrote lines, but Stan claims they weren't printed in the finished books. As Stan continues, Kirby says "I wasn't allowed to write!" over the top of him, before Stan talks about how he wrote every word. Stating that he was working to his own internal dialogue, Kirby goes to say that the dialogue written after the art has been drawn is "insignificant", before checking himself and changing it to saying he was only interested in the "action".

Going on to defend his role in the work, Stan says to Kirby: "Look Jack, nobody has more respect for you than I do, and you know that. But I don't think you ever felt that the dialogue was that important, and I think you felt 'well, it doesn't matter, anybody can put the dialogue in, it's what I'm drawing that matters.' And maybe you're right. I don't agree with it, but maybe you're right." Kirby responds "I'm only trying to say [...] the human being is very important. If one man is writing and drawing, and doing a strip, it should come from an individual. I believe that you should have the opportunity to do the entire thing yourself, the entire story."

Nearly twenty years after they'd worked together on the title, it seemed that tensions were under the surface, possibly made worse by so many years of blame and recriminations in interviews and articles. Stan concludes that "I'm afraid those problems are only cropping up now. I think when Jack and I did the strips, there was no ego problem, we were just did the best we could at the time."

What makes it so hard to discover the truth behind such stories is that the concept of a "Bullpen" was largely a PR myth, and many of the creative personnel would be working from home studios. Consequently most of the stories come after the fact, with very few accounts from people who were actually there at the time. Joe Sinnott, the "third man" of the team, was not privy to any of the disputes between the two, stating in an interview with this site that: "I didn't attend any conversations that Jack and Stan may have had, so I really can't comment on that. I do believe that Jack was interested in being a bigger part of the creative process than he was allowed to be."

The coverage of the year 1964 has an illuminating description from Stan of how the strips were formed, which appears to credit Jack greatly, though an article in the January 1966 issue of Herald Tribune suggests a different take on events. Reputedly damaging their relationship even further, Nat Freedland's "Super Heroes With Super Problems" painted Stan as an animated creative force, Jack watching with a high-pitched voice that is "young with enthusiasm", a "middle-aged man with baggy eyes [...] if you stood next to him on the subway you would peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory."

These creative frictions reputedly reached their highest peak with the story of "Him" (issues #66-67), with Kirby allegedly writing it as a response to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. Although developed in the late 40s, the movement had come to real prominence in the 60s, and Kirby proposed a layered, sophisticated tale that saw scientists create the perfect being, who in turn would try to destroy them, lacking tolerance for their imperfections. Stan changed the story to a more standard "evil scientists" runaround, an adequately functional tale that nevertheless fails to exploit its full potential.

There are clear attempts at appeasement throughout the run, with Stan and Jack given co-creator credit, with the "writer"/"artist" division removed, and a three-page comedic story starring the pair of them in the annual. To be fair to Stan, a lot of Jack's angst was directed towards then Marvel head Martin Goodman, who didn't acknowledge his contribution as much as Stan did. Perhaps coincidentally, after #67 the range of ideas began to dry up, with 1968's Annihilus the only classic FF villain created by Lee-Kirby after this point.

The only villains with any real legacy in the title after this date were Thundra and Malice, with the possible exception of the Celestials. Replacement members like Scott Lang, Power Man, Ms.Marvel and She-Hulk were first crafted in the 70s/80s, and there's also the 80s group Power Pack. From that point on, any character created by Marvel was either only an occasional visitor to the FF's world, and more well-known for other titles, or appeared in the Fantastic Four and wasn't successful enough to warrant more than a couple of return appearances. As some of Marvel's most enduring and popular characters were still created after the 60s - such as the new X-Men, the Punisher or Deadpool - it perhaps suggests less of a dearth of imagination in the company, and perhaps, most charitably, that the book developed such iconic and unforgettable characters in its first eight years that they could never be bettered.

As for the run of issues in 1967, then the title does become more action-orientated, and less panels per page (Issue #63 averaging just 4.6) means that they're an easier read. The opening run of Doctor Doom taking the Silver Surfer's power is a little silly, but worth it for lines like the newly-sarcastic Doom's "Your unselfish concern touches me deeply, you unearthly clod--!" Sadly, the idea of Doom stealing power from others informed the character too readily; homaged in the 1984 mini-series Secret Wars, it eventually became something of a cliche for Doom, another warning for what happens when future creative teams don't expand the scope.

An oddity is that the Inhumans have been trapped in an impenetrable barrier created by Black Bolt's brother Maximus, and dubbed "the Negative Zone". In #59 they finally break free after 11 issues of entrapment, and just two issues later Reed has begun to dub his experiments in sub-space "The Negative Zone". It's as if Stan knew he'd come up with a really catchy name and didn't want to waste it, so reused it, almost instantly.

One serious shift in characterisation is how sidelined and winsome Sue becomes after her marriage to Reed. While the somewhat sexist and domineering version of Reed is so memorable it's easy to forget his original characterisation, where he began the early 60s full of insecurities over Sue and the Sub-Mariner, and was very much in thrall to her. However, once their marriage takes place, he begins to take Sue for granted, with her frequently having to demand his time and attention. Thus we get more of Stan's hilariously dated dialogue, like Sue's "Forgive me - - for - - suddenly turning - - feminine - - !" Her sidelining increases further when the fifth annual announces that Sue is pregnant. Reed's own egotism continues to grow,  with lines like "So, once again it's up to me to devise some defense against his uncanny power!", and his take on the name Mr. Fantastic: "And, when the headline writers from coast-to-coast pinned that name on me - - they weren't just whistlin' dixie!" - this, despite the fact that he gave himself  the name.

The world of the Fantastic Four was originally a curiously sexless place, and the same year as Sue's pregnancy was announced the Hanna-Barbera cartoon debuted on television showing Reed and Sue in separate beds. Such impossible innocence allows Ben and Johnny to wake up in bed together at the start of #65 with no connotations implied or interpreted, Ben bizarrely saying they were working late, despite the fact that they all live in the Baxter Building. In the 60s at least, sex was a device used solely as a narrative tool to precipitate offspring, never something to be focussed upon, and Johnny's teenage romance with Crystal is never more than trite romance novel dialogue and stolen kisses. And while Reed's powers could have an impact on his marital life, one wouldn't like to imagine Alicia consummating her relationship with Ben. (Though such a dilemma was referenced by John Byrne in #274).

One interesting point is that the Psycho-Man, making his debut in the annual (only Stan and Jack could create a semi-classic new villain and, save for one return apperance, discard him... the ideas were plentiful, even if nearly all the bad guys just wanted to rule the world) who observes that Ben's biggest fear has always been what would happen if he lost control of his power. As Ben fights his own power in his mind and it turns out to be stronger than the Hulk, then does this suggest that Ben is really just holding back in his bouts with Marvel's premier strongman?

Looking at the adverts the title was running at the time is always enlightening and amusing in a modern age, where the concept of sending someone a live monkey through the post now seems archaic. Particularly notable with the 1968 run is an ad for a seven foot long "Polaris Nuclear Sub" (price $6.98), which sits at odds with the FF story contained within (#62) whereby the Inhumans fight off island invaders who attack in their own nuclear submarine. With such a high promise (research shows that it was really just made out of cardboard and rubber bands) then becoming a "karate master" for 99c seemed like small fry in comparison. There's also the suggestion that the comics were attracting an older audience, if the ads for "Ward's Hair Formula" are anything to go by.

Trivia, and look out for the Black Panther's single panel cameo in #60, with Sinnott inking him as Jack was still drawing him - with the half mask. And there's a classic error in #64, where Ben's writing Alicia a note. Then there's the first appearance (#65) of Ben having a middle name, referred to twice as "Benjamin J. Grimm". Speaking of Ben, while his role in the group has become far more comedic, he shows that he's still capable of complexity, thinking that he's useless in the same issue, then giving Reed a particularly brutal smack in #66. There's also an unusual lack of clarity with the speech bubbles running through these issues, with the order of dialogue frequently being transposed in an illogical order. Oh, and look out for Reed using the production services of Tony Stark not once but three times during the year... a clear sign that, while the FF was still touted as the premier title of Marvel in the 60s, it would shortly begin to slip down in priority. Lastly, Kirby always had a keen take on homage, such as The War of the Worlds style craft in #24, and #69, the final issue of the year, gave us a superb paean to King Kong.

Readers of the site who feel that the issues are possibly being over-analysed should cast their eyes over Stan's admittance, pictured above right, that he allowed politics to creep into the title. And, in an astonishingly honest admission, #61 opens with the statement "Maybe our stories are a bit stretched-out, as some maverick marvel malcontents have claimed… but, you've gotta admit they come on with a bang, right, tiger…?" Although the flowing narratives of the book are engaging, the only edition to tell a single-issue story in 1967 was the annual...

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