Fantastic Four #1

"The Fantastic Four!"

CMRO#1
The Fantastic Four #1
November 1961

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by George Klein
Colours by Stan Goldberg

Discounting the fact that this is virtually where the Marvel Universe would sprout its legs, this initial outing for the Fantastic Four is riddled with typically bad Silver-Age writing that makes the read a bit of a chore. To be fair, a lot of ground is covered, but the whole ordeal seems mechanical and forced—something that this series would suffer from periodically throughout its initial year. Fair enough, I guess, but definitely not the Fantastic start that it could (and should) have been.

MY SCORE: 2.5 (out of 10) 

27.07.11

The Fantastic Four #2

"Skrulls from Outer Space!"


CMRO#2
The Fantastic Four #2
January 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by George Klein
Colours by Stan Goldberg

An improvement over the previous issue (which came a whopping two months earlier!), but not by much. This time we’re introduced to the Skrulls, but much like the Ferengi from Star Trek, their debut appearance here is off-hand and slightly silly. Despite some sketchy conclusions however, it’s still entertaining (especially the opener, which, while copied to death since, was quite a clever device by Lee) and works well to flesh out the Four a little more.

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

27.07.11

The Fantastic Four #3

"The Menace of the Miracle Man"

CMRO#3
The Fantastic Four #3
March 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Sol Brodsky
Colours by Stan Goldberg

So this is finally where Lee and Kirby throw their gloves down and quit pretending that these guys (and gal!) weren’t anything but Superheroes. Showered with an assortment of gifts, the Four are given their famous costumes (which the Thing promptly rids himself of), their Fantasti-Car and of course we’re treated to a great drawing of their HQ.

So an important issue for sure, but one that still finds itself lacking in the story-telling department. Aside from the gradual development of the characters which continues here (particularly amusing are Torch and Ben Grim’s interactions, and Grim’s more solemn self-reflections thus far unheard of in these kinds of comics), the central plot involving the lacklustre Miracle Man isn’t as strong as previous antagonistic ploys.

With that said however, it’s the characters that shine here and in turn that’s what will hold reader’s attentions for decades—it’s a subtle shift, but one large enough to change the face of comic books to the point where the characters themselves would be the focus of a writers’ imagination, rather than who or what they could stop from taking over the world that month, and with what toy at their disposal.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (out of 10) 

27.07.11

The Incredible Hulk #1

"The Coming of the Hulk"


CMRO#4
The Incredible Hulk #1
May 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Paul Reinman

Another first for the medium (as far as I can see) in that Lee not only devotes an entire book to a single monster, but puts him in the role of protagonist up against someone else who wants to destroy and terrorize and all that evil stuff. What’s most interesting about this is that despite only being a handful of issues into their Superhero Rebirth title Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby are already reconstructing what it means to be a hero. As an origin story, it’s bit tighter than the Four’s debut, but it’s still suffering from clunky plot devices and stunted dialogue. On the whole however, it’s certainly readable, and provides readers with an interesting character duality in the form of Hulk and Banner. Shame they’d go on to reconstruct them for just about every issue released until its cancellation six tales down the line.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10) 

28.07.11

Fantastic Four #4

"The Coming of… Sub-Mariner"


CMRO#5
The Fantastic Four #4
March 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Sol Brodsky
Colours by Stan Goldberg

Drawing a thin line connecting Marvel’s Golden Age with their current age, Lee and Kirby break down more walls and expand the space between their borders once more by infusing backstory from decades prior into its weaving. So not only do we have characters that exist within our real world New York who share a less than perfect relationship with each other that develops over time, but we can look forward to seeing villains and other backing characters in more than just a single issue. Again, it’s nothing we think twice about these days, but back in 1962, this was by no means commonplace thinking or formula.

Luckily however, Lee was all about switching things up to get ahead on the game, and he does that here not just by rethinking concepts, but also by telling a pretty good story to boot. The first of its kind, actually, since the Four were born six months prior—this re-introduction to the Sub-Mariner is great stuff that mixes pathos with some interesting character conflicts (Sue and Namor for one goes against all conventions) that point towards a brighter future. Great reading.

MY SCORE: 7.0 (out of 10) 

28.07.11

The Incredible Hulk #2

"The Terror of the Toad Men!"


CMRO#6
The Incredible Hulk #2
July 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Steve Ditko

Despite being an issue often mocked by fans, I found this one to be an improvement over issue 1. Sure, the central villains are evil toad men… sure… but central to this outing’s appeal for me is a mixture of Steve Ditko’s only appearance in the series as Hulk’s inker making for a much more striking issue visually, and of course the whacky antics of seeing Hulk kick toad ass in space. It’s ridiculous really, but somehow Lee pulls it off to be a decent issue despite its obtuse plotting.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (out of 10) 

29.07.11

Fantastic Four #5

"Prisoners of Doctor Doom!"


CMRO#7
The Fantastic Four #5
July 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Joe Sinnott
Colours by Stan Goldberg

Cue the ominous music, boys, Dr. Doom’s just walked in. You know, I’m not sure if Stan or Jack were anticipating that Doom would make the impression that he did when he first arrives here, but regardless, this issue (like many origin stories of both heroes and villains thus far) is tepid at best. Going from time travel to black magic and all sorts of crazy shenanigans with castles straight-up existing somewhere around New York, our fifth adventure here is spotty at best with perhaps the best first quarter seen to date. Shame about the rest, though. Doom would get better with time—his ploys a little less inane than seen here.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10) 

29.07.11

Journey into Mystery #83

"The Mighty Thor"


CMRO#8
Journey into Mystery #83
August 1962

Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Joe Sinnott

Coincidences run amok in Journey into Mystery as we are introduced to the The Mighty Thor! Okay, so it isn’t really Thor, it’s just some guy with a lame leg who inherits the powers of Thor… oh, and his dashing looks too. Being set up straight from the get-go as a Superman type, only hailing from Asgard and wearing a helmet, Marvel go in an unprecedented direction in presenting a mythological God as a superhero. Again, it can’t be said that it’s actually Thor himself but shh!

Oh and lo and behold, as an origins episode, Thor struggles with the same terrible writing that plagued Fantastic Four and The Hulk. From detailing every single power that Thor’s hammer bestows upon its occupant like a shopping list to providing Yet Another Space Invasion Plot, things aren’t too exciting here. It’s not terrible per se, but… Stone Men From Saturn? Really? Okay, I know; I excused the toads from Hulk #2, but at least they had cool powers and tech. These guys? Boring. And as expected, Thor tears them a new one… which I guess is all Lee and Lieber (Stan’s younger brother, who makes his writing debut here) wanted. Take that, you overrated asteroids!

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

30.07.11

Journey into Mystery #84

"The Mighty Thor Vs. The Executioner"


CMRO#9
Journey into Mystery #84
September 1962

Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

I guess these Stop the Evil Commie stories resonated a lot more back in ‘62 than they do now. I don’t know, most of them reek of absent-mindedness and cheap exploitation of America’s paranoia. Nevertheless, when dealing with comics, one must expect a certain level of, erm, politcal investment. Especially with the CCA overlooking everything like, well, A Nasty Red!

And so we are brought to Thor’s second story, just one month later (you have to wonder why, considering The Hulk and later on, Spider-Man would get their own runs after little to no time in anthologies) in Journey to Mystery once more. As a plot, like I say, it’s mindless. Yet as a device to show off Thor beating the red out of some poorly written Russians, plus ever so slightly developing the love interest of Jane Foster (Thor/Don Blake’s Lois Lane), it’s sufficient enough.

Oh, and, Dick Ayers on the inks, ladies and gentlemen! Huzzah!

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

30.07.11

The Incredible Hulk #3

"Banished to Outer Space"

CMRO#10
The Incredible Hulk #3
September 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

Hulk literally flies(!) onto shelves this month with an astoundingly bland thump. You think, maybe Lee and Kirby would let The Hulk stay as he is for maybe a few issues before dumping the entire concept and beginning anew (almost.) From being the Hulk exclusively at night to now permanent and with the ability to fly (which will be changed to a super… very accurate form of leaping) it seems no surprise that fans couldn’t connect with the lumbering madman who—though penned as having a split personality—has shown about five so far. Not only this but we also learn that his little annoying sidekick now has some sort of mind-meld link with the Hulk to the point where he can control him. Brilliant. Banner’s gotta be livid.

Oh and I guess I should mention the issue’s antagonist, The Ringmaster who uses Hypnotism to keep whole towns in a trance while his goons loot them for all they’re worth. He’s not bad I guess, and it gives the comic some colourful pages thanks to Dick Ayers’ involvement from here on in, but as an opponent to The Hulk? A bizarre mismatch, indeed. It just never flies off the page like it should. Geddit? Flies?

MY SCORE: 2.0 (out of 10) 

31.07.11

Fantastic Four #6

"Captives of the Deadly Duo!"


CMRO#11
The Fantastic Four #6
September 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Colours by Stan Goldberg

So it’s getting to the point now where I actively look forward to getting around to the next Fantastic Four issue. In comparison with just about everything else Marvel was putting out around this time, the FF are single, fairly consistent beacon of hope. What’s best about this though is that after this issue, the Four would be printed monthly rather than bi-monthly. So now we get twice the thrills, and boy is this one a good way to start!

Pairing up the series’ most dastardly villains thus far, putting them into space with the Baxter Building tethered to their rocket, which has the Fantastic Four inside, is just insane. In fact, it’s probably the most extreme thing I’ve read yet, that isn’t just dumb. Sure, it isn’t the most plausible thing in the world, but Kirby does a great job here of conveying it in the most convincing way possible.

Oh and we also get a little more melodrama in the form of Sue Storm and Namor being at odds with each other again. You think Reed would have socked Mariner in his Sub by now. Alas, it continues and we’re left with the impression that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of either of these villains (despite one of them clinging to an asteroid at comic’s end!)

What a ride! 

MY SCORE: 7.0 (out of 10) 

31.07.11

Tales to Astonish #35

"Return of the Ant-Man"


CMRO#12
Tales to Astonish #35
September 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

While not technically his debut as one of Marvel’s central superheroes, The Return of the Ant-Man here very much lays the groundwork for the rest of Pym’s run, whilst also reworking some patchy details from his very first (at the time one-off) outing.

As far as origin stories go however, this is the best one delivered by Lee and Kirby thus far as far as I’m concerned. The series itself will quickly go downhill, but upon reading this as an Ant-Man virgin, you may be excited by the interesting perspectives on hand here, the pseudo-science and nice little side-notes regarding ants.

The story itself is typical Ant-Man. It’s contrived, and it’s very basic and steeped in fantasy, but for such an early tale it still seems fresh, fun and vital. It’s a shame nothing much was done with such early promise, but hey, I guess there’s only so much you can do with a guy who has the power of an ant.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

01.08.11

Journey into Mystery #85

"Trapped by Loki, The God of Mischief"

 

CMRO#13
Journey into Mystery #85
October 1962

Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

While still sitting in some murky waters, Journey into Mystery improves once again this week, this time providing our Norse God with some trouble in the form of his pain in the neck brother (though this relation is never acknowledged here) Loki. It’s the third book in three months, making it the fastest published title at the time, and being penned by Stan’s younger brother, it has a definite fresh feel to it despite seemingly being rushed out.

With that said, there are still problems abound in the writing itself—Loki’s origin story is perhaps the most disappointing yet simply because it sets things up brilliantly before resorting to a ridiculous Deus-Ex-Machina (seriously, it took Loki that long to poke someone in the eye? And surely that sort of tear wouldn’t count—are magical contracts not without their fine print?), and everything seems kind of underdeveloped no doubt due to the 12 page limit restriction within this anthology title.

Despite such flaws however, this Thor guy, and his human counterpart are something I look forward to reading about. This time acknowledging Thor’s mythological background with Loki and Asgard itself in a couple of pages, plus Thor lifting a train track while the train goes over it, there are some great moments here. Which is more I can say for Bruce Banner who, even with 25 pages, continues to bore every other month.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10)

01.08.11

Fantastic Four #7

"It Came From The Skies"


CMRO#14
The Fantastic Four #7
October 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Colours by Stan Goldberg

Now I like invasion stories just as much as the next guy, but seriously, I’m beginning to loose count of how many visits Earth has had from strange aliens over the past few months. It’s a bit of a relief then that much of this issue, although not quite as strong as #4 and 6, serves as a neat little stand-alone story that blends some cool sci-fi concepts with some genuinely interesting “antagonists.”

Sure, the whole plot boils down to one big Deus Ex Machina yet again, but it’s not without its charm. You have to wonder why they didn’t just shrink the asteroid however. I guess the compounds might not have reacted the same in zero-G? Who is to say! Maybe it’s something to do with Cosmic Rays or Nuclear testing in space? All joking aside, Lee and Kirby deliver again this month and continue developing our favourite supergroup whilst keeping a firm hold on our imagination. Kudos. Now… hold off the Aliens for a while, huh?

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

02.08.11

Strange Tales #101

"The Human Torch"


CMRO#15
Strange Tales #101
October 1962

Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

It’s an invasion of superheroes! Yet another anthology series gets made-over and starts placing a superhero in its cover story, this time it’s with an already established character—that of The Human Torch. This is fine, and I’m sure Stan thought this would appease his teenage readers by presenting Johnny as something more than a sidekick, but there’s a reason Spider-Man was created, and that was because Johnny always suited being around his companions more than being on his own.

Here in his solo debut, a lot of details are thrown around that differ from the Fantastic Four book, such as where Johnny lives, and who actually knows about his “secret” identity (this particular discrepancy would be retconned, however), but everything else seems pretty solid. Oh but hey, wait, what’s with all the asbestos? Ah, the innocent sixties. Catch a little cosmic ray and you think living in a cube of toxic fibres is the best idea since instant noodles. But yeah, check out that diagram of Storm’s bedroom. Neat!

Nevertheless, Johnny’s story here, despite middling details, is mostly forgettable. Following another commie intelligence plot (aliens next time, maybe?), things go through their usual motions until we find out the truth which—thankfully—has nothing to do with aliens. Thank the heavens for dirty reds!

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

02.08.11