Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The History of the Marvel Universe--January 1962


When we were introduced to our heroes in the first issue, there was a sequence in which they were inadvertently scaring the snot out of innocent bystanders, who had no idea who the oddly-powered foursome was. But as the second issue opens, the FF are now world-famous, known to everyone. It’s fun to presume they’ve perhaps held a press conference and spent some time doing disaster relief or catching bank robbers.

But the threat level goes up when four shape-changing aliens impersonate them while committing a variety of crimes. Soon, the world is scared of them once more and the army tosses them into specially designed prison cells.

In a nifty scene, all four must individually use their powers and their brains to make an escape. They track down the aliens and capture them. The aliens turn out to be advance scouts for an invasion fleet. So the FF turn the tables by pretending to be the aliens and bluffing the invasion fleet into fleeing our galaxy.

Those aliens would be back, though. This is the first appearance of the Skrulls, the war-like and creepy-looking villains who will become a fixture of the Marvel Universe.

Once again, Jack Kirby gets to show off his talent for designing bizarrely fun creatures. Not only are the Skrulls (when in their natural form) a great design, but Kirby also goes to town drawing the bizarre monsters they turn into during their final tussle with the FF.

There’s also some nice bits of characterization involving the Thing—one scene in which, overwhelmed by bitterness, he has to be restrained from going on a senseless rampage. Then another in which he briefly turns back into Ben Grimm, only to become the Thing again almost before he has time to realize he’s back to normal. All this is building up to a sort of emotional epiphany he’ll have in issue #5.

There’s a plot-hole at the end—Reed hypnotizes the captured Skrulls into thinking they are just cows and leaves them peacefully grazing in a pasture. I love that, but only three of the four Skrulls are there at the end. Reed says the fourth Skrull is heading back to his home world with the invasion fleet, but that doesn’t make sense in context to how events unfolded. Somehow, Stan and Jack lost track of one of the Skrulls when they wrote this tale.

But it all turns out for the good. Seven or eight years later, writer Roy Thomas would use this plot hole as a key part of his multi-part Avengers epic, “The Kree-Skrull War.” But it’ll be some time before we get to that. For now, let’s move on to the introduction of yet another super hero.


Tales to Astonish was one of several science-fiction anthology books that Marvel was publishing at the time. The cover story in this issue—“The Man in the Ant Hill”—is about a scientist named Henry Pym. Pym creates a serum that shrinks him down to the size of an ant.

The serum works faster and better than Pym expects and he ends up too tiny to reach the growth serum. He’s attacked by ants and ends up dodging the insects through the tunnels of their ant hill. Finally, with the help of one ant who has instinctively aids him, he is able to escape the ant hill and reach the growth serum. The story ends when he vows to set aside his dangerous experiments.

But he’d go back on this vow before long. The story was popular with readers and Stan Lee soon decided to bring Henry Pym back as a regular character. Before 1962 ends, we’ll see the scientist don a costume and shrink back down again to fight crime as the astonishing Ant Man.

But for now, the Fantastic Four would remain the only active super heroes on the block. When we return to look at March 1962, we’ll see how they fare against the Miracle Man.


  1. One of my fun New Year's Resolutions is to re-read the Lee-Kirby run of FANTASTIC FOUR, 2011 being the title's fiftieth anniversary. I'm enjoying reading your comments on the issues I've just read, as well as seeing how they fit into the bigger history and context of the unfolding Marvel Universe.

    I enjoyed your take on #2. Beside the plot hole you mentioned, the whole ending was a whirlwind of improbability (flying to the mothership, conning them so easily, etc.), but all fun. The inking is attributed to George Klein, but whomever inked it seemed to have a particular problem with faces. I always remember those strangely shadowed faces, as if the inker messed up and decided to just black it out. One of Reed is really strange looking.

    Anyway, another fun post. Lookin' forward to reading 'em all. --Gary in Omaha

  2. I'm glad you're enjoying my posts. Re-reading Lee/Kirby FF stories is always a worthwhile resolution. Have fun.


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