Wednesday, November 12, 2008

History of the Marvel Universe--July 1962


We meet Dr. Doom for the first time. He’s the FF’s true arch-enemy and one of the great villains of all time—visually effective and with a strong back-story and personality.

His first encounter with the FF consists of him taking Sue hostage in order to force the other three to go on a mission for him. Reed, Ben and Johnny have to go back in time (we get our first glimpse of Doom’s oft-used time machine here) to recover the treasure of Blackbeard the pirate. This treasure includes some jewels with magical properties that Doom needs to increase his own power.

This sets up an enormously fun sequence in which our heroes battle pirates. Jack Kirby really seemed to enjoying himself with this issue—his layouts have rarely been more imaginative and entertaining.

We also get an important bit of characterization involving Ben Grimm. Disguised as a pirate (complete with fake beard and eye patch), Ben actually turns out to be Blackbeard. Accepted and respected by the pirates in a way he never felt he was in his own time, he opts to stay in the past and live out his life as Blackbeard. But a sudden storm sinks his ship and he comes to realize he had “lost my dumb head for awhile.”

In following issues, Ben’s bitterness seemed to be abating somewhat and he began to develop the gruff sense of humor that helps make him such an appealing character. This issue represents a real turning point in his development.

Anyway, the FF gets back to the present and manage to foil Doom’s evil plans, with Sue getting a rare early opportunity to pull off some action/adventure-type heroics. Doom escapes, but it won’t be long before the good doctor returns to torment them once more. Stan and Jack, it seems, knew enough not to let a “good” villain stay down.


Well, Earth was invaded by the Skrulls a few months back. In another month (as we’ll see in the next entry), we’re going to get invaded by the Rock Men from Saturn. Right now, we’re being attacked by the Toad Men from Outer Space.

Gee whiz, why are all these aliens picking on us?

The Hulk still hasn’t really found its thematic footing, but this issue is still entertaining enough to get by. Kirby’s layouts, of course, are typically fun to look at. And once again, the plot requires both the Hulk’s strength and Bruce Banner’s scientific genius to defeat the bad guys.

On the downside, the grumpy and sometimes evil personality of the Hulk doesn't generate anywhere near the same pathos as his later more innocent incarnation. Keeping Hulk/Banner confined to the military base is still to limiting for future story possiblities and having Banner maintaining a "secret identity" is just too darned contrived and awkward to really be effective.

Consequently, this issue isn’t the classic that FF #5 is justifiably considered to be. All the same, it's still worth reading.

One other thing—I know that Stan and Jack were not at this point worried about continuity between their comic books, but it’s kind of nice that there is (however coincidentally) an explanation as to why the Fantastic Four wasn’t there to fight the Toad Men. They were too busy 300 years in the past, fighting pirates.

Next time, we jump ahead just one month to see, for the first time, two new and very important additions to the Marvel Universe.


  1. Thanks for your remarks about those wonderful old comics. I enjoy looking back, since I was a Marvel madman myself. I'll be looking forward to more such posts.

  2. Thanks for reading. I plan to be posting these every Wednesday for some time to come.

  3. Your comments about Bruce Banner's attempting to maintain a secret identity being awkward and contrived is true. The same misstep happened with the Human Torch, whose first solo story in STRANGE TALES #101 is all about Johnny's attempts to keep his alter ego a secret. A detail that conflicted with the Fantastic Four continuity running parallel to these Torch stories.

  4. Yeah, the Human Torch/secret identity thing was pretty annoying. I talk about it in my reviews of those issues. When they finally resolved the conflict and admitted everyone knows Johnny is the Torch, the only explanation they could come up with made Johnny look like an idiot.


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