Saturday, May 16, 2015

The First Time I Saw the Fantastic Four

The first time I saw Fantastic Four I was 7 years old, at a newsstand in late 1961, looking at the cover of the third issue of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.”
Actually, I had SEEN the previous issue of the FF. I remember looking at it uncertainly, a mixture of monsters and aliens and a stretching guy and a transparent woman wearing street clothes. What were they? A bunch of monsters? My quarter-a-week allowance was largely reserved for superheroes.
To make his team stand out, Stan Lee had tried to eliminate as many of the conventional trappings of superheroes as possible, including costumes. But reader response informed him that costumes were a must, so he quickly corrected course.
An unpublished version of the cover.
And that’s why the cover of the third issue was irresistible to me. These were clearly superheroes with colorful uniforms, a bucket-like flying car, an orange monster pal (At 7, I loved the color orange) and, best of all, a flying, flaming teenager with an intriguingly blank face. I’d never heard of the Golden Age Human Torch who’d inspired this one, and I was inclined to love any hero who could fly.
Inside, even more fun — heroes with a cool array of super powers, a seemingly omnipotent caped villain in command of a giant monster, a superhero team headquarters in a skyscraper (complete with diagram), a “Fantasticar” that could split into four separate flying sections, a rocket helicopter. Everything a boy could want for his dime.
These heroes bickered and fought with each other, something that was unsettling to a boy accustomed to the perfect gentlemen and lady of the Justice League of America. In fact, I recall writing a letter to what would become Marvel Comics suggesting that I would continue to read the comic if they stopped fighting so much. Thankfully, Stan failed to take my advice. But they sent me a nice card in reply thanking me for my letter. Wish I’d kept it.

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