Lee & Kirby: FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Part Two

Seems as though people were pretty interested in the first installment of this particular topic: in the short time that this page has been operating, nothing has drawn anything close to the number of views that piece has. Which is great! What’s also great is the amount of discussion that the initial installment generated, as different people discussed the pros and cons of what I had put forth. There was only one dark lining in all of this.

There were a couple Kirby fans who were absolutely irate that I posted the synopsis of FANTASTIC FOUR #1, as that seemed to be giving too much credence to the notion that Stan Lee had something to do with the creation of this comic book. A few folks bombarded me, demanding that I post pages from CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN and a few other sources that they feel concretely prove that Jack and Jack alone created all of the concepts and material in FANTASTIC FOUR. Others were certain that the synopsis was a latter day fake created by Stan to reinforce his bogus claims (That’s not out of the question, certainly other creators have forged such things in the past.) and so disliked that I gave it credence.

Now, as I said the last time out, I don’t really want to get into the matter of who-created-what here. I posted that synopsis for one reason only, and I thought I was pretty clear as to what that reason was. But to reiterate: that synopsis appears on the surface of it to refute the concept that a portion of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 may have been created earlier as a feature intended for one of the ongoing mystery-monster titles. Knowing that, I could not in good conscience present these theories without also presenting evidence for the other side. In trying to dope out the realities of how these early books were made, we must consider all of the evidence, not just that which supports the position that we’re putting forward. And we must be prepared to revise our position and our opinion should new evidence come to light that disproves a position that we have taken.

As I said before, at this late date, I don’t believe that it is possible for anybody to accurately parse out precisely who came up with what in terms of the Fantastic Four in particular. And ultimately, the reason for the title’s success lay in the particular combination of talents of both Lee and Kirby. So to my mind, the only creator credit that makes sense and holds water is Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. But just to be clear, while I believe that synopsis to be a genuine artifact of the creation of this first issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, there is nothing in that document that proves that it was written before Lee and Kirby had talked about their creation–and, in fact, given the working methodology of the duo going forward, it is in fact likely that such a discussion did take place prior to that synopsis being written. I do not believe that it proves that Lee came up with the Fantastic Four characters solo.

Anyway, enough with the drama. Let’s get back to looking at FANTASTIC FOUR #1 in detail.

There is another theory in some circles that the back half of FANTASTIC FOUR #1, everything from this point on, was created first, as a complete story for one of the ongoing mystery titles. There is some evidence to support that in the storytelling here, as we’ll see, but nothing is conclusive. (There’s also a thought that some folks have postulated that this story was originally just another monster story, and all of the stuff with the super-powers was retro-fitted after the fact. Having studied the book, I don’t think that theory really holds water–but who knows, I could be wrong.) If it was initially drawn up as a stand-alone story, when it came time to dialogue these pages Lee didn’t script it the way he would have in that instance, so it’s helpful when thinking about that theory to discard anything that is in the copy. For instance, that first panel wouldn’t have referred to the origin of the FF but rather to a secret clandestine meeting of extraordinary people in response to a massive threat.

Kirby layout, although that middle tier has a hint of Stan’s hand in it. But I think the triptych of the soldier falling into the pit makes it more likely a Kirby innovation. For all that the middle tier has been divided into four, it still matches the visual rhythms of a Kirby six-panel page.

Kirby layout, with the last panel pretty clearly altered in house, presumably by Sol Brodsky.

Another layout that smacks of Stan Lee. Including another weird left-side caption in the first panel. I wonder if portions of the left and the right of the original image were trimmed off and the remainder slid right to make room for it.

Looking at this page again after a week, I’m not sure that it isn’t all Kirby.

Will Murray points out that in Panel 5, the Thing is wearing very different attire than the fedora-and-trenchcoat we’ll see him in later on in the story. Was this Kirby being loose with the continuity or an indicator of other changes being made here?

Kirby layouts. If the back half of the issue was originally intended as a complete story in and of itself, then this represents the revelation of Sue’s invisibility powers and Reed’s elasticity. Reed’s extended arm looks wrong in Panel 5, like it’s been added after the fact to that foreground figure. Perhaps Kirby didn’t have it there at all. There’s also something that looks a bit odd about the last two panels in the bottom tier. I wonder if Kirby didn’t have something else there originally and the Stan asked for the change to Reed saving Johnny by making himself into a parachute.

Kirby layouts. Those suits that the Mole Man puts Reed and Johnny into are pretty obviously not designed to protect them from glare, as the copy suggests, but most likely from radiation. That Valley of Diamonds seems a bit crudely-drawn for Kirby, I wonder if something else might not have been there initially. That Mole Man panel also looks as though it might have been extended on the left side.

As with the monster stories that Lee and Kirby and others were doing during this time, this story is divided into chapters. Take away the first half of the book, and the chapter break being here approximates the structure of the typical monster story pretty well. The bottom tier here, where the Thing takes off his overcoat, is structured like a reveal. Which is strange, as we’ve already seen the Thing in full light earlier in the issue. But if this was intended as a separate story, then it makes a bit more sense to do this unveiling in this manner.

Kirby layouts. But the silhouette of Ben in Panel 4 has clearly been redrawn after the fact in the office. Kirby never would have made the Thing that thin, even with his overcoat. And I wonder if the overcoat wasn’t the issue–when the Thing turns up again in a page or two, he’s wearing it again, so possibly the figure was adjusted here to show him with it on again so as to preserve the continuity. Running the balloon tails in that panel behind the rock formation is a nice touch.

That first panel is a Stan Lee layout, cramming a ton of info into very little space, and also adding a wavy flashback border to the left side. Possibly Kirby drew a different first panel here and Lee asked for a change, to help set up the pathos of the Mole Man in more detail. The balance of the page appears to be Kirby layouts. Also, in Panel 4, the Mole Man looks much more typically human before suffering this fall into the center of the Earth. Was Kirby’s intention here that he was mutated by whatever radiation source was down there (from which Reed and Johnny needed to be shielded)? That final panel makes more sense if it represents him being affected and changed by such a thing. If so, his face in Panel 3 may have been altered when it was inked. (While the inking of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 is uncredited and remains a mystery, it is generally accepted that it was done by George Klein, thanks to research performed and provided by Dr. Michael Vassallo. Mike Lake and Mark Evanier were among the first to suggest that Klein might have done the work.)

Kirby layouts, and a typical multi-panel Kirby fight sequence maintaining the same static camera angle, an approach Kirby had used before in is career. It’s worth noting here that, in this story, the Mole Man is pretty clearly short and dwarfish–he’s much shorter than Johnny here. As noted earlier, in the last panel, the Thing has his overcoat on again–did he get cold on Monster Island? Also in that last panel, Sue’s right hand almost seems to be in front of her left arm, a bad tangent in the inking.

If the back half of this issue was intended as a story unto itself, then this middle tier represents the reveal of Johnny as the Human Torch, which is why you’d give his ignition a three-panel sequence. (It’s also another example of Kirby employing this technique.) There’s something a little bit off about the final two panels–Stan layouts maybe? That last frame in particular looks like something he might have sketched out, lacking the drama and directness of Kirby’s usual compositions.

This one’s a Stan layout for sure. And again, we have a left-side caption in Panel 1 and Panel 3. The whole thing is a hasty wrap-up to the story, with that explosion in Panel 6 coming out of nowhere. Did the Human Torch’s fiery discharge somehow set off whatever sort of radioactive element was down in that cavern? if this was intended as a separate story, I wouldn’t e surprised if that bottom tier was tacked on in place of something else, and there was perhaps another page that helped in wrapping everything up satisfactorily. In the final panel, the Thing was art corrected by somebody, presumably touch-up man Sol Brodsky. I suspect he was originally drawn in hat and topcoat. 

This back half seems to have less second-guessing of layout and composition than the first half. Was this a case of Lee feeling confident in letting Kirby do what he typically did once the early portion had been established, or is it evidence that this back section was all or mostly produced earlier and only stapled to the opening half after the fact? Unless the original artwork to this story eventually surfaces someplace, I don’t know that we’ll ever have the complete story.

Next up, we’ll look at FANTASTIC FOUR #2, where some similar evidence of tight coordination between Lee and Kirby exists.

3 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Part Two

  1. This is great. Much to ponder. I’d never noticed this but the narration on p. 23 and p. 24 refer to the villain as “The Mole.”

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  2. I believe the Mole Man chapter was indeed a monster story turned into an FF story by the inclusion of additional panels and rewriting. The “Valley of Diamonds” was almost certainly originally nuclear fuel stolen from the plants that were being collapsed by the monsters at the start of the Mole Man segment. The guys in the hazmat suits were originally not Reed and Johnny, but the characters from the original story, with Stan shoe-horning in the pointless change in costume so that they wouldn’t have to redraw all those panels.

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  3. Regarding the inks: Credit for issues 1 and 2 go to Klein, moonlighting from the Superman books. However, he worked with Chris Rule on occasion— collaborating to meet deadlines. Some Rule jobs during and just before this period have Klein backgrounds. Some of the inks on this issue look like they can be Rule — last panel on p. 22 for example.
    I find the whole idea of Lee ever designing the layouts of a page very, very hard to accept. However, I find the use of a sequence of three horizontal panels on pp. 17 and 25 weird. I don’t believe Kirby ever designed pages like that. This is why for years I’ve accepted the idea that a lot of tinkering went on with this story. May be because it started as just another monster story, I don’t know. But maybe when it was decided to turn a monster story into a superhero story and then an origin had to be produced, that’s when Lee needed to to write a pretty detailed plot so he, as editor and writer, would have things clear in his own mind.

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