I’ve mentioned before that, since beginning to follow the adventures of the Fantastic Four, I was very interested in reading the first issue of the series, such was my desire to know more about the history of comics. I had been on the lookout for a copy of ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS for a few months, knowing that it contained the first FF story–I had seen it before, earlier, and flipped through it enough to have a sense of what that first cover looked like. I had a standing arrangement with my Father to purchase that volume should we ever come across it. Cut to a routine trip to the Smithhaven Mall, where I came upon this Power Records edition in the Kay-Bee Toys store. I figured that this was what I had been looking for, and promptly talked my Mom into buying it for me.
As it turned out, once I was able to take the plastic wrap that sealed the thing closed off, I was quickly able to ascertain that what was contained therein was not, in fact, the first issue of FANTASTIC FOUR. It would take me a while to learn that what it actually was is a reprint of FANTASTIC FOUR #126, the first issue produced after Stan Lee left his editorial job to become Marvel’s publisher. Roy Thomas, now succeeding Lee as the regular writer of FANTASTIC FOUR, chose to do a sort of album issue as the starting point of his run, inspired no doubt by his own nostalgia for that first issue of FANTASTIC FOUR that he had read as a reader before getting into the business.
True to its name, this Power Records edition also included a 45rpm single-sized record featuring a dramatized reading of “The Way It Began!” Of course, in order to fit this entire story into so small a space, much of the copy had to be edited for length. I’d guess that fully half of Roy’s dialogue hit the cutting room floor in this process. The existing balloon shapes were used, but an amateurish had relettered them with the stripped-down copy. As a kid, of course, this didn’t bother me–I wasn’t even really aware of it. Looking at it with my current eye, the whole thing is unforgivably sloppy. But that’s how things were done back in the 1970s where comic books were concerned.
I will say that the actual audio play was relatively well done, and I listened to it enough that this is still the voice I hear in my head when I read any of the Thing’s dialogue. I didn’t get any of the other Power Records releases, but my brother Ken eventually wound up with the CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON one, which used the same voice cast as the FF, and so was a bit off-putting to me.
The artwork was done by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott, both of whom were uncredited in the Power Records release. But their work was unmistakable. Buscema was at the height of his powers, having succeeded John Romita in following in Jack Kirby’s footsteps on the series, and in a very short time he had made it his own. Buscema defined the look of the Fantastic Four for the 1970s, in particular his more cartoonified and cuddly version of the Thing. And Joe Sinnott had been on the book since the heights of the mid-1960s and would remain there throughout the decade. His slick, futuristic sheen was as much a part of the flavor of the series as one of the Four themselves, and he was always sorely missed on any issue he didn’t ink–they just weren’t the same.
The story is fairly straightforward, particularly in the stripped-down Power Records edition. The Thing and Alicia Masters return to the Baxter Building to find Doctor Doom standing over Sue Richards’ dead body. This turns out to be an image created by Reed’s new thought-projector helmet. After the team has one of its typical squabbles and everybody separates for the evening, Ben Grimm decides on a whim to use the helmet to relive the origin of the Fantastic Four. (In the FF #126 version, Ben is overtly modifying his recollections based on his current experiences, which leads a pre-Thing Ben to tell Sue, in response to her admonition that the Communists will beat the U.S. to the moon that this’ll give America a head start in cleaning up Harlem and Watts–a reference that hasn’t aged well.)
Not content to stop there, Ben goes on to relive the FF’s most recent battle with the Mole Man, in which the Master of Subterranea lured the FF to a mysterious house wherein they all became as blind as the Mole Man is. Their sight was restored at the end of that adventure–and like a penny dropping, the modern day Thing realizes that this may mean that the Mole Man can cure Alicia’s blindness as well. Determined to force his old foe to do so, the Thing heads out, and here the issue comes to an end. But while FF #126 was To Be Continued, the Power Records version had to write up a new final caption to fade out on definitively. All in all, it was a pretty good product–but my quest to read the actual FANTASTIC FOUR #1 would continue on.