It was one of the most exciting days of my young comic book collecting career. I found it in the bookstore in the Smithhaven Mall, a regular stop whenever my family went out shopping there, which was often. I had no idea that it was coming out–which is strange, because ads for it appeared in FANTASTIC FOUR #191, which we looked at yesterday, so possibly I wound up picking up this book first. Either way, I found a copy of this Pocket Books FANTASTIC FOUR volume on the shelves in the humor section (which is where all of the books even vaguely related to comics ended up) and felt like I had hit the jackpot.
I had only one problem, and that was that I didn’t have the buck-ninety-five needed to purchase this paperback. But I did have another ace in the hole. Some time earlier, as a reward for something–I’ve forgotten what at this point, possibly good grades on my last report card–my father had agreed to buy me a copy of ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS whenever we found one. And in the months since, we hadn’t–the book was no longer on sale, even though the later volumes were still relatively plentiful. But the real reason I wanted a copy of ORIGINS was to read the first FANTASTIC FOUR story–I at this point didn’t have any interest in Spider-Man, Thor or Doctor Strange, and it was my brother who liked the Hulk. So this book was even better.
I can remember having to go full court press on my father to get him to pony up the money. He very correctly admonished me for only wanting the ORIGINS book in order to read a single story. (I can recall clearly that he told me that was a stupid reason to want it–which didn’t change the fact that I wanted it.) but in the end, possibly due to the fact that ORIGINS carried a cover price of $6.95, he relented and put out with the two dollars I needed to take this volume home with me.
This FANTASTIC FOUR Pocket Books paperback reprinted the first six issues of FANTASTIC FOUR in their almost-entirety–almost, because they dispensed with some of the pin-up pages and all of the letters pages. But the stories and the covers were there, and that’s what I cared about the most. I read the hell out of this little book, and my copy today shows a greater amount of wear and tear than the other volumes in the series, which I would get later. You have to understand, this was in a time before Marvel Masterworks and Essentials volumes and Epic Collections–this was literally the first time that FANTASTIC FOUR #1-6 had been collected together under one cover.
And I found these stories to be amazing. The text and images were pretty tiny, as they had to be to fit into a book the size of a regular paperback. But my eyes were strong in those days, and my mind was receptive. And so I got to experience the first six Fantastic Four adventures for the first time: their origin, their first battle with the Mole Man and the Skrulls, the adoption of their uniforms, their Baxter Building headquarters and the first Fantastic-Car, the machinations of the third-rate Miracle Man, the Torch quitting the team for the first time and running into the Sub-Mariner in the Bowery, the first appearance of Doctor Doom and the Thing becoming Blackbeard, and Doom and the Sub-Mariner joining forces to shoot the FF, headquarters and all, into space.
I can’t say that I was as yet a terribly discerning reader, but these earliest stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby really worked for me. They were a bit more uncomplicated, like the DC books I had grown up on, but they still had the characterization and humor that I liked in the modern Marvel books. And they definitely had a sense of evolution to them–comparing issue #1 to issue #6, you’d be hard-pressed to think of them as the same title, so much groundwork had been laid in so short a time. It was a hardcore education. And in a short two-page introduction, Stan laid out Marvel’s approach to the FF and their adventures, which clued me in to the essence of the thing and made me feel as though I understood what te creators were trying to achieve–and even that they had goals apart from just making a story about super heroes.
Reading this volume was a profound experience for me, and convincing my Dad to buy it for me was perhaps the best investment I ever made. More than ever, I was fully on board the Fantastic Four and Marvel train. I just loved this book.