At this point, you’d be right to detect a pattern here. We’re still talking about the comics I purchased during my very first visit to my very first comic book shop, Heroes World in Levittown. I had bought the earliest issues of FANTASTIC FOUR and FLASH that I could manage, and so I turned my attention to the FF reprint title MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS. I decided to buy the earliest issue that I could, which was this one, #24. What I didn’t know at the time was that the first 22 issues of the series had been released under the title MARVEL COLLECTORS ITEM CLASSICS, so there were probably even older issues available. But this book was giant-sized and included stories of Iron Man, the Watcher and Doctor Strange as well as the FF, so I was satisfied either way.
I think this was likely my first experience with seeing Chic Stone ink Jack Kirby. he was Kirby’s regular inker for around a year circa 1964, and he brought solidity and consistency to the look of the series he worked on. He wasn’t as polished or as complete an inker as, say, Joe Sinnott would be, and he spotted fewer blacks, leading some to criticize this period for looking too much like a coloring book. I didn’t have that problem, though. The reproduction of this story is a little bit on the shaky side, though.
I got a little unexpected bonus in this story as it turned out. Looking through the FANTASTIC FOUR INDEX, one of the covers that immediately grabbed me was that of FF #18, in which the team had to contend with the Super-Skrull, who possessed all of their powers (and more!) Turned out he was the mystery villain of this reprinted FF story as well, where he poses as Sue and Johnny’s incarcerated father Franklin Storm then goes on a rampage, using their love for their parent to divide the team. The ending is an early Lee/Kirby heartbreaker wherein Franklin Storm sacrifices himself to save his kids from the device he’s been booby-trapped with.
Next up was an early Iron Man story in which shell-head took on the underwater barbarian Attuma. It was maybe the most appealing Iron Man story that I’d read to date. Don Heck is an underappreciated contributor to the early Marvel age, his big failing being that he wasn’t Jack Kirby. But he was great at the dramatics of storytelling, and in this period at least, working twice up, his artwork could be dynamic and energetic. Here, Mike Esposito’s rough inks don’t do him a whole lot of favors, though.
After that came a short Watcher story, the last one in the series. The splash page touted the Marvel return of George Tuska, who had been something of a star working on CRIME DOES NOT PAY back in the 40s and 50s. I don’t know that his overbite-laden style was the best fit for drawing intergalactic warlords, though. It’s a very straightforward story in which the full-of-himself Warlord Wrogg decides to attack the Watcher and is effortlessly aged into dust by his opponent for his troubles.
The last entry in the book was a classic Doctor Strange tale, from the early part of the long extended sequence in which Strange sought Eternity. I hadn’t yet come to connect with the work of Steve Ditko–that would happen shortly. But there was always something strangely appealing to me about it. This splash page for example is a really cool piece of design, almost conceptual in its nature. I wasn’t a big Doctor Strange fan yet–I found his adventures a bit too esoteric for the most part. But this I liked.
I think it helped that Doctor Strange’s abilities seemed more defined and more manageable in these earlier stories. They could almost be quantified. And he wasn’t quite as all-powerful as the Strange of 1977–at this point, even his infirm master the Ancient One was still his better. So that meant he had to work for his victories a bit more, which made me like him more. And it certainly didn’t hurt that Ditko’s visual imagination was on full display in this story, in which Strange finds himself adrift in a far-off mystic dimension, caught between the rightful heir to the throne and her wicked spell-casting half-sister.