A post from my old Marvel blog concerning comics that I edited and liked that largely flew under the radar.
Today’s Unknown Great won an Eisner award, but it also killed one or two projects in its wake. It was UNSTABLE MOLECULES, a four-issue limited series written by James Sturm (now of the Center for Cartoon Studies) and illustrated by Guy Davis.
Shortly after Joe Q took over as EIC, and creators began to get a real sense that the winds had changed, and that Marvel was suddenly open to looking at new projects that ranged far afield from the standard super hero fare, all sorts of interesting people showed up. One of them was James Sturm, whose work on THE GOLEM’S MIGHTY SWING I thought was outstanding. Sturm had an idea for doing a fictionalized biography of the Fantastic Four characters that was as much an examination of the era in which the strip had been created as about the foursome itself.
With Joe Q behind it, the project was approved, and it was a lot of fun to work on, even if nobody entirely understood what Sturm was aiming at–including myself. I can recall one early exchange when, trying to find ways to make the series more palatable to a mainstream super hero audience, I suggested adding two more issues and picking the characters up again right after they’d received their powers. Sturm wisely didn’t listen to me–he had a concrete vision for what he was trying to accomplish.
I remember the covers being a cause of some consternation at one point. This was during a period when there was a concentrated effort being made to have all of Marvel’s covers basically be pin-up shots of a single character. In that environment, the UNSTABLE MOLECULES covers, with their emphasis on the design and typography, the unconventional Craig Thompson illustrations, and the drop-in Jack Kirby art, were about as far from this model as one could get. I can remember one or two heated discussions before those in power threw up their hands, decided that this was going to be what it was going to be, and let it go. (There was a bit more drama after the series was completed, when Sturm’s design for the trade paperback collection was changed around at the last minute. Fortunately, after the book won the Eisner, a new edition was released, and this allowed Sturm to make adjustments to the design.)
While it features the Fantastic Four characters (or, within the context of the story, the four “real-world” individuals who inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create the FF) UNSTABLE MOLECULES isn’t a super hero story at all. Consequently, many readers didn’t “get” it. (I still every so often get asked about the whereabouts of the fictitious sequels mentioned in the text feature that filled the back pages–sequels that were part of the larger Meta-Fiction.) It became my barometer book of that year–if somebody mentioned to me that they liked it, I knew immediately that they had good taste. One person who didn’t get it was a high-ranking executive at Marvel, who looked at the numbers and used them as an excuse to kill any other projects that didn’t feature men in bright costumes beating on one another, including the “Fourigin” series that Mark Waid and I had been brainstorming on, which would have told the pre-history of the FF, and which we were hoping to get George Perez to illustrate. That exec was gone, I believe, by the time the book took home the Eisner Award.