Lee & Kirby: THE STATS OF FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Part 2

Here’s a second portion of our look at Marvel’s archived stats for FANTASTIC FOUR #1, as close to looking at the original artwork as we can get. As with last time, there isn’t a whole lot new that’s revealed here. But having the ability to get up real close on some of these pages does underscore a few points about them. And we’ve started this process, so we might as well continue.

This next bunch of pages showcases the origin of the group, and is filled with dense pages like the one above, Page 9. There’s a belief that this sequence may have been crafted earlier, as a stand-along entry with a now-missing splash page before it, and edited somewhat to get it down to the number of pages available for the origin in FANTASTIC FOUR #1 given the addition of the action opening. Looking at that first panel again, the framing sure seems weird to my eye–and feels more natural if you remove the Johnny Storm figure from the shot. Does this mean that the original version of this origin didn’t include the Human Torch? Maybe? A similar argument could be made about Panels 5 & 7, where the fourth head/figure feels a bit like it’s been jammed into an otherwise solid composition. There was also clearly a lettering correction in Panel 3 where Ben’s line was changed to HER NO from whatever had been there previously. Given the spacing on that balloon, whatever it was would have been a longer word or series of words, at least slightly.

But if the Torch was a late addition to this story, then the inclusion of Page 5 here on Page 10 is a masterpiece of patching. Looking at it up close, there is no sign that anything was changed here, no evidence of patchwork or correction. Which isn’t absolute, of course, since the purpose of such patchwork was to be invisible to the final reader. But that panel sure looks as though it was drawn along with the rest of this page. Interestingly, there are some stray marks in Panel 4 and Panel 6 that look to me to be bits of the ballooning on non-reproduction blue pencil actually showing up. There’s a stray tail by the second balloon in Panel 4 and the whole curve of a balloon shape can be seen in the background hatching in Panel 6. As we know Lee often did placements (and sometimes even scripted directly) on the original art boards, these artifacts probably came from his hand.

Here on Page 11, that first panel was definitely extended on the left side, with the art reduced a bit. Additionally, looking at it up close, there’s evidence that area was extended at the top as well. So this could simply be a case where Lee felt there wasn’t enough space for the caption he was writing and instructed that the art should be reduced in size to fit and then finished off.

Here on Page 12, there’s a bit of evidence that there was some cut-and-paste going on around Panel 4. I’m of the belief that Kirby originally drew this sequence with a full three-panel transformation sequence on the part of the Thing–a triptych structure was one of his favorite go-to moves for showcasing progression, so it’s always seemed odd that we only get two panels here, the first of which has Grimm in mid-transformation. It’s possible that Panel 5 was initially Panel 6, and that portions of the tree and the Thing’s foot were added on the right, more space on the left. That whole foot structure doesn’t look like Kirby to me. Neither does Mr. Fantastic’s hand in the final panel, weirdly sticking out from Ben’s wrapped up body. And ditto his weird elongated leg. There’s another bit of gunk on this particular proof, across Panels 2 & 5.

And finally, on Page 13, that final panel looks like a pasted up add-in. I’m guessing that the bottom tier here was originally three frames of the heroes all stacking their hands. Another triptych that had been shaved back by a panel, possibly to provide connectivity to the opening sequence. And again here, I would bet that Panel 4’s art was reduced in size to make room for the copy. In that final frame, there’s a weird bit of linework on Johnny’s sleeve next to the boxed 13. Looking at it closely, it looks like more stray non-repro linework that photographed–and it seems to be a portion of the number 13 circled, as though labeling this page. Which makes sense, if the origin was originally done as a stand-alone unit and was now being incorporated into a full length book. That finishes up the first half of the issue, so this feels like another good breaking point.

5 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: THE STATS OF FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Part 2

  1. It’s possible that Ben Grimm’s original dialogue in panel 3 was deemed too hash, either by the Comics Code or on reconsideration. You can just imagine what it could have been, or would realistically have been. Over the decades, there’s been much made of Reed’s guilt over what happened, since he ignores Ben’s concerns. But has there ever been an exploration of Sue’s own feelings over her taunting here? It seems like that’s a potential character aspect which hasn’t been done to death.

    Interestingly, The Thing’s face on page 13 panel 6 is notably more human-looking than on page 12. I don’t know if there’s any significance to that, but it caught my eye.

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  2. The idea that Johnny was added afterward makes me wonder if Lee and Kirby were working on as SF/monster story and then Goodman decided he wanted a superhero team, preferably with Timely’s big three, so they added Johnny as the (new) Human Torch.

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    1. Marcus – look at the FF 1 synopsis here:

      https://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/dynamics/2011/03/14/ff-1-synopsis/

      The Torch was a part from the beginning, before any art was drawn. I don’t think he was a later addition to the pages.

      Take a look at FF *2*, and see if some of the panels with all four characters look similar enough.
      I think it’s just difficult to get a good small panel with all four characters in it, and the composition can sometimes seem crowded.

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      1. Seth, the authenticity of the synopsis has never been validated, nor the time it was written in relation to when the book was created. I’d suggest not utilizing it for any evidence of anything whatsoever. At the very least, it only shows the Torch was in the “origin” sequence at the circumstantial moment that “synopsis” was typed.. The entire Moleman sequence could have been shoehorned in as coming from a different monster story with art corrections/additions made as necessary.There are enough irregularities with the art to make speculation valid.

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      2. Michael, I agree with you that the Moleman sequence is from a different monster story. I meant that the Torch himself wasn’t a later addition to anything where the other FF characters were already present. And that, referencing the synopsis, the Torch was part of the original idea of the FF as far back as there’s any evidence.

        I know there’s debate over the synopsis, but I think the side which regards it as genuine has the better argument. To believe it’s authentic, there’s only one difficult assumption which needs to be made, that it survived in a desk until it was found much later. That’s a bit eyebrow-raising, but not utterly unreasonable. Kirby said he never saw it, but that might have been because Lee never gave it to him, because it got lost among other papers. And by the next time Kirby was back to talk to Lee, Lee just went over the points verbally. But if it’s fake, there’s a whole list of problems then. Who did it? Forging anything by a living writer is very risky, since they might deny it. How do you arrange for the fake to be found, without pointing a finger to yourself if doubts arise? Can you imitate the writer well enough to pass muster? If Lee did it himself, why include so much that isn’t in the final FF version? (to throw off suspicion? that sounds very elaborate – ok, he *is* a comic-book writer – but still, this is real-life). Is this all really plausible?

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