Continuing our sequence looking at Marvel’s in-house production stats for FANTASTIC FOUR #1–the closest thing that still exists to the original artwork–and studying them up close to see if they can tell us anything about how the book was put together. So let’s go!
We’re moving into the back half of the issue now, a portion that some, including myself, have theorized may have been produced as a stand-alone story without the opening pages. But as I get into thee pages, I want to try to be cognizant of not falling in love with any of my own theories so much so that they distort my viewpoint on what I’m looking at. Because as we saw back in the two articles I did on STRANGE TALES #119, sometimes what appears at first glance to be evidence of something turns out in actuality not to be. (I’m still in an ongoing debate with a few fans on the sequence in which AVENGERS #1 and X-MEN #1 may have been produced–a question that is only of concern to a relatively small number of us.)
So anyway, here, looking at this first page, there is a tiny horizontal line in the gutter between the splash panel and the two lower panels, a line that could be an artifact of a paste-up that showed up when the page was shot. Or it could simply be an artifact. It’s impossible to know for certain looking only at these stats, I’m afraid. I can get in really close and examine things in minute detail, but I can’t see what isn’t reproduced in the image. Were I a betting man, I’d guess that it’s simply an artifact and not evidence that the first panel was added in place of something else that had originally been there.
Along similar lines, there’s a school of thought that this back half of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was originally a story with only three characters in it” Reed, Sue and Johnny, and that perhaps Sue and Johnny were Reed’s children or students. I have to say, looking at these pages up close, I really don’t see evidence of that. The shots where perhaps Sue looks a bit younger and more Johnny’s age seem to my eye to not be markedly different in their handling than the ones in which she is earlier presented as a woman of high society. And I don’t see any evidence of the amount of redrawing it would take to adjust that in the inking. Again, though, it’s impossible to say for certain, not without more concrete evidence one way or the other. Which is what makes this sort of study both so fascinating and so frustrating at the same time.
I had previously figured that the final panel on this page had been reworked or redrawn, possibly in the Bullpen proper, but looking at the panel up close, I’m less certain about that. Especially if one mentally eliminates that bottom caption and fills in the space a solid black, the composition of the image kind of works. It is a frightening amount of dead space to be leaving, and so my gut tells me that there was something larger there that filled the space better originally. But sometimes my gut isn’t accurate.
That first panel may be one of the sources of the “Sue was originally intended to be younger” train of thought–but looking at it up close, and especially comparing it to the next page, I think that’s just a quirk of the manner in which that head was inked. Speaking of quirks of inking, George Klein (assuming his was the hand inking these pages) obliterated a bit of the island seeming like it has a face in Panel 3. You can make out what was intended, but the “features” don’t stand out from the rest of the rock-rendering, thus losing the point of the image. Panel 3 also seems like it was fully bordered when it was lettered, and the inker whited out some of the outer border while inking. At some point, the jet’s trail was extended beyond where the border would have been and off the edge of the page.
Here on Page 18, it looks like some tweaks were made to Reed’s stretching form to try to make things clearer for readers. In Panel 3, a portion of Reed’s looping arm at the right was added in after the fact. The manner in which it tangents with the outer border is amateurish. Likewise, Reed’s extended hand and arm seem to have been added into Panel 5 as a correction as well, or at least repositioned and adjusted.
Finally, as we come to this last page in the chapter, there is a bit of evidence of some monkey-work. In Panel 6, the linework on the background depicting the Valley of Diamonds is exceedingly simple, and points to some other image having been there earlier and it having been replaced by this. I don’t know that it was a story change especially–there isn’t any sign that any of the copy was changed, which means if this panel did originally depict something other than the Valley of Diamonds, the decision to alter it in this manner would have had to have been made before the story was lettered, so that the copy would reflect what ultimately was shown. This could be as simple as Lee not liking Kirby’d depiction of the Valley or not thinking it was expansive enough–or it could be that what Reed and Johnny see down below are the ruins of the purloined nuclear power plants, as some theorize.
We’ll wrap this series up with the final chapter of the book at some point in the future.