Fantastic Four #4: February, 1962 Pick of the Month

Fantastic Four #4
“The Coming of…Sub-Mariner!”
Written by Stan Lee, Drawn by Jack Kirby, Inked by Sol Brodsky, Colored by Stan Goldberg, Lettered by Artie Simek
Cover Dated May, 1962
 

Recap: While hiding out from the rest of the Fantastic Four, Johnny Storm runs across Namor, the Sub-Mariner. After a quick trim and a swim, Namor miraculously regains his memories! He returns to his undersea kingdom to find his people’s homes destroyed. Without a trace of where his people have gone, Namor declares war on humanity!

He calls for a sea monster named Giganto to destroy the surface world, starting with New York City. The Fantastic Four regroup, and Ben walks a nuclear bomb down the throat of Giganto, ending the monster’s threat. Namor meets, and falls in love with Susan Storm. The FF defeat Namor but he swears to return again and get his vengeance. 

 

This pick may come as a surprise to some. How is yet another issue of Fantastic Four more important than the Hulk’s debut and origin? Some of the reason has to do with The Incredible Hulk #1’s own various shortcomings (which we’ll get into later in this column). But despite any of that, Fantastic Four #4 earns the pick entirely in its own right, both as a foundational piece for Marvel’s soon-to-be-connected universe and also as Stan and Jack’s most complete and satisfying adventure yet.

Largely forgotten by comic book fans for almost a decade, Namor’s surprise reappearance in the pages of Fantastic Four is a triumphant moment. It’s a moment that signifies a scope that you hadn’t previously realized – that everything is connected. When you’re reading Fantastic Four comics you’re not just reading about the Fantastic Four, you’re reading about a piece of the larger Marvel Universe. It’s the 1960s equivalent of Samuel L. Jackson’s post-credits “Avengers” scene in 2008’s Iron Man.

It’s also one hell of a ride.

So much of the first act of this story relies on coincidence and happenstance of the goofiest degree (Johnny just happens to come across Namor while hiding out, after reading a Sub-Mariner comic book, and a splash in the ocean just happens to bring Namor’s memories back). But then the story really opens up, unleashing an epic tale of revenge.

The Sub-Mariner discovering the destruction of his peoples’ home is a gut punching scene, his anger in that moment justifies all the rage the character feels throughout the rest of the book. From there, we get a full scale war in New York City between the army and Namor’s sea monster, Giganto.

The scale in Jack Kirby’s art here give these scenes a sense of awe and wonder. Kirby really gets across the full picture of this calamitous event in his sprawling layouts. This is the Fantastic Four’s first true disaster day scenario, and it’s quite the sight to behold. The way it all culminates in Ben walking a nuclear bomb into the literal gut of the beast is such a wonderfully grandiose and silly idea, it’s a perfect payoff for such an unequaled event.

But Namor’s role in the conflict should not be, and isn’t, diminished. Stan Lee has a flair for writing supervillains, and the antagonist’s dialogue in here is so perfectly melodramatic. You can tell he gets a kick out of monologuing through the Sub-Mariner’s mouth, and it’s a bizarre joy to read.

There’s so much important stuff set up here (the interconnected Marvel Universe, Namor’s attraction to Sue, the Fantastic Four saving an entire city), but even without all of that, Fantastic Four #4 is still an exciting Godzilla-level thrill ride.

Stray Observations

- Johnny blazes off Namor’s homeless man beard with fire!

- Remember last issue’s emotional sequence of The Thing reverting back to Ben Grimm for a few brief moments? Yeah, that well is immediately gone back to in this issue, and it’s nothing more than a convenient excuse to end a fight between him and the Human Torch! Way to undersell your own storytelling, guys!

- (This won’t be the last time with this particular trick either…)

- As much as I enjoyed Jack Kirby’s art overall in this issue, there are also a couple of surprisingly ugly/less-detailed panels that stick out like sore thumbs. It seems like Sol Brodsky’s inks don’t mesh well with Kirby’s pencils in this installment.

- JOHNNY BLAZES OFF NAMOR’S HOMELESS MAN BEARD WITH FIRE!

 

Runner Up

Incredible Hulk #1
“The Hulk”
Written by Stan Lee, Drawn by Jack Kirby, Inked by Paul Reinman, Lettered by Artie Simek
Cover dated May, 1962

Recap: Dr. Bruce Banner is leading a team testing Gamma Bombs for the army. A teenager, Rick Jones, happens to wander into the desert test sight just as the blast is about to go off. Banner risks his life to save Jones’. Jones gets to safety but Banner is bathed in the gamma rays, which will eventually transform him into The Hulk.

The Hulk causes some minor havoc at night, and in the morning Banner struggles to understand his new curse. He avoids letting the army in on his secret and becomes embroiled in a Communist spy plot that ends with Bruce and Rick in the USSR fighting a Hulk-like Communist called Gargoyle. Gargoyle ultimately rebels against his own country and dies in an explosion, Bruce and Rick return safely to America.

Let’s start with the good, because there’s a ton of it here that deserves to get its due. First off, this is easily the best looking Jack Kirby’s art has been in the handful of comic books we’ve looked at so far. It’s all so clean and expressive, just a real thing of beauty. Marvel Wikia credits Paul Reinman as the inker for this issue, and I can’t help but think his inks over Kirby’s pencils have to be responsible for the look. I’ll stick by Fantastic Four #4 being the better overall book than this one, but it’s certainly not a better looking book.

Additionally, the basics of the origin are compelling. Stan Lee and his collaborators are wonderful at these origins (as you no doubt already know), and The Hulk is no exception. Dr. Bruce Banner is in the middle of the biggest experiment of his scientific life when a teenage boy happens to wander into the wrong place at the wrong time. Banner tries to stop the blast but it’s too late, and rather than letting the boy die, he risks his own life to save the boy’s. And in exchange? Banner is cursed for the rest of his life for that one good deed.

What a raw deal!

There’s a reason why this aspect of the origin remains so rigid in every incarnation; it’s wonderful! But, unfortunately, there’s more to the story than just that… The additional plot points of Communist spies being partially responsible, and the Communist-Hulk retread, is all so superfluous. It actively takes away from the impact of the basic premise.

It feels somewhat unfair to criticize the plot elements of this origin that are completely unnecessary when viewed through modern eyes, but the fact remains that they hurt the story. This is a fine origin that sets the table for Hulk’s decades to come, but some superfluous elements drag the story into some silly and wacky areas that don’t fit the book’s overall tone.

Stray Observations

- The angry = Hulk formula has not been established at this point (and won’t be for some time). The working theory in this issue is that the moon is what causes Banner’s transformation every night.

- The Hulk is gray-skinned in this issue instead of green-skinned. That will change next issue.

- These panels of Banner getting caught in his own gamma bomb blast. There may not be a more iconic shot in all of Marvel’s Silver Age origin stories.

Merry Marvel Years’ Message Board

As this is our second Pick of the Month installment for this week, I’ll keep this part of the column brief.

Hulk’s first appearance came in second to a Sub-Mariner comic. Who would’ve guessed it? We’ll be back on Monday with our next installment of this series, this time looking at April of 1962. If you thought Hulk’s arrival meant the end of the Fantastic Four’s reign as Pick Champion, just keep in mind that one of those comics includes the first appearance of Doctor Doom, and the other features The Toad Men. I’ll let you guess which direction we go in.

Be sure to check out our first installment in the One “Hit” Wonder? series, which I think is a lot of fun. Who knew The Miracle Man was so…interesting(?)? Also, keep an eye out for some more coverage of contemporary Marvel comic books in the days and weeks ahead to go alongside our nostalgia-fueled fun.

Please leave a comment or email us with anything you have to say. And as always, thanks for joining us on this fantastic, incredible journey through the Marvel Years.