Geektoberfest Day 19: Off The Rack #2

Harkening back to the days when we got our comic books off a rack in our neighborhood candy store.

FANTASTIC FOUR #1

Or how the start of Marvel Comics owes a huge debt to DC Comics!

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The huge publishing empire that is the modern day Marvel Comics started in November 1961 with the publication of FANTASTIC FOUR #1. This wasn’t the company’s first comic. They had been publishing comic books since 1939. But for the last several years they had been contenting themselves with monster comics and to a lesser extent western comics and war comics. They hadn’t done any super-heroes in years. But with the publication of the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics not only re-entered the super-hero market, not only did they revolutionize the comics industry, not only did they pave the way for the colossus that is now Marvel Comics, but they also ousted DC Comics from their position as the number one comic book publisher – a position they had held for decades. The irony is that the Fantastic Four – the cornerstone of Marvel Comics as we know it now – would never have gotten started without the help of their rivals DC Comics.  

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As the story goes in 1961 the publisher of Marvel Comics Martin Goodman was playing golf with the publisher of National Periodical Publications (DC Comics) and during the course of that game the DC Comics Publisher mentioned that their new title THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was selling very well.

Goodman then told his editor Stan Lee to give him a comic book about a super-hero team. Lee, along with artist Jack Kirby, then created the FANTASTIC FOUR. This is the first instance in which the Fantastic Four comic owed a debt to DC Comics but it isn’t the last.

A look at the cover of the first Justice League comic and a look at the cover of the first Fantastic Four comics show the glaring similarities. Both groups are not only fighting a giant monster but they are positioned around the monsters in similar fashions. Coincidence? Not bloody likely.  

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CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

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FANTASTIC FOUR

The Fantastic Four was co-created by Jack Kirby who had just left DC Comics to work at Marvel. One of the last things he had worked on over at DC was a group called the Challengers of the Unknown – a group that possesses a marked similarity to the Fantastic Four.

And lest you think the similarities are just in appearance they also have similar origins. The Fantastic Four are exposed to cosmic rays and then survive a rocket ship crash in the wilderness to become adventurers. The Challengers of the Unknown survive a plane crash in the wilderness and decide to become adventurers.

By my count that makes three instances where FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was influenced/inspired by something that DC Comics had done. And I’m not going to mention how Mister Fantastic’s powers are the same as Plastic Man – a Quality Comics character acquired by DC Comics.

Now I realize this makes it sound as if I am saying there was nothing original about the Fantastic Four. That is not true. The comic and the characters are highly original. But their originality is not in their appearance, it’s not in their powers, nor is it in their origins. What is groundbreaking about these characters was how they were presented.

They looked human not god-like the way DC Comics heroes appeared. In fact, one of them – the Thing – was an out and out monster and we are presented with our first ugly super-hero. They wore regular clothes instead of costumes – although this was changed by the third issue. They didn’t follow stereotypes. The Invisible Girl and Mister Fantastic were officially engaged not like any of that are they a couple or not nonsense between Superman and Lois Lane. The Human Torch was a teenager but not anyone’s sidekick. He was a full-fledged member in his own right and stood on his own. And the bunch of them argued and got into fights like real people. Over at the Justice League the members got along so well it was nauseating. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made the Fantastic Four different and real and that is why we loved them. And as Marvel Comics continued to create more characters along the same lines we loved them too. The reputation Marvel Comics gained is well earned. However, that does change the facts.

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Without the Fantastic Four there would have been no Marvel Comics and without DC Comics there would have been no Fantastic Four.

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