The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

1964: Act 2: Ben's pain (the civil rights era)

timechart issue 1 issues 2-5 issues 6-24 issues 25-43 issues 45-60 issues 61-80 issues 81-102 issues 103-125 126-132 133-149 150-175 176-200 201-218 219-231 232-250 251-273 274-295 296-303 304-321 322-333 334-355 355-569 570 to present

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In the first part of act 2, Reed humiliated Ben and replaced him as the alpha male. This can be seen as representing the rise of educated elites over blue collar workers who once saw themselves as the "real" Americans. But in the age of explosive economic and economic growth it looked like the future belonged to scientists and the wealthy. This conflict, between infinite possibilities and those who were kept down (issues 15-19), led to civil unrest when the underclasses rise up (issues 20-23: note the racial element in issue 24) and the warning that somebody who seems weak may in fact hold the power to destroy everything (issue 25).

Issue 15: Ben begins his act. (The decline of blue collar work and rise of computers.)

Fantastic Four 15

Ben starts to (wise) crack
After Reed's triumph, Ben accepts he is now subordinate. Ben, once a leader, a handsome fighter and test pilot, is now like a child to a nerd. His old gang sees this and calls him a sissy, and it hurts. Notice how Reed jokingly refers to the others as "kiddies" and tells Ben he's too weak to fight the android (not true), and Ben believes him. At this point Ben is finally dependent on the team: before this he always welcomed the chance to get away. Ben begins to use humor to cover his frustration: e.g. his reference to his "pantin' public." This is black humor. he feels ugly and belittled, so jokes about his popularity. This will be his defining personality for the rest of act 2 and throughout act 3, until Reed's control finally breaks in act 4.

Reed and Sue
The separation in this issue foreshadows the same situation in issue 107: Reed's constant control is unhealthy and they need time apart. The difference is that this time Sue is willing to give Reed's micromanagement a chance. By 107 she has tried it Reed's way for six years and it doesn't work. Sue's need for nice clothes will be explained in issue 31: she never had a childhood, never had time for herself. Notice also that she's a natural beauty, as Namor observed in issue 4. Combine that with an understanding that often exceeds Reed's, and Sue is the stand out character in the team, not Reed. her beauty makes Ben feel his ugliness all the more.

The zeitgeist:
circuses and wrestling
From the FFPlaza review by Greg Allinson:

"Bones n' Bailey's Circus" is obviously a play on Barnum and Bailey's Circus, just as "General Electronics" is a play on General Electric. Given the Midwestern setting, Ben's wrestling match was likely held at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis and promoted by the popular National Wrestling Alliance President Sam Muchnick. The NWA was the most powerful governing body in wrestling at the time, and Muchnick's St. Louis territory was one of their strongholds. Ben was likely bought in as a one-shot or short-term "special attraction," who would either lose to Fatal Finnegan or wrestle him to a draw or disqualification, thus increasing Finnegan's popularity and establishing him as the equal or superior of the world-famous Thing. Muchnick couldn't've been happy about Ben deviating from the match as booked and not only defeating Fatal Finnegan, but destroying and humiliating him in the process. Ben was probably blackballed from the NWA and wrestling at large afterwards. In any event, Ben didn't formally take up a wrestling career until The Thing#28 (1986), where he joined the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. He remains a wrestling fan to this day, as revealed in FF#489, where it's revealed that Ben watches WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) programming. (Special thanks to The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Kayfabe Memories, and Wrestling Titles for background info on Sam Muchnick and St. Louis wrestling in 1963)."

Realism: the Yancy Street Gang
By his stage, Jack Kirby is beginning to relate to Ben Grimm, not Reed Richards:

1963 and the rise of computers

The Mad Thinker is the villain who turns up most often in the 1960s. Why? Because he represents the biggest change in America: the rise of the computer and of robotics. FF 15 was published in 1963. This is the year when the worlds first mini computer, the LINC, began to circulate beyond the lab. It is also the year of the "Rancho arm", arguably the first computer controlled limb. In the Fantastic Four this becomes The Awesome Android, a faceless humanoid form able to duplicate anything a human does. The Thinker himself is of course modeled after Rodin's famous statue of the same name.


The next year (1964) would see "Eliza", the first program designed to pretend it is human, and also the rise of the printed circuit, the next revolution in computing. The Mad Thinker's plans usually fail, reflecting the limitations of these early computers, but he always comes back with a better design.

The class system and the height of Reed's arrogance

After the triumph of issue 14, this issue is about the rise of the elites: the rise of computers and other technology. This means blue collar workers are, for the first time in history, seeing their role threatened. The story begins with Reed showing his absolute dominance by making everybody else drop what is important to them, and instead attend to Reed's whim. Note that the others gain pleasure from social situations (Johnny dating, Sue being pampered in the salon, and Ben play-fighting with old friends) whereas Reed is alone, trying to create his own life forms to dominate.

afternoon becomes next day

The times given in the story are often cited as a mistake: "evening" becomes "12:42pm", and Johnny, shown at first listening to Reed, is now seeing his relatives while the Thinker is still talking. But look closer. Look at the start, Reed's arrogance and how Ben and Johnny react. See this in the context of the previous issue. The timing speaks volumes. The story begins in the evening, when Reed calls the team to a crisis that is not a crisis. In reality he is just annoyed that his research was interrupted by the police request, a request he has to answer, since he is now in good standing with the authorities, and needed them to fund his rocket. So he takes out his frustration on those beneath him. Reed lectures them with the situation as he sees it, in great detail, and he is still talking the next day at 12:42 PM! But by this time Johnny, who still has self confidence, has left to respond to his telegram. With Johnny gone, Reed must decide his briefing has gone on long enough, and as some time between 12:42 and 4pm the remaining team members respond to their telegrams.

So rather than being a mistake the timing is a powerful statement of Reed's arrogance at this point: his fatal weakness that will, in act 4, lead to his decline, misery, and death.

Ben's misery
Blue collar workers are of course represented by Ben Grimm, the man from the streets who made good. Yes, blue collar workers can have advanced degrees as well, but they identify with the ordinary people. But Ben now identifies with Reed, the elite who belittles him. So the his old street gang consider him a "sissy". Ben is abused by his new friends and abandoned by his old ones.This is the start of his long period of depression.

Note his comment as he leaves, "for two cents" he would cancel the vacation. The team is the only family he has, and even the team are splitting apart.

More character development


Art, lettering, etc.


Other points to note:

Kirby's original story

Jack Kirby understood this story, but Stan Lee did not. This is further evidence that Jack Kirby was writing these stories, and Stan Lee merely added dialog. Nathan Masters explains:

"In 1962 Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize for their work on the DNA double helix molecular model. This was covered extensively in Life and Time magazines, along with diagrams and photographs of DNA double helix models, similar to the one shown in this issue, page 4, panel 2. At this time, molecular genetics was still in its infancy, and the informal term "building blocks of life" was widely used in reference to DNA, again, see page 4 panel 2. Here we also have Reed incorrectly calling DNA molecules "cells," so obviously Jack was perfectly on track with his art but again Stan just kept getting it wrong because it wasn’t his idea. Next, on page 12, panel 2, the Mad Thinker says "Here are Mr. Fantastic's notes concerning his work with DNA, the building blocks of life itself! Using this information, I should be able to create a new form of life-- one which will serve only-- the Thinker!"  Again from Kirby’s margin notes."

Life magazine
Above: part of a series on biology that ran in Life Magazine in 1962. This series was in the weeks leading to the Nobel prize awards in December, where DNA was celebrated.

If Stan did not follow Kirby's plan then that explains all the many problems in this issue:

  1. The first frame establishes this as night time, yet Stan's dialog later says it's 12:42 pm.
  2. Reed calls the team to an emergency, and it isn't an emergency, he's just saying something might happen, but then they all go on holiday!
  3. Thinker's first attack is to encase the Baxter Building in a gigantic crystal. Why? That seems to make no sense.
  4. Stan's dialog focuses on the Thinker's ability to predict, using computers, Yet suddenly the Thinker has invented a giant biological android, with no explanation.
  5. Stan's dialog puts the emphasis on prediction, which makes a nonsense of the final page: Reed says we cannot allow for every possibility, and to prove it he prepared for every possibility!

The problems disappear when we remove the dialog and look at Jack's story told by just his art. The story is not about computers and prediction, those are just secondary details. the story is about DNA:

  1. The first frame establishes this as night time.  It looks like Jack intended this to be one of those "scientist works late to make his breakthrough" moments.
  2. Reed calls the team to see his DNA breakthrough. Later the Thinker steals this research,
  3. The thinker duplicates Reed;s research. This explains the crystal. For someone like Kirby, with an interest in science, it would be natural to think of a crystal as the first step in developing chemical marvels.
  4. The final step is of course the general purpose "awesome android". This completes the consistent story about DNA.
  5. The final page shows that artificial life is not as good as real life. Yes, prediction was involved, but that is the means, not the message.
For more about how Kirby wrote the stories, see "who did what". Other changed stories include FF 8, FF 23, FF 67, FF 108, and no doubt many others.

Issue 16: Ben's inner conflict. (And advances in medicine and chemistry.)

Fantastic Four 16

Here we have Ben's hidden, inner conflict symbolized by an inner universe: the microverse.

Triumph and tragedy
As in the best novels, we often have have two major, contrasting threads at work simultaneously. This is through the first part of Act 2: the team as a whole is moving from strength to strength, with bright, optimistic, ever greater adventures, while Ben, as Reed's natural rival, is beaten down to his lowest point, emotionally. Issues 16 to18 could be called the Grimm Trilogy. More on this later.

In issue 16 we delve into Ben's inner conflict. Consciously he wants to change, unconsciously he doesn't. So he asks Reed to focus on Alicia's eyesight instead - which leads to issue 19. In FF126 they try again, and again in FF142. Once again in this story Reed undermines Ben: he stops Ben from poking a hole in the wall and just implies that Ben does not think. Sue shows her intelligence by finding a solution Reed had not considered. Ben could have done the same if he was alone, he is plenty smart enough (e.g. he's a test pilot with a high education, and was always resourceful enough when alone, e.g. later in Marvel Two In One). But Reed is trying to impress Sue, and unconsciously knows that popular, confident Ben is a danger to his preeminence. This is all unconscious, because consciously they are the best of friends, but the evidence in Reed's behavior is clear enough.

Also in this issue Doom finally conquers a world: Micro-world. At this stage in his development Doom wishes to cause fear for its own sake. Later his understanding deepens and he becomes a better ruler, preferring to be loved where possible.

Each member of the cast experiences shrinking. With Sue it even happens on TV. But they did not mention it to the others - it would be a sign of weakness. This indicates the stresses within the team. They may be accepted by the public now, but there is still tension between Reed (who thinks he must run everything) and the others (who are treated as idiots.)

In this context, note that Sue has dogs in the Baxter building: Sue is doing her own research: she is not under Reed's thumb. But this may also indicate loneliness - dogs give her more love than Reed.

Science and wonder

The Fantastic Four is usually about physics, but this issue is about chemistry (the microverse) and biology (Reed's new medicine). All the sciences advanced rapidly in the 1960s. It was a thrilling time, when anything seemed possible, and that excitement is captured in the Fantastic Four.

"While reading and writing about this issue, I happened to run across Internet images of beach sand magnified 250 times. It’s amazing how something as common and unassuming as sand can be so awesome and beautiful, when we take a very, very close look at it. It made me realize anew that 'not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we CAN imagine' (Arthur Eddington). Above us, below us, within us, and within the very world we inhabit are other wonderful worlds, there for the exploring. " (- Crissy)

I couldn't find any sand crystals I could legally use, but did find this promotional image from Zeiss. The microscopic world is very interesting indeed.

And here's a YouTube video zooming in ever closer to an everyday object, from a video uploaded by 'Major Utah '. Credit goes (I think) to the research lab (MATEIS) at INSA Lyon, F. The project was initiated by Altomedia.

Notice the planet in Subatomica at the very end?


Other points to note

Mary Margaret McBride

Issue 17: John F. Kennedy

Here is an alternate Kirby cover (for the reprint), showing Doom in his classic "towering over others" pose. This issue is the turning point: before this he was just an individual. Now (in his airship) he literally looks down on the world. After this he becomes monarch of Latveria: no longer an individual but the embodiment of a nation. In the same way, Kennedy's assassination made him immortal.
alternate cover
Fantastic Four 17

Issue 17 is a masterpiece: one of the greatest Fantastic Four stories ever told. But on the surface it may appear forgettable or even weak.

Why the story is easily overlooked
There are so many elements that no single one stands out, so the reader might not latch onto any of them, and come away thinking it was just a generic story. Also, so many new ideas are added that some are barely explained, and readers may mistake this for a sign of weak writing. For example, Doom is in disguise, with a beard and flesh mask over his metal mask, and the team don't notice anything wrong - even when he shakes hands with each of them, through metal gauntlets covered in fake hands? Then Johnny uses a power he's never shown before, creating full colored flame beings? Readers may dismiss this as bad writing and say "aw, it's just a comic book, lighten up!" But the Fantastic Four shows time and again that it is not "just a comic book." All these things are easy to explain, but are not central to the story.

The explanation if you're interested:
Johnny's flame power has already been shown able to make flame duplicates, usually of himself (this is mainly seen in his Strange Tales stories) . He was also shown able to use heat to refract the air to make mirages appear (see issue 10). Flame burns at different colors at different heats. Also, Johnny has been shown practicing different skills and uses for his flame, and finally he can create soot particles if needed. Put these together and it should be possible, in theory, to create any color at any light intensity, particularly if it only needs to fool somebody for a split second and at a distance or over security cameras. The main significance of this is that it shows Johnny's incredible potential and his superb attention to detail when he wants it. There is also the other concept introduced in issue 10: that the comics we read are filtered through Stan and Jack's need to entertain. It is possible that the original facts were slightly different, but they simplified them in order to fit everything into a limited page count. This same principle explains Doom's unlikely disguise: disguising is trivial, nobody doubts that Doom could do it in many ways, so there is no need to explain how. A single frame showing him pulling off a false beard is enough to get the idea across and then the story can move on.

In today's comics, this issue would be a six issue arc:

  1. The search for Doctor Doom, ending with the Doom revealing his face (and more detail would be given to how he disguised himself)
  2. The team is helpless before Doom: part 1 would show the FF in their normal lives, then part 2 shows them uncover the mystery, and ends with Doom's plans
  3. The world at the mercy of Doom, and how Ben falls apart. There's a huge amount in this section - it would be a very busy comic.
  4. Star Wars. They track down his lair, gain access to plans of his craft, devise a solution, and launch their counter attack. The comic would end with Ben starting to turn back to The Thing - and too soon! A great cliff-hanger.
  5. issue 5: the battle on the airship, ending with their being sent to another dimension
  6. issue 6: Sue versus Doom, plus how they escaped the dimension trap: this could easily be ten pages on its own, but it doesn't move the story forward so Stan and Jack wisely cut it short. Doom falling through space would of course have been a double page splash, all very cinematic, starting with extreme close-up and ending with a Photoshopped real photo of Earth seen from the upper atmosphere. Doom's ship would of course have been a space station, as bigger always means more exciting, right?

A tangent: Star Wars
On a slight tangent, there are many parallels between Dr Doom and Darth Vader. FF 17 has perhaps the first obvious example: the heroes discover a secret floating fortress that sends its destructive rays to doom the planet, they find its plans and find a weak part in the defenses, they rescue the damsel, get trapped in a narrow room filling with sludge, and finally Doom/Vader escapes into space (in issue 6 and annual 2 he is shot helplessly into space, like Vader at the end of Star Wars). Note also the parallels with the cloud city in The Empire Strikes Back, including falling from the bottom of the floating city and hanging from a pole. George Lucas may well have have read these comics as a child. Or to be charitable, both The Fantastic Four and Star Wars draw heavily on classic fantasy and sci-fi tropes. Either way, the Doom/Vader parallel is obvious, as we see in Star Wars Tales #9, courtesy of "Again With The Comics": (note also that parody Reed fits better with Doom than with his team.)

Doom as Vader

Why this issue is really about John F Kennedy

It was difficult to decide what to call this summary, and where to focus:

It's a story about Reed:
This is where Ben completely submits to Reed. Ben is a nervous wreck and begs Reed to help. Sure, he 's angry at Reed but he's powerless and Reed knows it. This is a particularly interesting story because, on the surface, the team entirely depends on Reed: only Reed can find the secret of the flying robots, only Reed can find Doom, and only Reed can find a way into the ship. At at the same time the team show that, if Reed left them alone, they could have found their own solution. At the start we see that Johnny can detect odd disturbances, and later we see his other awesome power (see below). Ben was the one who noted that Doom must have been nearby: with this insight Johnny could have looked for longer and found him. True, Reed's detector devices are certainly very useful, but Doom is causing a world wide problem, and so the team could have called on other scientists such as Ant man (who helped them at the start) or Iron Man (the master of electronics). This must be Reed's secret fear, that his natural place is not as leader but as support services. How else do we explain his strange behavior at the end? He pretends that Ben gets in his way, so he can blame Ben and make himself appear the natural leader. but this is utterly absurd: earlier we saw Reed stretching into the air pockets of cement and sliding under a doorway! It is impossible for Ben to get in Reed's way even if he tried! No, Reed has seen Ben beg, and does not want to lose his position as the indispensable one surrounded by fools. All of this is unconscious of course - as Doom leaped into the air Reed had to make a split second decision, and there is plenty of evidence that Reed only wants the best. But to Reed, the best means Reed in charge. Doom is of course the logical conclusion of this attitude.

It's a story about Ben:
This is the one where Ben is most desperate. We also see that he can mentally control his changing, but only if the need is sufficiently severe and involves Alicia. (At the same time he unconsciously wanted his strength in order to rescue her). Note also in this issue that many ordinary people see Ben as handsome, and as a hero. Without Reed treating him as an idiot there is no reason why his confidence would not be super high. Also note that this issue follows from the similar situation in the previous issue: the question of Ben's subconscious feelings regarding Alicia. These two issues could be the subject of a whole essay. Note that Doom is also a mirror for Ben: he is lonely and hates his appearance. Note also that Doom is already thinking in terms of steps towards world conquest rather than world conquest itself.

It's a story about Johnny, the super-man
More than any other issue, this one shows Johnny's awesome potential. No wonder he's so confident, he's totally dedicated to his work and constantly finds new uses for his flame. There is little doubt that he could have found a way to defeat Doom's disintegrator rays. Think about his range of abilities: to create duplicates of people (e.g. make Doom think that Alicia had escaped?), to create heat updrafts capable of shifting massive weights (see the end to issue 4), to refract light and make objects appear to be in different places, to create nova heat (there must be a limit to what the disintegrators can disintegrate), and so on. Johnny is basically superman. We haven't seen a fraction of his potential, yet he gradually gave up trying so hard over the months because Reed only wanted him as a flying flamethrower. Note also that he is less successful with women than we might think - this topic comes up again in later issues. But when he is fully in charge and fully mature then expect basically superman. Now let's get back to this story. Could they have rescued Alicia without Reed? Ben has almost no limit to his power when he needs it (he is basically a slightly smaller version of the Hulk). Meanwhile Sue could have made the insides of the craft invisible so they can see where Alicia is hidden. Maybe Doom has some way of shielding her or providing decoys, but Sue can also make other danger invisible, so she's still useful. The main difference between Reed's approach and Johnny and Ben's approach is speed: imagine what could be done with the full range of Johnny's abilities, coupled with an invisible berserker-rage Thing. A completely different approach to Reed's, but not necessarily less effective. Note also that in future years he would have Crystal's power (with access to advanced Inhuman technology) and Lockjaw to just teleport inside the ship. Or Lockjaw could trace the lost Alicia. Reed wants to be the one indispensable super-being, but the message of the big story is that heroism doesn't work that way.

Sue makes the boys look useless again
In issue 15 we saw how Sue wants a life of nice clothes, where she can spend her life meeting people in regular charity work rather than a life of unrelenting danger and duty. Here she begins to get it, but of course her team duties get in the way. Once again Sue makes the boys look useless. They can't defeat Doom, so merely wait in case Doom comes out. What a plan! Meanwhile Sue leaves, finds Alicia, rescues her, and defeats Doom single handed. All that time Reed didn't even notice she had gone!
Why does Sue credit Reed, who has shown no evidence of ever knowing Judo? It's the perfect way to weaken Doom: force him to make a mistake. Doom hates Reed, and considers Sue to be weak. Sue is saying "Reed has beaten you! Yes, Reed! He didn't even need to come in person, he sent a female to do it!" What humiliation! What a magnificent woman!

Then why is the story about Kennedy?
The overriding theme of this story' like all the issues from 12 to 20, is optimism and confidence. Each one of the team is superb! They are magnificent! Both as individuals and as a team. We also see Kennedy himself at work, efficiently and powerfully, and he has the right priorities (as Reed will finally learn to, in Act 5): Kennedy puts his family first. Even Doom, in a world where Kennedy exists, merely hopes for a place in his cabinet rather than immediate world domination. This is the most joyful of all the stories, despite Ben's utter despair at the start (which is balanced by his joy at the end). This is a story of the early 1963 zeitgeist, of he period known as "Camelot" (notice the man dressed as one of King Arthur's knights at the start, and the poetic significance of Doom's castle in the sky). In Camelot everything was going to be wonderful, every problem solved: the space race, the arms race, civil rights, everything!

Then just after this story was finished, Kennedy was assassinated. And in issue 21 we have the darkest story of all, The Hate Monger. 

Doom and human motivation

For an overview of Doom's development in his twenty appearances see his own page.

Dr Doom

Doom's behavior in this issue is sometimes questioned (e.g. by Greg Allinson in his review on FFPlaza). Quote:

This raises the key question: what is Doom's goal? To control the world? Then he should choose economics. To kill the Fantastic Four? Then he should buy some poison gas. No, as his name and costume reveal, these are merely a route to his real goal: to feel important.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs
As Abraham Maslow observed, we have many needs, and feeling important ("self actualization") is at the top. Doom uses flying dummies (almost certainly based on Ovoid technology) to both embarrass his enemies and prove his superior technical abilities. He tricks them in person to show how clever he is. He wants to be part of the cabinet so that the most powerful men in America can see that Doom is superior: that with only limited tools he can dominate and control them. He wants them free to oppose him, so his constant triumphs are all the more impressive. Doom is a study in the need to feel important.

Why does Doom want to marry Pearla?
"No, he doesn’t need a woman…but perhaps…he wants one? Perhaps he looks at Reed Richards and his lovely girlfriend Sue Storm, and secretly yearns for the same kind of relationship. If he wanted Pearla, all he would have to do is take her; he could force her to be his wife. But he can’t force her to love him. And maybe that’s what he’s most after—unconditional love." (-Crissy)
In this issue we see how although Doom claims to need nobody really he hates himself and is lonely. This self hatred is explored in detail in FF199, prior to Doom's final defeat.

Does Doom keep escaping?
It might seem at this point that Doom always escapes. But in fact he only escapes twice in his entire career (FF5 and in this FF16-17 two parter). The other two times, FF6 and FF10, all the evidence suggested he was dead. In later stories he does not need to escape: from Annual 2 he is head of State so has diplomatic immunity, The concept of national laws getting in the way of justice is a powerful one, and central to the Great American Novel being an epic of nationhood.

The symbolism of Doom and cages
Both times that Doom escaped he did so into the sky. It had to happen twice to drive home the symbolism through repetition and dramatic contrast. Nobody can cage Doom - he is free, like the birds! And yet he cages himself behind his iron mask. He represents old world tyrants: in theory they have power to do whatever they want, but a tyrant's freedom hating ways mean he lives in a cage of his own making: The FF have genuine fans, and enjoy the life of celebrities (as we see here in FF17), whereas a tyrant must always be afraid of enemies because everyone hates him.

Who defeats Doctor Doom?
A quick Dr Doom score card:

Notice a pattern here? Doom may hate Reed, but it's Sue who defeats him almost every time. 


Other points to note

Issue 18: the Grimm Trilogy ends

Fantastic Four 18

Issues 16-18 can be seen as The Grimm Trilogy: this is where Ben's loss of confidence is complete. He still has supreme courage: he will never give in. But this is the courage of the man who sees no hope. He can take pain, he can keep going when a sane man would give up, he can find superhuman reserves of strength because he does not value his own life.

We are reminded that in reality Reed is just as dependent on Ben as Ben is on Reed - Reed feels really uncomfortable in a crowd, especially when he has no control (hints of autism?), and Ben takes the opportunity to return Reed's "kiddies" jibe from the end of issue 15. Remember that there is no malice here, the group genuinely care for each other. But on the unconscious level we have two alpha males competing, and the scheming upstart (Reed) has finally defeated the natural leader, the popular man's man (Ben). Reed still takes every chance to undermine Ben (again, not intentionally), such as saying he should duck when the battering ram comes. Ben is not a ducker! Sure, the ram hit him hard. But that's how Ben fight: he gets hit hard, he comes back and hits harder! But Reed is always making Ben think he's weak, and that he should hide and run.

Fantastic Four 18

Finally, note Sue's supreme courage in one of her last outings before she learns how to create a forcefield. The boys are vastly more powerful than her, physically, and the super Skrull is the most powerful enemy they've faced. He would not hesitate to crush her like a flea, and he has the power to do it in a dozen ways: if she doesn't get the device on him instantly, or if it doesn't work, then she's dead. She may be dead anyway, even with reduced power he could crush her. Yet she leaps on him to attack! Then uses herself as bait! If courage is measured by putting yourself in danger then Sue is the bravest person on the planet, and the others, with their super powers to protect themselves, are not even also-rans.

And two related criticisms from

Other points to note

skrull, in British

In British comics a home grown adventure was normally two pages long, so ten pages (half an American comic) felt like a very long story. We were used to analyzing every frame, not flying past them, manga style. This story also benefits from being read in two parts with a week's wait in between. An under-rated classic.

Issue 19: Ben's tragedy

Alternate cover:
Los 4 cover
Fantastic Four 19

I try to avoid commenting on my personal enjoyment of stories where possible, or this project would be ten thousand pages long! But sometimes you just have to gasp with joy at the richness and wonder of it all. There's so much in this comic! A man tries to save his blind girlfriend's sight; a mystery encoded in ancient hieroglyphs; a castle owned by a high tech master of black magic, with a crocodile infested moat; a future sci-fi world where they watch cowboys and Indians; pirates; a chariot race; the secret of the sphinx; a time machine; ancient Egypt... with ray guns; Reed leading an army; our heroes as slaves... is there an award for the biggest number of amazing spectacles in one comic? If you're a professional comic writer or artist you may want to avoid this issue. You'll never be this good, and it will just make you depressed. Somewhere in the wreckage of the comics industry even now there stands the remains of a colossal statue, and inscribed in stone around the feet are these immortal words:

"My name is Jack Kirby, King of Comics. Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!" Face it, ordinary writers and artists, you ain't going to make anything this beautiful, not with so much for so little money, issue after issue. You might as well get another job, ya hacks.

Incidentally this is how real education works. Sure, they spell "Pharaoh" wrong (as they did in a early Iron Man story at around the same time), but it makes the ancient world exciting! And after that, you have the basic building blocks seared in your mind, so learning about real pharaohs is easy.

Comic readers tend to remember the period from 44 as the invention of major characters, but this sequence of issues is just as rich: issue 18 brings us the Super-Skrull ( a favorite of many fans, and of writers such as John Byrne). This issue, FF19, is the ur-text form Kang, Immortus, Dr Doom's Time Machine, Nathaniel Richards, and all the time travel stories that place throughout the Marvel Universe. This individual issue has served as a backdrop to several other stories over the years, where other superheros and teams (such as the West Coast Avengers) are present but unobserved, in the style of Back To The Future 2 and 3. The reader is left to decide whether those other stories are canon - personally I see them as proof that The Fantastic Four is where the ideas are, and other comics exist in its shadow.

OK, back to the long term story
Fantastic Four 19

This completes the mini-arc about Ben and Alicia. After the Grimm Trilogy, where Ben gives up hope, salt is rubbed in his wound. He seems to at least have fund a way to cure Alicia (his concern in issue 16, remember?) and it seems so hopeful.... then fails. The new deeper tragic level is embedded. Reed continues to keep Ben's confidence low. Note that Ben's insults are veiled compliments (he mocks Reed for being too smart and to flexible), whereas Reed's insults are just insults. The story is about Ben's dependence on Reed (for Alicia's cure), where Reed raises Ben's hopes and (through no fault of his own) dashes them.


Other points to note


Issue 20: the atomic bomb

Fantastic Four 20

This, the climax to the Kennedy stories, is essential to understanding the mystery of the team's superpowers. Note the similar covers. The links won't be obvious until the very end, in FF319, but see the commentary to FF187 for the clues.

issues 20 and 1

The first homage to issue 1
Over the years, many magazines have payed homage to the iconic cover of FF1, but this is the first. Note the street with the awning, the squared paving and the man in brown (the poor guy, he's probably thinking "not again!"), the perspective and framing (villain top left, heroes at bottom of page, Reed at the right), the villain in spiky green costume with his right arm raised. But this time it's the heroes who are breaking through the street.

Unused cover
From Jack Kirby Collector 9 (captions by Stan Lee)


The zeitgeist
The period of Kennedy inspired optimism and wonder reaches its peak with this issue. Apart from Ben's tragedy these are stories of tremendous discovery and beating incredible odds. Note the ever increasing scale of the stories: After returning from the Moon they first defeat the crime bosses, then Doom, then their most powerful ever individual foe, then an emperor with all the knowledge of the future, then somebody who's almost Galactus level (according to the Watcher). Each adventure is bigger than the last. Where do we go from here? Real history will soon step in, and rotate the zeitgeist by one hundred and eighty degrees.

A 28 year subplot
The Molecule Man will become crucial to our understanding of the origin of superpowers and the Fantastic Four's origin in FF1, and comes to a conclusion right the end of Act 5, in FF319. Note it is the Molecule Man who makes Reed decide to give up in the epic issue FF188, and he learns humility before Reed does.

The American Dream: ordinary workers
I'm trying to avoid a run down of all four themes in every single issue, but this is a new twist: the Molecule Man was a bad employee, he didn't work hard, and that's why he became a villain. Then he tries to rule over Times Square, the symbol of American corporate success: the bad worker threatens everything. Also note that when he gains power he gets his hair cut.

An alternate reading is that this is the tragedy of the common man. It is not the Molecule Man's fault that he fails. Even when the worker gets ultimate power, and simply wants his turn to be an elite, fate still conspires against him.

Note the motif of monarchy being a Bad Thing in America. Almost every enemy wants to be a monarch. Even the Puppet Master dreamed of sitting on a throne, wearing a crown. Namor of course was already a monarch, and Doom, befitting his genius, actually achieved his goal.

Fantastic Four

A man who can control atoms...
can control anything

"The searing lighting-like blasts leave their mark on his now-altered face". The blast removed most of his hair: he had thick, wild hair when the bast hit, and was left with a tiny amount right on top. This and the scarring reminds us of the radiation burns on victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is also his use of a wand: the lightning scars and wand are all very Harry Potter-ish (see notes to FF189, where Klaw looks just like Voldemort). The Molecule Man's costume has the shoulders of an eastern magician (think Abanazar in Aladdin), but the lower part is the uniform of a factory worker. So the Molecule Man, as his name suggests, is a symbol of the unlimited potential of atoms: atomic bombs and atomic energy. This potential is so huge that the Watcher must get involved. Note how his ball of flame looks like a photo of an atomic explosion at the moment of ignition. Atomic power was at first a harsh, unsophisticated power that could not interact well with humans (hence the ending of the story) but give it time!

the bomb

Other points to note

Issue 21: Civil Rights: no more light and fluffy

Fantastic Four 21

The Zeitgeist dramatically changes

In the summer of 1963 civil right came to the top of the agenda: in June 1963, around the time this issue was written, Kennedy made an epic civil rights speech then sent the civil rights act to congress. The Kennedy era from that point took a more serious, less jingoist tone that would end in his assassination. In the FF, the series of bright, sunny, optimistic, breaking-new-frontiers stories abruptly halts. This new darker tone spells an end to the optimism. In the next issue (FF22) Sue can no longer be defenseless. In the issues that follow we go back the origins in a search for direction: a return to the Mole Man, Skrulls, Namor and Doom, without decisive wins, just temporary small victories. We see indecisive or pointless battles (against the Hulk and the X-Men), the most tragic death of all (Franklin Storm, the father of Susan just as Kennedy as resident was a kind of father to the new nation). Then we see the team's greatest defeat against an evil version of themselves. The light and carefree stories are over.

The references to "foreigners," and the final reveal (spoiler: it's either Hitler or his double), and the final words (far more direct than we're used to: Kennedy's death was such a shock) and the Ku Klux Klan style clothing, show that this is an attack not just on hatred in general, but also on racism in particular. Within three years America will have moved forward a little, and be ready for its first black superhero, and of course he will be in the pages of the Fantastic Four - but that time is not yet here in 1963.

A silly character? Look deeper

Modern readers see this issue as silly: it is usually mocked because the name "hate monger" with a big letter "H" seems silly.

Hate monger
But look deeper. This is not a silly issue. It's the most serious one ever published.

The letter H

The H is almost certainly a stand-in for a cross. The Hate Monger is a Hitler clone, and wears a knight's costume plus Ku Klux Klan style hood. This was in 1963, at the height of civil rights movement, where the KKK was still am force to be reckoned with. The KKK saw themselves as knights, encouraged by the movie Birth of a Nation.

Birth of a Nation
The KKK and Nazis both saw themselves as Christian knights.The KKK call themselves knights and burn crosses. Nazis associated themselves with the Teutonic Knights: the famous "Iron Cross" medal was based on a Crusader cross.

Nazi knight

Above: a genuine Nazi propaganda poster, showing Nazis as holy victims of evil Poles and socialists.

Hitler poster

Above: a modern poster showing Hitler as a Teutonic Knight.

Notice what is on the tabard: not a letter H, but a cross, symbol of Christianity. What were Lee and Kirby, both Jews, supposed to do? Show the hate monger as a Christian? This was 1963: no matter how controversial that would be now, it was more sensitive back then. The purpose of the story was not to annoy Christians, but to condemn hate, so he drew the costume as a letter H. Because that is what the cross in that context meant.

The name "Hate Monger"
As for the name "hate monger" that is obviously a name given by the media. Note that it is first used in a scene full of newspapers. Hate groups usually give themselves good sounding names. For example, The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of what it calls "hate groups" and many of them have names like "American Family association" and "family research institute". The real hate monger would say "I am trying to save families" and would always make himself sound good. The comic just cuts through the propaganda and translates what he really means.

A brave, challenging comic
"The FF just HAPPEN to go up against a villain that looks a LITTLE bit like the local Grand Dragon.  The Hate-Monger himself is revealed to be none other than public enemy #1 Adolf Hitler himself.  Remember, this is ’63, not even 20 years since the end of WWII.  And what better way to show how un-American the anti-civil rights movement of the KKK was than to (in this fictional four-color world) make it’s leader the face of evil around the world.  Symbolically, this was truly brave writing for what was ostensibly a child’s publication.  You can imagine how hard is was for 8 year old Billy-bob to be all right with Pappy’s nightly bed-sheet bedecked racist rides after watching the ever-loving blue eyed Thing stomp a mud hole in Pappy’s comic-book counterpart." (source)

A nuanced message
This issue is not a one dimensional polemic against hate: it contains layers of nuance. For example, we learn that America is spending billions in Central America, yet the Central Americans see America as the enemy: this is something Americans were slowly becoming aware of via the news (thought it would not become mainstream for a few years). Of course the invading Americans say they are only doing good: but every invader says that, and often believe it.

"yankees go home"

There no good guys in this story. Reed is motivated by hate. Only Nick Fury appears innocent, but what of his masters, the CIA? A couple of years after this, Nick stopped working for the CIA and chose an international organization instead. Why?



Other points to note

Issue 22: two races

Fantastic Four 22

FF21 was about race hate. In FF22 we see a new race as an example: can we apply our abstract values in a real situation? Here we have an excellent example of one group believing they are the good guys while actually causing the problems, and treating another race as inferior. The trouble is, the people doing the harm and looking down on others... are us. The Fantastic Four does not shy away from hard questions, even though readers usually don't notice.

In FF22 we see the Mole Man's race of Moloids for the first time.  We see a whole race who are treated as the enemy when they are not. Note the parallel with H. H. Wells' Time Machine: the underground people are generally agreed to be a metaphor for the invisible lower classes of our own day (in Wells' book they were the descendants of today's workers). 

The Mole Man in context
For how the Mole Man's ten appearances reflect racism and the underground in America, see the notes to issue 1.
Mole Man

Confronting racism forced America to question its origin myth, and for the Fantastic Four this means going back to the Mole Man. And finding that when they thought Moley had blow up his own island, it was probably Reed's team who did it. here are shades of Vietnam: they meant well, but only won the immediate battle: they may have made things worse. Note that the story, like the last one, hinges on man's hatred for his fellow man. Moley does not need to attack, we will attack each other. In Act 5 Ben will finally end the Mole Man's threat... by understanding his point of view.

Fantastic Four 22


This issue, about racism, also strikes a blow for sexism. The FF's powers were fundamentally sexist: the three men were effectively bulletproof, and the one woman was not, yet she was expected to face all the same dangers (without having any say). The bulletproof problem is corrected in this issue, as Sue gets a force field, to match Reed's rubbery skin, Johnny's flame barrier and Ben's hide.

The death of Kennedy has permanently changed the nature of the team. The Fantastic Four is a metaphor for America, so it could not be any other way.


This is a story full of firsts:

  1. First Forcefields
    This is the first issue where we see Sue's forcefield. This is often taken as Sue becoming more powerful, but as noted in Act 1 and elsewhere, she was already the most powerful member if we measure power by long term outcomes. The nature of superpowers, and how one power can led to another, is discussed here.
  2. First "Clobberin' time"
    This is the first issue where we hear "It's Clobberin' Time" - usually seen as a joyful thing, but it has a sad underside: it represents Ben making the best of his diminished role: the serious test pilot accepts a role as the dumb muscle of the group.
  3. First "Aunt Petunia"
    FF25 contains the first reference to Ben's Aunt Petunia, who appears in FF238-FF239.
  4. First Moloids
    And of course, the first mention of the dominant race within our planet!
  5. And probably more that I didn't notice. Expect this list to updated next time I read this issue.

Other points to note

  1. First, Ben could jump out, taking the others with him. Ben's dislike of jumping is tied to his fear of hurting others: rather than learning how to do it safely, his Reed-induced lack of confidence holds him back (see Ben's own page for details).
  2. Ben can solve the Mole Man's problems by becoming his friend, as finally happened in annual 13 and FF296. But every time he wants to, Reed and Johnny make the situation worse by looking for conflict as the only solution.

Issue 23: Reed consolidates his power

Fantastic Four 23

With Sue now more conventionally powerful, Reed needs to maintain his position. Any Alpha male must prove himself. Note that the election is controlled by a master strategist. Obviously they would choose themselves, and then criticize each other, but they are adults: this would not have lasted long. They would quickly move to the normal method: only allow a vote for someone else, or even choose a different voting method (weighted preferences, take turns to lead, etc.). But before they could come to an adult decision Reed stepped in straight way and declared them unable to govern themselves. This is the classic tyrant's method, arrange an election according to your rules, so that the result will be indecisive, meanwhile fan the conflict between the parties, then step in and say that this proves only you have the maturity to lead. Note that Reed takes the opportunity to mock and belittle the others. Only an insecure person makes himself feel good by pushing others down.

Reed's strength and weakness

This issue contrasts Reed's political strength with his emotional and leadership weaknesses in several ways:

The Thing robot

At first glance, in FF23 Doom appeared to destroy his Thing robot, before dispatching his men to another dimension. Then in FF39 Reed had an almost identical robot.

Thing Robot

But did Doom actually destroy the robot? He never said the robot was destroyed, simply that it returned to the nothingness "from whence it came". The key is the manner of destruction. It self destructed without any damage to its surroundings, and left a pile of ashes that appears to be much less than the mass of the robot. Since mass cannot be destroyed, and insufficient energy was released, we must conclude that it, like the three servants, and like Doom himself, was returned to another dimension. The pile of smoking dust suggests the results of a demonic dimension. For more about Doom's robots and his use of demonic magic, see the notes to FF143. The robot and the three men went to different dimensions: there was no fire and brimstone for the men because there was no demonic possession. Doom needed a demonic dimension for the Thing robot, but the men had their own life so could be sent to a safe place.

This robot appears to be the same one used by Reed in FF39, so how did Reed get it back? The end of FF34 (where Gideon somehow obtains Doom's time machine or something like it) may give the answer. Gideon sends Ben to another time. It is intended as a one way trip, but when the machine's power is shut off he automatically returns. Presumably they would have remained even after the power was shut off if left there long enough, but the speed of events was important. The Thing Robot was valuable to Doom, so he would have retained some kind of connection so he could bring it back and use it again as needed. At the end of FF23 Doom is thrown through a dimensional portal. As with shutting down power to the time machine, removing Doom would have led to the Thing robot popping back into this reality. Presumably the demonic control was then lost, so Reed had to devise a device to let Ben control it directly.

Kirby's original story

Note: the following assumes familiarity with the page on "who did what", where I show the evidence that Kirby plotted the books after the briefest of instructions from Stan Lee, and Kirby was an avid book reader.

For many years I have wondered, why is this such a badly written story? It claims to be "the master plan of Doctor Doom", yet is all over the place. It begins with a dinosaur and a time machine, and Reed treating the others like children. Then the main part is the three enhanced villains. Then right out of nowhere we have this "solar wave" thing. And something about that ending just seems awkward, badly paced. It's not a great issue. But look at it again, without Stan Lee's dialog. The art tells a different story where everything fits together. But Stan Lee "improved" it to make it easier for new readers to understand. Here is my evidence:

  1. Pacing:
    Page 22 (where the "solar wave" is explained) breaks the pacing. Kirby is generally cinematic in his art: each frame flows into the next. This is especially true of an action climax. Here we have the final battle, and suddenly everything stops to give us diagrams of how a solar wave works. It is very un-Kirby. Worse, this weakens the emotional power of the climax. The story is about Reed and Doom treating others as serfs, and both discovering that this does not work. Reed is trapped in a soundproof box and needs rescuing, and Doom (at the end) is forced to share the fate of the others: if the serfs go down then the king goes down too. The last two pages flows smoothly and easily, showing the conflict with Doom. but it is interrupted by the solar wave material, distracting from and weakening the main message.
    solar waves
  2. Squashed art:
    The solar wave explanation is three frames squashed into the space of one. This issue uses relatively large panels throughout, usually six or seven panels on a page. But this page (and only this page) has nine. It looks like one normal sized panel has been removed to squash in three panels of cramped explanation.
  3. Not Kirby?
    The cramped new panels do not look like Kirby art. Though that could be because the pictures are so tiny. It looks like somebody scribbled an idea on the back of an envelope and the inker had trouble turning it into something that fits the comic.
  4. Redundant:
    The "solar wave" explanation is not needed. The story established that Doom could transport people by having them touch something, using either occult power or something like his time machine. Or even his Ovoid teleporter. So the solar wave is redundant.
  5. Breaking the unity of the story:
    Without the solar wave, the story forms a unified whole: Kirby introduces the story with the time machine to remind us that Doom is obsessed with dimensional travel. All of Doom's stories to this point have been about dimensional travel (if we count consecutive issues as being one story in to parts). The first Doom story was about time travel. The second one was about mind transference. The third was about shrinking into another dimension. The main part of this story ends with Doom sending his three henchmen to another dimension. It follows that a natural ending would be Doom doing the same thing to the Fantastic Four, only this time dumping them far away in outer space to die!  Therefore this book is perfectly titled "the master plan of doctor doom" because his whole career led to this point. But the solar wave thing ruins that. It just comes out of nowhere: rather than this being the fruition of his all encompassing plan (the meaning of he phrase "master plan" after all) it becomes some random thing Doom discovered and then decides to use against the team. It ruins a great story.
  6. Not like Kirby science
    Kirby's science is all based on either the real world, or reflects well established story tropes from literature: for example, dimensional portals are not new, and are explained either as naturally occurring worm holes or as the result of complex advanced technology. But the solar wave claims to be a natural phenomena that routinely sweeps ionic dust, and anything attached to it, into another dimension. There is nothing in nature like this, nor is there a mechanism to explain how it might occur, nor does it appeal to high technology or even magic. As an idea it just does not fit anywhere. Similarly, how can one particular warehouse be in its path of this wave whereas other buildings are not? Waves from the sun tend to bathe the whole planet, and even something relatively small like an eclipse has an enormous and soft-edged footprint. How is the wave so narrow and precise? None of this sounds like anything Kirby would devise.
  7. Stan's fingerprints
    The has Stan Lee's fingerprints all over it. Stan likes to explain everything. When a Stan lee character does something he says he is doing it. So when Kirby handed in two pages where a room is gradually disappearing into outer space, you can bet that Stan would say "we need to explain what is happening". Of course it should be obvious: Kirby has already shown us two similar events in the same story. But Stan would want it explained in detail for the benefit of new or younger readers who are maybe not paying close attention.
  8. Stan often did this
    The breaking of continuity for an unnecessary explanation reminds me of FF 3 where Stan did the same thing: the pencils show that he changed a smoothly flowing Kirby page into something that jumps around in order to give an information dump. The same thing almost certainly happened with the Mole Man story i issue 1: it has signs of heavy re-editing all over it. The best known example of this is FF 108, which was completely chopped into pieces and rearranged with new art and a lot of explanation. Another example is FF 124, where an old picture of the Thing is pasted over the art to cover what looks like some rearranged pages. There are no doubt other examples.
  9. Real science, but misunderstood
    The reference to solar waves interacting with ionic particles suggests that Stan is referring to real science but he does not understand it.  Everything about the "solar waves" sounds like the solar wind:
    1. The names solar wave and solar wind are similar.
    2. The solar wind is made of ionic particles (i..e charged particles). However, in Stan's version ionic particles somehow just drift down from the sky, and the wave interacts with them. He seems to have missed the crucial part that the solar wind is made of those particles.
    3. The wind comes in waves, depending on the activity of sunspots and the position of the earth. but Stan seems to imagine waves nor much wider than a warehouse, rather than the actual planet sized waves.
    4. The solar wind strips particles out of a planet's atmosphere and hurls them into space. (Earth is largely protected by its magnetic field, which is why we have a good atmosphere and Mars does not).
    5. The solar wind was big news for science geeks in late 1962: its existence, proven by the Russians in 1959, was now explored in detail by America's Mariner probe that was heading for Venus. So in mid 1963, when Stan was looking for an idea to explain the art that showed people thrown into space, the new and still mysterious "solar wind" would come to mind
  10. He got the idea from somebody else
    Jack Kirby was an avid reader of science magazines (see his collages for example), and his comics are full of new ideas. But Stan's solo work (e.g. the FF after Kirby left) has few if any new ideas. So when Stan wanted an science explanation for the space and stars seen on page 22, it as probably Kirby (or somebody else in the office at the time) who suggested it.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe Kirby just decided to sabotage his own work and act completely out of character on that one page. But I'm betting it was Stan Lee.

Other points to note:

Dr Doom

Issue 24: foreshadowing the bigger story

Fantastic Four 24

Now Reed has the team where he unconsciously wants them: Sue and Johnny act like children, and Sue is his trophy partner, no longer in any danger of being so independent as to choose Namor. With this new status quo (for the next few issues at least), the story can look to the longer term future. Of course, these long term plots threads are not a conscious master plan by Stan and Jack, but they arise naturally from the characters themselves. E.g. there are only so many basic stories involving families. These stories are so powerful precisely because they deal with vast timeless themes.

The Infant Terrible foreshadows Franklin: a child who without realizing what he is doing, has apparently infinite power (note "apparently" but for now we will assume it is so), and who controls things simply to feel safe or because he likes an idea, without understanding its consequences (such as slowing own time). The solution to the problem is not to fight, but to recognize that the source of the power is a child, and then for his parents to do their job. This is how Reed and Sue finally solve their problems in Act 5.

Ben's neglect of Alicia, while continuing the subplot of Ben's pain that dominates the first half of Act 2, foreshadows Ben's ultimate solution. He cannot continue to leave her: he has to be with her and he knows it. But while he has a child-like role in the team he lacks the confidence to marry her. She deserves more than to constantly be lonely and in mortal danger. Ben knows that, but through his depression he can't see a way out. Ironically it's young Johny Storm who will finally show older, more mature Ben the way: marry the girl and bring her with you!

Be nice to outsiders
This is one of a number of stories illustrating the theme, "be nice to outsiders":

America is a nation of immigrants, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Jews in New York who experienced World War II) would be more aware of this than most.

The zeitgeist
The 1960s zeitgeist is strong here: 

Other points to note
This illustrates how Reed was retconned after the Marvel Universe ended. For more about he changes click here. For more about the original Reed, click here. The original Reed was based partly on the professor trope as in Gilligan's island, but equally was based on Doc Savage and on Hamlet (hence the reference in FF22 to being worth putting down the Harvard Classics for). By reducing Reed to merely a professor we lose two thirds of his personality and all the depth. (This composite image is shamelessly swiped from the very helpful "ff1by1" site. Thanks, ff1by1!)

Alex Ross is a great artist, but I'm not a fan of his Gillgan's Island Reed. I much prefer Paolo Rivera's take on this era: I think he captures the characters perfectly. So I will end with this perfect image. The faces are perfect. The poses are perfect, everything is perfect. I cannot praise this image enough: it captures act 2 to perfection, just as Rivera's more famous beach scene (from FF 97) captures act 3.  I suppose it's because Rivera tries to capture an era in American history, and that's what the Fantastic Four is all about.
Paolo Rivera

Next: old world monarchism

The Great American Novel