Monday

OMU: Fantastic Four -- Year Two

With the third issue of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby christened their series “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine,” and despite the hyperbole, it was an assertion often hard to deny. The nature and personality of the series rapidly took shape, as well as the devotion to continuity—both within this series and amongst their other superhero titles—that came to define the Original Marvel Universe. In that third issue, the team first adopted their familiar blue and black costumes, having worn regular street clothes in their first two outings. They also left the fictional setting of “Central City” and set themselves up in the very real town of New York, another innovation that bucked the old conventions of superhero comics. From then on, both in Fantastic Four and a spin-off series of Human Torch solo stories published in Strange Tales, Stan, Jack, and Dick Ayers created a truly bizarre rogue’s gallery of villains, ranging from the ludicrous to the sublime.

The next twelve months in the lives of the characters were extremely busy, as they battled dangerous menaces such as Doctor Doom, the Sub-Mariner, the Skrulls, the Wizard, and the Puppet Master; encountered weird alien beings like the Watcher and the Impossible Man, and met other superheroes inspired by the FF’s example, such as the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the X-Men, as well as the misunderstood Hulk. All the while each member of the team was dealing with his or her own personal issues that often led to quarreling, self-doubt, and lingering misunderstandings. But they also learned to live with each other as a team and as a family.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


The Marvel Universe kicks into high gear — The True History of the Fantastic Four!


January 1962 – The Fantastic Four decide to take a break from the media frenzy generated by their debut and rent an isolated hunting lodge in upstate New York. While there, they hear on the radio that they are being blamed for a number of terrorist attacks and have been declared public enemies. An Army squadron surrounds the cabin and places them under arrest. The Fantastic Four are moved to a specially-prepared federal prison, but, realizing they have been framed, they break out and track down the imposters. Reed Richards’ greatest fears are realized when the imposters turn out to be the advance team of an alien invasion fleet, a race of shape-changing Skrulls from the Andromeda galaxy. Posing as the imposters, the FF board the fleet’s flagship and convince the Skrulls that the earth’s defenses are too formidable. Returning to Earth, the Fantastic Four are able to convince the authorities that the Skrulls committed the crimes, and they are cleared of all charges, although the threat of the alien invasion is never made public. Though one of their number has slipped away, Reed has the remaining captive Skrulls change themselves into cows and then hypnotizes them into forgetting their true nature. The FF leave them grazing in a pasture near King’s Crossing, NY.

February 1962 – Reed uses the money from the sale of Richards Laboratories to lease the top floors of the Baxter Building, located on the East Side of Manhattan not far from the United Nations Building, to serve as their headquarters. Reed and Ben Grimm move into the Baxter Building, where Reed sets up his laboratory equipment. With the help of his teammates, Reed has their headquarters up and running in just a couple of weeks. Intending for an evening’s entertainment, they end up instead battling the powerful illusionist called the Miracle Man. At the conclusion of the battle, the Human Torch angrily quits the team. Then, wandering through the city, Johnny Storm finds the Sub-Mariner in a Bowery flophouse. The Torch flies him out to the harbor and drops him in. The sudden shock partially restores Namor’s memory. Learning of the destruction of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner attacks New York, but the F.F. drive him off. This is the team’s first major public victory, and they are hailed as the saviors of the city.

March 1962 – Doctor Doom attacks the Fantastic Four in their own headquarters and kidnaps them, holding Sue Storm hostage. Reed is shocked when he recognizes the voice of his former college colleague. Doom takes them to his private castle hidden in the Adirondack Mountains and sends Reed, Ben, and Johnny back in time, to circa 1700. Returning to the present, the FF trick Doom and escape. Realizing he is outmatched, Doom leaves his laboratory in flames and abandons the fight.

April 1962 – Doctor Doom tracks down the Sub-Mariner and enlists his aid in attacking the Fantastic Four. Namor attaches a small device in the basement of the Baxter Building that allows Doom to haul the entire skyscraper into space. However, Doom double-crosses the Sub-Mariner, intending to destroy him as well. Namor helps the FF defeat Doctor Doom, and the villain is left drifting in outer space. The Baxter Building settles back on its foundations and Namor returns to the ocean depths. Sue has developed a crush on the muscular and enigmatic Sub-Mariner, and he finds her attractive as well, none of which sits well with Reed.

May 1962 – The Fantastic Four are invited to a congressional dinner at the Capitol in Washington, DC. However, a riot breaks out as people throughout the city are affected by an alien ray. A flying saucer tails the FF back to their headquarters in New York, where they are coerced into journeying to the planet Xanth. Foiling the schemes of the Xantha dictator, Kurrgo, they return to Earth aboard the Xantha flying saucer. Reed immediately begins studying the alien craft, hoping to crack the secrets of its advanced technology. Still bitter about the government’s treatment of his starship project, Reed refuses to turn the flying saucer over to the military.

Later, Johnny goes on his own to capture a masked menace calling himself the Destroyer, who is threatening an amusement park in Glenville. Next, the Torch matches wits with Bentley Wittman, the celebrity genius known as “the Wizard,” who tries to discredit the young hero. After which, the Fantastic Four battle the mysterious Puppet Master and Ben meets the villain’s blind step-daughter, Alicia Masters. Alicia finds herself drawn to Ben, and helps the FF win the fight. The Puppet Master is severely injured, and must be hospitalized.

June 1962 – While investigating acts of sabotage at a local housing development, the Human Torch encounters the warlord Xemu of the “Fifth Dimension” and meets the beautiful alien Valeria. Upon his return to Earth, Johnny enrolls in summer school to make up for his missed semester. Meanwhile, Reed invests a great deal of their money into the stock market. Unfortunately, the market soon takes a sudden plunge, and the team is forced to declare bankruptcy. Tensions run high as they contemplate selling off Reed’s many inventions to ward off their creditors. However, they receive an unexpected offer from a Hollywood movie studio to appear in a documentary film. Desperate for cash, the four adventurers soon find themselves back in California. They are astonished to discover the owner of the studio is none other than Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who financed his purchase of the studio with treasures from the ocean floor. Although the team at first enjoys their taste of the Hollywood lifestyle, they soon discover it is all an elaborate trap. The FF overcome Namor’s attacks, and Sue rejects his rather arrogant marriage proposal. Moreover, she shames him into honoring their contract, and he agrees to produce the film. The documentary is made in record time, to feed the public’s growing fascination with super-powered beings like the monstrous Hulk, the heroic Ant-Man, the mighty Thor, the Avenging Angel, and the mysterious television sensation called Spider-Man. Ben celebrates his 37th birthday.

July 1962 – The Fantastic Four is a hit in theaters; the FF become more famous than ever and quickly return to financial solvency. Seeing the film, Spider-Man tries to join the team, but changes his mind after meeting them. The Human Torch gets into a fight with a character calling himself Paste-Pot Pete, who manages to escape after the Torch foils his attempt to steal a new missile. Then, Doctor Doom returns and switches bodies with Reed, a trick he learned from the alien Ovoids, who rescued him when he was adrift in space. Despite his best efforts, Doom is defeated, and subjected to his own shrinking ray, which actually transports him into the Microverse. Later, the Torch captures a counterfeiter named Wilhelm Van Vile and also battles the Wizard again in his own high-tech house. The Impossible Man comes to Earth for the first time, looking for some fun. He wreaks havoc for a few hours, until the FF trick him into going elsewhere. Sue celebrates her 23rd birthday.

The Torch battles Carl Zante, known as the Acrobat, who tries to trick him into helping commit a bank robbery. Then the Torch picks a fight with the Sub-Mariner to prove himself to his older teammates. Soon after, the Fantastic Four are contacted by General T.E. “Thunderbolt” Ross, who seeks their aid in capturing the Hulk. Convinced the Hulk is, in fact, real, the FF agree to give it a shot, and they fly General Ross back to New Mexico in their newly-modified Fantasti-car. Soon, Reed meets Ross’ scientific advisor, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner. After an inconclusive battle with the Hulk, the FF discover the base is actually being sabotaged by a communist agent, who is arrested. The FF receive military honors, and are soon back home in New York. Then, the Torch defeats Wilhelm Van Vile again after the two-bit crook finds a reality-warping alien paint-set.

Meanwhile, Reed’s study of the Xantha flying saucer has enabled him to back-engineer a ship that will safely reach the moon, years ahead of the government’s project. He is intent on investigating a mysterious “Blue Area” of the moon he has discovered. Upon arriving, they find the remains of a long-dead alien city within a pocket atmosphere, a super-powered cosmonaut calling himself the Red Ghost, his three super-powered apes, and a mysterious entity calling himself the Watcher. The Fantastic Four are mobbed upon their return to Earth, and their celebrity only increases as the first people on the moon.

August 1962 – Reed presents a report of their lunar adventure to NASA, but the space administration finds his tales of intangible communists, super-powered apes, and omnipotent giants too outlandish to give credence. They accept his technical reports for study, but they are so advanced and idiosyncratic as to be of little practical use to the Apollo program. A fair amount of resentment begins to grow toward the grandstanding heroes.

Meanwhile, the Puppet Master goads the Sub-Mariner into once more fighting the FF, this time in his own undersea lair. Although defeated, Namor has begun to turn his attention away from the surface word and to become obsessed with finding his lost people. Later, the Human Torch battles a cranky Glenville resident nicknamed “the Sorcerer,” who comes into possession of a box of demons. Paste-Pot Pete busts the Wizard out of jail and they attack the Torch, only to be defeated again.

Then, having gotten on each other’s nerves, the Fantastic Four decide to take a break and pursue separate interests for a little while. Reed takes a position with General Electronics in New England, Sue accepts a role in a low-budget science fiction film in California, Johnny joins the circus, and Ben first tries his hand at professional wrestling. Their opportunities have all come about due to the careful calculations of the criminal genius called the Mad Thinker, who seizes his opportunity to break into the Baxter Building and steal Reed’s most recent genetics research. The Thinker uses Reed’s formulae to create the first of his awesome androids. With the unwitting help of their mailman, Willie Lumpkin, the FF defeat the Thinker and he is arrested. Later, the Torch battles Professor Orson Kasloff, a super-villain wannabe who calls himself the Asbestos Man. Reed celebrates his 40th birthday.

September 1962 – Johnny begins his senior year at Glenville High School, and is invited to give a motivational speech at a high school in Queens, where he first meets one of the students, Peter Parker. Then, the FF team up with Ant-Man to battle Doctor Doom, who has made himself absolute ruler of a civilization in the Microverse. Here they first meet the brave Princess Pearla, who develops a crush on the Human Torch. Having driven Doom back to their home universe, the FF and Ant-Man return as well. Failing to track Doom down, the FF try to go about their daily lives, only to be hounded by silly-looking floating dummies—Doctor Doom’s way of taunting them. Then, Doom begins to act on the global stage, bedeviling President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev. He holds Alicia Masters hostage, but the FF are nevertheless able to board his flying fortress, escape his diabolical traps, rescue Alicia, and drive Doom to abandon ship in utter defeat.

The FF’s plans to relax over the next week are foiled when a Skrull warrior publicly claims the earth for his alien empire. Going into battle, the FF are stunned to find that this “Super-Skrull” can mimic all their powers. The FF are finally able to weaken the Super-Skrull and trap him within a volcano on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. Johnny celebrates his 18th birthday. Soon after, Doctor Doom tries to use Spider-Man against the FF, but fails. Then, the Torch fights the Eel and nearly dies when he must absorb the blast of a small nuclear device that the criminal inadvertently activates. Recovering, the Torch then teams up with Spider-Man to capture the thief known as the Fox. Although they don’t exactly get along, the Human Torch and Spider-Man part on relatively friendly terms.

Meanwhile, the Sub-Mariner has been reunited with his people, the Atlanteans, and decides to launch a full-scale invasion of the surface world. Namor and his legions are able to conquer New York City before being driven off by the Fantastic Four. When the Invisible Girl is injured, Namor calls off the attack. Namor’s girlfriend, Lady Dorma, is furious, and seeing it as a betrayal, the Atlanteans desert their prince.

October 1962 – Sue soon recovers from her injuries, and Johnny meets Doris Evans at school, then battles her father’s gardener, Samuel Smithers, who discovers the means to become the Plant Man. Then, the FF travel back to ancient Egypt using Doctor Doom’s abandoned time machine. In the past, they battle the renegade time-traveler calling himself Pharaoh Rama-Tut. Later, the Torch again brawls with the Acrobat, who is passing himself off as Captain America. The Torch sees through the ruse and unmasks him. Then, the enigmatic Watcher alerts the FF to the menace of Owen Reece, the Molecule Man. Barely able to match the Molecule Man’s seemingly limitless power, the FF are relieved when the Watcher lends a hand. A few days later, the Torch first fights the Sandman after he escapes from jail.

Then, the FF are contacted by CIA agent Nick Fury, whom both Reed and Ben had met during WWII. Fury requests their aid in battling the Hate Monger, who has been causing riots and unrest in major cities. Fury and the FF track the Hate Monger to his headquarters in a small South American country. The villain is killed in the ensuing conflict, and the heroes are stunned when, unmasked, he appears to be none other than Adolf Hitler himself. Soon after, the Torch and the Thing once again fight the Puppet Master, nearly killing each other in the process. On Halloween night, Johnny sees a live TV broadcast during which Doctor Strange makes a “haunted house” disappear.

November 1962 – Sue discovers her force-field powers, and with Reed’s help develops new applications for her invisibility as well. Tired of being hounded by the public, the FF consider moving their headquarters to a more remote area. Reed decides to investigate purchasing a small island off the coast of New Jersey. However, once there, they encounter the Mole Man again, and are forced to destroy the island completely. Then, the Human Torch has a rematch with the Eel. Later, Iron Man contacts the FF while searching for the Hulk. Soon after, the FF battle Doctor Doom again, along with his three scientifically-altered underlings, “Handsome Harry” Phillips, Yogi Dakor, and Bull Brogin. However, Doom outsmarts himself and once again is cast adrift in outer space. The Torch exposes a communist agitator known as the Rabble-Rouser. Then, the FF are called away from a Life magazine photo-shoot to deal with the “Infant Terrible,” a powerful alien toddler lost on Earth. Later, on an evening sightseeing cruise around Manhattan, the Torch meets Iceman, and they fight the modern-day pirate called Captain Barracuda.

When the Hulk goes on a rampage in New York City, the Human Torch and the Thing try to stop him, while Mr. Fantastic succumbs to a sudden illness. Although outmatched, the Thing puts up a valiant battle that rages all across the city. Finally, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers join forces to battle the Hulk at a construction site, totally demolishing the partially completed building. The Hulk is driven into the harbor and promptly disappears. The FF and the Avengers part on good terms, vowing to assist each other in battling menaces to mankind. Then, the Avengers mop up while the Torch fights the Plant Man again in the New York Botanical Gardens.

December 1962 – The lovestruck Sub-Mariner kidnaps Sue and takes her to his undersea lair. The Human Torch enlists the aid of Doctor Strange to find her. The FF battle Namor and his Atlantean soldiers, but the fight ends when Sue tells Namor she would never choose him over Reed. Despite this, Reed is plagued by doubts as to where her true feelings lie.

The Human Torch goes after the “Terrible Trio,” Doctor Doom’s former minions whom the FF fought a month ago. Then, the FF travel to Washington, DC to receive the Congressional Gold Medal and to meet with President Kennedy. Reed hires young attorney Matt Murdock to work on their lease while they’re gone. When they return, the FF find their headquarters is a shambles and their long-range passenger missile has been wrecked in a battle between Daredevil and Electro. Worse, Murdock neglected to work on their lease, so Reed fires him. However, Murdock’s partner, Franklin Nelson, soon convinces Reed to give the law firm another chance. Later, the Fantastic Four meet the mysterious X-Men, who lead them into battle with the Puppet Master, the Mad Thinker, and his awesome android. The FF are impressed by the X-Men, and are left with a good opinion of the team. Soon after, the Torch and the Thing battle Abner Jenkins, who calls himself the Beetle. Then, the FF secretly return to the moon for a rematch with the Red Ghost. They are again aided by the Watcher. Next, the Torch and the Thing battle Paste-Pot Pete, who has given himself a make-over.

Exhausted, the FF take a Christmas vacation to Transylvania, but end up battling the diabolical alchemist Diablo. After returning home, the Torch and Thing have another run-in with the Sub-Mariner, when they incorrectly assume he is leading an invasion force toward New York.


Notes:

January 1962 – At the climax of Fantastic Four #2, Reed tricks the Skrulls by showing them pictures of monsters he claims to have clipped from some comic books, specifically Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales—two titles actually published by Marvel. This is the first mention of a Marvel Universe counterpart of the Marvel Comics Group. It is unlikely a race as advanced as the Skrulls would be fooled by comic book illustrations, but it may be that Reed faked some photos based on what he saw in Johnny’s comics. The four Skrull spies would eventually return in Avengers #9293, playing a key role in the epic Kree-Skrull War.

February 1962 – The Sub-Mariner was the first “Golden Age” character resurrected for the new Marvel Universe, although the Human Torch was inspired by his 1940s namesake. Coincidentally, Johnny sees one of the other bums in the flophouse reading an old copy of Sub-Mariner Comics. For a more detailed look at Prince Namor during this time period, see my Sub-Mariner chronology.

March 1962 – Doctor Doom, the FF’s greatest nemesis, was introduced in Fantastic Four #5. In the same issue, Johnny is seen reading an Incredible Hulk comic book, the third time the Marvel Universe counterpart of the Marvel Comics Group is referenced. Reportedly, what Johnny has is a fictionalized account, in comic book form, based on the various recent sightings of the mysterious green-skinned menace. For a more detailed look at Doctor Doom during this period, see my Doctor Doom chronology.

April 1962 – Fantastic Four #6 features the first “Super-Villain Team-Up,” which would become a regular feature of the Marvel Universe. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner would eventually even star in their own short-lived series together.

May 1962 – It stands to reason that Reed Richards would bear a grudge against the government for threatening to pull the plug on his starship project a year earlier, and explains why the team never really cozied up to the military-industrial complex despite Reed’s scientific genius. The Human Torch debuted in his own series of stories in Strange Tales #101.

June 1962 – On this timeline, the stock market crash in Fantastic Four #9 coincides with a real stock market crash in late May 1962. It’s possible it took a week or so for the team to feel the full effects of the financial crisis. At this point, Spider-Man was still known as an entertainer, appearing mainly on The Ed Sullivan Show. His career as a crimefighter had yet to begin in earnest. The winged mutant Warren Worthington III spent the early part of the summer fighting crime as the Avenging Angel before being persuaded to join the X-Men.

July 1962 – Spider-Man never acknowledges that seeing the FF’s movie inspired him to try joining their team, but it makes sense. In fact, as far as I know, the FF’s movie was never mentioned again, although it played an important part in establishing their reputations with the general public. (It’s quite possible the film was in black-and-white, and this accounts for its obscurity.) In Fantastic Four #10, the Marvel Universe counterparts of both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby make their first appearance, working on their authorized based-on-true-stories Fantastic Four comic book.

August 1962 – Although the Fantastic Four were the first people on the moon in the Marvel Universe, the government continued the Apollo program anyway, though at an accelerated rate, as seen in Fantastic Four #98.

September 1962 – The Human Torch makes a cameo in Amazing Spider-Man #3, and then Doctor Doom menaces the web-slinger two issues later. Spidey and the Torch defeat the Fox in Strange Tales Annual #2, the first of many such team-ups between them. The Atlantean invasion of New York is depicted in Fantastic Four Annual #1.

October 1962 – Although Johnny’s seeing Doctor Strange on TV on Halloween night is never shown, it is the sorcerer’s most public appearance before the Torch contacts him in Fantastic Four #27, which takes place about a month later. Something must have given Johnny the idea to seek help from such a mysterious and unscientific source. Doctor Strange’s battle with the House of Shadows is depicted in Strange Tales #120.

November 1962 – The epic battle between the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and the Avengers was the first of many blockbuster crossover events, the like of which would eventually cause the Marvel Universe to collapse under its own weight. But they were a startling innovation and still loads of fun circa Fantastic Four #25–26.

December 1962 – The FF’s trip to Washington occurs in Daredevil #2. This takes us up to Fantastic Four #30 and Strange Tales #125.






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