Definitely “THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE,” Fantastic Four #45, Dec, 1965. All art TM & © MARVEL
Welcome to the first installment of my new (hopefully!) weekly feature, Tales from My Spinner Rack. This week we focus on my all-time favorite Fantastic Four cover, issue #45. I’ve loved this cover since it came out in September 1965 (cover-dated for December of that year), and I’m not quite sure why. It certainly isn’t Jack Kirby’s most dynamic FF cover, but it does have a definite air of mystery to it, with that tiny quartet of menacing characters high up in the background, all but silhouetted against the rising moon. I’ve also always been really drawn to it by that dark, indigo blue sky, a color not usually seen on the covers of comics of that era. And who could resist that tag line, seemingly etched on the ruins behind our heroes: “Among Us Hide The Inhumans!” For a 10-year-old, this was a comic book tease at its finest. If covers really sold the books, how could you resist this one?
So while this book is all about the cover for me, it’s also a milestone, what collectors call a “key” issue, in that it introduces the entire cast of the Inhumans for the very first time. Medusa was first introduced in Fantastic Four #36, as part of the “Frightful Four,” a quartet made up primarily of Human Torch villains (The Wizard, the Trapster—aka good ol’ Paste Pot Pete—and the Sandman, who was first a Spider-Man foe) from his appearances in Strange Tales. FF #44 introduced another Inhuman, Gorgon, which led directly into this issue with the first appearances of Karnak, Triton, Crystal, and, of course, Black Bolt, in one of the most memorable final panels (see below) of the Marvel Age of Comics, at least in my humble opinion. In fact, as a just turned 10-year-old, that panel became my overriding obsession for at least a month, until FF #46 (with Black Bolt stunningly portrayed front and center on the cover) appeared and was grabbed up by my hot little—and sometimes grubby (hey, I was 10!)—hands. I definitely recall playing Frisbee out on our street with my older brother (who bankrolled our comics buying at that point in our collecting career) and suddenly stopping and yelling “BLACK BOLT!” and flinging my arms out to each side of my body. I was in love with that costume design and that incredibly dynamic pose, and thrilled by the prospect of discovering this new comics character.
Black Bolt makes his presence known in the final panel of Fantastic Four #45, with art by Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott.
By FF #45, we had bought every Marvel Comics superhero book from our local newsstand as they came out each month. We would visit the newsstands in our small town twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, haunting the racks to see what was new. Comics cost 12-cents each, so a dollar would buy you nine different books, not counting the eagerly awaited summer annuals, which were double-sized and 25 cents each. We had amazingly good luck with distribution, too, for a small town with only two or so comics outlets (one small drug store also had a smattering of comics each month; I remember buying Amazing Spider-Man #3 there one cold rainy night). Sometimes we’d take all the issues of a particular title and lay them out, side-by-side, on the floor, just to look at all the covers together (one time my dad walked in the front door and just stomped right over them, oblivious to the thousands of dollars of comic books littering his living room floor, although at that point, their future worth was unknown to us, too). Fantastic Four was my favorite book to do this with—probably because there were more issues of that title than all the others, since it started first—and because the covers were so wildly creative, all of them drawn by Jack Kirby, the King of Comics.
I didn’t find out until 50 years later—in Sean Howe’s excellent comics history book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story—that the Inhumans were introduced into Fantastic Four (along with Black Panther in issue #52) because Stan Lee and Marvel publisher Martin Goodman’s original plans to feature them in their own brand new books was quashed by their distributor, which was owned by DC Comics (National Periodical Publications back then). Goodman wanted more new titles to combat the rise of other superhero books on the stands, due to Marvel’s increasing success. Lee and co-creator/artist Jack Kirby decided to work them into the FF series instead, bookending a storyline featuring another new creation Galactus, which also introduced the Silver Surfer. This one year, from mid-1965 to 1966, is a period of unprecedented creativity from the duo, who were also pumping out numerous other stories featuring characters such as Captain America, Thor, and a new series that Lee and Kirby were also involved with, “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which debuted in the summer of 1965 in Strange Tales. Lee also had a hand in just about every other Marvel book at the time, editing them all and writing most of them. More artists and even a writer or two—including Roy Thomas—joined the Marvel staff around this time to help keep up with the burgeoning success of the line. (The Inhumans, the Black Panther, and even the Silver Surfer, all eventually got their own series, as DC loosened the distribution restrictions in the coming years and Marvel launched more and more titles.)
Fantastic Four #45 marked the second issue in a row featuring Joe Sinnott’s inks on Jack Kirby’s pencils. The creation of a comic book is an assembly line kind of thing, with numerous jobs, any one of which can either improve or ruin the final product. Over the years, FF had been inked by a variety of artists, including Dick Ayers, George Bell (Roussos), Chic Stone, and Vince Colletta. Each inker seemed to be involved for a short run on the book. Joe Sinnott had actually inked Fantastic Four #5, the first issue to feature Dr. Doom, way back in the first year of the title. Sinnott was an incredibly busy and prolific comics artist, and Stan Lee finally lured him over to Marvel with a bit more money. He would go on to ink many issues of Fantastic Four over many pencil artists, and his inks added an extra level of polish and enjoyment to the book, for me and many others. To some of us, he’s Kirby’s definitive inker.
You’ll also notice the unusual Marvel corner box on this issue of FF, the last to include the words “Pop Art Productions.” A few months earlier, editor Stan Lee decided to capitalize on the Pop Art movement, which included paintings by “fine” artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, which looked like panels from comic books and were often out-and-out swipes of comic artists. Lee, constantly looking for some kind of cool and hip validation in the sixties, seized on the idea of changing the company name from Marvel Comics Group to Marvel Pop Art Productions. The hatred for this idea was quick and deadly, with many fans realizing how opportunistic and derogatory Lichtenstein’s art was, but even more so feeling how dare you change the name of our beloved company. Lee realized the error of his ways and dropped the pretentious name-change after four short months, about the length of time it took to make any decision in the comics industry, due to the long lead-time of creating, printing, and distributing books.
In the January 1966 issues of Marvel Comics, Lee wrote this ITEM! on the Bullpen Bulletins page:
“WE GOOFED AGAIN! DEPARTMENT”
Remember how we tried to change our name to Marvel Pop Art Productions? Well, although some of you went along with us, we never realized how many thousands were intensely loyal to the name Marvel Comics! Your mail, phone calls, and telegrams bowled us over! So, once again we fell on our red faces—and from now on, we’re Marvel Comics Group once more—SO BE IT!
A few years back, I realized that I wanted to get an entire month of Marvel Comics and I used FF #45 as my starting point. There were 14 other Marvel comics published that month, and most of them were easy to find; a couple (like Amazing Spider-Man #32—the first appearances of Harry Osborne and Gwen Stacy—and X-Men #15—the origin of the Beast—were a little pricey). I started a quest and in a relatively short amount of time I had tracked down all of them, including the non-superhero books, Sgt. Fury, Rawhide Kid, two Millie the Model titles, Patsy Walker, and Patsy and Hedy. Here are all 15 covers from my somewhat-epic quest for your viewing pleasure.
One final note: The cover at the very beginning of this post is a scan of Fantastic Four #45, which we bought off the newsstand sometime in September 1965, one of the few books I still have from our collection. That small fact means the world to me.
Next week, we move over to the Distinguished Competition, DC Comics, and the wonky world of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #44. Be here for “The Wolf-Man of Metropolis!” plus leprechauns and Jimmy in drag. We couldn’t make this sh*t up, folks, although somebody at old and staid DC did.
Art TM & © DC