Monday, March 15, 2010

39: Fantastic Four #12

Fantastic Four #12
December 10, 1962

  • This is it. This is the big one. Marvel has been putting out superhero comics again for nearly a year and a half, and the handful of features they've created are really taking off. But now, for the very first time, we see the initial step in the shared-world idea that would soon define much of their appeal. Sure, one of the members of the Fantastic Four has his own spin-off comic - but even with that first bit of expansion, there had been nothing to suggest a shared history or setting between any of these separate strips, just as (for instance) you wouldn't expect any interaction between the stories of Dracula and King Arthur. But when The Incredible Hulk's General Ross recruits the FF to help him track down and capture his personal Moby Dick, the canny reader could predict the team-up possibilities to come....

    The Four receive their mission...

  • So it's only fitting that this inaugural moment should also begin another tradition: that of the semi-regular battles between the Hulk and the Thing. As rivalries go, it's a no-brainer to pit the hulking creature of terrifying strength against the FF's resident dark-tempered powerhouse. And eight-year-olds everywhere have long enjoyed their debates of match-ups: "Who'd win in a fight," they ask with eager eyes, "Batman or Superman?" Clearly, in what may have been one of the earliest examples of fanservice, this brawl was made for them.

    Clash of the Titans.

  • What's so strange about the whole affair, then, is how exciting it isn't. One of the rules of fiction is to have the story begin as far along as you possibly can; otherwise you run the risk of a tale with far too much setup and not enough drama. Sadly, that seems to be exactly the case here. After an action sequence in which terribly uninformed soldiers attempt to take down the Thing by mistake, the Four meet General Ross ... and top scientist Bruce Banner. This is a neat twist on the story - having one of the people briefing them be the monster they're charged to capture - but the development goes on for too long, and the FF don't even meet the Hulk until page 17 (out of 22). It's not a bad story, by any means - but important as it is to the development of Marvel as a whole, it's disappointing that it's not a better one.

    You wouldn't expect a commie to travel without his membership card, would you?
    How would the other Reds know who he was?

  • Oddly, one of the things that's a bit inexplicable is the timing of the tale. The Incredible Hulk's last issue (for now) would be #6, out on the stands just a few weeks after. If this story had happened a few months after his comic had been cancelled, we could see this guest-starring role as a way of keeping the creature in the public's mind (as Stan would certainly do). On the other hand, you'd expect this was being done in part to boost Hulk's sales, and that as a result Stan would at least keep the title going long enough to see if his appearance here had the desired affect. Did sales for The Hulk turn out to be even worse than they'd thought, calling for a drastic move like cutting the title off at the last minute?

    Truer words were never spoke, as such meetings would soon become
    de rigueur at the House of Ideas.