Fantastic Four: the origins of the Marvel Universe

Fantastic Four: the origins of the Marvel Universe

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four # 1 was released on August 8, 1961. If we talk about Marvel today, the first thought of the youngest immediately goes to Avengers and Iron Man, thanks to the incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has its narrative fulcrum in these two names. Yet, if we went to look for what was the first step in the triumphal story of Marvel comics, we will have to go back to a cartoon in which a man, with a decisive attitude, shoots a rocket from a window, a warning sign that alerts three other incredible ones. individuals. That mysterious individual is Reed Richards, and the bright call blazing in the New York sky is his way to reassemble the team of superheroes known as The Fantastic Four.

And that signal is the starting point of the Marvel Universe!

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The rebirth of the Heroes

Before arriving at this evocative summons, we must take a step back and return to a much more realistic golf game (or so wants the legend).

We are in 1961, and the world of comics is trying to restart after the debacle of the end of the Golden Age. The arrival of the Comics Code Auhority, a consequence of the essay The Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham, which prompted the American government to regulate the stories and contents of superhero adventures. Added to a harmful overexposure of the superhero figure, this decision led to a drastic drop in sales, which led to the almost total disappearance of the superhero genre.| ); }

The National Periodical Publication, which despite having kept some of its superhero publications alive, was blaming the collapse in sales of this narrative trend, reversing this trend. By the will of the editor Julius Scwatrz it was decided to bring back the old heroes of the National, but with a novelty: they would be adapted to a new audience.

The first to undergo this treatment was Flash, who in the 1956 was entrusted to Gardner Fox (history) and Carmine Infatino (drawings). The new Flash, Barry Allen, first appeared in Showcase # 4 and was an instant hit. Strengthened by this renewed interest in superheroes, Schwartz decided to continue his rebirth of heroes by asking to create a team of superheroes, in which all the leading heroes of the National Periodical would find space, including the bigwigs like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. . A request that saw the birth of the Justice League of America, a supergroup that was incredibly successful.

As mentioned, a legend in the history of comics has it that during a game of golf, Jack Liebowitz and Irwin Donenfeld boasted of their success with Martin Goodman, owner of Atlas Comics, heir to what had been Timely Comics in the Golden Age. Hearing of this success of the competition's new comic publications, Goodman decided to go back to publishing superhero comics.

The birth of the Fantastic Four

Now, that the famous golf game really took place is one of the great mysteries of the world of comics, even if several experts and historians of comics broke down over the years following this myth. In fact, it was none other than Stan Lee who gave a reconstruction of what really happened

“Martin pointed out that he had noticed some of the National Comics titles that were selling incredibly well. It was a publication called the Justice League of America, and it was based on a group of superheroes. 'If the Justice League sells' Martin said 'why don't we publish a series based on a group of superheroes?' ”

“For once, I could have written a story that I would have also liked to read… And the characters would have been characters with whom I could relate personally: they would have been body and blood, they would have had faults and defects, they would have been fallible, and, above all, inside the boots of their colorful costumes they would still have feet of clay "

This principle of the humanity of the characters born during the gestation of the Fantastic Four will later become one of the characterizing elements of the subsequent heroes of the House of Ideas. In the moment of giving life to this new comics lineup, Lee created a story in outline that was entrusted to Jack Kirby, who after drawing the plot sent the plates back to Lee to insert dialogues and captions. This process of creation is what in the course became known as the 'Marvel Method'.

But as per tradition for this seminal period of Marvel, the one that reminded the the late Stan Lee was not always confirmed by those who had contributed to the creation of the Marvelian pantheon. It happened for Daredevil, it happened for Ghost Rider, could it have been different for the Fantastic Four? Of course not!

And in fact, Kirby told the birth of the Fantastic Four differently!

During an interview in the early 1990s, Kirby did not hesitate to call the stories Stan Lee told lies. on the origins of the Marvel characters, particularly regarding the tenants of the Baxter Building. In fact, to the interviewer Gary Groth, he openly revealed his thoughts

"They are shameless lies"

The King's version was that the idea for the Fantastic Four was his creation, that she had later introduced to Lee, who decided to appropriate it and pass it off as his. Of particular concern to Kirby was claiming ownership of a particular aspect of the Richards family: the uniforms. While not wearing them in the very first issues, the Fantastic Four kits are one of the most familiar traits of the lineup, and Kirby has always claimed their design, referring to his work on another supergroup created in the 1950s for National Comics, the Challengers of the Unknown

“If you notice, the uniforms are the same. I've always given my heroes tight uniforms with a belt. The Challengers of the Unknown and the Fantastic Four also have a minimum of decorative elements. And of course, the skin of the Thing is a kind of decoration, which breaks the monotony of the blue costumes "

Kirby's claim of authorship regarding the Fantastic Four could also be confirmed by one of the members of the Marvel super team: Benjamin 'The Thing' Grimm.

Kirby has always argued that to bring Grimm to life he drew inspiration from an existing person he knew very well: himself. Going beyond the common passion for cigars, there are indeed many similarities between the King and the Thing.

Both come from immigrant Jewish families belonging to the New York working class, who raised their children in the areas popular of the metropolis. Inspired by his turbulent adolescence, Kirby would have used the young Ben Grimm to tell a glimpse of the violent and wild life typical of street gangs, inserting him within the Yancy Street gang. To create a further link between creator and creation would be having managed to emancipate oneself from this degraded environment by finding a way to become someone.

Keeping the the debate on the authorship of the Fantastic Four, however, great names in comic criticism thought about it, who split over this origin.

In his The Comics Journal, Ear Wells was of the idea that having written a synopsis for the comic did not automatically make Stan Lee the creator of the characters, since he could also have written it during an interview with Kirby, giving support to the theory of the historian of comics R.C. Harvey, a staunch supporter of Kirby's thesis.

In fact, one of the flaws of the Marvel Method was that it allowed anyone involved in the creative process to boast of its creation. If Kirby created the uniforms, for example, by his own admission it was Lee's idea to put the iconic 4 on the Fantastic Four uniforms. Of course, we will not know the truth, but poetically we can rejoice in a vignette of recent years in which the Fantastic Four, brought before God, see him with the features of the King

Whatever the truth about the origins of the Fantastic Four, one thing is certain: they were successful. Why the Fantastic Four were a real commercial success!

The creation of the Marvel Universe

The release of Fantastic Four # 1 in August 1961 proved to be a real surprise even for the publishing house , who had however decided to abandon the name of Atlas Comics, seeing in the appearance of these heroes the sign of a new beginning, which they decided to celebrate by choosing a name that promised adventures and fun: Marvel Comics.

It was a essential success, as he convinced Lee to stay in the industry, during a time when the Smiling Stan was looking for new stimuli for his career. Lee saw a future in this incredible debut, especially when absurd quantities of emails began to arrive, which Lee decided to start publishing in a special column starting from the third issue of the series.

The Fantastic Four became a phenomenon editorial, so much so that Marvel decided to publish on the cover of the series the words "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World", the largest comic in the world. A high-sounding definition, but which in hindsight was deserved, considering how it was the appearance of the Fantastic Four that gave life to the Marvel Universe.

The Fantastic Four are a fundamental point of the history of comics. Born at the dawn of the Silver Age, the four heroes maintain what was one of the cornerstones of the birth of the future characters of the House of Ideas (the 'scientific' origins), but introduce a feature never valued before: superpowers bring superproblems.

The storm of cosmic rays that gives them powers, in fact, forces them to face problems. Just think of how in the first issues, where the Thing raged against his friends accusing them of not wanting to help him get back to normal. Ben Grimm anticipates, in a certain sense, the theme of 'different' which will then become fundamental in the construction of the myth of the X-Men.

This happens because, unlike the other superheroes, the Fantastic Four do not hide their own identity. This revolution not only changes the way readers perceive the hero, but allows the protagonists to move in a world where their face is known by all. The New York population, therefore, is divided between those who consider them heroes and those who are dangerous, starting that principle that often returns to the Marvel house on the perception of the hero and that will find a perfect incarnation in Spider-Man and X-Men.

Despite being the first comic of the newly born Marvel, Fantastic Four contains the essential characters of what will become the modus operandi of the House of Ideas. In fact, since the first numbers appear the foundations of a narrative that will develop over the years, thanks to the characterization not only of the characters, but also of the enemies. Figures like Namor and Victor Von Doom are essential to give breath to the Richards family saga, but the series also becomes the springboard for further elements that will become essential in the Marvel Universe, from the Negative Zone to the Kree, up to the cosmic entity known as Galactus.

The Fantastic Four were much more than the comic that gave birth to Marvel Comics, they are the very foundation on which the Marvel Universe was built.

You can know the first steps of the Fantastic Four reading The Fantastic Four: Volume 1

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