I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.
I’d usually begin a column like this saying something like “In celebration of the release of the new Fantastic Four movie…”, but from the comments I’ve seen so far, and my own feelings about the movie ever since it was announced, it seems like there’s very little to celebrate. No, I haven’t seen it yet (I’ll be doing so sometime over the weekend), and I’m trying to go into it with an open mond, but man it’s getting harder and harder. Anyway, obviously I’ll be back with more to say about it once I’ve actually done so.
So instead, maybe instead of “in celebration” we’ll just go with “in recognition of” the release of the movie, I thought I’d spend this column looking back on some noteworthy covers from the first 100 issues of the original FF series. After all, this is the series that really started the “Marvel Age of Comics” and without which we likely wouldn’t have the Marvel comics that we love, nor any of the movies that are so popular right now. So let’s see what we can find, shall we?
Of course, there’s really nowhere else we can start than with the one that kicked off the whole shebang, Fantastic Four #1.
Of course, that’s the issue that not only introduced the characters, but set the tone for what was to come, and pretty well showed what differentiated these characters from what readers were used to seeing from Marvel’s “Distinguished Competition” (as Stan tended to refer to them at the time).
One thing you may note about the characters on that cover is that they’re not wearing costumes. That was something that wouldn’t come about until issue #3, and even then they weren’t hiding their identities behind masks, and the Thing even rejected the idea altogether.
Issue #5 was where we met the man who would become the FF’s greatest nemesis. That’s right, contrary to what the various movie iterations would have you believe, Dr. Doom, in the comics, wasn’t tied in to the Four’s origin at all.
The space race which was going on with the Russians was a hot topic in the real world at the time, and was even the motivation for the ill-fated space voyage that gave the group their powers. This topic was one that returned in issue #13, when the group made a return trip to the moon and encountered not only a Russian super-villain, but another character who would become not only an integral part of their own series, but of the entire Marvel universe.
Issue #16 saw a guest appearance by another Marvel character who recently made his movie debut.
Along with traveling through space, the early FF also made a few excursions through time, as they did for instance in issue #19.
Of course, one of the great things about the Marvel universe has always been the crossovers with characters from other magazines, and this often led readers to speculate and even argue at times over which character would come out on top should they wind up fighting. Take, for instance, this epic confrontation that occurred in issue #25:
That fight pretty directly led into the next issue, which saw even more characters enter the fray.
I mentioned in the introduction that one of the reasons I love some of these covers is because they really make you want to read the issue to find out what could possibly be going on in the actual story. For me this is one of those covers. Why are the FF following the lead of Daredevil, and what does Dr. Doom have to do with it all? Hey, the only way to find out is to read the issue.
If you’ve been watching Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, then you’ve been introduced to the Marvel Movie/Television version of the Inhumans. What you may not know is that the comics version of the characters is quite different from what is being presented there, and that they actually got their start in the pages of the Fantastic Four. Yep, that’s the initial iteration of the group (actually of the royal family of the Inhumans) on the right side of the cover of issue #46, and the character in the middle of the cover is their king, Black Bolt.
Issues 47-49 of the series saw the introduction of the Silver Surfer and Galactus, and though the movie version of the Surfer was pretty spot on, obviously this version of the Eater of Worlds is quite different than what we saw in the film.
One recurring theme through out the history of the FF has been the continuing effort of Reed Richards to restore Ben Grimm (The Thing) to his natural human form. Issue #51 not only tells the tragic tale of one of those efforts, but has a cover that has gone down as one of the true greats in comics history.
I mentioned earlier that the FF were dedicated to the idea of exploring new worlds and even new dimensions. One of those new dimensions (and one wonders why, if the movie wanted to use the dimension-shifting concept as the root of the new origin for the movie version of the Four they didn’t actually invoke this concept) was the so-called Negative Zone, a trip to which was featured in issue #62.
Once again, with issue #73, we’re reminded that the FF are very much a part of a much larger universe of characters, and once again, readers were completely drawn in by the question of what could possibly have brought on this confrontation. Especially with such an odd grouping of characters opposing them.
Issue #80 once again just features one of those covers that makes you wonder what kind of creature that could possibly be that our intrepid heroes are confronting.
And this cover to issue #83, along with promising a return of the Inhumans also just show how out of balance the adventures of our Fantastic Foursome could be.
I’ll be honest: Ive never really known why, but the cover to issue #92 has always been one of my personal favorites. For me this is just the epitome of one of those covers that makes me want to know just what is going on inside and especially why our ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing (as he had come to referring to himself by this time) was being labeled “Ben Grimm: Killer”.
And finally we come to issue #100. Now I’ll grant that at first glance this cover may seem something of a chaotic mess, but look at it. I mean just look at all of those villains just surrounding our heroes. Is there any way they can possibly defeat them all? And let’s be honest, is there any better way to celebrate the 100th issue of the book that started it all than to bring back all of the bad guys they’ve confronted over the years?
So there you go. Just a glimpse of some of the covers that made the first 100 issues of The Fantastic Four truly stand out. And there are plenty of other ones I could just as easily have chosen. Did I miss one of your favorites? If so, tell me about it in the comments.
Next time: We’ll move beyond those first 100 issues and take a look at some of the FF covers from later years that also deserve some love. And again, if you have a favorite, let me know and maybe I’ll include it along with my own choices.