Covering Comics #4 – The Fantastic Four (Part Two)

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.

Last time in this column we took a look at some classic Fantastic Four covers from issues 1-100. (BTW, I am talking about the original series which started in 1961 here, not any of the later reboots, restarts, renumberings, what-have-you that have been published since. This time I thought we’d just take a quick glimpse at a few more covers from issues 101-200.

Let’s start with issue 103. There are a lot of things to like about this cover, but what makes it stand out for me is that not only do you have the Human Torch arcing into the picture in a pose that is iconic for the character, but you have Reed’s arm paralleling that arc so that the two figures encircle the action and help to focus the viewer’s eye on the main event, the fight between the Thing and Namor.

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Issue #106 spotlights one of the recurring themes of the series by using a kind of split-screen format: separately each of the team members is very vulnerable to attack. It’s only when they come together and fight as one that they are truly at their best.

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With issue #07 we get another of the series main themes, that of self=sacrifice. No matter how much Ben Grimm may wish to regain his human form, he is willing to forsake that and become the Thing again when doing so is the only way for him to rescue and save the rest of the team.

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Last time around, I spotlighted issue #25 which gace us one of the earliest battles between the Thing and the Hulk. Of course, this was a fight which would call for many rematches over the years, and one of them is highlighted on this cover to issue #112.

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This cover to issue #116 is another one of those which was created to really draw in the more casual reader along with those who picked up the series regularly. After all, who couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly get the team to follow Dr. Doom into battle, and what has happened that forced Reed Richards to the sidelines?

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The floating heads of the Thing’s fellow team members on this cover to issue 129 was a theme that recurred quite a few times over the years, not only with the FF, but with many team books, once again visiting the idea of one member’s vulnerability when he is forced to fight alone as opposed to when the team is fighting as a cohesive unit.

ff129

Issue #140 uses a technique that really wasn’t often seen on covers, that actually breaking the cover into separate panels, just as would be done with the interior pages. Also, it’s worth noting that this is actually the British version of the cover as designated by the 6p price in the top left corner.

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I noted last time that one of the themes that would reappear any time the Sub-Mariner showed up was his unrequited love for Susan, which is the reason for her face being featured in the small circle on this cover to issue #147. Also worth noting is the change of costume for Namor from his traditional trunks-only look to this more traditionally costume-like design. (Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing him wear something similar to this should he ever manage to appear in a Marvel movie, as I think it would fit in nicely with the tone that they have established for their cinematic universe.)

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Ah, issue #150. Another “anniversary issue” means another wedding, this time between Crystal (a member of the Inhumans who was also a long-time girlfriend of the Torch) and the mutant Quicksilver. And look who’s there to interrupt the proceedings – none other than the Avenger’s frequent (and recent cinematic) foe Ultron!

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Earlier I mentioned the floating head cover concept which focused on one of the main themes of the series, that of one member of the team having to fight alone while the others could only look on. This cover for issue #161 gives us another variation on that, with the rest of the team being able to only observe on a viewscreen as “The Thing fights alone!”

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Issue #168 takes another look at what happens when Ben gets his greatest wish and regains his human form. How can the FF still be the Fantastic Four when only three of them can race into battle? In this case the answer is to replace him with Luke Cage. Of course then the question becomes one of whether, like the Avengers, the members of the FF are really that interchangeable or if there is some other, more special quality that makes this particular grouping of characters special.

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The cover to issue #183 again revisits the “split-screen” style, (one which works very well with this particular team since the splitting of the cover into four panels echoes the four of the title, but in this case it’s used not as much to suggest the separate vulnerability of the characters, but the sheer amount of action to be found inside the comic. Of course, there’s also the question of what’s going on in that fourth panel and who the purplish guy is that seems to be there instead of Reed.

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Issue #189 had to be intriguing for fans of the team, especially those who might not be aware that there even was an earlier version of the Human Torch – though in hos case, the appellation was kind of ironic, since he wasn’t actually human at all, but an android who, in the comics universe would actually later be shown to figure prominently in the origin of another recent addition to Marvel’s cinematic world, the Vision. (Though even that connection would eventually be ret-conned away.)

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And finally we come to issue #200. I mentioned before that #150 was an “anniversary issue”, and obviously #200 was cause for even greater celebration. This particular issue saw the climax of a feud which had been going on since almost the very beginning of the FF, and a storyline which had been dominating the series for about six months: the “final” showdown between Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom!

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Okay, I think we’ll wrap up our look back at FF covers with that one. Obviously, there are a lot that I’ve skipped over, and there would be a lot more exciting covers to come, and maybe we’ll get to some of those in a future “Covering Comics” installment.

Are there any of your favorites that you think I’ve overlooked or later ones that you’d like to see featured? if so, be sure to let me know either in the comments below or over on the Durnmoose Movies Facebook page.

Oh, and just as an added bonus: I mentioned earlier the original Human Torch, so I thought I’d throw in this cover which not only spotlights him, but is actually the comic that started it all, 1939’s Marvel Comics #1.

mc1(You might note, by the way, that the cover also mentions “Submariner”. Yes, this is the same Namor who would reappear in the modern day Fantastic Four comics. As far as the Angel mentioned on the cover, no, that is not the same character who would be one of the original X-Men, though this version would later make his own way into the later Marvel Universe. Oh, and I think the Masked Raider may also have made at least an appearance or two. As far as whether the Ka-Zar mentioned here is the same character as the current version, well, the last time I checked I think the verdict was no, but hey, it’s Marvel, so…)

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