Classic Comic Cover Corner – Fantastic Four #51

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Every Sunday morning we showcase a classic comic cover, complete with compelling pop culture commentary, for your cordial contemplation. It’s the Classic Comic Cover Corner!

Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966

Cover art by Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966
Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966

“Reed Richards! Ben Grimm! Sue Richards! Johnny Storm! Together they braved the unknown terrors of outer space and were changed into something more than human! MR. FANTASTIC! THE THING! THE INVISIBLE GIRL! THE HUMAN TORCH! And now the world will never again be the same!”

That Fantastic Four splash page intro (circa 1980) sums up the story of Marvel’s first family; and the simple statement, “And now the world will never again be the same,” could not be truer. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the FF back in 1961, a super-team with everyday relatable problems, they forever altered the direction of popular culture and American mythology. So why is it that this iconic superhero family has fallen on such hard times?

Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966
Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966

When Doomed!,” a documentary film about the ill-fated and unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie, gets better reviews than your $120 million dollar FF franchise reboot then you know you are in trouble. But the biggest losers in this fantastic fiasco are the longtime fans of the comic book series – which no longer exists, thanks in large part due to the muddled movie mistakes.

The errors of Fantastic Four writer/director/boy-genius Josh Trank and Twentieth Century Fox aside, when you walk out of that theater feeling pitifully like The Thing on the cover of Fantastic Four #51, you can draw a line of blame clear back to Marvel in the mid-nineties, when they desperately sold the film rights to the FF while their business was drowning in debt.

Now here we are twenty years later and Marvel has canceled the Fantastic Four comic, their once flagship title, and, allegedly, will not create new characters or further Fantastic Four adventures in order to spite the movie studio that is producing a lousy product just to retain licensing rights to the property. Meanwhile the poor FF characters are mishandled more than any comic super-villain could ever imagine.

Many fans who are familiar with all of the film politics are wishfully hoping that Fox will eventually surrender the franchise back into Marvel’s hands, now an entertainment juggernaut that has become very adept at producing its own films. They’ve come a long way in twenty years, and it’s a shame that their first family has not been along for the ride.

Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966
Fantastic Four #51 – June, 1966

In FF #51 (1966), Ben Grimm’s powers and appearance are borrowed by an imposter set on destroying the super-team’s leader, Mr. Fantastic. But in the end the bad guy saves Reed from being lost in the Negative Zone, sacrificing his own life and thus transferring the cursed orange-rock appearance back to Grimm, just as he’s about to begin a normal life.

This issue is often regarded as one of Kirby and Lee’s best, and it has the very first appearance of the Negative Zone, which was featured prominently in the recent film (although the movie does not use the name.) In fact there are some plotlines in this book that were lifted by Trank (like someone being lost in the Zone), but after being put through his re-envisioning blender they are almost unrecognizable. (Read my FF film review HERE.)

When you think about it the classic “This Man… This Monster” story is slightly symbolic of the Marvel and Fox film rights flap in that control of power was taken by the movie studio who has tried to run the franchise into the ground with imposter characterizations of the FF and their world. It remains to be seen if the plot will play out with the rights moving back to Marvel (just like the Thing regaining his powers.) And if they do, will it looked at as a blessing or a curse?

Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration: I want to take this opportunity to clue you in to an upcoming event that Arizona’s Jack Kirby fans won’t want to miss (if you are out of state, then this is a great reason to pay us a visit.)

On August 28, 2015, Amazing Arizona Comics creator, Nerdvana contributor and “Arizona’s Ambassador of Comics,” Russ Kazmierczak, will be hosting an evening celebration of everything Kirby in honor of the legendary comic creator’s birthday.

The event will include an art show, open mic, poetry and personal stories about the “King of Comics” and his influential legacy of work. Renowned comic illustrator Steve Rude will be the event’s special guest. Get all the details on the Facebook event page HERE and we’ll see you there!

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About the author

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Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

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