Back to Press Omnibus puts the Fantastic in World’s Greatest Comic Magazine

With the movie coming out this weekend, we thought taking a look at the stories that started it all would be a good idea.
Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 1, size comparison to Marvel Masterworks Tales To Astonish Volume 2

Marvel went back to press with Omnibus 1 in October 2013, using a new restoration process and new source images. The image quality is similar to the softcover Masterworks, only at the Oversized Omnibus dimension and with the same gloss finish that protects the artwork for the hardcover Masterworks.

From Fantastic Four Omnibus 1, #10 cover and splash, “The Return of Doctor Doom”. Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

Collects Fantastic Four 1-10 and Annual 1 covering that momentous month when the Marvel Age kicked off in November 1961 to September 1964. Extras include 3 introductions from the Masterworks by Stan Lee, all the letters pages, pinups and character features from the original comics, “Reflections on the Fantastic Four” by Stan Lee from 1974 “The Origins of Marvel Comics”, “You Can’t Go Home Again” by Paul Gambaccini, an early frequent letter writer both criticizing and then supporting Marvel, a brief by Tom DeFalco, an essay by Roy Thomas called “This Never Happened to Batman from 2005, Stan Lee’s typewritten synopsis for FF#1 (there is some controversy on the production date of this synopsis and whether it was constructed post facto, but regardless of the case, it’s neat to see it here), original art for house ad for FF in Hulk #1, editorial in Hulk #2, FF T-shirt artwork, unused cover for FF#3, unused cover for Annual #1, and amazing unused cover pencils by Jack Kirby for FF #20.

Regardless of whether you’re a Marvel fan, the early FF years unquestionably changed comic book history. The characters didn’t wear costumes initially, they were counter-culture, one of the quartet was a gruesome monster that would fight with teammates and destroy each battlefield as badly as their villains, proclaiming that the world was made of paper mache to one of his size and strength.

The FF fought with each other, Reed’s girlfriend spent at least part of the time in the same residence, the Baxter Building, and had a crush on one of their worst foes, the Sub-Mariner, secretly keeping his picture behind a row of books in the Baxter Building. The Human Torch melted metal often in these early issues and seemed much more dangerous than he would later, when they toned down the visual portrayal of his powers. Yes, Kirby’s art was raw as they rotated different inkers on his work. Clearly, Sinnott, Ayers and Ditko were the best matches for his pencils. The characters were also raw, fallible, dangerous, but at the same time, often humanity’s last hope as they braved new worlds like Atlantis, Subterranea, the Blue Area of the Moon, cosmic rays, the microverse, and time travel.

From Fantastic Four Omnibus 1, #13  (Apr 1963) “The Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super-Apes” – Art by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
The guest-stars started here as well, with Namor, the Hulk, Spider-man Ant-man, Doctor Strange, and the Avengers all appearing in these first few years. Bringing Namor from the Golden Age made the FF feel like there was an unspoken history that we would slowly learn. Interacting with the other Marvel characters made their world feel interconnected and real (the dawning of the Marvel Universe). Ben Grimm had his troubles with the Yancy Street Gang. The FF had their exploits published by Marvel’s bullpen, where Stan and Jack appeared in their own comic.
Fantastic Four Omnibus 1, #12 (Mar 1963) “The Incredible Hulk”. Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.
The creativity was unparalleled in these early years of Marvel. Doctor Doom and Namor were far more complex than any villains that had come before. They allied with each other, betrayed each other, held a burning hatred for the FF, but still exuded a certain nobility and twisted sense of personal morality. The disturbed Puppet Master had his step-daughter who was in love with the monstrous Thing. Early adventures often pitted the foursome against each other or against society. The Skrulls could emulate their powers and disguise themselves as the foursome, committing crimes in their guise. A few issues later, the Super-Skrull had all their powers and additional ones, all in a single terrifying being. Molecule Man could control matter. Impossible Man could control his body to a far greater extent than Mr Fantastic.
From Fantastic Four Omnibus 1, #23 cover and splash “The Master Plan of Doctor Doom”. Art by Jack Kirby and George Roussos.
I love reading the letters page and feeling the excitement they conveyed upon experiencing the unbridled, raw energy of early Marvel. Stan and Jack took the time to explain how their powers worked or showed us the interior of the Baxter Building. They made it feel real.
From Fantastic Four Omnibus 1, #8 (Nov 1962) Features and Letters Page. Art by Jack Kirby.
Cory Sedlmeier and his crew did a magnificent job restoring these issues and assembling this awesome omnibus.

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