The Fantastic Four – Marvel Illustrated Books

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Joe Sinnott
(Marvel Illustrated Books)
ISBN: 0-939766-02-7

Here’s another look at how our industry’s gradual inclusion into mainstream literature began and one more pulse-pounding paperback package for action fans and nostalgia lovers.

One thing you could never accuse entrepreneurial maestro Stan Lee of was reticence, especially when promoting his burgeoning line of superstars. In the 1960s most adults, – including the people who worked there – considered comic-books a ghetto. Some disguised their identities whilst others were “just there until they caught a break.” Stan, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had another idea – change the perception.

Whilst the artists pursued their imaginations waiting for the quality of the work to be noticed, Lee proactively pursued every opportunity to break down the slum walls: college lecture tours, animated TV shows, ubiquitous foreign franchising and of course getting their product onto the bookshelves of “real” book shops.

After a few abortive attempts in the 1960s to storm the shelves of bookstores and libraries, Marvel made a concerted and comprehensive effort to get their wares into more socially acceptable formats. As the 1970s closed, purpose-built graphic collections and a string of new prose adventures tailored to feed into their all-encompassing continuity began to appear.

Whereas the merits of the latter are a matter for a different review, the company’s careful reformatting of classic comics adventures were generally excellent; a superb series of primers and a perfect new venue to introduce fresh readers to their unique worlds.

The project was never better represented than in this classy little Kirby cornucopia of wonders with crisp black and white reproduction, sensitive editing, efficient picture-formatting and of course, three superb yarns from the very peak of Lee & Kirby’s magnificent partnership…

The first story ‘When Strikes the Silver Surfer!’ pitted the bludgeoning, tragic, jealousy-consumed Thing in unabashed, brutal battle with the Silver Surfer, an uncomprehending alien of incomprehensible power, trapped on Earth and every inch a “Stranger in a Strange Land”. When the gleaming godling turned to the Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters for tea and sympathy, her brooding boyfriend immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion…

Alicia was the pivotal actor in the follow-up two-part tale ‘What Lurks Behind theBeehive’ and the concluding ‘When Opens the Cocoon!’ a sinister saga of science gone mad which served to introduce a menace who would eventually become a major star in Marvel’s firmament.

The action opens as gifted sculptress Alicia is abducted to a technological wonderland where a band of rogue geniuses have genetically engineered the next phase in evolution but now risk losing control of their creation even before it can be properly born… As the Fantastic Four frantically searches for the seemingly helpless girl, she has penetrated the depths of the incredible hive and discovered the secret of the creature known only as “Him”.

Alicia’s gentle nature is the only thing capable of placating the nigh-omnipotent newborn creature (who would eventually evolve into the tragic cosmic voyager Adam Warlock), but as the FF finally arrive to save the day events spiral out of control and imminent disaster looms large…

It’s easy to assume that such resized, repackaged paperback book collections of early comics extravaganzas were just another Marvel cash-cow in their tried-and-tested “flood the marketplace” sales strategy – and maybe they were – but as someone who has bought these stories in most of the available formats over the years, I have to admit that these handy back-pocket versions are among my very favourites and ones I’ve re-read most – they’re just handier and more accessible – so why aren’t they are available as ebooks yet?
© 1966, 1967, 1982 Marvel Comics Group, a division of Cadence Industries Corporation. All rights reserved.

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