Let’s Talk Comics – July/August/September 2023

Expect an onslaught of superhero films and shows in the next couple of years — pending the settlement of film and television writers in the U.S.

DC is expected to head in a new direction with the overhaul of that comics universe headed by James Gunn and Peter Safran. Gunn is writing the script for a Superman reboot, with a new actor and a new storyline. Superman: Legacy is expected to hit the big screen in the summer of 2025.

Film and TV projects include DC Elseworlds, which include The Batman Part II and The Joker: Folie a Deux. Fans are anticipating the arrival of Blue Beetle, formerly a Charlton Comics character whose rights were purchased by DC in 1983.

Marvel, of course, is winding up for a string of releases beginning this spring with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. But it’s a 2025 film release that is creating some buzz, the Fantastic Four. It’ll be the fourth movie and the third launch of the key group.

The first was the 1994 Roger Corman film that wasn’t released but was made for copyright purposes, or so the story goes. Those who did see it weren’t impressed. That was followed by Fantastic Four in 2005 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer two years later. And the reboot of the reboot was released to no one’s satisfaction in 2015.

There’s been a soft release of the new movie with the appearance of John Krasinski as the superhero’s group leader Reed Richards in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Whether he remains in character for the pending film remains to be seen.

The Fantastic Four, dubbed “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” on every cover of the title, was key for Marvel in the 1960s as the Silver Age exploded on newsstands. DC Comics ushered in the new age with Showcase 4 and the reintroduction of The Flash. DC quickly revamped other characters such as Green Lantern, Hawkman and Aquaman. Justice League of America replaced Justice Society of America.

On the other side of New York City, on the 14th floor of the Empire State Building, was the office of the fledging Atlas Comics where artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were being overseen by editor Stan Lee, churning out seemingly endless and repetitive sci-fi stories about monsters and aliens.

The myth goes that publisher Martin Goodman heard about how well the DC Justice League was doing while playing a round of golf with his DC counterparts, that he urged Lee to match it, and Lee turned to Kirby. Or some variation like that.

So, in 1961, Kirby — one of the greatest comic artists and storytellers — was part of the creative team of the Fantastic Four. Or maybe he did it himself. There are duelling arguments about that. Nevertheless, Kirby admitted he reached back to his earlier creation for DC, the Challengers of the Unknown, for inspiration.

The group of adventurers included four men of varying strength and expertise who survived a plane crash; hence they decide to challenge the unknown as they’re living on borrowed time. Challengers first appeared in Showcase 6 in 1957, shortly after the Flash rejuvenated the comics industry. They appeared in Showcase for three more issues before getting their title in 1958.

But Kirby had moved on or was fired from DC after issue 8 and he turned to Marvel for a job.

He worked on anthology titles named Tales to Astonish, Strange Worlds, Tales of Suspense and Amazing Adventures. The books averaged sales of about 126,000 to slightly more than 139,000. Marvel’s top seller was Millie the Model with more than 143,000 books monthly.

Superman, by the way, was selling at about 740,000 issues a month, according to U.S. Post data for 1962. It took some time for sales figures to return in the Age Before Bar Codes.

They all included a Kirby story about a monster terrorizing a village or city, and a couple of science-fiction tales by artists Don Heck, Paul Reinman or Joe Sinnott. The books always ended with a self-reflective Ditko story.

But then that alleged golf game happened. The first issue of Fantastic Four, dated November 1961, hit the stands and launched the Marvel Universe. It introduced Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, and siblings Sue and Johnny Storm. They were travelling in space in a bid to beat the Soviets from being the first in deep space when they irradiated and transformed into Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch and Invisible Woman.

The title became the publisher’s foundation book and by 1966 was selling more than 329,000 books a month, while Spider-Man sold about 340,000. The top seller that year, Batman was selling 898,400 a month. Indeed, nine of the year’s top 10 sellers were DC titles and the other was Archie.

The Fantastic Four introduced, or reintroduced, a bevy of characters, including the Mole Man in the first issue, the Skrulls in the second issue and Dr. Doom in FF 5. The Submariner was plucked out of stasis from the Golden Age for FF 4. Market values for these books in top condition are astronomical, ranging from $250,000 near mint for FF1 down to $4,600 for FF 7, 9 and 10.

The series also introduced the Inhumans (FF 45, $3,800 in near-mint condition), Galactus and the Silver Surfer (FF 48, about $12,000 in near mint), the Black Panther (FF52, about $10,000 in near mint), and Him (FF 67, about $2,200 in near mint). There would be key crossovers with other Marvel characters, like the Hulk in issues 12 ($15,500 in near mint) and 25 ($4,000 in near mint).

That first story introduced a new concept to comic books, the not-so-perfect superhero thrust into the limelight without their say-so. It dealt with, for better or worse, love, hate, evil and loyalty. Science was a central theme, that the universe’s secrets were there to be found.

The Fantastic Four has had a central role in the Marvel mythos for 62 years and getting it right in the upcoming movie is very important for the franchise and the fans.

This is the cover for Fantastic Four 48 (FF 48). This is a key issue in the Marvel universe as it is the first appearances of Galactus and of the Silver Surfer

Galactus, the devourer of worlds, appears for the first time on the last page of FF 48. The next two editions cover the battle to save Earth. In the process, the Silver Surfer is convinced to switch sides and abandon his role as herald for Galactus and fight to stop him from destroying the planet and all life on it.

This is the cover to Fantastic Four 77 (FF 77). The FF go to the Microverse to battle Psycho-Man and the Silver Surfer returns to Earth to save it once again from Galactus.

The Fantastic Four enter the Microverse seeking the Silver Surfer and have him return to Earth to battle Galactus, who has returned to feed off the Earth. But while in the Microverse, the FF is attacked by Psycho-Man’s Indestructible One. The Surfer makes the Indestructible One disappear and then battles Galactus.