FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 1963
Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers original artists
|First off, let's discuss the cover for the FF's initial giant-sized Annual before we delve deeper into it's contents, okay? As we learned with our previous entry, there was another illo cranked out by the Kirby/Ayers team for this edition that wasn't used, most likely pre-dating the drawing that was indeed finally published. Hopefully, you've had a chance to read my conjecture as to what was wrong with that attempt--now let's examine how Jack got it right the second time around, hmm?|
|Most importantly, Kirby chose a focal point
and stuck with it. Since this much-anticipated
storyline dealt with the previously lone-wolf
Sub-Mariner joyfully reuniting with his lost
legion of Atlantean colleagues, Namor sits
squarely up-front in the composition--literally.
And rather than dilute his Imperious impact
with a plethora of blue-skinned associates,
Jack instead wisely fashions him with a conspicuous
crown, cluing in even the slowest of readers
as to Subby's newly gained Royal status.
While still residing in the background, the Fantastic Four are nonetheless clearly and emotionally central to this startling scene. All--yes, ALL!!--of Stan's extraneous dialog has blissfully vanished, but thanks to Jack's expert touch, it isn't needed one bit. You can just imagine for yourself the four syllable words Mr. Fantastic is using to make his displeasure with his current surroundings known to his Atlantean abductor. The Torch's adolescent anger is wordlessly portrayed, as is the conflicted concern of Namor's erstwhile sweetie, the future Mrs. Reed Richards, the not-so-Invisible Girl. And as to what the foul-tempered Thing is growling at ol' fin-face, it's just as well Stan didn't assign Artie Simek the task of transcription--the Comics Code never would've let him use THOSE sort of words, trust me!?!...
Then there's our friend, Spider-Man. Still prominently displayed, just in a more reasonably proportioned part of the overall picture, we learn two things from his pair of cover cameos: 1) The Amazing Arachnid rarely looked as menacingly threatening as he did whilst advertising his lurking in these unfamiliar pages: and 2) Great an artist as he was--and few others even came close--Jack Kirby, aided and abetted in ineptitude by co-conspirator Ayers, could never ever truly get the hang of drawing Spidey, particularly--and ESPECIALLY--when it came to scrawling out those @#$%ing webs!?! It's probably a good thing John Romita came along when he did--if Stan had turned the Spidery One over to Jack when Ditko up and left the building, the King may well have abdicated his throne as well soon thereafter, with most likely his sanity following in quick order!?!...
The one key addition to the proceedings was the small vignette focusing on the--yes!--"Awesome Gallery of Villains", thus providing Kirby with the opportunity to sneak the FF's greatest foe, Dr. Doom, onto the cover of this inaugural Annual. And that in turn provides me with a handy segue to begin chattering about said book's storyline...
In the long run, Victor Von Doom has proven himself to be the FF's--and the ENTIRE Marvel Universe's, for that matter--most dangerous antagonist, but at this point in time, he still took back seat to the ongoing tale of the conflicted Prince Namor and his continuous vacillation between good and evil. Played out over many months and several memorable appearances in the pages of the FF's monthly mag, this story herein was the satisfying culmination of that protracted quest. It was also the beginning of the end for Namor's dominance as a FF costar. Ol' Doc Doom may've been relegated to headlining the second FF ANNUAL and not the first, but he clearly held onto center-stage from that point on. Sub-Mariner? Marvel awarded him his own series in TALES TO ASTONISH shortly after he fought side by side with his former enemies in FF #33, going on to star in a series of always eventually canceled titles in the many years spanning the decades since. Myself, I always liked the guy better when he was just a cranky dude in swim trunks, trying to bring mankind to it's knees AND lure Sue Storm away from her bouncy beau pretty much simultaneously!?!...
And as much fun as this rightfully heralded 37 page epic wound up being, glancing over it again, I still remember the one prime gripe I had--and continue--to have. Y'see, much had been made of Sub-Mariner's search for his lost race in his previous FF guest-spots. So excuse me for expecting to relish the scene where he actually FINDS them, dig? Instead, this epic tale commences with a majestic 3 page sequence, one in which we're cavalierly informed that, oh yeah gang, since we last checked in with Namor, he's found those folks he's been doing all that searching for, and NOW he's their head honcho once again!! Fine, But some of us would've liked to have actually WITNESSED the happy reunion, y'know!?! And similarly, at stories end, feeling their returning monarch has betrayed them, the whole water-logged group of warriors abandons him AGAIN--and again, it happens off panel!?!
Y'know, it sure would've been nice if someone could've gone in and fleshed out that tale a bit, I always thought. Then, over twenty years later, someone DID--though not quite in the way I had in mind. To find out HOW, keep reading...
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