FANTASTIC FOUR #73 April 1968
Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott original artists
Circumstantial evidence would suggest that, by 1968, Jack Kirby was the driving force behind the comics he drew for Marvel, providing each title it's direction, characters, and plots. However, FANTASTIC FOUR #73 stands out like a sore thumb during this era of Kosmic Katastrophes--you get the distinct impression editor/scripter Stan Lee is attempting to provide readers with one last shot of that early sixties Marvel magic.
Look, this "Guest Star Bonanza" just HAD to be Stan's brainstorm! The whole thing is precipitated on a crossover with DAREDEVIL #37 and #38, a book Kirby never went anywhere near (save for a few covers early on, and some Hero-Helper breakdowns for a rusty Romita senior) In that classic two-parter, it seems one DD has switched bodies with another DD--Dr. Doom being the culprit here folks--leaving the FF to think they're fighting their arch-enemy when in actuality they're mixing it up with their poor, overworked attorney!?! Hey, these things happen. Everything is straightened out in the end, but not before Thor and Spider-Man wander into the proceedings. All in all, a fun little tale, the likes of which hadn't been seen within the pages of the FF in years--three, to be exact. And wouldn't be seen again until Kirby had gone over to the Darkseid...

It wasn't always like this, y'know. For a while there, the rest of the Marvel Universe used to make regular visits to the ever-illustrious "World's Greatest Comic Magazine". Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner made his Silver Age debut in FF #4, and reappeared in 5 more FF episodes. The Hulk first faced the Thing in FF #12, and Ant-Man lent the group his expertise in FF #16's Micro-World adventure. Nick Fury made his first modern day appearance in FF #21, assisting his old WW2 buddy, Reed Richards, in tracking down the ersatz Hitler known as the Hate-Monger. FF #25 saw the Hulk return, and in the next issue, the entire Avengers lineup--Iron Man, Thor, Captain America the Wasp, and their once diminutive pal Pym in his new guise as Giant-Man--helped the FF subdue the Green Goliath. Dr Strange found himself in the middle of events documented in FF #27, while the X-Men tackled the Fantastic Four in #28. Peter Parker cameoed in FF #35, sometime after seeing his encounter with the FF originally published in the first issue of his own magazine expanded and revised in the debut FF Annual. And perhaps most dramatically, a powerless quartet is led by the blind Daredevil against Dr. Doom in FF #39 and 40, events that set into motion the very DAREDEVIL tale mentioned earlier. Shortly after that, most everyone in the Marvel Universe showed up for Reed And Sue's wedding in mid-1965's FF Annual #3, but that was the last time our four heroes were to interact with their peers with Kirby behind the pencils.

I guess Jack felt he didn't need them. In quick succession, he introduced the Inhumans, the Black Panther, Wyatt Wingfoot, Galactus, and of course, the Silver Surfer. ( ...let's just forget about Tomazooma, okay?...) Rotating a steady mix of these fine folks with old reliables such as Doom and the Frightful Four, Jack barely had to acknowledge the baddies he spit out during his first 40 issues in his last 62 (the Mole Man, the Mad Thinker and the Skrulls did make half-hearted returns in Jack's final, unsatisfying year on the title). Kirby's Kast of Karacters was no longer a little bit of Stan Lee's cute alliteration; it now accurately described the reparatory company Jack had created for the FF. The general consensus seems to be that those were the FF's best days, but I've always felt otherwise. There are a number of reasons I prefer the first 40 to the last 62--nostalgia, conciseness, a greater sense of fun, Chic Stone--but until I sat down to write this piece, I never quite realized that another very important factor was the total disconnect the group had with the rest of the Marvel Universe after Stan and Jack cleaned things up after the Wedding Reception.

Most likely Stan came to the same conclusion one day in 1968. Be grateful that he managed to talk his partner into giving one final nod to the sort of crossover that had so endeared Marvel to us first generation fans back at the beginning. The folks that followed the pioneers at Marvel clearly recognized this key part of the line's appeal, but sadly, FF #73 would be the last time we'd witness it straight from the King's Konsciousness.