What I thought of Fantastic Four #51

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Comxology upload a number of classic comics every week and today I noticed they had one of the finest, if not, the finest Marvel Comic of the 1960’s.This Man, This Monster, is Jack Kirby and Stan Lee at the peak of their creative powers, and even if that in 205 we still don’t know who did what in terms to the creation of these stories, we are sure Kirby did the art and Lee did the script. Both are perfectly tinted with Shakespearean melodrama from the opening classic splash page.

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It’s a brilliant opening that Kirby puts so much into that inker Joe Sinnott manages to delicately compliment Kirby’s pencils and you’re hooked from the start. It really doesn’t matter if you know what’s happened before in the Fantastic Four, but you get right away that The Thing is a character suffering, and the reader is forced to share his pain.

In the first few panels Lee and Kirby tell us that The Thing has been dumped by his girlfriend Alicia (after the events of the first Galactus story) and he’s wandering the streets of New York feeling miserable and sorry for himself until he comes across a kindly, but mysterious stranger. The stranger drugs The Thing in order to swap bodies as the Marvel Universe is full of bitter genius’s carrying a grudge, in this case against Reed Richards of the FF.

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The interesting thing here is this stranger wants The Thing’s fame and power, the very things Ben Grimm wants no more of as he longs for a normal life with his girlfriend.Of course the stranger hasn’t got long to enjoy his power before the real Ben Grimm faces him down in from of Reed and Sue Storm.

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In four pages we’ve had The Thing moping, mysterious strangers stealing powers, threats of another Galactus level threat, and the confrontation between Ben and the Fake. That’s an amazing amount of plot to throw in just four pages but Kirby and Lee make it work and don’t overdo things, whereas today this would be enough for about four issues, not four pages.

After a confrontation Ben and Sue back the Fake, as Ben goes stomping off, but Reed puts his life on the line that he’s made the right decision while being a dick to Sue at the same time.

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Reed has knocked together a machine that can access sub-space and he needs The Thing to be his anchor to the real world, but just as we’re introduced to this idea, Lee and Kirby have an intermission featuring Johnny Storm and Wyatt Wingfoot that doesn’t serve the main plot at all but reminds us that Johnny Storm is part of this title but this is boring as Lee seems to hint in this panel.

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The Fake sees that Reed isn’t a gloryhound but is able and will to lay down his life to discover things that may save humanity. As Reed enters the machine it’s Kirby’s chance to cut loose before getting back to the main plot.

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Reed is trapped in this negative zone and it’s only the line The Thing has a hold of that protects him from certain death!

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But The Fake realises that he can’t let Reed die, so finds a river of heroism in himself, but the line breaks but can The Fake rescue Reed? Can Ben find romance again now he’s in human form? Will Sue ever stop whimpering by Reed’s side and can Reed stop being a dick to her? Buy the comic to find out (and for £1.49 it’s a bargain) but for all of the fact that large parts of the comic seems dated (it is very much of it’s time) the comic is a fantastic example of superheroes are something larger, better and more noble than most people, but that really inside all of us we can all be a selfless hero.

This Man, This Monster is the template for every single superhero story that follows where a character seeks redemption of some kind. This is the best single issue of Lee and Kirby’s still impressive Fantastic Four run that featured some impressive issues that to this day still provide much of the bedrock that the modern Marvel Universe is built on.Lee is performing at his height but it’s Kirby’s experimentation with his art not to mention the way he’s got every panel bursting with energy.Yes there’s things that read through a 21st century eye is dubious but that’s treating a work of art (and this is such a thing) disrespectfully. This really is something that after reading it makes you feel sad, moved and noble, and you don’t get that sort of sheer energetic positivity from many superhero comics anymore.

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