Tag Archives: Silver Age

From My Collection: Finding A Bargain Box Copy of Fantastic Four #51

Fifty years ago today Fantastic Four #51, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic “This Man…This Monster” hit the spinner rack and quickly became one of the most memorable and beloved stories of their incredible run.

I’ve seen many references to “This Man…This Monster” over the years, each with a scan of Kirby and Sinnott’s splash page of the Thing walking the streets of Manhattan in the rain. But regardless of how many times I’ve seen a blurb or article praising FF #51’s story, art, and its place in comic book history, I never actually read the story.

I’ve recently started collecting Marvel Masterworks, including the first volume of the Fantastic Four covering issues #1-10. As much as I enjoy reading the classic Silver Age stories in that format, I find the new coloring a bit “off” and I still very much prefer reading original comic books in their four color glory, which is part of the reason I hadn’t read “This Man…This Monster” until recently. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in June of 2015 I had attended Special Edition NYC, Reed Expo’s offshoot of the New York Comic Con, which was a smaller convention that is more focused comic books and the creators than NYCC. In spite of the mile long line to get into Pier 94, the crowd was very manageable for that venue. Normally at comic conventions I tend to stay in Artist Alley and spend most of my money on sketches, but his time around I was looking to buy some Bronze Age Marvel and DC Comics. One vendor in particular caught my eye with several tables of long boxes with comics priced from $2 to $7. I was expecting to find books from the 70s and 80s (and there were plenty of those) but as I worked through the boxes, I started to find more than a few Marvel books from the 60s!

And there it was: Fantastic Four #51.

Priced at $2.00

Fantastic Four #51 Cover

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

It had to be a reprint, I thought. But a quick glance of the cover made it clear that I was holding a well read original copy of “This Man…This Monster.” How it was still in the box was a mystery to me considering the crowd gathered at this booth and the low price. Granted it was in very bad shape (it would probably have been graded as a 0.5), the cover was still barely attached by one staple and there was an old Marvel Comics sticker affixed to the back. Coincidentally the sticker was the Kirby/Sinnott drawing of The Thing from the cover of this particular issue. In spite of the condition, I had to have it even if it was falling apart and destined to be a reading copy.

Fantastic Four #51 Splash Page

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

The story begins with a dejected Ben Grimm (The Thing) standing in the rain in the streets of Manhattan, feeling sorry for himself and his present physical appearance. A mysterious stranger invites him into his home, offering Ben a cup of coffee and a sympathetic ear. But all isn’t as it seems. The mysterious host is a frustrated scientist jealous of Reed Richards and has drawn Ben into his home to drug him and test his “duplication apparatus.” He hooks the machine up to Ben and himself, taking on the physical appearance of The Thing while Ben reverts back to his human form.

Fantastic Four #51 page

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

Several days later in the Baxter Building as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) works on a weapon that would take on Galactus, the impostor Thing enters and begins to help Reed with the heavy lifting. But no sooner than he arrives, the real Ben Grimm storms in warning Reed and Sue (the Invisible Girl) that the orange monster in front of them is a fake. Despite the real Ben’s pleas to believe him, Reed and Sue can’t believe that Ben would have reverted back to his human form. Ben storms out leaving the impostor in his place, which could be fatal to Reed.

Fantastic Four #51 panels

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

No spoilers here. This is a great story with all of the elements of classic 60’s Lee and Kirby and emotional impact on every page. And it wouldn’t be a Kirby FF without a splash page or three that truly showcases his genius. Reading this original copy of Fantastic Four #51 inspired me to find and collect other original issues from Lee and Kirby’s run. I bought my first Lee/Kirby FF a couple of years back during an impromptu visit to the Astro-Zombies comic shop in Albuquerque, NM thinking that would be the the only pre-FF #100 issue I would own. And while I won’t be able to afford a copy of Fantastic Four #1 any time soon, I’ve begun a collection of pre-FF #100 issues (ranging from issues #33 to #93) that numbers twelve and counting for less than $10 each. They may be reading copies, but they’re mine and I still treasure them.

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75 Years of Batman

 

Detective_Comics_27

Sunday March 30th marked the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27.  National Periodicals (later to be DC Comics) introduced Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation to the world on that day in 1939, and eight decades later the Dark Knight is as popular as ever in comic books, film and television.

Batman was the first comic book hero that I was introduced to thanks to reruns of the 60’s television series starring Adam West.  This was several years before I bought my first comic book, and despite its campiness I still have a soft spot for the original series to this day.

In honor of The Dark Knight’s 75th birthday, here’s a list of my all time favorite representations of Batman:

Favorite Batman Artist:  Neal Adams

Detective Comics 400

Choosing my favorite Batman artist was a tough task for me considering how many incredible artists have drawn the Batman books over the years (Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino and Jim Aparo, just to name a few).  But it was Neal Adams’ Batman that was my first introduction to the Dark Knight on the comic book page, and it’s his artwork that comes to mind when I think of the character.

Favorite Issue:  Batman Special #1 (1984)

Batman_Special_1

This story of Batman vs. The Wrath is one that stuck with me over the years.  Batman’s nemesis in this special issue was his complete antithesis even down to the death of his parents.  Great story by Mike W. Barr and art by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo.

Favorite Run:  Batman: Year One

Favorite Cover:  Detective Comics #69

Jerry Robinson’s cover for Detective Comics #69 just barely edges out Neal Adams’ cover for Detective Comics #400 as my favorite of all time.

Favorite Batman Film:  The Dark Knight

Favorite Televised Version of Batman:  Batman: The Animated Series

I was 20 and out of comics collecting when Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox in 1992.  I was expecting more of the campiness of the 1966 series, but was blown away by the noir tone and I was hooked.  (My favorite episode of the series: Beware the Gray Ghost, guest starring Adam West).

Here’s to another 75 years of Batman.

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My Amazing (Fantasy #15) Visit to the Library of Congress

In honor the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, I wanted to write a post about my trip to see the Holy Grail of the Silver Age of comic books.

In November 2010 I took a weekend trip to Washington D.C. with my girlfriend.  It was my first time in D.C. and the long weekend was packed with seeing the sights along the mall.  I enjoyed every monument, memorial and museum we visited, but by Sunday I was slightly preoccupied with the thought of our plans for Monday morning’s visit to the Library of Congress.  I wasn’t there to admire the architecture or take a tour, I had some research to do.  About a month earlier I had contacted curator Sara Duke of the Prints and Photographs Division in order to schedule our appointment, and from that moment I was counting the days.

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about it’s comic book art, as both an admirer and collector.  Each published page of original art is a piece of history, with a select few pages fitting into the category of monumental.  When I think of the most culturally significant comic book stories, the first few that come to mind are the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, Fantastic Four #1 ushering in the Marvel Age of comic books, and of course the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15.

In 2008 an anonymous donor had donated all of the original pages of art from Amazing Fantasy #15 to the Library of Congress.  How this anonymous donor had originally acquired these pages has not been made public.  Considering how much artwork from the Golden and Silver Ages has been destroyed, lost, or stolen, it’s a miracle that every page from this issue was saved.  My mission, with my trusty (and extremely patient) sidekick, was to schedule time to see the complete Spider-Man origin story in its original drawn form.

I woke up at 7:00 AM that Monday morning.  Anyone who knows me knows that I never get up at 7:00 AM.  Ever.  But that morning was different.  We had a short window of time that began at 9:30 AM sharp and we had to make the most of it.  After all, this is the first appearance of Spider-Man and there’s probably a list of folks lined up after us to see it, so I was going to make the most of every minute.

We arrived a little early, checked our backpacks with the security desk and signed up for our research cards.  By the time we made it up to the research room, my spider-sense was tingling.  Sara met us when we arrived and wheeled out a cart with several large folders.  Not only did she pull the original Spider-Man pages from Amazing Fantasy #15 for us to view, she was also kind enough to pull the original comic art to the other three stories that comprised the issue, twenty six pages in all.

I opened the first folder, and there was the opening splash page of Peter Parker standing in the background, ostracized by Flash Thompson and the cool kids.  One thing that struck me right away was how much detail there was in Steve Ditko’s inks.  Every reprint I had seen growing up was a copy of a copy and lost a lot of the detail in Ditko’s brush work.  Seeing the original art allowed me to actually feel the disappointment and angst in the expression on Peter Parker’s face.

At the top of the page is a paste up of the Spider-Man logo that covers Ditko’s original hand drawn logo.  I wish I could have been in the room in 1962 to hear the reason for changing it.  And if you look in the margins, Stan Lee’s original hand written notes “direct” some of the scenes in Ditko’s panels.

I took a lot of pictures, but unfortunately rights restrictions keep me from posting them.  Thumbnails are available here at the Library’s website and you can order scans, but if you’re a fan of comic art I highly recommend seeing them in person.

We had a good hour to see all twenty six pages and were never rushed.  Sarah sat with us the entire time and pointed out details that I never would have noticed.  I thanked Sarah for her time, and mentioned that I would love to come back to see the pages again one day.  I chuckled when I realized my tax dollars made me a part owner of them.  By my calculations, which I won’t bore you with, I estimate that my personal portion of these 26 pages of original art is .000035 square inches of a page.  Hey, I’ll take it!

This was a Bucket List moment for me, ranked up there with seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and statue of David (next up is Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper).  Prior to reading that article in 2008 about the LOC’s acquisition of the Amazing Fantasy #15 pages, I didn’t think they even existed.  And now I saw them.

God Bless America.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Prior to our bus ride back to New York, my faithful (and patient) sidekick surprised me with a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, complete with scans of the original Spider-Man pages we had just seen that morning.  She never ceases to amaze me.

These original pages to Amazing Fantasy #15 were featured on the History Channel back in 2009.  That clip can be found here.

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