Fantastic Four Annual #1

Ah, the Annual. These things were a big deal back in the day, but have kind of faded in the last few decades. (What we call “events” today are the kinds of stories that showed up in annuals back then, but they’ve figured out you can stretch a story to 6 or 10 issues and a bunch of tie-ins to make more money.) You could put stories here that you wouldn’t normally tell in the regular series, perhaps focusing on side characters, or big epic stories that could cross-over with characters in other books without disrupting the flow of the stories being told in the monthly series. They could be used to reprint material that newer readers might have missed out on (as we’ll see here) and include bonus material that wouldn’t fit in a normal 22-page book. This one fits the standard annual format really well, and is totally awesome.

Let’s dive in!
coverStan and Jack, 1963. There’s no month listed, since it’s an annual publication, but the bulletin in Issue 17 listed a July release and Marvel Wiki has it as September, which puts it in good company – X-Men #1 and Avengers #1 debuted during this same time period. The Gallery of Villains inside omits the villain of Fantastic Four #18, so I’m putting this first. I think they probably hit the newsstands the same month. 72 cents! for 72 pages! Amazing. It breaks down thusly: 37 pages for this totally bad-ass Namor story, 6 pages for the Spidey story (sort of a reprint), and the reprint of the origin story from Issue #1 for 13 pages. The rest is ads and pin-ups and the like. This much pure content would have been mind-blowing for a kid accustomed to the standard 22 or so of the day, and hopefully worth the significant price increase, especially if you missed the earlier issues and wanted the reprints. I’m incredibly impressed that Kirby drew this in addition to keeping up his regular art chores. That guy’s schedule must have been insane. Note the multi-colored font in the title, which I think Marvel would go on to use for all the annuals of the day.

I love this guy's winged shoes - Namor has been back like a day and he's already a fashion icon!
I love this guy’s winged shoes – Namor has been back like a day and he’s already a fashion icon!

Insane schedule or not, Kirby knocks it out of the fucking park on these opening pages. Just soak this stuff in. Feel free to click to embiggen!

spread
I’d like to congratulate the Atlantean people for electing their first white leader.

I want to say this is our first double-page spread? I don’t recall seeing one before. Printing technology of the day likely would have made a full bleed on this either impossible or extremely costly, but this works fine.

So. Namor has finally tracked down his people! Can you be a prince and an emperor at the same time? I’m foggy on royal titles. In any event, Namor is the boss now, unquestioned. He’s found whatever new city they’ve built since their previous home was demolished by undersea nuclear bomb testing (as revealed way back in Issue 4). There’s no mention of whatever hardships they must have endured in all of that, but the book wastes no time in setting up the political situation in Atlantis.

krang and dorma
Cock blocking is Namor’s other power.

Lady Dorma is actually a character from way back in the Namor publication history, making her original appearance way back in 1939 in Marvel Comics #1. She was a distant cousin in those original stories, but there’s no mention of that here, so I’m not sure whether that’s still considered canon. I would think so, but other things about Atlanteans changed as well, like their skin color, so it’s possible the family connection was retconned out in favor of this romantic attraction. Or maybe not! It’s not like royalty is a stranger to incest. What happens in Atlantis, etc. What’s the Atlantean version of Bump?

So Krang, a Warlord who surely has plans for the throne, has the hots for Lady Dorma, who has the hots, naturally, for Namor, the freshly returned and crowned Emperor, who in turn has a thing for Susan Storm, a surface dweller who’s home the destruction of which he’s using as a talking point to stir up his people.

I’m sure this will end with a big, happy party and everyone will be satisfied.

Meanwhile, our heroes are hanging out at home, enjoying a day off.

hijinksA full three pages of hijinks ensue from this prank, ending in tears after Ben and Johnny have completely wrecked the joint and ruined Sue’s fancy Dior and Saks Fifth Avenue dresses.

sue sobsReed declares that they need a vacation, though it’s really just a thinly veiled excuse for him to check out some monster sightings that have been made out in the ocean.

sea monster reportsAlicia comes along too, so the whole gang is there. Reed swings a sweet deal whereby they get the cruise for free, just for being themselves. The team gets some quality relaxation time by the pool. Then some monsters show up!

little johnny
Also, we find out what the Human Torch calls his dick.

The team mobilizes to investigate, oddly taking a little wooden dinghy out into sea serpent-infested waters. I’m not sure why they didn’t bring along a Fantasti-Sub or something, but here we go.

trap sprungIt’s a trap!

trap 2All of this is more of the super cool ocean-based technology that Namor employed in some of his earlier appearances. He doesn’t do this nearly enough anymore. It also makes it painfully obvious how easily the Atlantis military could massacre our heroes if they really wanted to. The Fantastic Four stand about as much a chance against Namor as Lex Luthor stands against Superman.

capturedNamor makes his demands: the United Nations must recognize the planet’s oceans as being under his sovereign control, and no surface vessels or aircraft may trespass through or over them. Obviously, this is a bold move, one that I’m sure Namor knows that the surface world could never accept. Cutting off all ocean-going trade and travel would completely cripple the world!

Would that really be so bad, Reed?
Would that really be so bad, Reed?

His ultimatum delivered, Namor dismisses them back home, launching them in a transparent, water-propelled rocket. Reed is stunned by the level of Antlantean technology.

In case you’re curious, the United Nations was, in the early 1960s, embroiled in a messy, bloody conflict in the Congo, where the locals were in the process of overthrowing the colonial Belgian rule (that’s super weird to type) and exchanging it for being a puppet state in the Cold War conflict between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Yay for progress?

Reed makes the call, and an emergency session is called! The delegates respond with the sort of dignity and respect you’d expect from such a distinguished-

k shoe bangK with a shoeWhich was totally a thing!

Some degree of skepticism is to be expected when a stretchy guy in a blue jumpsuit comes in and tells you a story about an undersea kingdom of blue people threatening to declare war, so an expert is called in to give some of the history and facts of Atlantis, the esteemed Dr. G.W. Falton.

history 1
Kirby still had a better grasp of evolution than modern creationists, though.

I initially thought this whale with legs crawling around on land was completely silly and made up, but it’s actually based in sound science. Early whale species, around 55 million years ago, were amphibians, moving back and forth from land and sea for a few million years before giving up on the land thing. Who can blame them? At the time this was written, only a handful of fossils had been discovered, so Kirby took some artistic license.

Falton goes on to describe another mammal that returned to the sea – homo mermanus! These blue-skinned peoples developed much as early homo sapiens did, but underwater. I’m not sure why they chose to have homo mermanus as amphibious – they could have just as easily developed entirely under the ocean – but it does date the roots of their enmity for the surface world back to millions of years ago, which is interesting.

homo mermanus
Before I saw the disclaimer I thought I was looking at a photograph.

Homo mermanus struggled to survive in its hostile environment, bending the local wildlife to their indomitable will!

survivalThey developed their own politics, culture, and science…and war…

siegemermanus science(This looks super awesome, but I’m not sure how practical a walled castle would be in an environment where your enemies can just float over the walls.)

First modern contact between humans and Atlantis came in 1920 by the ice-breaker Oracle, captained by one Leonard McKenzie. On duty near the south pole, the Oracle unwittingly damaged Atlantis during the course of its work.

Now, here, I just have to pause to consider the geography. Near the south pole is problematic to me, when every other indication so far has been that Atlantis is located far to the north, not far from North America. The only way I can make all this work is if Atlantis is a sprawling, nomadic civilization, migrating from one ancient, permanent city to another, perhaps in accordance to whale migrations or something like that. That would explain the seemingly random location jumps from north to south, and why it took Namor so long to find them. The city site nearest New York (Atlantis’s location the last time he was there) was destroyed by atomic testing, so he had to start checking other sites all over the world until he found the one to which they had fled. You’d think they’d have some kind of communications network set up, but I think my theory works.

Anyway, the king of Atlantis at the time, Namor’s grandfather I presume, ordered his daughter, Princess Fen, to send a scouting expedition to the surface to see why the hell explosives were going off and dropping rocks and chunks of iceberg onto their city. Fen took it on herself to carry out the mission on her own, but was immediately captured by the crew of the Oracle. She and the human Captain took an immediate liking to each other, and how!

marwageWondering what the hell was taking so long, the King dispatched a war party to the surface, where I guess the Oracle was still anchored? All this took place in a few weeks? And they got married aboard the ship? Just go with it.

mutie
Falton is also president of the Sub-Mariner fan club.

In the ensuing battle, Captain McKenzie is mer-murdered and Fen returns to the ocean. She and the good captain hadn’t wasted any time in gettin’ down, though, and to their union was born Namor! He’s half human, half Atlantean, which explains his pasty skin and ability to breathe out of water, which talent is severely limited in regular Atlanteans (Fen could only breathe a few hours above the water). McKenzie must have passed on the mutant x-factor gene as well, though, which explains his ability to fly with those little wings on his feet. Namor’s official status as a mutant has been confirmed in the years since.

Reed interjects at this point, filling in the rest of the story — Namor may be half human (half homo superior, but that’s neither here nor there), but he’s no friend to the human race.

revealFalton was Namor all along! Diabolic!

Namor gives the signal, and the invasion begins! All across the world, Atlantean forces rise up and seize coastal cities. We get to see the action in New York, where the occupation is swift and peaceful. The army is paralyzed, afraid to attack for fear of killing lots of citizens, which quite frankly is the least believable thing I’ve yet read in a Fantastic Four comic.

invasionReed (with the aid of a captured soldier) quickly deduces the Atlanteans’ weakness: they can’t breathe out of water. He designs a machine that will evaporate the water from their helmets!

evaporateReed is such a bad-ass that the effect is immediate and worldwide. Every city under Atlantean control is immediately liberated as the troops are forced to retreat to the sea. I’m curious what happens to all their equipment, the aircraft and vehicles that they surely must have left behind. The Marvel Universe black market must be teeming with even more abandoned Atlantean tech than stolen StarkTech.

Furious, Namor immediately concludes who must have pulled the stunt. He races to the Baxter Building, beats the shit out of Reed, and (sigh) kidnaps the Invisible Girl. He takes her to his Imperial Command Craft, leaving her with Lady Dorma and Krang while he returns to the surface to battle the other members of the team.

fightIt’s a pretty epic battle, but the real drama is happening beneath the surface, as Sue begs Dorma and Krang to stop the fight, for all their sakes!

dramaKrang is super into this idea, as it would free Dorma up to be with him, like he wanted all along. Dorma won’t hear it though!

breach
I said throw some shade, not throw something through the shades!

Awwwwwww shit! The ship immediately begins flooding despite the efforts of the crew to seal the breach. Sue, seeing no alternative, hurls herself out into the ocean in the hopes that she can swim to the surface before she drowns. It’s no use, as she gets snagged in some kelp!

Luckily for her, the battle between Thing and Namor has taken them underwater at this point, and they spot her struggle. They set aside their differences for a few precious moments to save her.

rescueSue needs immediate care, but the Fantastic Four’s U-Car was damaged in the battle. Namor makes a fateful decision, ditching his Atlantean crew to save her.

betrayedNamor gets Sue back to New York and drops her off at a hospital, and just in time. She’s saved! Her teammates finally catch up after repairing the U-Car, and there is much rejoicing that she’s alive and that the invasion has been defeated.

An angry mob greets Namor as he slips away, but he throws them off, promising brutal retribution. It is, perhaps, not to be, though.

endWhew! What an incredibly fun story! And Kirby’s work on the art is just stellar. The final effect at the end is basically just a return to Namor’s status quo, so there’s not a lot of what you might call forward momentum to his story, but it’s still great. So many questions about Atlantis have been answered, and Namor’s background has been filled in and modernized for the Silver Age. I look forward to more Atlantis political intrigue in the future.

Next up: everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!

spideyBy Stan, Jack, and Steve Ditko. You may recall me talking about Ditko when he inked Issue 13. He co-created (probably more heavily on the created than on the co-) Spider-Man, and probably he drew the original version of this story, which was just a couple pages at the beginning of a longer story about the Chameleon. Jack filled in the rest of this blatantly padded little meeting, and so gets the penciling credit. This was originally printed in Amazing Spider-Man #1. (I want to say this was reprinted pretty recently in some big anniversary issue of Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, because I know I’ve read it before, but I don’t recall where exactly.)

As Spidey’s speech up there suggests, he’s there looking for a job. In those early days it seemed like he was way more into get-rich quick schemes leveraging his powers than using his regular skills (his talents for photography and science).

parlayWell, Spider-Man dropping in through an open window sets off intruder alarms and surprises the team, and a fight breaks out. Ugh. It stretches on for, like, five pages, with no real point. It’s obviously just being used to show off the various powers of all the characters involved. Spidey pulls every trick in the book: web shields, Spidey sense, proportionate strength, wall clinging, etc. It’s pretty tedious. The whole exercise is little more than an excuse to advertise for each others books.

To Kirby’s credit, he matches Ditko’s style really well. I can’t tell which panels are ones he added and which were there in the original story.

Eventually, they all calm down and that Spider-Scamp makes his pitch.

offerThe team finds it appropriately hilarious. This would have taken place around Issue 9 of their own series, which is when they were having financial troubles of their own before Namor bailed them out.

spidey endAnd that’s it for this one. I’m not ever sure how they filled out two pages with this one, much less this stretched out six. And they say decompression is a modern comics technique.

Spider-Man and the Human Torch will go on to have lots of adventures together, starting in Strange Tales Annual #2. (Strange Tales was an anthology book that had been running since the 1950s, but had pretty much become the Johnny Storm solo hour when he proved to be so popular.) Their highly competitive friendship will eventually form the foundation of a solid Spider-Man/Fantastic Four relationship that lasts to this day, with Spidey periodically filling in for missing members when the need arises. I don’t think he ever gets anything more than free exposure out of it, though.

So that’s pretty much it! The Annual rounds out with a straight reprint of the bulk of Issue 1 (sans the Mole Man part of the story).

Next time: back to our regularly scheduled programming, with an exciting new face on an old enemy!

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