Out of the Vault – Fantastic Four #55

Since we’ll be wrapping up Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer tomorrow, I figured I would pull out this classic issue to revisit today: Fantastic Four #55, cover dated October, 1966. I did not buy this issue new. I was a couple of months away from turning four years old when this hit the newsstands.

In fact, I didn’t buy it at all. When I was maybe 12 years old and the comics collecting bug first hit me, my stepbrother mentioned that a recycling trailer in a nearby church parking lot would sometimes end up with old comics in it. So one afternoon, we dropped by and I was amazed to find this (the only classic Lee/Kirby issue of FF I own) and an issue of Classic Comics from the 50’s (and yeah, it was nothing special–“The Adventures of Marco Polo”–but it was Classic Comics, which was sort of legendary among comics fans just for existing, because who would ever buy it?). Check out those creases on the cover. This comic was read and loved, and thrown away, and read and loved again.

As the issue opens, Reed and Sue Richards are planning to resume their honeymoon after last issue’s adventure apparently searching for the lost Inhumans. Johnny Storm and his buddy Wyatt Wingfoot are still exploring the Himalayas searching for them, because Johnny has the hots for Crystal. They find Crystal’s dog, Lockjaw, later, but that’s B-plot stuff.

Anyway, check out the title splash page, because aside from that awesome super-reinforced custom-made chair the Thing is sitting in, there are a couple of interesting things in the credits here.

Number one, inker Joe Sinnott. Although Kirby gets all the credit, Sinnott is the guy who brought the polish that sets those classic FF issues apart from some of Kirby’s less popular work. Marvel’s crew of inkers was inconsistent at best; one month, you could get a solid job from someone like Dick Ayers, and the next month, you’d get a scritchy mess from Vince Colletta. But Sinnott not only gave Kirby’s muscular pencils a smooth sheen, but he also continued to do the same with the follow-on pencillers throughout the next decade. Whether it was Rich Buckler or George Perez doing the pencilling, Sinnott’s inks made the FF shine.

Another interesting credit is the bottom one: “Applauded with Aplomb by Honest Irving Forbush.” What the hell is that about? Irving Forbush was a fictional Marvel staffer who had first appeared in a Mad magazine rip-off named SNAFU in the 50’s. Stan Lee brought him back as an in-joke in the 60’s, then the next year, 1967, he morphed into Forbush Man, star of another attempt at Mad-style humor, Not Brand Echh.

Anyway, Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, is anxious to see his girlfriend Alicia Masters, the blind sculptress. She’s not answering her phone, so Ben decides to drop by for a visit. Meanwhile, the Silver Surfer (in his first appearance since Galactus imprisoned him on Earth five issues ago) has seen everything Earth has to offer and found it boring. Except for that hot blind girl he met that one time. He decides to go see her.

He peeks through the window at her as she strums her guitar (and no, that’s not a euphemism), comparing the music to the “distant sighing of a cosmic breeze,” because with the Surfer, everything’s got to be cosmic. “Beware, for the Surfer must vent some cosmic gas…” Then he uses his power to melt her wall open, because cosmic heralds don’t know how to use doors. Which is no problem, because he can totally fix it later.

And then Ben drops by. This doesn’t look good.

BTW, Ben can’t fix that hole. Anyway, Ben follows the Surfer out, raging and swinging and kicking boulders at him, until the Surfer decides enough is enough and uses his cosmic powers to boost his own strength to incredible levels. At which point, Ben realizes that the Surfer is actually pretty dangerous and bravely runs away to an uninhabited area. On his awesome jetbike!

But then he gets tired of the Surfer’s snooty face and tears down a building to bury him under. At which point Reed shows up and tears Ben a new one for not only provoking a guy who could have destroyed him with a thought if he actually cared to, but also for being an idiot and panicking Alicia.

So Ben apologizes and the Surfer gives him some flowers for Alicia, and yes, at Marvel in the 60’s, the first thing they decided to do with the amazingly cosmic Silver Surfer was involve him in a fistfight over a girl. Which is both ludicrous and awesome, because only at Marvel could you get that. Two superheroes not trying to stop the umpty-millionth lame would-be world conqueror or even lamer gimmicky bank robber, but just slugging it out over a dame, which would be boring and pointless except that it’s Kirby drawing the fight, which…

Look at this panel.

This is what comics can do in a way no other medium can. This is not a special panel: not a splash page or one of those awesome Kirby punches with huge sound effects and cosmic Kirby dots everywhere.

But try to imagine seeing this in a movie. You might, might, be able to pull something like it off with modern computer graphics and a million dollars, but chances are even then, it would look cheap and fake. Now try to imagine that moment described in a novel. You could use a lot of words, but never quite get that instantaneous, nonchalant “Oh, let me rip the side off this building with one hand so I can see where the Surfer went” vibe.

This is ink and letters on a page. And this is why I read comics.

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