This week, we released the 100th episode of The Fantasticast. In a break from showcasing tropes of The Fantastic Four (nearly) ever day, we're celebrating this milestone with a week of special blog posts taking a behind-the-scenes or sideways look at the show. Today, Andy arrives on the blog (426 posts late... work shy fop...), and reveals how a cheap, black-and-white reprint changed a comics fan forever...
Fantastic Four Pocket Book #9 is one of the best comics ever published.
A bold statement, you say. Better than Amazing Spider-Man #33? Fantastic Four #51? Daredevil #47?
Absolutely. I’d read the FF before I read Pocket Book #9, but, as I pored over this issue as a lowly 10 year old, this was were I stopped being simply a reader and became a fan.
For those not in the know, Marvel’s Pocket Book line was initiated by Dez Skinn, back when he was Editor In Chief of Marvel UK in the early 80‘s. Reprints of old material cost nothing so they were money in the bank for Marvel and as such a range of competitively priced pocket books would, presumably, pay for themselves. These Pocket Books couldn’t hold a candle to DC’s line, then licensed to Egmont Publishing - they were 100 pages of full colour, square bound, cardboard covered awesomeness for 75p. But the Marvel editions scored on one major point - they were cheap. For 15 British pennies, the eager purchaser received, in one compact A5 booklet, 2 complete 20 page stories, in glorious black and white.
For reasons known only to Marvel, the FF pocket books, unlike the Spider-Man line, did not start with reprints of FF#1, rather they leapt straight in with a reprint of FF Annual #3, “Bedlam At The Baxter Building!” and proceeded from there. This was probably a wise decision as this is, by general consensus, where the Fantastic Four truly became ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” I devoured these pocket books. From Spider-Man to the FF, The Incredible Hulk to the Star Heroes, here was a chance to read complete tales from the early days of Marvel, plus more recent Micronauts adventures, for a decent price. But none were devoured quite as eagerly as Fantastic Four Pocket Book #9.
For one, this issue was double sized. 100 glorious pages for only 30p was still a bargain and this issue had it all. After turning the cover, a magnificent image of Dr Doom and The Thing pounding the shit out of each other, the reader was treated to DOOMSDAY! Now, more knowledgeable FF readers will know this is smack dab in the middle of an epic, 4 part story in which DR DOOM steals the phenomenal Power Cosmic from the Sentinel Of The Space Ways, the Silver Surfer! If, in reading this for the first time, I was confused by the fact that we begun halfway through the story, it barely mattered. Jack Kirby’s powerhouse art conveyed the seriousness of the situation as Dr Doom, infused with power, threatened the entire world. THE PERIL AND THE POWER lived up to the cover as one magnificent page has The Thing and Dr Doom go toe to toe in an all-out battle for supremacy. One would think anything that came after this would be a come down but WHERE STALKS THE SANDMAN featured one of my favourite Spider-Man bad guys so seeing the FF match powers with him was just as exciting as seeing Dr Doom riding the Surfer’s board. The continuing plotlines compelled the reader forward as Reed was sucked into the deadly Negative Zone where they met one of my favourite FF adversary’s - BLASTARR THE LIVING BOMB BURST.
Incident piled upon incident as the FF conquered their enemies but always at a cost. The family dynamic was never more potent, the drama never more heightened, Kirby’s art never more exciting than in these issues - at least to my 10 year old mind. I think I learned everything I needed to know about the Fantastic Four in these 100 stunning pages. From the extended family of The Inhumans and the Surfer to the most vile of villains, the FF wasn’t just about the four core characters - it was a book about the many different people, both good and bad, that came into their orbit. Each had their own relationship with the other and none were the same. There were no cookie cutter relationships here, no bland sameness to the characters, they lived and breathed. The stories were all over the place, they bled into each other, people drifted in and out, important one minute, gone the next - It was like life if we all had a Negative Zone portal in our basements.
It was the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine and Fantastic Four Pocket Book #9 was the best of the best. I literally read that comic until the cover came off and to my 10 year old self, it was one of the best comics ever published.
30 years later, it still is.
Thanks Andy! Tomorrow, we'll take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Fantasticast!