Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Sol Brodsky
Letters by Art Simek
A lot is happening in this issue, which improves significantly over the previous one in pretty much every respect.
Despite the cover, which is easily the best so far, the Sub-Mariner doesn’t show up until about halfway into this issue. I’d like to know if there were many fans who picked this up because they like Namor. At this point, he hadn’t been gone from comic book stands very long, having last appeared in a short revival attempt in the mid-1950s.
This issue starts off with Reed, Sue and Ben dealing with the departure of Johnny at the end of the previous issue, leading to a pretty effective page 2 recap of The Fantastic Four #3 that quickly brings readers up to date. I don’t know if Stan and Jack consciously decided to establish this kind of issue-to-issue continuity or if it just came about organically, but this kind of attention to details must have thrilled fans who took their comics seriously back in 1962.
The story’s weakest points come next as the FF searches for Johnny. It makes no sense for Sue to remain invisible while stopping for a soda other than that either Stan or Jack liked the idea of the guy freaking out at the mysteriously vanishing liquid. Plus, we’ve already seen this with Sue paying the cab driver in issue #1. Reed’s clumsy snatching of the motorcycle rider to question him about Johnny is equally nonsensical.
The story starts cracking when the Thing follows a hunch and finds Johnny hanging out at his favorite garage and instantly picks a fight with him. Again, there’s nice attention to detail as Lee uses the dialog to explain how Johnny’s control is so great that can use his flame to weld car parts without risking igniting the gasoline. The splash page to chapter 2 has the Thing lifting an old car over his head to drop on Johnny, evoking — maybe intentionally, maybe not — the cover to Action Comics #1.
The relationship between Johnny and Ben is surprisingly fully formed and involving even this early in the series, as exemplified not just by Ben knowing Johnny well enough to track him down but by Johnny realizing before Ben that his temporary return to human form is only temporary. Kirby does a great job on that sequence, putting some real surprise and joy on the face of the human Ben, and then finding just the right body language to convey his disappointment that it doesn’t last.
The story finally gets to the Sub-Mariner elements as Johnny heads to the “bowery” to hide out. Kirby’s establishing shot on this sequence is an odd one because he makes it look more like a foreign country than what I imagine a poor New York City neighborhood in 1962 looked like. Still, I have to give Kirby the benefit of the doubt given that he grew up in such a neighborhood and he would know.
I think it’s kind of funny that Johnny finds an old Sub-Mariner comic book in the flop house, which would suggest comics were popular with the downtrodden working class folks of the time.
There’s a great lesson in the last three panels of page 9 as Kirby shows the hirsute Namor defeating three attackers without showing Namor at all. Instead, we get consecutive images of the attackers being forced back by the power of his blows and it’s surprisingly effective.
Regarding the Torch’s “unmasking” of Namor, I’m not sure I’d want someone with a blowtorch for a finger using it to cut my hair — controlled or not.
After we catch up on Reed and Sue, who are still searching cluelessly for the Torch, Johnny drops Namor into the ocean and revives his lost memory. I really like the panels in which Namor strips off his surface clothes and revels in the moment — another really memorable Kirby moment in an issue full of them.
As with most of the early issues of The Fantastic Four, at some point the plot reverts to the monster genre that was popular at Marvel before the superheroes were revived. Here, Namor uses an ancient horn to awaken Giganto! and sics him on Manhattan, where the officials have time to completely evacuate New York City and deploy the armed forces — all in just three panels!
Realizing they’re overpowered, Ben steps up to play hero and straps a nuclear bomb to his back and walks right into Giganto’s mouth. This is where the story goes a bit off the rails in terms of believability, but by this point the whole thing has so much momentum going it just can’t be stopped. The splash panel on page 19 of the Thing shows off some of the excellent coloring that could be done even with the limited color palettes and poor quality printing of the era. The nuke goes off just as Ben escapes and the impact merely knocks him off his feet. Poor Giganto, however, is dead.
Back to the Sub-Mariner, Sue again uses her power to good effect by stealing the horn from Namor once he spills the beans that the horn controls the beasts. When he catcher her and she turns visible, he is instantly besotted with her — and she’s obviously somewhat interested in him. It’s all very soapy and pretty entertaining, though Sue’s character suffers a bit — especially later in the series — from her being pretty much the only woman in sight amid a bunch of crazy men. So of course all them — except Johnny — are in love with her and all Stan can think of for her to do is be all fussy and girly about the whole thing.
This is the point where Stan and Jack realize they’ve only got about a page left, and so they quickly have the Torch rather inventively creates a tornado that scoops up Giganto’s corpse, Namor and the horn and tosses them out to sea, where Namor swears revenge and the Fantastic Four talk it out amongst themselves in the last panel.
Overall, The Fantastic Four #4 is a lot of fun to read. It doesn’t all make sense when you think about and there are some rough spots, but things are moving so quickly and the cool stuff is so memorable that it just doesn’t matter.
Lastly, I’ve always found it interesting that fourth issues are quite significant in most Silver Age Marvel series. This issue re-introduced Namor, The Amazing Spider-Man #4 introduced Sandman, The Avengers #4 brought back Captain America, The X-Men #4 gave us the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, etc. That obviously wasn’t planned, but it does show how quickly Marvel was finding its footing in these series and then taking it to the next level with great results.