“The End of the Fantastic Four!”

Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Letters by Art Simek

Another big leap forward for the series in a story that’s as off-beat as anything done in Fantastic Four previously.

There’s a lot to like in this story. I love the idea that the group loses its fortune on the stock market and has to sell everything off. Namor’s oddball idea of buying a movie studio and tricking the team into making a movie is just plain weird, but it gives Kirby in particular a chance to draw in some real-life movie stars. The fight between the Thing and Namor is particularly good, and the overall results are good enough to overcome some huge holes in the plot.

The cover to this issue is one of the best to date, giving a terrific tease for the story inside. Namor’s confident pose and the rundown Baxter Building, complete with broken and boarded up windows, are perfectly executed details. I also love the coloring — I don’t know if anything could properly recreate that lovely shade of reddish orange used for the background.

Page one of this issue — an excellent example of good comics.

Almost any class or advice on writing includes the point of beginning your story as late as possible, and the first panel of this issue is a great example of why. In a single page comprised of three panels, Lee and Kirby establish that the FF have lost their fortune, plan to sell all their possessions to pay their debt, and that Namor sees this as the perfect opportunity for revenge.

The second page is equally cool, as Reed tries to fend off a crowd of debt collectors and the heroes’ powers and personalities are set up for new readers.

Ben doesn’t play with dolls.

Alicia Masters returns in this issue as Ben’s “friend” when he takes a break from the FF and heads to her apartment. It’s not explained how she’s handling life after the death of her father in the previous issue. Their relationship is not stated as romantic, but it’s implied as she presents Ben with a gift of a white knight puppet doll. I find it hard to imagine that Ben ever played with dolls, so his acceptance of the gift is a sweet bit of characterization.

The movie idea is an interesting one, but it’s full of weird moments and plot holes, starting with the FF hitchhiking from New York to Hollywood in just a few days.

Jack Kirby does Bob Hope (and Bing Crosby) well enough to rival Dave Thomas.

S.M. Studios’ lot is packed with real life stars, including James Arness, “Miss Kitty.” Charles Bronson, Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Jack Benny. This sounds like an idea Lee would have come up with, but Kirby does a very nice job of making the stars identifiable. Lee has said many times he always wanted to be in the movie business and moments like Ben’s run-in with Jack Benny foreshadows the success Marvel found on the big screen thirty-odd years after this issue was published.

The reveal of Namor as the studio head is another interesting moment, as he’s shown wearing a green suit with a yellow ascot that would be very much in style today. He’s also smoking with a cigarette holder, which is an odd habit for an underwater king to have picked up.

Yikes. This is bad.

Lee and Kirby show they’re getting the balance right on this book between action and character, with a series of fun moments including Johnny blowing his advance on a cool car and riding around town with some hot chicks; Ben showing off at Muscle Beach; and Namor wooing Susan at a fancy nightclub.

The shooting of the movie is the strangest part of this story. For one, the locations make no sense. We’re told Reed’s shooting in the Mediterranean, Johnny in Africa and Ben on the beach near Hollywood. I like the way Reed uses his powers on an otherwise unremarkable foe. And there’s all kinds of wrong in Johnny’s sequence as he fights a tribe of primitive Africans who use a magic potion that makes them flame-proof. The fight itself is OK, but the portrayal of the Africans is just embarrassing. For some reason, the natives are colored with a kind of grayish-brown color in the Masterworks edition I’m reading. I don’t know if that was the color used in the original comic, but three’s all kinds of weird and uncomfortable in this segment.

Some thoughtful superhero action from Jack Kirby.

Namor’s fight with Ben, however, is easily the coolest part of this issue. The sight of Namor jumping up and down on Ben’s shoulders to drive him into the ground is cool enough. But then Ben gets hit by lightning and reverts for a moment (yet again) to his human form. Namor easily clobbers the human Ben and returns to claim Susan’s hand in marriage as his prize. Namor, obviously, knows nothing about women, as he’s surprised when she tells him there’s no way that’s ever going to happen.

So Namor and Sue then fight, with Namor pulling out all kinds of new powers from electric shocks to radar vision. The last panel of page 21 gives us what I think is the first real panel of Kirby crackle in this series, and it rocks.

When the three male members of the FF show up, Sue wins the day by defending Namor from her comrades and also demanding that he live up to his end of the bargain and pay them for the movie. He agrees, and once again walks off slowly into the ocean.

The final panel shows the triumphant FF attending the premiere of the movie, which can’t have been any good considering there was no script and the movie is in theaters only “weeks” later.

But the flaws in this story matter less than the overall tone and feeling of the tale, as the series is starting to really find its groove and get comfortable enough with itself to take some risks and experiment with some funky new ideas that no DC hero comic of the era would have attempted.

It only took about forty years for this scene to come true.