Comics : Fantastic Four Annual #1

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning

This review was first published on: 2002.

Background...

Continuing our look at Spider-Man From the Beginning, we can't ignore this six page story from Fantastic Four Annual #1 (1963) which retells and expands the story of Spidey's first meeting with the FF from Amazing Spider-Man #1 (March 1963). It was released at the same time as last month's feature, Strange Tales Annual #2 and is likewise written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko.

The cover promises that, "Spider-Man Waits Within These Pages!!" So let's see if we can find him.

Hmmm. The lead story is a 37-page account of the Sub-Mariner's attack on the surface world. The final 13 pages reprint the origin of the FF from Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961). In the middle are pin-up pages of the "Fantastic Four's most famous foes!", "Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four", a cutaway examination of the Baxter Building, and... ah, here it is... right in between the Puppet Master and the Impossible Man... "The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man!"

In Detail...

"The Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man"
Fantastic Four Annual #1 (Story 2)
SM Guest
Summary: Retelling of FF meet Spider-Man from ASM #1 (Story 2)
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 Reprinted In: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #6

In an "Editor's Note", Stan explains that this story originally appeared as a "two-page episode". After receiving "countless requests asking us to re-do this famous encounter", the decision was made to devote "more space" to the incident.

And so we begin with a peek inside the FF's headquarters. Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) is busy performing an experiment. He holds a long-necked beaker in his left hand and fiddles with something that looks like an i.v. with his right. Behind him, Sue Storm (The Invisible Girl) is turning a dial on a large machine. To his left, Ben Grimm (The Thing) is reading a newspaper and Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) flies into the room.

And outside, Spider-Man tightrope walks on some webbing he has strung up to connect with the wall of the Baxter Building. It has just occurred to him that he "can probably earn a fortune" if he joins up with the Fantastic Four. He figures he can impress them by demonstrating the ease with which he can break into their headquarters.

But inside the building an alarm goes off. The FF check their "viewplate" and get a good picture of the impending intruder. Spidey knows nothing about this. He only knows that the window has been left open (back in the days when office buildings were built with windows that could be opened) which will make it "a breeze" for him to break in. From his balanced spot on the tightrope webbing, he fires his web-shooters and attaches a web right above the open window. Then, he uses that web to swing right into the window itself. As he does so, he gives out a "greetings" to the FF and tells them they "shouldn't make it so easy for people to drop in on ya".

Of course it isn't that easy. As soon as Spidey lands, a big metal tube drops down from the ceiling. Then a Plexiglas cage drops down from the big metal tube. Perhaps Reed should have designed the Plexiglas to descend in one big piece. Instead, it comes down in two sections and closes in the middle, like the closing of the stage curtains at a play. It is a simple matter for the webbed one to use his spider-strength to push the two pieces apart and free himself. (Reed yells, "That device cost us thousands! If you wreck it..." at Spidey. Well, jeez, Reed, if you're worried about the price, then maybe you shouldn't be making a cage out of it. Are you going to whine to Dr. Doom or the Sub-Mariner when they wreck your big fancy machines?)

Just to shut Reed up, the Thing steps over to Spider-Man and punches him right on the jaw. Spidey's response? "Oww! Ya big ape, who do ya think you're pushin' around?" Then he picks the Thing up and throws him across the room. "That's what I get for pulling my punch on accounta his size!" declares the Thing. From one end of the room, he leans down and pulls up a section of the metal floor. Then he "cracks the whip" with it, sending an undulation through that section which tears loose as it goes. It looks like this wave of metal will either trap or crush Spider-Man against the wall but the web-spinner has "got stunts of [his] own". He crawls up the wall to evade the mass of flooring.

While Spidey is up there, the Thing throws a big hunk of machinery at him. (I've looked and looked at this panel and I can't figure out where the heck this chunk of metal comes from. It looks a bit like an oversized magnet with tubes coming off the end of it.) Whatever it is, the web-slinger manages to evade it. Then he tries a new trick. He takes one end of his webbing and plugs it into an electrical socket. The other end is balled up so that it looks like a gray balloon. He swings the webbing over his head like a lasso and throws it at the Thing. The webbing opens into a big net that settles over the Thing and the socket turns it into an "electrified web". (Somehow, it stands up over the Thing like a big domed cage instead of settling down on top of him.) The current is not enough to injure the Thing but "enough to keep you out of my hair for a few minutes".

Next up is Mr. Fantastic, who stretches and expands his hands in an attempt to capture Spidey. He tells the webster that they "don't want to fight any strangers". Spidey leaps over the outstretched hands, shoots webbing onto Mr. Fantastic and tells him, "Who's fightin'? Just consider this a little exhibition." The webbing settles down onto Reed Richards' left arm and torso, temporarily trapping them. But the pliable Mr. F. squiggles through to escape, turns himself into a giant steamroller wheel and barrels down on the wall-crawler. ("Man! You come on like Gangbusters!" Spidey says.) The web-slinger responds by creating a pillar out of webbing that goes from floor to ceiling. He clings to this pillar while Reed steamrolls into it. It is the webbing that turns out to be the stronger of the two, as Reed crumples against it. Mr. Fantastic returns to his human form but with his hands formed into a couple of huge ping-pong paddles. "I've decided that what you need is a good paddling!" says Mr. F.

And so, Reed Richards tries to bop Spider-Man with his paddles ("Easier said than done, daddy-o! You've got to catch me first!" sayeth the webster.) but the ol' webhead is too fast for him. From his perch up on the wall, Spidey shoots webbing down on Reed's arms, pinning them together. So much for Mr. Fantastic (though you'd think Reed could free himself easily since he just squiggled his whole body through the previous web job).

At that moment, the web-spinner's spider-sense warns him of danger nearby. It could just be that coil of rope that looks like it is floating in air. Actually, Sue Storm is holding it in her invisible form. Sue tosses the rope but misses. Spidey deduces Sue's location and swats her so that she spins like a top. Falling near some heavy-duty equipment, Sue decides to use the "built-in stun-gun which Reed developed to stop intruders". She pushes a button on the wall and a gun pops out and fires at Spider-Man. Again, though, the webster is ready for it. He concocts a shield out of webbing and ducks down behind it. The shield effectively absorbs the stun-gun's blow.

Sue isn't finished, however. She opens a hidden door in another wall to reveal a "wind-tunnel fan". She turns it on and the force of the wind forces Spider-Man up against a wall. While pinned there, Spidey dribbles his webbing down to the ground and along the floor to the other side of the room where it tangles up the fan and the Invisible Girl. (And I don't even want to guess how he pulls off this one, unless he was wearing that living symbiote costume way back when.)

Now the Human Torch steps in. He thinks he has Spider-Man trapped in a circle of flame but the wall-crawler jumps over it to the wall and then leaps to the ceiling. The Torch counters by using his flame like a blowtorch. He cuts the ceiling around Spidey in a circle. The section of ceiling to which the webhead is clinging starts to fall to the ground. The Torch follows this up with a slew of "low-intensity fire-bombs" (which are actually just seven different blobs of flame in the shape of torpedoes) that he flings at the web-slinger. Spidey responds by forming a baseball bat out of his webbing and swatting the fire-bombs back where they came from. "I got news for you" he tells the Torch, "you're a crummy pitcher!"

It is at this time that Sue (who apparently got disentangled from the webbing even though she had said "It'll take a week to untangle this mess!") pulls the webbing out of the electrical socket, cutting off the current to the net that has the Thing trapped. Once freed, the Thing goes over and uses his strength to snap the webbing that traps Mr. Fantastic's wrists. And with that, Mr. F. decides to "put a stop to all this".

He expands his body into a wall (with the Thing behind him, yelling "Gimme another crack an 'im!") and asks Spidey what this is all about. The webhead replies that he wants to join the Fantastic Four and was giving a demonstration "of what I can do". Now he wants to get down to cases. "How much does the job pay?" he asks, "I figure I'm worth your top salary." But Sue Storm explains that the FF is "a non-profit organization" and Reed Richards adds that "any profit we make goes into scientific research". Besides, the FF want to know, isn't Spidey wanted by the police?

Spidey figures enough is enough. Even as the FF call to him to come back, he web-slings away, angry that the Four are "just like all the rest... ready to believe the worst of anyone". He doesn't need the FF and he vows to make them "look like pikers".

"But will they ever meet again?" Stan asks. "We wouldn't be at all surprised."

So, what's the difference between this story and the pages from ASM #1? Essentially, there are 25 extra panels that extend each battle Spidey has with each FF member (seven panels added to the battle with the Thing, six with Mr. Fantastic, seven with the Invisible Girl and five with the Torch) but let's look at it panel by panel. (I'm going to mostly focus on the story content here. Kirby's artwork is at times nearly identical to the Ditko work from ASM #1, at times similar but with variations, and at times totally new.)

This story's splash panel of Spidey approaching the Baxter Building is an amalgam of page two, panels 1-8 of the original story. Spidey's words are a mix of panel 6 with some new dialogue. Page One panel 2 of the story is identical to page two panel 9 of the original. Page One panel 3 combines page three panels 1-2 of the original (with the Torch's line "Why didn't he phone for an appointment like anyone else?" and the Thing's reply "Cause he's a teen-age cornball show-off just like the Torch" cut out. Also gone is the line "Activate defense measure B, just to be safe" as the webhead jumps in).

Page two panels 1-5 are nearly identical to page three panels 3-7 of the original. There are a few minor variations. The Thing says "Nuts!" in the FF Annual and "For cryin' out...!" in ASM. Also, in ASM #1, the Thing lands on the Human Torch. In the Annual, he lands on the other side of the room, leading to page two panels 6-8 and page three panels 1-4 which are original.

Page three panels 5-6 in FF are identical to page three panels 8-9 in Spidey. The webhead's fight with Mr. Fantastic from page three panel 7 to page four panel 4 is original.

Page four panels 5-6 are the same as page four panels 1-2 in the original with two very minor differences. ("While invisible, I'll try to get this rope..." in FF, "While invisible, I might be able to get this rope..." in ASM. "I'll give her a spin..." in FF, "I'll give her a whirl..." in ASM.) Then, the battle with Sue from page four panel 7 to page five panel 4 is original.

Again, just minor dialogue variations from page five panels 5-6 in the Annual to page four panels 3-4 in Amazing. (Annual: "The party's over, you animated insect! I'll settle you now!" "The Torch! He's got me in a circle of flame!" ASM: "That's it, you animated insect! Fun's over! I'll settle you now!" "He's got me in a circle of flame!") Then original stuff from page five panel 7 to page six panel 3. (Including Sue pulling the plug and the Thing breaking the "handcuffs", none of which appears in the original.)

The rest of the story (page six panels 4-8) are identical to the original (page four panels 5-9) except some very minor dialogue (FF: "I want to join the Fantastic Four, so I thought I'd give you a demonstration of what I can do." ASM: "I came up here to join up with you! I wanna be a member of the Fantastic Four! So I thought I'd give you a demonstration of what I can do!") and, of course, Stan's closing caption about how they'll probably meet again!

In General...

Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)

  1. First electrified webbing.
  2. First web pillar
  3. First webbing that acts like it's alive as it slithers along the floor to tangle up Sue Storm and a wind-tunnel fan.

Overall Rating...

If you're grading this book on the Spider-Man story alone, then it's pretty much unnecessary. About the only thing to recommend it is the great Kirby-Ditko art. I'd give it one web. But the book as a whole, what with the double-size Sub-Mariner story, villain pin-ups and Baxter Building plans, is five webs. We didn't cover all of those goodies here but there's no reason why we shouldn't include them in the rating.