Comics : Fantastic Four Annual #3

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

This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

Marvel put out five Annuals in 1965. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, of course. Journey into Mystery Annual #1, with Thor battling Hercules. Marvel Tales Annual #2, with the Avengers, X-Men, Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Strange... but no Spider-Man. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1, with the Howlers fighting in Korea. But the jewel in the Annual crown was definitely Fantastic Four Annual #3 which featured the wedding of Sue Storm and Reed Richards as well as "The World's Most Colossal Collection of Costumed Characters, Crazily Cavorting and Capering in Continual Combat!" according to Stan's cover copy. Spider-Man makes the smallest of appearances. Stan also suggests on the cover that this issue is "Possibly the Greatest Annual of All Time!" Let's see if we agree.

Spidey may not make much of a showing in this issue but he is on the cover. Not that that's saying much. Practically everybody is on this cover, including Kid Colt, Outlaw and Sgt. Fury (The Kid has to be long dead at the time of this story and Sgt. Fury is now Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., who is also on this cover!) as well as four of the only five Marvel heroes of the time (the Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, the Hulk, and the Sub-Mariner) that are not in the story. (The fifth is nowhere to be found anywhere in this ish... sorry, Hank Pym!) For the record, Spidey is just to the left of the words, "The Wedding of Sue and Reed!" right in between Medusa and Iceman. As for the story...

In Detail...

"Bedlam at the Baxter Building!"
Fantastic Four Annual #3
Year 1965 : SMURF 023.700 : SMURF 023.750 : SM Guest
Summary: Wedding of Sue & Reed, Spider-Man Appears
Editor:  Stan Lee
Writer:  Stan Lee
Pencils:  Jack Kirby
Inker:  Dick Ayers, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta
Staff Only
Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Essential Fantastic Four #3
 Reprinted In: Fantastic Four Annual #10
 Reprinted In: Fantastic Four Annual #9
 Reprinted In: Fantastic Four Omnibus #2
Articles: The Beetle, Daredevil, Doctor Doom, Doctor Strange, Electro

Dr. Doom reads a copy of the Daily Press announcing that this is the wedding day of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl and he doesn't look happy about it. (This is apparently today's paper but the date on it is: 1964-65. How does that work?) "This is my greatest chance for revenge" he says, "Now, when he [Reed] will least expect it!" (Reed would have to be an idiot not to expect it.) Doom decides to send "a veritable army of the most deadly villains alive" to the wedding and he does this by using a big Kirby- machine called the "high frequency emotion charger" which will "fan the flames of hatred in the heart of every evil menace in existence".

At the Baxter Building, a crowd has gathered to catch sight of the arriving celebrities. The Thing, in a tuxedo welcomes a top-hatted Tony Stark to the affair. Patsy Walker and Hedy Wolfe (from the long-running Patsy and Hedy series) are in the crowd. They gush over seeing Tony Stark and start looking for Millie the Model. (In the crowd, someone starts up a "We want Irving Forbush!" chant.) Also in the crowd is the Puppet Master who has seized control of some nameless arriving V.I.P. Before the man can shake hands with the Thing, he is seized by Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and Gabe Jones of S.H.I.E.L.D. who spotted some altered mental patterns with their "hidden brain- wave camera" which has just got to violate all sorts of civil rights. (Actually, in what I suspect is an inking screw-up, Dum Dum's red hair is given to the V.I.P. while Dum Dum himself is bald so that it looks like Gabe and the V.I.P have ganged up on and taken down Dum Dum. Also, the coloring on Gabe, who is black, makes him look like the Grey Gargoyle.) The Puppet Master's plan was for his pawn to inject "enough poison" into the Thing "to kill him on the spot". Thwarted, he bolts out of the crowd. He can't understand why he felt the urge to even try this since he has "sworn never to attack the Fantastic Four again". The Puppet Master passes by an alley without noticing the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes.

The Thing enters the Baxter Building lobby looking to tell Reed what happened outside and he runs into Professor X hanging around in his wheelchair. A drilling machine pops up out of the floor and the Mole Man and his subterraneans emerge. As the subterraneans engulf Ben Grimm, Professor X uses his mental powers to summon the X-Men. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Angel, the Beast, and Iceman answer the call. They and the Thing succeed in shoving Moley and his men back into the hole in the ground. (The drill seems to entirely disappear.) The Iceman plugs the hole with a huge chunk of ice as the Thing races up a grand staircase to warn Reed about the attacks. (It looks like a stairway from some high-class hotel rather than anything that would be in the Baxter Building.)

On his way down the corridor to Reed's room, Ben hears his girlfriend Alicia screaming behind a closed door. He breaks in and is attacked by the Red Ghost's baboon. Sue is already in the room, in her wedding dress, holding off the gorilla from her and Alicia with a force field. Reed and Johnny hear the fight and enter. The battle seems to be going against the FF until "a mysterious hum from the doorway" heralds a "strange, unearthly force" that "envelops the Red Ghost and his inhuman slaves" and sends them into "a totally alien dimension". Dr. Strange stands in the doorway. He heard the fight and used his mystic amulet to banish the bad guys.

The emotion charger continues its work as the Mandarin, the evil Black Knight, Kang, the Awesome Android and the Grey Gargoyle heed the call. The Super- Skrull also comes upon the scene but he is engaged in battle by the Mighty Thor... the first meeting between these two.

Reed Richards decides his guests need to be told there will be a slight delay while he tries to figure things out. He comes upon his lawyer, Matt Murdock in the hallway and asks him to convey this information to the attendees. But Matt sneaks off and becomes Daredevil instead and tangles with the hordes of Hydra who are trying to blow up the Baxter Building with a vortex bomb.

Elsewhere, the Cobra, the Executioner and the Enchantress attack Captain America. Mr. Hyde tries to join the fray but his wrist is pinned to a brick wall by a lock-arrow fired by Hawkeye. Hawkeye steps up to tackle the Enchantress but she casts a spell that causes a big cast iron safe to fall from the sky. (It looks like it was being hoisted to an upper floor of some building only to have the rope break but there are no workmen ever shown. The whole concept of the falling safe is so clichéd, you've just got to think that Jack was having some fun with this.) Hawkeye looks up and sees the safe coming right down on his head. "No time for me to sidestep" he thinks. Then a voice calls out, "Look out below! A thing like that could hurt a fella!" and a net made of webbing snags the safe. Hawkeye looks up to see Spider-Man swinging by. "When they give out the medals, save one for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man", the web-slinger says. "As far as I'm concerned, you can have a whole set of 'em, chum!" replies Hawkeye. And that's it for the wall-crawler's appearance in this Annual.

Now that's we've gotten to Spidey's cameo, let's whip through the rest of it fairly quickly. Daredevil has shaken the Hydra guys and is driving the truck with the bomb looking for some place to get rid of it. The Black Knight attacks him from the air and he is intercepted by the Angel. The Mandarin attacks Angel and he is saved by Iceman and the Beast. Electro, the Mandarin, the Unicorn, the Melter, and the Beetle then attack Iceman. He is rescued by Cyclops. Finally, all the various fights converge in one spot outside the Baxter Building for one big battle royale. Also in the battle are Iron Man, the Mad Thinker, the Eel, Quicksilver and the Human Top. Attuma and his Atlantean legions surface at the Manhattan waterfront onto to be blown to kingdom come by the vortex bomb when Daredevil drives the truck off a dock.

In the midst of the battle, the Watcher appears and whisks Reed Richards to his home. Though he offers no explanations, the Watcher lets Reed pick any device from his laboratory that he thinks will help. After "long agonizing moments of seeking, studying, soul-searching", Reed picks a funky-looking Kirby machine and the Watcher sends him back to Earth. Fortunately, Reed has chosen well. The device turns out to be a "sub-atronic time displacer" which sends all the bad guys back in time "to where they were before they attacked, with no memory of what has happened since". (And I think I see the Porcupine in there when this happens.) This device also works on Dr. Doom so he has no memory of even initiating this attack. Reed is carried back to the Baxter Building on the shoulders of the Thing and the wedding finally takes place. As Reed and Sue kiss after being pronounced man and wife, two men in top hats try to get in, only to be rousted out of there by Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and Gabe Jones. As the two men saunter off into the night, one says, "How about that? Imagine them keepin' us out, Stan!" "We'll show 'em, Jack!" replies the other, "Let's get back to the bullpen and start writing the next ish!"

There's forty-six pages of story left in this 72 pager but they are taken up with reprints of Fantastic Four #6, September 1962 and Fantastic Four #11, February 1963. Both terrific issues but not part of our focus here.

So, where do all of these bad guys show up next? Interestingly, none of them have their follow-up appearance in the pages of the FF, even the Fantastic Four villains.

Hydra is involved in an ongoing battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales #136, September 1965, the Mandarin appears next in Avengers #20, September 1965, the Enchantress in Avengers #21, October 1965, Kang the Conqueror in Avengers #23, December 1965, the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android face Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #72, December 1965, Black Knight also goes after ol' Shellhead in Tales of Suspense #73, January 1966, Dr. Doom appears in Avengers #25, February 1966, The Executioner battles the Hulk in Tales to Astonish #76, March 1966, Attuma shows up in Avengers #26, March 1966, the Beetle in Avengers #27, April 1966, Puppet Master versus Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish #78, April 1966, the Mole Man meets the Hulk in Tales to Astonish #80, June 1966, the Unicorn, the Eel, and the Porcupine team up with Count Nefaria, the Plantman and the Scarecrow in X-Men #22, July 1966, the Melter meets Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #89, May 1967, the Super Skrull has a rematch with the Thunder God in Thor #142, July 1967, the Cobra and Mr. Hyde shift over to the Man Without Fear in Daredevil #30, July 1967, Electro forms the Emissaries of Evil in Daredevil Annual #1, September 1967, the Grey Gargoyle takes on Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #95, November 1967, the Human Top changes his name to Whirlwind in Avengers #46, November 1967, and the Red Ghost takes his time about returning in Iron Man #15, July 1969.

As for our party crashers, Stan Lee shows up again, having a brief chat with Daredevil from his office window on Madison Avenue in DD #29, June 1967. Jack Kirby joins Stan and a whole slew of Marvel bullpenners on the beach, standing over the unconscious body of Prince Namor in Sub-Mariner #19, November 1969.

In General...

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

  1. The Wedding of Reed and Sue! (What other milestone do you need?)

It goes without saying that this is a classic issue with plenty going for it. So, let's focus in on three negatives instead.

Jack Kirby is one of my all-time favorite artists but this issue had the misfortune of being produced in the five-issue time between the stylish inks of Chic Stone and the bold, definitive inks of Joe Sinnott. (Chic left with FF #38, May 1965 and Joe came on with FF #44, November 1965.) All but one of the intervening issues... including this Annual... were inked by Vince Colletta. Now there are legions of Colletta-haters out there; Kirby fans that think that Vinnie destroyed every piece of Jack's art that he ever got his hands on. I am among the minority who actually like Colletta's inking on Kirby's Thor, bringing it an airiness that fits into the fantasy of that strip. I can find no such excuse for Vinnie's work on Jack's FF, however. The combination just doesn't work here at all. Everything seems faded, the action is washed out, the character's faces are vague. All of Kirby's dynamism is sucked right out of the pages and the issue suffers horribly for it.

The wealth of characters in the book is great but a bit of a letdown if you're a Spider-Man fan. All you get is one tiny shot of Spidey, tilted at a very strange angle. In fact, the drawing looks so much like Ditko that I suspect that it is a paste-up (of what looks like the Spidey figure from the cover of ASM #19, December 1964) positioned in such a way so that the webbing (which goes straight up over Spidey's head) looks like it is actually attached to a building. Certainly Stan liked to keep a consistent look to all of his top-of-the-line heroes and Ditko, at this point in time, dictated Spidey's look. (Note that Ditko was the inker on Jack's previous Spidey stories in Strange Tales Annual #2, 1963 and ASM #8, January 1964.) I have also heard accounts that Kirby tended to be a bit inconsistent when drawing all those webs on Spider-Man's costume. But, we are talking about only one panel here. It would be interesting to know what Kirby's Spider-Man looked like underneath this apparent Ditko paste-up.

Finally, the deus ex machina ending is a real letdown. All of these villains and heroes get together at once only to be wrested apart by a machine pulled out of a hat at the last minute. I realize that the whole point of the issue is just to bring everyone together to really spice up the wedding but still...

Having said all that... well, I love it. I love everything about this crazy, ridiculous issue. I love Patsy and Hedy appearing in the crowd. I love the Mole Man drilling right up through the floor of the Baxter Building. (Doesn't it have a basement?) I love Dr. Strange jolting the Red Ghost and his Super- Apes into some oddball dimension. I love Daredevil dumping the vortex bomb on Attuma. I love that characters like the Eel and the Porcupine show up. And I love Stan and Jack trying to crash the wedding at the end. The whole thing is a wonderful romp. So, my rating?

Overall Rating...

Is this the greatest annual of all time? Not with those Vince Colletta inks it isn't. But it's still worth five webs.