There once was a time when comics came out right on schedule. If the Flying Fig #98 was due on the first week of September, then the Flying Fig #98 appeared in the first week of September. If the story for the Flying Fig was not ready then the issue came out anyway, with either an inventory story or a reprint in its place. Back in the 1970s, it used to drive me crazy when an issue appeared without the expected story. "Better to delay it," I used to think, "than give me a reprint inside a new cover." Nowadays after repeated delays, I think I'd prefer the reprints. Back in the 1970s I also knew the schedule, I knew exactly when my favorite issues would arrive. Marvel Two-In-One and Daredevil appeared in the first week of the month, Amazing Spider-Man and Batman in week two, Uncanny X-Men, Hulk, and Avengers in week three, Marvel Team-Up, Detective Comics, and Fantastic Four in week four. But the schedule back in the 1960s... that I don't remember so well.
The idea behind From the Beginning is to review all of Spidey's appearances in the order in which they appeared on the newsstand. Comics only (except I think I'm going to branch out a bit of which more next time) but all of those comics. Not in the order that follows the character's time line (or that various people have decided follows the character's time line) but the order they appeared on the shelves. The thing is... well, what I said about not remembering the 60s order so well. Last time, I reviewed Daredevil #27, April 1967. Inside it had an ad for Fantastic Four #62, May 1967, which, you probably noticed, is the issue after this one. Okay so...got it. FF came out near the beginning of the month, Daredevil near the end of the month; the opposite of what it was in the 70s. I'm sure I'll be making other mistakes like this but I hope they aren't as glaring as this one.
Anyway. Onward. You hold in your hands (figuratively) a copy of Fantastic Four #61, April 1967. You should be picking this series up anyway because it's Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at the top of their game. But, as a Spidey fan, you certainly can't resist a cover showing the Sandman grabbing and engulfing the Fantastic Four. And for those Spidey fans who did buy this issue, there's a tiny little two-panel treat inside as well.
In the Baxter Building, Reed Richards' Atom Igniter seems to start firing at Reed, Sue, and Ben all on its own. Sue throws a force field around it causing it to blow up. But then two remote control gravi-polarizers attach themselves to Ben and lift him in the air until Reed shuts the equipment off. He speculates that "some unknown foe is stalking us right here in our own headquarters."
(On the following "More Marvel Masterpieces..." page, Amazing Spider-Man #47 is advertised which only serves to emphasize what I was saying above.)
Over in Latveria, the Silver Surfer endures the taunts of his jailers as he sits in one of Dr. Doom's dungeons, stripped of his power cosmic. (Doom stole the Surfer's power and used it himself until he was defeated by the FF in a classic story running from Fantastic Four #57, December 1966 to Fantastic Four #60, March 1967 and later lifted for the Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer movie (2007). If you haven't read these issues, you must go do so now!) Seconds later, the Surfer's board appears and crashes through the stone walls. "Possessed once again of the eternal energy of the cosmos" (because of Doom's defeat), the Surfer soars aloft, then turns and fires a cosmic blast at the castle, demolishing it and (apparently) killing the jailers inside. "That which is reaped must one day be sown!" he says, "This then is the day, the hour, the moment of cosmic retribution!" (And this is the Surfer as Jack Kirby intended him before Stan turned him into a navel-gazer.)
Back at the Baxter Building, Reed, Sue, and Ben are suddenly inundated with sand. Ben prevents the sand from reaching the ceiling and suffocating them by smashing through a wall into another room. The sand coalesces into human form, revealing the Sandman in a brand-new costume that has "built-in devices... which enable me to mix a variety of chemicals with my invincible all-powerful sand!" (Yeah, that's how I always think of sand: invincible, all-powerful.) He shoves the Thing by turning his right hand into a very large shovel, then mixes oil with sand to cause the Invisible Girl to lose her balance but gets scattered around the room by a punch from Mr. Fantastic. It is then that Reed realizes that Ben "landed against the space-time generator lever" and that "if he makes a move, it could destroy the city." (Don't you love the way Reed would build these devices that could destroy a city... right in the middle of the city?)
Meanwhile, the Inhumans are hanging out "somewhere in Europe." However, Crystal is only interested in reuniting with the Human Torch. ("And until Johnny and I are together again, nothing else in life matters to me!") She gets Black Bolt's permission to leave with Lockjaw who teleports them to Johnny's current location.
The scene shifts to Metro College Stadium for a football game between Metro and Empire State University (and the reason why we're covering this issue). Up in the press box, the announcer is telling us that the game is scoreless "with only twenty seconds remaining in the first quarter." He further wonders who the "new, six foot six stranger on the Metro bench" is. "And why hasn't Coach Sam Thorpe put him into the game yet?" (Sam "Thorpe" is sometimes called Sam "Thorne." And he's called "Jim Thorpe" in Fantastic Four #51, June 1966!!!) And look! Peter Parker is there, standing right next to the announcer, saying, "If only something would happen, so I could get a good shot of it!" And look at that! Mary Jane Watson is standing right next to Pete! Suddenly, something happens on the field that stops the announcer in mid-sentence. Pete fills us in. "It doesn't make sense!" he says, "A girl suddenly appeared on the field out of nowhere! And there's a gigantic statue of a dog with her! No! It's not a statue! Look! It's actually alive!" (Thanks, Pete, for that recap of stuff we already know!) Yes, Crystal and Lockjaw have teleported onto the Metro College sidelines. Johnny's friend Wyatt Wingfoot (who is the "six foot six stranger" referred to by the announcer) recognizes Crystal and tells her Johnny just left when he heard a radio broadcast. Wyatt pulls out a radio and plays it for her. "All traffic is at a standstill," says the radio announcer, "in the area of the world-famous Baxter Building, as the police struggle vainly to hold back the mystified crowds who have gathered to the scene of the Fantastic Four's battle with the deadly Sandman." Which raises three questions:
That's it for Peter Parker's appearance, so let's wrap the rest of this up fairly quickly.
Johnny arrives at the Baxter Building to find that Ben is "pinned down by that space-time generator unit," which is "generating pure unadulterated negative force." The Sandman has "locked himself in the space-time chamber." The Human Torch burns through the door but the Sandman is waiting for him and smothers his flame with his sand. Mr. Fantastic steps in and fights Sandy until Johnny can reignite. Torchy throws fire at the Sandman but he pushes one of the control buttons on his new suit that releases "a quantity of liquid nitrogen," freezing him. When the flame hits him, "the chemical combination gives off a powerful poisonous vapor" that fills the room, threatening to asphyxiate Reed and Johnny. Reed is forced to open the portal to the Negative Zone to suck the vapor out of the room. Unfortunately, it also threatens to suck everyone and everything into the Negative Zone as well. The Sandman feels himself slipping into the portal and gives up the fight. He leaps through a window and escapes. Reed isn't as lucky. He gets pulled into the portal and projected into the Negative Zone; the portal closing behind him. Or as Stan puts it in his own special way, "And then like a helpless participant in some demoniacal nightmare, the doomed Reed Richards plunges deeper and deeper into an indescribable world where strange, maddeningly alien shapes stretch endlessly on towards an unknown infinity." As he plummets, Reed consoles himself with the thought that his sacrifice saved the rest of the FF from the Sandman. "As for me," he says, "I'll soon learn the answer to the greatest mystery of all... the final answer!" Which is to say he thinks he is headed for the Great Beyond.
Back in the Baxter Building, Sue, Ben, and Johnny spot Reed on the "automatically activated space-time screen." Johnny wants to open the portal to try to save him but Ben stops him. "He'll be hittin' the explosive zone any minute now," he says, "and there's no way to reach 'im, no way to stop 'im! What's the use'a kiddin' ourselves? We all know... what I'm tryin' ta say!" He holds Sue as Johnny stands beside him, covering his face. Ben finishes the thought. "He's gone!" he says.
Reed's not gone, of course. In Fantastic Four #62, May 1967, he hangs onto a "space boulder" tumbling down toward the "exploding area." Crystal finally tracks Johnny to the Baxter Building. When she learns of Reed's peril, she and Lockjaw travel back to the Inhumans for help. Black Bolt selects Triton as the perfect rescuer because, as Triton himself puts it, "Deepest space, whether positive or negative is like a vast endless ocean." Tritan succeeds in rescuing Reed but the monstrous Blastaar follows them back to Earth. There he teams up with the Sandman (in case you were wondering what happened to him) and fight the FF and Triton in Fantastic Four #63, June 1967. They lose. The Thing disperses Sandy's molecules throughout the East River while Reed drops a helmet on Blastaar's head that negates his explosion powers. The FF ship Blastaar off to the Negative Zone.
The Sandman next appears when he rejoins the Wizard and the Trapster as they try to get Medusa to come back to the Frightful Four in Medusa's starring turn in Marvel Super-Heroes #15, July 1968 He and the rest of the Frightful Four next take on the FF in Fantastic Four #94, January 1970 in which Medusa turns on her teammates, revealing that she only joined them to "be on hand to help the FF" after which the bad guys are dispatched by Agatha Harkness' magic. Sandy doesn't face Spidey again until Marvel Team-Up #1, March 1972. So say good-bye to the Sandman for a while.
The next time Spidey appears in the FF (well, he didn't appear this time but you know what I mean) is Fantastic Four #73, April 1968 although he hangs out with the Human Torch before that in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4, 1967.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The run of issues from Fantastic Four #35, February 1965 to Fantastic Four #67, October 1967 is the greatest burst of creativity in the history of comic books. Don't argue with me on this. It happens to be a fact. Stan and Jack, at their peak, introduced Dragon Man, the Frightful Four, the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Negative Zone, the Black Panther, Klaw, Wakanda, Vibranium, Blastaar, the Kree, Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence, Him (later Warlock) and on and on. (The issues before and after aren't bad, by the way, but they're dwarfed by the creative explosion in these issues.) This being the case, how does this issue rate? Not that highly, I'm afraid. It has that nice mix of FF, Inhumans, Silver Surfer, and Wyatt Wingfoot that Stan and Jack managed to concoct during this time, it has the Sandman's new costume, it has Peter Parker for crying out loud, it has Reed getting sucked into the Negative Zone. But it doesn't measure up to the FF issues of the time mainly because the battle with the Sandman just isn't that compelling. Yes, it is essentially a set-up issue to what becomes an entertaining trilogy but, you know how it is, I'm only reviewing this issue. And while, yes, it is superior to almost every comic from the last twenty-five years, I am looking at it from the perspective of the time. (If I didn't, I'd give nearly every comic from the 60s top marks). From this chair it looks like FF #61 is worth three solid Silver Age webs.
Next: A Little Arachknight Music.