Saturday, February 09, 2013

FANTASTIC FOUR #51

This has always been one of my favorite issues of the FANTASTIC FOUR. Kirby had been writing and illustrating multi-part stories for quite some time and this issue represents a break from that pattern. The explosion of creativity that had been on display from issue #44 through #50 was taking a brief sabbatical. It was as if Kirby was just resting, taking a deep breath before dazzling the fans with the remainder of this eruption of new characters and concepts that would finally draw down in issue #53.

The story here is very simple. It's a story of jealousy and revenge. A brilliant scientist whose work has long been overshadowed by that of Reed Richards has developed a way to get even. This typical comic book mad scientist plot involves the scientist trading places with Ben Grimm by stealing the superhero's powers and physical appearance. In something of a stroke of brilliance, Kirby had the evil scientist be already similar in size and bone structure to the soon-to-be-victimized Grimm.

From there, the story continues as the bad guy plans exactly how he will do away with Richards now that he has gained entrance to the Baxter Building. The sudden appearance of the real Grimm, now in his human body, fails to convince Reed and Sue Richards that a change has taken place, and they accept the doppelganger in their midst as that old companion and reject the real Grimm. And soon after, the villain finds his chance to see Richards die as part of one of Mr. Fantastic's experiments.

Kirby was able to tell this story in a typical one-issue tale. He opens the yarn with a gorgeous splash page of Ben Grimm standing, forlorn and alone, in the midst of a pouring rain. The inks here are by the extremely talented Joe Sinnott, one of the best inkers the comic industry has produced, and the finest inker to be teamed with Kirby's pencils. Gone were the less talented inkers who had worked over Kirby's penciled pages. I am especially happy that Vince Colletta never inked any of the FF stories during this run. Lee had placed him with Kirby on the THOR title, so the FANTASTIC FOUR was spared his slapdash work.

And so, the run of new characters would recommence in just one more month, with the introduction of the first black superhero in the Silver Age: T'Challa, the Black Panther. But in issue #51 we were treated with a work of truly inspired pathos.

Another dramatic cover from Jack Kirby.
As soon as I cracked the cover, this no-dialogue illustration had me hooked.

The evil one steals Grimm's power and likeness.

The real Grimm tries to convince his team mates, but who can argue with the power of The Thing?

Kirby not only told the story in a single issue, he laid several full page splashes on us.

Another of the unique collages that Kirby was using in FF. Sometimes I think it was his way of competing with some of the innovations coming from Marvel's other superstar artist, Steve Ditko.

In the end, villain sees the error of his ways and becomes the hero whose abilities he had stolen.

2 comments:

Kirk G said...

Almost without exception, most people identify this tale as the best or best-loved "done-in-one" episode of the FF Jack Kirby did.

James Robert Smith said...

It's a great story. Just all around perfect. Lots of sadness.

Sinnott's inks on this one were superb. He was, without doubt, the best inker Kirby ever had.