How Many Issues?
Thirteen: Fantastic Four #22-33 and Annual #2. The team also made appearances in Amazing Spider-Man #8, 18 and Annual #1, Daredevil #2, Strange Tales #118-121, and 125-126.
Plotters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Scripter: Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inkers: George Roussos (#22-27), Chic Stone (#28-33, Annual #2)
Was It Good?
This wasn’t the creative leap forward that I was hoping for after an eventful 1963. These issues aren’t bad —- the stories are usually fun, even when they aren’t classics —- but I don’t think they are quite up to the previous year’s quality.
One reason for this is the number of lackluster villains. Doctor Doom’s lackeys, the Terrible Trio, took up most of an issue; the Infant Terrible was a generic one-off character; Diablo was just awful; Attuma’s only personality trait is “he’s not Namor”; and Mole Man appeared twice and was boring both times. That’s half of the year, right there!
On the plus side, Doctor Doom and Namor each had two pretty solid appearances, and the two-issue Hulk fight was pretty entertaining.
While the stories were occasionally lacking, the artwork was pretty great. Jack Kirby drew all of these issues, and the inking was split pretty evenly between regular Kirby inkers George Roussos and Chic Stone; this helped maintain a consistent look to the art.
Another plus was the continued evolution of the characters. Reed continued to show off his inventive intellect, but he also lost his cool whenever Sue was at risk; for a sometimes bland character, this added some much-needed variety. Sue is being treated like less of a background character, and her power set is being improved throughout the year. Ben’s biggest development was how well he handled being pummeled by the Hulk. Johnny…well, he’s still pretty obnoxious, but that’s mostly contained to his solo adventures.
What About the Sub-Plots and Continuity?
It can be fun to track the minor story points throughout a year’s worth of comics to see what ideas were developed and which were quietly dropped.
- The Thing only loses his powers twice this year. That makes ten times in thirty-five total Fantastic Four issues. It’s becoming a less frequent occurrence, but that is still a lot.
- In related news, Reed is still trying to cure Ben of his powers.
- Asbestos is only used twice in the pages of Fantastic Four to stop Johnny in 1964. That’s an improvement over 1963! But when you look at his appearances in Strange Tales and Amazing Spider-Man, that number jumps up to eight for the year. That brings the grand total up to nineteen times that asbestos has been used specifically to thwart the Human Torch in the Silver Age.
- Sue gets captured four times by the enemy in 1964 (three in the pages of Fantastic Four and once in Strange Tales). This brings her total up to eight times since her debut. It’s not as prevalent as Ben transforming back into his human form, or Johnny being stopped by asbestos, but it is an obnoxiously frequent plot point.
- Sue seems to no longer hold a torch for Namor, but Reed still spends many issues wondering about her feelings for him.
- When the Fantastic Four battle Namor, it is becoming more and more of a Reed vs. Namor challenge than a team effort.
- Reed purchased an engagement ring in Fantastic Four #27, but never proposes, and it is not referenced for the rest of the year.
- The treatment of Invisible Girl is slowly improving. Her powers were expanded to include creating force fields and making other things invisible. There’s still a lot of sexist attitude toward her, but she is becoming a more active player in the FF’s adventures.
- While there was some additional light shed on Reed and Doctor Doom’s college rivalry this year, no explanation was given for why Ben (Reed’s roommate) didn’t know Doom when the FF first fought him.
- Doctor Doom has built machines that can give people a variety of super-powers. He used this to empower the Terrible Trio, but it seems like something that should be a bigger deal.
- Doctor Doom and Rama-Tut suspect that they are the same person, just at different points of their time-traveling lifespan. This seems incredibly stupid to me, but this subplot will linger for many years.
- Doctor Doom is revealed to be the secret ruler of the nation of Latveria. That means he has diplomatic immunity for his crimes. Surprisingly, he appears to be a beloved (if feared) ruler.
- The Thing and Alicia Masters continue to be a couple. Her resemblance to Sue has not been mentioned since her first appearance.
- Reed and Sue’s early relationship continues to get tweaked. Reed apparently did not know the Storms until after their mother died and father went to prison. This seems to contradict Reed’s claim that they were childhood sweethearts that grew up next door to each other (first mentioned in Fantastic Four #11).
- Doctor Franklin Richards (Johnny and Sue’s father) escaped from prison, turned himself in to save his daughter, was kidnapped by aliens, and sacrificed his life to protect the FF, all in a matter of days. That is an unusually busy week.
- Reed appeared to have deduced the Hulk’s secret identity at one point (in Fantastic Four #12), but he either forgot or didn’t see any application for the knowledge when the Hulk was rampaging through NYC in Fantastic Four #25-26.
- There were a number of noteworthy guest appearances in 1964:
- The Avengers showed up twice, but the teams are not very friendly.
- Doctor Strange helped them locate Namor’s underwater base.
- The Hulk fought the FF —- and specifically the Thing —- for two whole issues.
- The X-Men fought (and later helped) the FF.
- The Watcher made a single appearance, but only because the Red Ghost and FF fought too close to his moon base. He gave no ominous warnings this year.