On the cover of the third issue of The Fantastic Four, published in early 1962, Marvel proclaimed it “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!” That’s a bold statement, but, as Dizzy Dean once told reporters, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”

Stan Lee wasn’t bragging. By the end of the first issue, cover dated November 1961, we’d been introduced to Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Girl, The Thing, and The Human Torch, a semi-dysfunctional superhero family for the Atomic Age. And the Mole Man and Monster Island were along for that initial adventure, too. Within a year, Lee and Kirby had laid the foundation for an entire universe. By the end of their fifth year, they’d created dozens of characters who are still at the heart of the Marvel Universe five decades later. No superhero comic before or since has approached the level of innovation these two managed on a monthly basis. Of course, you might argue that Jack Kirby’s Fourth World at DC or Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man came pretty close. But heck, those are still Lee and Kirby projects, so they still come out on top.

Lee and Kirby’s The Fantastic Four had adventure. It had humor. It had romance. Pathos. Wit. Charm. And frequently all within the same story. The Fantastic Four #51, “This Man, This Monster,” is probably the single greatest Marvel comic of all time. Which follows one of the great three-part stories of all-time, “The Galactus Trilogy.” Which really benefits from reading the Inhumans story that leads into it. And it would be a shame not to keep reading forward with the two-parter that introduces The Black Panther. And for gosh sakes, that’s only a stone’s throw from the ultimate Silver Surfer vs. Doctor Doom battle. There’s a good 20-issue run of nothing but high points once Joe Sinnott starts inking, too, although there’s a fun, anything goes atmosphere to the first issues, right out of the gate.

You know, they weren’t fooling around when they called this “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine,” after all.

Andrew Farago is the curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, California.

NOTES

The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby received 22.333 votes.

The poll participants who included it in their top ten are: Terry Beatty, Kim Deitch, Randy Duncan, Andrew Farago, Craig Fischer, Richard Gehr, Larry Gonick, Geoff Grogan, Greg Hatcher, Danny Hellman, Sean Kleefeld, Larry Marder, Ben Marra, Scott Marshall, Gary Spencer Millidge, Tim O’Neil, Michael Pemberton, Martin Rebas, Hans Rickheit, Kevin Scalzo, Val Semeiks, Scott Shaw!, and Matthew J. Smith.

Craig Fischer specifically voted for The Fantastic Four story “…And One Shall Save Him!”.

Kim Deitch specifically voted for the Marvel Universe stories drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Bill Everett. This resulted in a 0.333 vote for Lee & Kirby’s The Fantastic Four.

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s run on The Fantastic Four was originally featured in issues #1-102 of the newsstand comics magazine. The cover dates are from November 1961 to September 1970. The most convenient place to read the stories today is the first five volumes of Marvel’s Essential Fantastic Four trade paperback series. Almost all of the stories Andrew Farago refers to above appear in volumes 3 and 4.

–Robert Stanley Martin

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