The Fantastic Four # 1 Synopsis

Here are scans of the famous FF # 1 synopsis (pages 1 – 4). I agree with Mark Evanier’s statement in his testimony (that I provided an excerpt from yesterday) that this document looks like it was written after a meeting between Kirby/Lee. If anyone disagrees, feel free to send in your opinion and I’ll post it here.

Fantastic Four Synopsis Page One

Page 1: Notice the story is going to use chapter breaks, very similar to Jack’s Challengers of the Unknown series. Also notice the contrast between the list of the 4 characters which is polished and decisive, then in the next section immediately Lee is indecisive. Lee writes: “Story might open up with a meeting of the Fantastic Four.” How could Lee go from confidently naming each character and describing each character in detail to not even being able to tell Jack where to begin the story? This suggests to me this document starts off as a synopsis of a Kirby/Lee meeting, then segues into Lee brainstorming.

Notice the story here starts off the same as the first appearance of Jack’s Challengers of the Unknown which appeared in DC Showcase# 6 (Feb 1957). A flight where 4 adventurers representing the 4 elements encounter problems in flight, come crashing back down to earth, and are transformed into a team of heroes intent on helping mankind based on the experience. I’ll show a comparison of the Kirby art from the first 3 pages of DC Showcase # 6 (Feb 1957) and the mirror-image Fantastic Four # 1 origin (Nov 1961) at the end of this post.

Fantastic Four Synopsis Page Two

Page 2: Notice how conversational and indecisive Lee is: “Maybe we better make this a flight to the stars instead of just to Mars.”

Again, I ask you, How could Stan go from confidently naming each character and describing each character in detail on page 1, to not even being able to tell Jack whether to have the characters go to the stars or to Mars? This suggests to me two main things: (1) this document is one phase in a collaboration where both men were exchanging ideas throughout the process. (2) This also suggests Lee wants Jack’s input, values it. Lee cares what Jack thinks! Lee doesn’t want to give Kirby a laundry list of directions, he wants to work with his partner to come up with the best story. Plus Stan sincerely does not seem to be sure where to go with the story. That’s why I think the character names and “powers” on page 1 were agreed-upon by Kirby/Lee, then what we see after that list — phase 2 — is Lee brainstorming, throwing ideas Jack’s way; Jack will then take those ideas, adapt them, change them, and the process will continue.

What Stan seems to realize here is that a long trip to Mars wastes time. If the FF simply go into space, get hit by the cosmic rays, then come back down to earth, then the story can start sooner. This is how stories evolve. This is how collaborations take place. Stan’s mythology he has been promoting from the 1970s to 2011 that he invented FF alone is cute, and fun from a B.T. Barnum perspective, but it doesn’t pass the common sense test; it doesn’t make logistical sense considering Jack had input into every story he ever worked on; and looking at this document, it does not make historical sense.

As the document continues, notice Sue has a mask at one point — an idea that would be discarded. Later, Lee writes to his collaborator Jack Kirby: “better talk to me about it Jack, better change this gimmick somewhat.” What we are witnessing here is one step in a communication process that had already been taking place over time. And this is when they were meeting regularly. From 1964 – 1970 Jack was pretty much on his own.

Continuing on page 2: notice Lee only wants the Torch’s flame to last 5 minutes — that later gets discarded. Also excitement causes him to flame on. I guess he better avoid women! That idea — also discarded almost immediately. Notice Lee playing the role of editor: clearly telling Jack the comic code rules on what a flame character can do. Think about it — why does Lee need to tell Jack this if Lee is writing the story? Lee can just write a story where the torch never burns anything. Again, this clearly suggests Jack is going to be coming up with significant parts of the story if Lee needs to convey this type of information to him.

Fantastic Four Synopsis Page Three

Page 3: Lee mentions the Torch can’t throw fireballs; that was discarded. In the next paragraph Lee wants it to be painful for Mr. Fantastic to stretch; that is discarded almost immediately. Lee then describes the “shapeless Thing” (as an artist, imagine your editor telling you to draw a character that has no shape), then Lee writes: “here’s a gimmick I think we might play up to advantage.” Notice Lee says “we” here as if — you guessed it — Jack and Lee are collaborating.

Lee wants the Thing to be a creep with a crush on Sue Storm. This is another idea discarded immediately. Stan goes on to waste about a page describing this Reed/Ben/Sue triangle. Where is the story? Is this an example of the kind of plot Jack had to try and come up with a story out of? Lee’s soap opera with Grimm lusting after Sue is meaningless and none of this makes it into the final story. Sure, Ben Grimm is irascible at first, but ultimately Kirby/Lee realize a gentle giant with a heart of gold underneath the gruff exterior  is far, far superior than what Lee proposes here.

Fantastic Four Synopsis Page Four

Finally Lee gets back to the “story.” The FF want to help mankind. But they fight each other along the way. Sort of like I bet how Kirby/Lee would squabble over story ideas. Some story…

Lee mentions that’s 11 pages of “story.” I challenge all you artists out there to do 11 pages of art based on that synopsis. You got a lot of work to do. You have to decide on a lot of things. How are you going to logically string all these ideas together? How are you going to make Lee’s Grimm/Reed/Sue triangle work and not seem like lame melodrama that slows the story? And what happens next? Can you expect this same sort of all-over-the-place, wandering, rambling plot from Lee for the next part of the story?

Anyway, that’s Lee’s “synopsis” for the first appearance of the FF, a document that Lee feels proves he created FF alone. Four elemental travelers venture into space, encounter problems in flight, then crashland on earth transformed. Sound familiar? Here are the first 3 pages of DC Showcase # 6 (Feb 1957), then 4 years later the origin of the FF in Fantastic Four # 1 (Nov 1961). Not  exactly the same but pretty similar.

DC Showcase # 6 (Feb 1957) Pages 1, 2, and 3

Fantastic Four (Nov 1961) Pages 10, 11, and 13

Also notice the similarities between the four FF characters to the four COTU characters. Yes, I know Sue Storm is a woman and Ace Morgan is male. I also understand those who say comparing  invisibility to air, and stretching to liquidity is a — stretch — for lack of a better word, but you can’t deny the characters do bear some surface resemblance to one another as well as being similar in how they contrast with one another. I’m not saying Lee is a liar, I’m just saying it looks like Jack worked on FF with Lee before the synopsis above was written, and I think Jack probably worked on the FF team throughout the entire writing phase of Fantastic Four # 1 (1961). Jack may have even pitched the idea of FF to Lee. Same with Thor, Hulk, X-Men, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. All I’m asking is: please consider Jack’s involvement in the creation of the 1960s Marvel characters as a possibility.

Fantastic Four/Challengers of the Unknown: the 4 Elements

1. Johnny Storm, Human Torch/Red Ryan, Circus Acrobat 

Fire

 

2. Sue Storm, Invisible Girl/Ace Morgan, Jet Pilot

AIR

 

3. Professor Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic/Professor Haley, Skin Diver

WATER

 

4. Ben Grimm, Thing/Rocky Davis, Wrestling champ

EARTH