MIKE GOLD: Fantastic Fifty
Almost fifty years ago, my parents piled my sister and me into the car for a drive to DeKalb, Illinois. Since my sister was about to start college only three of us would be coming back. Always concerned about his children’s cultural upbringing, Dad stopped by a phenomenal bagel joint called Kaufman’s in what was Chicago’s Jewish neighborhood at the time. While he was stocking up on carbs, I was ordered to go across the street to an ancient drug store, the type that had a genuine soda fountain, three huge magazine racks and a separate and equally gigantic rack for comic books. My father disliked feeding my habit, but he wanted the drive to college to be as peaceful as possible and the best way to insure that was to buy me some comics. The stunt still works to this very day.
Sadly, as much as I scoured the racks I had read everything that was likely to catch my eye, and even some of the fringe titles such as The Adventures of The Fly, Our Army At War, and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. But I would be damned if I let such an opportunity pass. I discovered a sort of superheroish first issue from an unnamed company that I associated with monster titles that I generally passed over.
My dad came into the store to pick me up and pay for the damages. I gave him one solitary little pamphlet. One. He was amazed. “Only one?” I shrugged. “Well, we’ve gotta go, we’re late.” He literally flipped a dime across the room to the ancient man behind the counter and we began our hot, tedious trip with warnings to my young just-turned-11-years-old ass that I better shut up and behave.
I proceeded to read my one and only comic book. Within a couple pages, I was hooked. It was a monster comic, but it was also a superhero comic. It was drawn by a guy whose work I recognized and appreciated from his brief time with Green Arrow, Private Strong, and The Fly. By the time I finished the book-length story, which was rare in those days, I had already decided to reread it.
Several times, as it turned out. Dad and I both got lucky.
The book was Fantastic Four number one, and as I said, that was fifty years ago. I nearly missed it: a week or two later I fell across Fantastic Four number two; the book was bi-monthly back then and I doubt I would have bothered with it had I not read and loved the first issue.
Back in 1961, 11-years-old was just about the point when a kid’s attention started to expand beyond comics. Conventional wisdom dictated the majority of the readership was between about eight and twelve, give or take. I was an extremely precocious reader of everything I could devour, and I knew I wasn’t getting the same type of enjoyment out of The Flash and Batman as I had been before. FF #1 rekindled those flames.
Appealing to the sense of wonder used to be the medium’s raison d’être, and nothing is more impactful to a pre-adolescent than that sense. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (as well as unindicted co-conspirators Martin Goodman, Jack Cole, H.G. Wells, Carl Burgos, George Klein, Stan Goldberg and possibly Christopher Rule) were masters of the craft. Together, they launched a line of characters and concepts that have become a dominant force in our contemporary culture.
I still love the Fantastic Four, and I don’t believe this Future Foundation thing will be a permanent replacement. Still, it’s a bit sad that the ongoing monthly ended a few months shy of its golden anniversary. But that sense of wonder remains, and it will always be part of me.
Thanks for a fantastic fifty years, guys!
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