The Homage Cover Chronicles (part 2)
Comic book covers based upon famous images, from other comics or elsewhere, are commonly referred to as “homage covers”. As the term implies, homage covers pay tribute to revered “touchstones” of comic book, pop cultural or even “real world” historical imagery. They also provide a sense of fun and community, as seasoned fans recognize the visual as the hat-tip, the nod, the gentle satire or the arcane “in-joke” knowledge it was intended to be.
To get in on the opening day excitement of their big movie sequel, I thought I'd take a look at the homage covers of The Fantastic Four #1, no less than the “Big Bang” of the Marvel Universe.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1961, The Fantastic Four introduced a new kind of dynamic to the superhero genre, where characters occasionally made mistakes, argued with each other or, in the case of The Thing, were grotesque, reluctantly heroic monsters. Even the cover hinted at this new level of emotion (Sue’s doubt and panic), cocksure bravado and pessimistic griping that soon became hallmarks of the Marvel style.
The first tribute to this cover appeared, appropriately enough, in Fantastic Four #126 (1972), an issue devoted to a retelling of the F.F.’s origin. Note that this version features all of them in costume battling the Mole Man's creature.
Just prior to John Byrne beginning his stellar run on The Fantastic Four, he was interviewed in the first issue of a new fan magazine named Amazing Heroes (1981), to which he also contributed his first of many FF #1 homage covers.
Next up was Byrne's cover for What-If? #36 (1982). This version reimagined the original cover by depicting the foursome without superpowers. Note the clever twist of a tied up Reed Richards remaining helpless, unlike the stretchy version of Reed.
Byrne homage number three was Fantastic Four #264 (1984), this time featuring only the Human Torch and the Thing, who reminds the Torch that this time the monster's on their side.
That same year, the cover of Marvel Age #14 trades the green, big-mouthed monster for a blond one. Just kidding! The yellow-haired giant human is actually a self-portrait of John Byrne himself.
Byrne keeps crankin' 'em out with Avengers West Coast #54 (1990). In this variation, the Fantastic Four are replaced by the West Coast Avengers, all of whom echo the original dialogue…with the exception of U.S. Agent’s plea to “shut up and fight”!
As one of John Byrne's creator-owned projects for Dark Horse's "Legend" imprint, Danger Unlimited was an obvious nod to concepts like The Fantastic Four and DC's Challengers of the Unknown, as issue #4 (1994) confirms.
For his final FF #1 homage cover, Byrne pits the familiar green monster against "The Strangest Teens of All" in X-Men: The Hidden Years #20 (1999).
The comic book adaptations of a pair of TV comedy series also featured tributes to F.F. #1. The first issue of Simpsons Comics (1993) finds Homer in the role of the street-smashing monster, with additional cast members hilariously replacing Jack Kirby’s original stunned onlookers (such as Barney running for the solace of Moe’s Tavern).
That same year, Married With Children: The Quantum Quartet #1 told the story of the super-powered (and super-dysfunctional) Bundy family as they battled the threat of Ed’s rampaging mother-in-law…while satarizing superhero comics at the same time!
One of my favorite F.F. #1 homage images is a 1994 painting by Alex Ross, who had just burst onto the scene with his breathtaking painted artwork in MARVELS (1994). I especially like how he made the familiar image seem fresh and new by simply lowering the camera angle closer to street level.
Another clever variation of the camera angle (and cast of characters) appeared on the rare variant cover of IDW’s Transformers: Infiltration #1 (2006).
Fantastic Four: House of M #1 (2005) finds the familiar scene taking place in an alternate reality magically created by the Scarlet Witch. In this warped reality, the Fearsome Four is lead by Dr. Doom and includes his wife, Invincible Woman, his son the Inhuman Torch and “The It”, their family pet (a transformed Ben Grimm).
Another alternate reality featured an Earth populated by flesh-eating zombie versions of Marvel heroes and villains. Most of these comics featured “zombified” versions of classic Marvel covers, all masterfully painted by Arthur Suydam. One of these gruesome (yet wickedly clever) covers was used for a rare variant edition of Ultimate Fantastic Four #30 (2006).
Perhaps the strangest of all FF #1 homage covers was never actually a published comic book, but an annual Christmas Card (2003) from yours truly! In this case, the super-powered avatars of my family and I defend our hometown from a gigantic Mutant Santa, among other Christmas-themed threats (my apologies to Jack Kirby).
Finally, we come to a cover that clearly wasn’t an homage to Fantastic Four #1 (since it was published a year earlier), but was possibly an inspiration for it.
According to a comic biz legend, a DC Comics head honcho (alternately Jack Liebowitz or Irwin Donenfeld) was playing golf with Marvel/Atlas publisher Martin Goodman. Liebowitz/Donenfeld's boasting about the success of DC’s (then) new Justice League of America feature inspired Goodman to create a knock-off.
Despite the golf anecdote being largely disproven, the history is pretty clear that upon learning of the success of the JLA (whether on the golf course or by studying sales figures), Goodman commissioned employee Stan Lee to create Marvel’s answer to DC’s hot new superteam. Keeping that element of industry competition in mind, some have suggested that the cover of Fantastic Four #1 was itself a copy of The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960), the debut of the Justice League.
So...was Jack Kirby copying, or told to copy, this cover?
Sure, there are some similarities (chief among them the “wide shot of a team fighting a giant monster” theme), but there are also some important differences that I believe put enough distance between the two covers, enough for me to give Kirby full credit for doing his own thing. Fellow geeks obviously disagree, so I’ll let you be the judge.
If you know of an F.F. #1 homage cover I may have missed, please leave a comment listing the the series title and issue number and (if I think it qualifies) I’ll be sure to update the post (with proper credit to you, of course).
Now...be sure to get out and watch Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer! I hope to see it later this weekend or early next week, so expect a full review soon!
UPDATE: Wow! "Ask and ye shall receive!" My pal Siskoid comes through again, this time with a virtual avalanche of FF #1 homage covers that escaped my "Eye of Sauron"-like gaze! Check 'em out!