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March 21, 2009


Chris Tolworthy

Thanks for the post. That may be the single greatest moment in all comics, ever.

Hyperbole? Well, it was when Marvel broke out of the restrictions of comic books, with a completely new and never before seen phenomenon: long-term realism through long-term continuity.

For six years, Marvel had been publishing more and more comics in more-or-less real time, all interlocking, with the emphasis on realism (compared with their distinguished competition). At this moment they took the greatest step into realism: mainstream superheroes growing up and having kids (who would presumably replace them eventually)!

Sadly, within a year Marvel had taken the fateful decision to rest on their laurels - the comics were making to much money, so they sold the business in 68, and major changes were henceforth forbidden. They've mostly coasted ever since, with the same old characters doing the same old stuff. As a result continuity and realism became impossible (is this the fiftieth time that Dr Doom has fought the FF? Who can keep track? You can safely ignore it, nothing can change.)

For realistic comics and overarching meta-stories, Franklin is the elephant in the living room - he has to stay five or six years old forever.

Sorry for the rant, this is a personal obsession of mine (see enterthestory.com/ff_franklin.html and related links).

Mark Engblom

Some excellent points, Chris. The birth of Franklin represents the ultimate expression of Marvel's original approach (recognizable events happening in real time), whereas Franklin's eternal status as a five to 10 year old kid ever since represents the stagnation of "inert continuity", which only promises the illusion of change over actual change. I had never really considered the beginning of this shift to tie in with Marvel's sale in the late 60's...but it makes perfect sense. The triumph (once again) of the bean-counters!


Sorry to be a stinky diaper in this sentimental nativity, but...

"He's not gonna haveta worry about danger, pal... Not with us around!"

Right. Except when Annihilus is trying to kill you, or whatnot.

"We'll never stop trying to make this nutty world of ours a better place..."

Yeah, how's that working out?


Mark Engblom

"Right. Except when Annihilus is trying to kill you, or whatnot."

Well, I think I'm looking more at the sentiment behind Ben's vow than it being a contractual promise. Speaking as someone who was there, all new parents (and uncles and aunties) think similar things and wish only the best for their babies. But, in both comic book and in our reality, children *do* get hurt, even when we try our hardest to keep them out of danger...so I don't react to Ben's words with a "Yeah, right!", but rather with a knowing, wistful smile that even with his great strength and big heart, even the Thing couldn't keep Franklin from danger.

"We'll never stop trying to make this nutty world of ours a better place..."

Yeah, how's that working out?

Let's look at what Johnny actually said, though. He said they'll never stop trying to make the world better...and to this day, they're still at it. Unless he said "We're going to make the world a perfect utopia", then I could see calling foul....but I don't blame Johnny for reaffirming his determination to keep trying.


And, personally, I can't think of a godfather I'd rather have looking after me than Benjamin J. Grimm!

Chris' point is really interesting. Personally, "real time" isn't a huge problem for me... but I am fascinated by how much real change was going on at Marvel around this period, and not just with the FF. To take just a few examples that come to mind, Peter Parker graduated, Jane Foster was written out of Thor... the Avengers were *always* in a state of flux (and Stan purposely *didn't* want them to always feature Cap, Thor, and Iron Man)...
Things *changed* in '60s Marvel comics, more than people usually realize. And they, for the most part, weren't temporary "stunts," but genuine changes to the status quo - Franklin wasn't going away, Jane Foster *was*, etc....

I've never seen anyone write with much authority on what happened next, but my impression is that Jack left, Stan became less involved with day-to-day operations, and his fan-turned-pro successors, for whatever reasons, tended to retreat to the old-and-familiar rather than keeping up the pace of change that Stan and Jack set.

Maybe they were too intimidated to mess around much (except in the many new titles that sprang up in the '70s), or just overwhelmed by the "time to make the donuts" pressures of simply *producing* the books, which seems like it was a huge challenge for non-Stan editors.


Thanks Mark!
Kirby era Fantastic Four,for me it just doesn't get any better than this (ok maybe Byrne's FF, but keep that a secret).

I never really thought about it too much, but yeah, you guys are right. Looking back, all the instances mentioned seem like just another temporary change to a book, not the fundamental changes they were. Hard to think back to a time when things changed in the Marvel Universe and stayed changed.


Mark Engblom

Yeah, I've been pretty tough on Kirby lately, but I have to reiterate that Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four run is the Mount Olympus of comic book storytelling. Nothing else can touch it in its innovation, sustained excitement, consequential events, and unprecedented character development.

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