Hidden Gems #2
Updated: Mar 9
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and The Mystery of the Missing Fantastic Four Issue
by The Mysterious Masked Marauder
Since my first blog post was met with stunned silence by the discerning detachment of comic collectors who read blog posts, I ventured to write a new one. As usual, I found my inspiration while digging through the bountiful back-issue bins at PinkPonk Comics. Marvel Spotlight: Stan Lee / Jack Kirby contains the mandatory interviews with the creators. It also contains some lovely art by Jack Kirby. Many of the pics are of his pencil art, which I like even more than his marvelous finished pages. (A lot depends on who did the finishing, and there’s a mafia story in there for a future blog post.) The pencil art also reminded me how much I hate the modern trend towards overly detailed and crudely angular digital art. Most of these artists are creating for pages twice the size of Tintin albums, while merry Marvel is printing their art in hyper-density mode on good old comic size pages. To add to the torture, many of the digital colorists fail the basic tests of contrast and ease on the eye. The result is ugly and many good stories are ruined.
Anyway, let’s move on from that rant and back to the theme of this post: The lost (and found) issue by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The Last Lee / Kirby Fantastic Four Issue
As everyone knows, or rather, as we all think we know, Jack Kirby’s marathon run on The Fantastic Four ended with #102.
And what a finale that was! Namor and Magneto team up! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, The Thing had to swallow flu medicine!
Magneto had some insightful things to say about men and war, which remain true even today. Legend has it that Kirby wrote a lot of the story and dialogue in his collaborations with Stan Lee, and it's easy to imagine these words coming from the World War II veteran Kirby, than from Stan Lee. I guess we’ll never know the truth. Nor will we know why Magneto looks yellow in this panel.
And this issue ended with a bang! As good as any Marvel cliffhanger, and with a “Kirby machine” doing its thing in the final three panels.
Sadly, due to his “creative differences” with Stan Lee, this was to be Kirby’s last issue. He did not complete the story. In FF #103, the art duties were taken up by John Romita Sr.
The Lost Issue
Or was it really Kirby's last issue? Because in Fantastic Four #108, fans were treated to some Kirby art once again, although with “last-minute revisions, deletions and addenda.”
As discerning readers would immediately notice, there was something wrong with that issue. The art looked strange. Some of the panels were clearly Romita and Buscema trying to mimic Kirby. The story was chaotic, boring and hard to understand. But there was no explanation… until now.
Because what the aforementioned issue of Marvel Spotlight: Stan Lee / Jack Kirby revealed, was that this was a story that Stan and Jack had meant to use as Fantastic Four #102. For some reason, the story was shelved, with the artwork partially done, and the Namor / Magneto story was used instead. And for some other reason, maybe the fans really wanted more Kirby, or maybe they just needed a filler issue, Stan Lee decided to rehash the story, chopping up the original panels, deleting ones he didn’t like, adding new ones by Romita and Buscema and producing Fantastic Four #108, which is definitely not a good issue.
What once was Lost and now is Found
Some time in the 1990s, comic art dealer (and all-round nice guy) Mitch Itkowitz found Jack Kirby’s original art panels from this story and returned them to Jack. A few were still missing. In 1996, John Morrow, editor of The Jack Kirby Collector, tried to piece the story back together, putting in question marks for the missing panels.
Even with the question marks, the story made a lot more sense than FF #108. Fast forward ten years later, in 2006, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort was preparing the publication of Fantastic Four Masterworks Vol 10, which was to reprint FF #94-104. Since they wanted to pack in all the cool stuff they could find, they decided to print John Morrow’s article, as bonus material. And then someone had a great idea: what if they could finish the story, as Jack Kirby originally intended it to be, put all the pieces together. And, with a little help from Ron Frenz, who filled in for the missing panels, with the permission of Stan Lee and the Kirby family, and with a lot of effort by Tom Brevoort, the Lost Issue was once again found.
In 2008, Marvel published Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure as a standalone (single, floppy) comic issue. Here’s hoping it turns up one of these days in one of those bountiful bins at PinkPonk Comics!