Monday, July 19, 2010

Comics That Changed Me: Fantastic Four Annual #3

In the previous Comics That Changed Me I left off in 1995, the year in which I dropped comics books supposedly forever after the disappointment of Captain America#445-446. So naturally we pick up with Fantastic Four Annual #3 in 1965.

Bear with me. It all makes sense.

People who know I'm a comic book fan sometimes make certain assumptions about my tastes, particularly when it comes to buying me a birthday/Christmas present. It's like mentioning to a relative how much you liked eating chocolate cake and for your birthday receiving...your own cake pan. Friends and relations have seldom given me comic books as presents, even when I was young enough that the odds of me having any particular comic were negligible. These days I'm more likely to receive a book about comics...or tangentially related to comics.

This being the case, it's always a pleasant surprise when I receive a real comic book as a gift, especially when it matches my taste (and collection) perfectly. Christmas of 1996 was such an occasion and I owe it to my Uncle Ted; he gave me a copy of Fantastic Four Annual #3.

Writers: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Dick Ayers.

This is the landmark story of Mr. Fantastic's wedding to the Invisible Girl. It set a trend in super hero weddings as nearly every Marvel hero made an appearance in the tale for a fight with about as many Marvel villains. Just about every super hero wedding since has either involved a host of guest stars and a big fight or has intentionally eschewed the trend and held a quiet affair.

I knew of Fantastic Four Annual#3, but hadn't seen so much as a reprint of it; I didn't even have the issue of Marvel Age where Peter Sanderson recapped the story. In terms of actual Silver Age Marvel comic books, my collection was very weak; I bought reprints when I could find & afford them, that was it. Even though I had dismantled much of my collection, this annual was something special and it rekindled some of my love for comics. 30 years does very little damage to Lee and Kirby's finest.

Along with the comic my uncle included a copy of Comic Shop News, a free tabloid-like periodical offered by some stores. The local store had stopped offering CSN years before it went out of business, so the thrill of seeing an issue of CSN again meant almost as much as the comic book. Back then, I wasn't on the internet and even if you followed comic books it was difficult to keep track of what was going on because there was simply so much being published. CSN had a multitude of tiny articles describing much of what I'd missed and some of what was yet to come.

One article caught my eye.

I can't find the issue now to reproduce it exactly, but the text was something like this:

"Marvel has cancelled the Official Timeline of the Marvel Universe due to the death of Mark Gruenwald."

Laying aside that such a project was ever considered (and to this day remains unpublished), the second half of the article was like a dagger in my heart. Mark Gruenwald was dead (had been dead for four months). His death wasn't even the subject of the article!

I don't know what it would have meant to me if I had still been reading comics when Gruenwald died; he would have died all the same, whether I had been reading his work or not. Regardless, it stung me to think I had given up on my personal favorite creator less than a year before he was lost to the world.

Melancholy aside, Fantastic Four Annual#3 reminded me why I had loved comics; now I was ready to buy another and I'll relate that tale next time.

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