The Heavyweight Champion of the World

My pal Dennis De Pues dropped in last week and was hunting down some old Fantastic Four issues. I had to listen to him talk about how great the title was in the 60s, I might have yawned once or twice. Somehow though he did get his message across to me because here I am writing this post.

I’ve been caught countless times on these posts claiming that the Amazing Spider-Man is the most collected run in the hobby and I still think that is true. For this post I’ll limit the term “run” to the Silver Age as it is the best time bucket for comparison sake, X-Men #1-66 fits nicely in here as does Tales of Suspense #39-99, Tales to Astonish #27-101 and Strange Tales #101-168. For Spider-Man this era is probably best encompassed in the #1-74 run (the 12 cent issues) though most collectors will say they go to #100 or #129, again though for this post we’ll compare apples to apples and stop at #74.

It makes sense that Amazing Spider-Man is collected the most, there are plenty of key issues, so many that after you’ve collected the two dozen or so keys have a nice portion of the run already built. Spider-Man is peppered with 1st appearances of villains, girlfriends, heroes and a whole assortment of characters that have caught on and are now pop-culture fixtures. On top of all that Spider-Man is a mega property, triple A list hero with legions of fans.

Which brings me to the enigma that is the Fantastic Four run. The Silver Age Fantastic Four run, #1-88, defies all logic, it is one of the most fruitful seven years runs in comic history and the number of key issues and mega key issues it holds within its run dwarfs even the much-lauded Amazing Spider-Man run.

Oh my god, you get Fantastic Four #1, the book that started the revolution, #2 the Skrulls and the birth of Cosmic Marvel, #4 the return of Sub-Mariner that allowed Captain America to follow shortly after, #5 and the mighty Doctor Doom, who’s nicely poised to reclaim his spot among the top villains in the MCU, #6, #12 with the cross over format that ended but being such a big reason for Marvel’s future success, #13 gave us the Watcher, #21, 27 and 28 gave us more 1st cross overs, #25 gave us the start of everyone’s favourite bromance, #36 key and then came that streak of winners like no other, #45-47 with the Inhumans, #48-50 Galactus and Silver Surfer, #51 storytelling at its finest, #52, 53 Black Panther, #66, 67 Him/Warlock. I’ve left out a bunch of good books but I’ve mentioned enough for you to get the picture, the Fantastic Four title was a titan, an absolute beast and well deserving of its “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” tag.

The problem is that collectors pick away at the FF’s keys and generally opt not to collect the whole run, I mean you have more people collecting the X-Men from this era, I can always sell an Amazing Spider-Man #56 and an X-Men #48 but I always have a hard time moving a Fantastic Four #68.

Funny how the FF run, the heavyweight of all Silver Age run suffers this way, the fact that it outweighs the rest by so much and yet its non-keys go relatively unwanted must be frustrating to its true believers.

Is there anything that can ignite the Fantastic Four non-key issues? Will a new movie make this team the A-listers they once were?

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Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.
Articles: 1589

20 Comments

  1. Ahh, well, you sure nailed it. For me growing in that era…I began buying FF off the stands every month with #27, the June 1964 issue, and from then on bought every Marvel superhero and western title, every month. With roughly 10 titles, At 12 cents each, that was completely affordable for a kid, between a small allowance, yardwork and money back for soda bottles.

    This is from the perspective of Marvel’s target audience, at the time. it did eventually expand to be older kids, also, but then, I think the primary auduencevwas early-teen kids like me, with change in their pockets (or a supportive Mom or Dad). With a little work, we could afford candy bars, model cars, monster magazines (Famous Monsters, Creepy)…and comics, most especially.

    I think a LOT of baby boomers were obviously hooked right along with me in those early to mid-sixties years. I have met many who still collect today. We fueled the Marvel Age, DC’s core (Julius Schwartz) titles, Charlton hero revivals, including Ditko’s post-Spidey work, Tower Comics’ THUNDER agents from Wally Wood et al. There was a fan boomlet there in the mid to late sixties, even while comics were suffering slower sales from more general buyers. And virtually no comic shops yet…no Priceguide (well, no Overstreet) until 1970.

    I had bought FF #1, amazingly enough, when I was 9, but not another until #18, but I still wasn’t a steady comics reader…aside from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. My folks subscribed for my sisters and I (and my Dad read it too) beginning around 1960. But I only liked them on occasion, casually.

    But beginning with FF #27 (and Spider-Man #13, and all those June 1964 issues, I was completely hooked. I even (choke) subscribed to FF and other Marvel titles (like I had with Sgt. Rock and Our Army at War, just prior to becoming, for a short time, a “Marvel Zombie.” I got those folded-in-half issues, until I knew better. Subscription back then were only $1 or $1.20 a year, for 12 issues.

    But the point here, as a fan in this period, was that for me, FF was #1. My name is in the MMMS membership list in #40. Better than Spidey, which I loved too..but the FF team dynamic, the villains, the angst of the Thing…it didn’t get any better when I was 11, 12, 13 years old. I agree with your hyperbole. The Kirby/Lee FF run you point out was, in humble opinion, the best thing in comics.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with Bud on this run! The Fantastic Four is why I became a comic collector! My first book at the ripe old age if 6 was FF Annual 2… incredibly I can still picture myself back in that crowded little mom and pop store ! My Next FF was Battle for the Baxter Building! Then the Inhumans and Silver Surfer… I’d say it was about then I was a regular reader… yes cashing in pop bottles I picked up along roads to fuel my Comic craving! When I was in college I had the need to read the run again but my collection was a thousand miles away… so I bought my second run from 43-75 or so. If you read it all through it is one continuous story with over lapping arcs. For me the best run in comics… period!
    What amazes me is the Galactus Trilogy sat flat for a long time despite people acknowledging it importance in Marvel mythos. It seems to have taken off recently! For me it’s still one great chapter in a much larger story

  3. Bud and Gerald, I started when comics were switching from 20 cents to 25 cents and even then -1974/75 – Fantastic Four was the big daddy on the block, it was the title that was the most respected by Marvel fans, I wonder when its star began fading.

  4. In 1974 or 1975 I traveled to the Detroit Triple Fan Fair in the Fall (probably 1974 – but I was there in 1973, 1974, & 1975). It was the first (of only a couple times) I set up at a convention as a dealer. I was in the smaller (seemingly less desirable) room. The big thing I learned there was that the attending dealers got all sorts of buying opportunities from people coming to the show to shop around their unwanteds. One afternoon a scruffy fellow came around with a large stack of comics under his arm, stretching from his fingertips to his armpit. A few hundred, at least, and none of them bagged. Every single comic in the stack was a copy of Fantastic Four #48; they were likely not mint, but they were not circulated either … some sort of a warehouse accumulation I guessed, and seemingly pretty nice. He wanted a dime apiece. I already had a Fantastic Four #48, so I passed. (Argggghhh!) Tony Anello (apologies if I’ve spelled it wrong), a comic dealer whose table was across the aisle, who was from New York, I think, offered the fellow a dollar a dozen, and then cherry-picked 24 nice ones from the stack, for two bucks altogether. And the seller slipped the money into his pocket and wandered off to find other buyers. I can’t help but think about that moment from time to time, especially in more recent days, as a couple hundred copies of that book would be worth, well, a not-so-small fortune. There they were, available, right then, right there, for less than cover price.

    For what it’s worth, even though I missed that FF #48 opportunity, I did buy some other nice comics in Detroit that Fall. The ones I remember are three Famous Funnies comics with Frazetta covers and a Weird Science #20, all from Ed Aprill’s widow, who was there selling some of her late husband’s comics.

    As to the actual subject at hand, I was especially a Spider-Man fan; he was a loner, like me, and so I could relate to the character in ways the Fantastic Four didn’t reach me. That said, though, I did enjoy the FF books, too, with the interpersonal conflicts and delightful grumpy banter. And there was so much going on in the title. The part of the run I personally liked best was in the #’s 90-93 range (Thing as space gladiator) area, and the gangster Kree – but that’s well after the part of the run up for discussion today. I have avoided re-reading those mentioned FF issues for quite a few years, as I am afraid they may not hold up to the memories of the younger reader I once was. [That’s happened once in a while with other fondly remembered favorites.]

  5. Give it a go Mike… I find the story just as captivating as when I was young… plus some of Stans superlatives I now understand! I still think the storyline where Reed is drifting off into the negative zone while his family looks on plays out like Wagnerian Opera!

  6. Walt, it was just about the time when you were getting into comics that the FF was losing its luster for me. I was starting to feel Marvel was getting too full of themselves and putting out way too many titles. It was right after the price increase for a limited time to 25 cents and I was already moving in a direction back to the golden age… and all that reprint material that DC was filling their books with only stoked that desire more. Of course THEN I didn’t know just how hot the yet to be named Bronze age was going to be!

  7. Mike, your story really helps put things into perspective, head shaking stuff, thanks for sharing.

    As kids Gerald I think we were late to catch on to the waning of the FF,we just soaked in the reverence the older kids were giving the title.

  8. Gerald, we did get started nearly the same time (from today’s perspective). I was thrilled when I bought FF Annual #1, with all those stories from issues before #10. Whoa.

    An aside…I wrote to Marvel asking about back issues, got a one page 8×11 ditto or mimeo sheet with a handful of titles listed. I believe I bought a Strange Tales annual #1 or #2 for cover price, couple other then-recent books. Point being, I never have run into anyone aware of this. You guys heard? This would be circa 1964. Wish I still had that flyer!!

    Walter, glad to hear FF was still a biggie when you came on board. I think I lost interest when Jack left. I am sure the Byrne run that followed was ok, but I was in college, starting my stores and my mail order business, and my comic reading was cut back. Like Gerald, I was into Golden Age, also the stuff I was dealing in by then…fanzines, underground comics, vintage illustrated books…not so much contemporary comics. After that I got in and out of reading, but the Claremont\Byrne X-men run might have been the next big event I got caught up it. In my stores in the seventies and early 80s, it was all X-Men for a long long time, at the top of the interest level for fans. The FF slipped away.

    I think Spidey probably also eclipsed the FF at some point there, even though Ditko was my first love as Spidey artist.. But Romita really did a solid job too, not flashy in my eyes, but a solid storyteller…he set most of the Spidey-verse up, along with whoever was writing by then. Maybe Stan was still there in Romita’s early days, late sixties, very early 70s.

    Mike, we were both there in Detroit at that show. Good old Triple Fan Fair. I remember those crazy deals walking in the door, though not your FF #48s. I remember Tony Anello—don’t know the spelling either. I’m sure I knew him from the New York City shows…a hustler but an okay guy. We were all hustlers in those days.

    It was very, very sad to lose Ed Aprill. His reprint books in the late 60s, Johnny Comet and The Spirit, were two of my most cherished early books. He started reprinting Modesty Blaise and Al Williamson’s Secret Agent Corrigan, too, making those available to fans. Super nice guy. Those Frazetta Famous Funnies, if they were super high grade, might have come from Larry and Irving Bigman’s Eastern Color buy…that’s where mine came from. Ed might have got them at a show, back in 1971 or so.

    When I had my Frazetta Famous Funnies set slabbed and sold them, via Heritage, a couple were the highest ever graded (at that time, some years back now). I think they cost us $10 each. Irony…they sat in ancient plastic bags for decades, and no harm I am aware of came to them. I wouldn’t do that now, of course, but the plastic bag issue was a bit overstated. They did fine for many books, far better than no protection, in my mind.

  9. Bud… once I heard you preserved you comics in bags I bagged mine, BUT I used Glad Alligator food bags! They actually held up better then comic bags and didn’t yellow. A few I only replaced a few years ago when I was reboxing from long to short boxes and the comics still Looked as fresh as when I put them in as a teenager!

  10. I well recall meeting Bud when he was 13 and I was 17. He and friends answered my “Kids’ Classified” ad for old comics in the San Jose Mercury News. I had never met any kid as perceptive as Bud — I thought of him as having an adult’s wisdom — and we have been great friends ever since. I was always more into DCs than Marvel, but I did buy FF#1 and all the Marvels until about 1971, when I finished my Masters year in a teaching credential program at San Jose State University (although I stayed in journalism). I had been working full time as a writer for daily papers in my last three college years but I never wanted to write fiction of any kind … Just all kinds of non-fiction in many categories. Buying all the comics I wanted on the racks from the days of my first real jobs beginning at age 10 was very possible all the way into the mid-1970s. For example, I made about $50 per month at age 12 in 1960 (about $400 today!) and I bought most DCs in all genres plus lots of Dell, ACG and what I called “former Atlas comics.” The cost for even 50 comics per month? $5 and soon $6 — like $40 or $50 in today’s dollars! And comics were never taxed on the West Coast.
    I loved The Amazing Spider-Man but I thought the conflicts in Marvel Comics were not always for me. I liked the late 1950s and 1960s teamwork in DC comics — and they had great titles in all the genres, although nobody did fun as well as Dell.
    Keep up the great work, Walter!

  11. Bud…either I can’t find the issue or its simply my imagination… but I feel that there was something in a letters page early on about limited back issues. Then there was an announcement from Stan that they couldn’t supply back issue requests… but… as Stan put it… there mags were so great that everyone saved them and to ask around among friends! Does this ring a bell with anyone else?

  12. I ran into a lot of those glad wrap bags, whatever they were, back then. Functional but ugly.

    We had a guy nearby, well 50 miles away, in Oakland, Barry Bauman, who charged three cents each, a lot when new comics were .12 or .15 each. We’d buy a handful each visit. Then Robert Bell & others came along. Barry deserves his own chapter in the history books. He found a hige collection in sacramento, mightbhave been from Liberty Books, and sold GA for years. Had an Action #1 i saw in 1966, for $400. Next to Burt Blum at the old Cherokee Book. shop in Hollywood, Barry had the most GA for sale in Northern California, at that time. In his attic.

    I’m sure they said at some point they DIDN’T have back issues. But I don’t know if they said at one point they did, or else I just asked cold turkey. Honestly,I have asked a number of “old-timers” and never run into anyone. Maybe just you, Gerald! I think there might have been a mention, but they probably got overwhelmed and never did it again.

    I’m a mylite fan now, I toss out a lot of scuffy mylars, replace them with mylite 2’s, which don’t catch those tears and make them bigger like a mylar will if you are not careful.

  13. Bud, the Frazetta Famous Funnies from Mrs. Aprill were decent copies but not what I’d call high grade. Mrs. Aprill had all eight of them and wanted fifteen dollars apiece. I looked them all over and picked two of the issues which had the covers I liked best, really without considering the grades (which was less important to me in those days, and made a whole lot less difference in price for most of us then … check out an Overstreet from that era which confirms what I’m saying). I bought a third issue, too, when she offered it for twelve dollars, because it had a small piece off the opening edge. When I got back to my table the fellow who had the table next to mine (Steve P. Simon – are you out there, Steve?) looked over my mini-haul and hurried to Mrs. Aprill’s table to get some of the others; Steve, probably wisely, picked the nicest copies she had. The Weird Science #20 from Mrs. Aprill cost thirty dollars, a princely sum at that time, but I had coveted that book with its amazing blue Wally Wood Cover (Fifty Girls Fifty) since first seeing a copy a few years before, and I was determined to have it. All those lovely lasses in tubes.

    Looking back, I wish I’d just bought the whole set of Frazetta cover Famous Funnies, but none of us had any money in those days. I was in college in Rock Island, Illinois, at the time. I traveled to Detroit on a shoestring, and my entire comic-buying budget for the trip would be from whatever I was able to sell at my table. I’m pretty sure sales totaled less than $200 for the whole event. Then again, the stuff I had available was pretty pedestrian, and also $200 went a lot farther at a comic show then than it would today. I would head back out to shop the room as soon as I had a little money from sales. I remember, too, that someone pilfered my Avengers #’s 2 & 3 from my table at that show. They were probably only three or four dollar books then, but I still get irritated that someone did that to me.

    Gerald, thanks for the encouragement on reading those Fantastic Four issues I once loved, but have avoided on a “you can’t go home again” sort of basis. Hopefully, they will hold up fine, once I locate them. Your enthusiasm for those issues certainly presents a strong endorsement.

    Bud, one more thing, about Tony Anello. He seemed like a hustler to me, too. He was away from his table working the dealers’ room pretty hard to acquire what I took to be inventory, and seemed to strike better deals than I could. I remember that this was the year when a great deal of recent national publicity surrounded Mitch Mehdy’s purchase of an Action #1 for a little over $1800. Tony shook his head and said that he hadn’t been able to “give one away” for $700 only a few months before. Sheesh.

  14. Walter, glad I made you yawn!I have sold my collection several times over the decades and the one constant is that the first thing I want to get back is that magical Kirby/Sinnott run.There is nothing that compares to it in my mind for continuous excellence in comics.The Byrne run of the FF is another favorite.It did the best at recreating the magic.Great thread on the Greatness of the Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine!

  15. Yes Dennis…that Lee/Kirby/Sinnot run is so great that I really need to get the trade paperbacks of it so I don’t have to open my originals to read every couple of years, thats how much I like it! I managed over the years to get two sets… and finally ran it up to 43-95… because if I ever had to sell off my collection I would still have a set. Unfortunately I only have one 52… but at least I have one!

  16. Mike, great story. I was just tonite contacted by a lady who has written a book on Gardner Fox…which we somehow I missed but I will fix that next week…but she’s now writing a book on Jerry Bails. Unfortunately, I only know Jerry by his projects, I don’t think we ever met. Glad you got to work with his wife.

    A story I like to tell about my first New York Comic Art Con, in 1970. My partner at the time, John Barrett, we drove to Oklahoma City first and did a whopping $450 there, big money then. I used my share to buy old comics, and an unfinished Reed Crandall John Carter of Mars painting.

    Rroger Hill is going to include a scan I am making of it in his next EC Fan-Addict. Can’t remember the price, but obviously a lot less than $450. We then drove on to New York, where we were astounded to take in $750 on the comics we had left from Oklahoma.

    We met and stayed with Phil Seuling in his apartment in Brooklyn, then helped with transporting his stuff to the show, and with security of the dealer’s room, sleeping in it at night. Phil was so trusting, he sent us off back to Calif after the show owing him $500. A huge amount in 1970.

    We spent all our take there on Frazetta Johnny Comet dailies ($35 ea), a Frazetta Heroic splash page, EC, comics, Fiction House comics at $1.50 or $2 each (a dealer had a basement full and would have a tablefull at each show for several years….and for $5 each, we bought a stack, from Phil, of Russ Heath and Joe Kubert DC War original art. Not kidding, $5 each. We took them home to sell in our comic shop for, ***choke** $10 to $15 each.

    But the point here, I do have a point, Phil was so amazing to open up his home to us (I just turned 18, John 19, Michelle Nolan, who came along with us was 22 and had met Phil the previously, also rooming with the family and put to work at the show). To trust these scruffy kids to go back to Californis and pay him! Maybe it was the comics comraderie, maybe he was a good judge of character. It was the beginning of a long, wonderful relationship I had with him, as a mentor, as a friend of his and his entire family, as co-publishers, and co-distributors of projects, and years of dealing back and forth on titles we each handled. He was the publisher/distributor of Wally Wood’s Witzend, for instance, when we first met.

  17. Well, Bud might not have time for a book… but take what he has written here: The History of Comic Fandom by Bud Plant as told to CBD, edited by Walter Durajlija…might be a best seller….

  18. Yeah, Gerald, I wish. I have a fair amount of this history stuff in Comic Shop by Dan Gearino, and barely sold a handful of copies to my own customers. Signed! We did have a great panel about it at Flying Colors Comics, with Mike Friedrich (founder of Star Reach, and Marvel’ first direct sales rep) Brian Hibbs and others. Its on utube.

    Between the Panels by Steve Duin and Mike Richardson also has a lot from me and my San Jose buddies, you guys might even have one, been out for ages. Still in print. Fun book, lots of anecdotes from the pros, behind the scenes stuff. I used to sell comics to Mike when he had a small retail store, before he started Dark Horse and went big time. Super nice guy, huge fan, living the dream!

  19. Michelle, thanks so much for adding to the discussion. Its my hope that you find the time to continue to share some of your insights with us. I’ll even promise to do a few Romance Comics features!!

  20. To read everybody’s comments, it is a great honor. To have Michelle Nolan comment, my favorite comic historian,comment, well Walt, Comicbookdaily, you’ve arrived !!!!

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