Thursday, April 4, 2013

Fantastic Four: Beta Version

The Challengers of the Unknown Archives Volume 1: written by Jack Kirby, Ed Herron, and Dave Wood; illustrated by Jack Kirby, Roz Kirby, and others (1956-58; collected 2003): Jack Kirby's foray into a four-person, jump-suited team of heroes who fight weird menaces predates the Fantastic Four by 5 years -- and almost directly led to Kirby going to Marvel where he'd co-create the FF, as a conflict with series editor Jack Schiff caused Kirby to leave DC for a decade.

The four Challengers are Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis and Red Ryan; blonde June Robbins becomes the distaff honorary member a few issues into the team's existence. The four men, who are already adventurers or various types, survive a plane crash they believe they should have died in and decide afterwards to become a team of heroes because they're "living on borrowed time."

Technically, the Challengers are the first new superhero team of the Silver Age of Comics. While they usually lack (super)powers, they fight a wide variety of monsters, aliens, and supernatural menaces. They'd be one of the early success stories of that Silver Age, with the first run of their adventures lasting until the late 1960's, with sporadic revivals ever since.

Kirby and company seem to be having fun here, what with all the scary monsters and superfreaks threatening the world. The Challs (as they get called, even now) take awhile to become truly differentiated in character, but it does eventually happen -- script-writers Dave Wood and Ed Herron are competent comic-book writers, nothing more, at least here. Kirby's visuals and visual inventiveness do the heavy lifting here, and it's some pretty good lifting. A Kraken is especially awesome-looking. Recommended.

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