Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Simple Question: Who is more essential: Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four?

Karen: I was thinking about how Marvel has basically removed the Fantastic Four from comics right now, as part of their movie studio's feud with Fox, which seems completely ridiculous to me. But it got me wondering about the role of different characters, and that brings us to today's question:

Who is more essential to the Marvel Universe: Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four?

You can approach this from any time frame you like, or as a broadly applicable question. But one way to think about it is, if you removed either one, which absence would cause more problems? What do they each bring to the Marvel universe? It seems to me that both are cornerstones: Spider-Man being the down-to-Earth, Everyman character whose stories revolve around his personal issues as much as they do super-villains, whereas the FF represent the 'Big Ideas', amazing adventures in outer space, other dimensions, and beyond, with plot-driven stories that expanded the boundaries of the Marvel universe. Marvel Comics would be hard to imagine without either one! But can an argument be made for which one is more essential to Marvel?

Karen: Personally, I would say both are essential throughout the sixties and early seventies, but by the mid-to-late seventies the FF book had become rather mediocre, and despite Byrne's run, I don't know that the book ever really recovered. In many ways, the Avengers have taken over that central role the FF once occupied. Spider-Man has had his ups and downs, but has remained an important, influential  character  in the MU. 

Karen: Thoughts?


Edo Bosnar said...

That is a tough question when you start to think about it.
But I'll stick with the response that immediately came to mind when I first saw the question without reading your accompanying text (with all of its great points): Spider-man. I'll admit that much of this is just personal, as Spider-man was my first favorite character, and the first comic of any kind I ever had was a Spidey comic (Marvel Tales #59), and that's what got me into super-hero comics and comics in general. However, there's also the fact that Spider-man has been, more than any other character (even Wolverine I should think) the face of Marvel Comics. Also, as you noted, his popularity has been sustained to this day, whereas that of the FF, unfortunately, has not.
However, looking at the question from a vantage point within the Marvel U., it's harder to make a clear-cut choice, and I'd almost be prepared to state that the FF are more essential, in that it was their high, often cosmic adventures coupled with the bickering family dynamic that really created a distinctive style that was then picked up by all of the other characters/titles.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The FF.
Steve Ditko came up with a quirky distinctive character, Jack Kirby a universe.
There are several Spidey comics round these days and no FF - that tells me everything I need to know about the current state of Marvel.


dbutler16 said...

Obviously, in terms of popular appeal, and dollars and cents, Spider-Man is THE Marvel cornerstone. However, in terms of the fictional Marvel Universe, I think that the Fantastic Four are far more important. They were the first superheroes, and served as inspiration for many that followed, similar to Superman in he DC Universe. I think many other superheroes (and regular Joes)look up to them and look to Reed Richards for advice and technical information, not to mention those unstable molecules that make to many otherwise impossible superhero costumes possible.

Doug said...

Going off Sean's and DButler's comments, Spider-Man sort of holds the Marvel Universe together as its "everyman" (if the proportional strength and speed of a spider qualifies one for that status), but the FF are the universe from the standpoint that virtually every cosmic corner of the MU showed up in their pages first.

I thought Sean's assessment of the creations of Ditko and Kirby, both incredibly important, was wholly appropriate and correct.


William Preston said...

I like Sean's point about "a character" versus "a universe." However, Kirby and Lee pulled that off a second time in Thor (which went cosmic as well as mythological during their great run).

Although the imaginative run of Lee/Kirby on the FF gives us a host of characters and ideas, the FF are more holed-up in their own world. Spidey is a character who connects everyone in the Marvel Universe, and that was the case early on. While it was hard to shoehorn the FF into other characters' adventures (though, as Spidey did, others could pay a visit to the FF), it was easy for Stan and the artists to slip Spidey into everybody else's life. (Though Kirby never could draw that costume convincingly.) The FF stayed in the Baxter Building and drew craziness to them. Spidey roamed NYC and could encounter just about anyone. I don't know who the first Marvel character was to guest-star in another Marvel book (The Hulk in the FF? SOMEBODY knows the answer to this.), but Spidey was the guest-star par excellence, there to liven up any encounter (whereas the FF had such impacted interpersonal problems, the best way to use them widely was to steal either the Torch or the Thing for an interaction, thus their team-up roles in MTU and MTIO).

Redartz said...

I agree with Edo pretty much across the board. My first thought upon seeing the question was Spider-Man; after all, when the name "Marvel" is mentioned, Spidey is what the mind's eye sees. So from a corporate/symbolic sense, Spider-man is the icon.

On the other had, if you are talking about the actual Marvel Universe and it's characters, I'd have to go with the FF. Consider some of the Marvel stalwarts who arose from the pages of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine": The Inhumans, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, Black Panther. The Fantastic Four were the go-to experts for the other heroes, as dbutler16 noted. The FF's actions, discoveries, and opponents all impacted the Marvel U on a much larger scale than did Peter Parker's.

Doug said...

William --

According to Mike's, ASM #1 and FF #12 were both on sale in Dec. '62. Not sure which one came first in terms of the weeks of that month. So a tie?



dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

I believe the Hulk's appearance in FF #12 was the first silver age crossover. Unless you count the Sub Mariner in FF #4, come to think of it.

Doug said...

dangermash --

Good call on Namor. As a Golden Ager, I am not sure how the purists "count" that appearance as a crossover.


BobC said...

I work with a lot of millenials and those who read comics always say Spiderman is their favorite. Every one of them. I was never into Spiderman, personally, but I'm a Bronze age guy. I don't know why I never got into his comics--I didn't dislike Spiderman, I just wasn't into any of his supporting cast and hence found his comics kind of dull.

On the other hand, the mellenials find the FF to be "lame." They can't articulate why--they just don't like them. I used to love the FF!!! And as Doug said, just about everybody who was anybody in the Marvel Universe started in the FF.

Soooo--I think the pattern I'm seeing is that the mellenials go to see the movies and if they suck, the younger guys don't buy comics based on those characters.I think the movies are having a huge impact on who reads what. They don't know or care about Marvel history.

Anyway, I would say the whole Spiderman vs. FF thing is a draw. They were both very important for different reasons. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I've never been into Spiderman either, BobC...

As to why some consider the FF "lame", I wonder if that may be down to them being the first. That the Marvel approach wasn't completely in place, so there was a fair bit of the Challengers of the Unknown and Atlas monster comics in the mix. They look back, as well as forward.
Worth pointing out, though, that the FF didn't really become the worlds greatest comic mag until sometime in '65, when it became as much about the world - or, rather, universe(s) - they inhabit as the characters themselves. Once continuity rather than creativity became the main wellspring of Marvel, its no surprise there was less space for the FF. That's my take on it, fwiw.


Horace said...

The first comic book convention I went to was in San Francisco. The year was 1981. John Byrne was a star by this time. At his panel, someone asked him this question. Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four?

I distinctly remember him saying that the Fantastic Four was the flagship title for Marvel. Now, he may have been motivated to say that because he had just started working on the title. However, I later leaned how much the book meant to him as a youngster. He certainly loved the Lee/Ditko run on ASM. But, it's clear that the early Lee/Kirby FF run had a profound impact on his imagination as a comic creator.

William said...

Spider-Man. He's on the company letterhead.

Plus, through Marvel Team-Up Spider-Man touched every corner of the Marvel U at one point or another.

Also, from a business stand-point, you could say that "Yes, the FF was a popular comic back in the day." But you have to wonder if Marvel would have ever blown up into the cultural phenomenon it became if Spider-Man had not come along.

Karen said...

Really enjoying the conversation this morning -thanks people! And I wondered if anyone would care about this question when I posted it...

I have debated this in my head and come up with different answers at different times. Maybe Spidey is more important to Marvel the Company while the FF is more important to Marvel the universe? They both contribute so much -there's no right or wrong here.

I do like William P.'s point regarding Thor's world building too. I think it was of lesser scale than the FF's (nothing compares to what happened in that title in the mid 60s), but it's significant.

I see at least the early runs of the titles as plot-driven (FF) vs. character-driven (Spidey). Both have a lot to offer and both shaped the MU. Hard to imagine it without the smart-aleck, hard-luck Spidey or the expansive adventures of the FF. Do the titles also reflect Lee and Kirby's abilities and interests too? Kirby, the driving force behind all the epic vistas of FF and Thor, while Lee seemed happier (and better suited) with more down to earth books like Spidey and Daredevil. Just a thought.

J.A. Morris said...

What William said, Spider-Man is on the letterhead, he's the corporate logo, the Mickey Mouse of Marvel way before Disney bought the company. And also because he faced more "real world" problems than the FF. Sure, every now and then they had landlord troubles, but that usually felt more like a manufactured plot device than Peter Parker's run-ins with Mrs. Muggins, or Aunt May pawning family heirlooms to pay rent.

I will say that when I was a kid, the Thing was my 2nd favorite Marvel character, after Spider-Man.

I enjoy some Bronze Age FF stories and I bought lots of the Byrne issues off the racks. But I think Karen is correct. The Fantastic Four never truly recovered from the departure of Kirby and Lee.

Anonymous said...

I lean more toward Spidey, but maybe that's just my bias since he's always been my favourite. But Spidey's stories have been more consistent as far as quality goes, whereas the FF has dipped over the years (and eventually disappeared completely, I think).

But, the FF revitalized Marvel, so in the beginning they were essential, but over the long haul, I'd say Spidey proved to be more important.

Mike Wilson

BobC said...

I loved the post Kirby/Lee FF years! Especially when my beloved John Buscema was drawing the book!! One of the most memorable story lines from my earliest years was when the Frightful Four attacked the Thing in that construction site--and Medusa came to his aid!! It was such a weird, out of nowhere team up (Medusa and the Thing)! And the final battle between both FF's was fantastic! Sue leaving Reed at the end was a landmark issue! I'll admit that later the FF comic bounced around from artist to artist and started to get stale, but for a while it was great. Byrne came along and saved the day years later.

Anonymous said...

Well I 'm a little biased because like my buddy Edo ol' webhead has always been my favourite Marvel character (Wolvie who?). Having said that however, one cannot deny the influence of the FF on the whole Marvel universe. They kickstarted the modern age of Marvel comics as we know it today, heck I even bought a reprint of FF #1 'cause I knew how monumental that issue was. The Lee/Kirby run was legendary, and I still have some issues which I cherish to this day.

As of today, Spidey is more essential, but the Marvel purist and lover in me wishes that the FF had a bit more mojo. I'm not too familiar with Marvel's beef with FOX over the FF, but I for one wish hopefully that the FF returns to the comics with a bang and we finally get a good FF movie fer cryin' out loud!

- Mike 'it's clobberin' time!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Rip Jagger said...

Great question. I wish I'd been able to chime in earlier.

Spidey is the icon, the advertising magnet which makes the MU hum. I've never ever seen more buzz for a superhero movie than when the first Spidey movie was getting ready to open over a decade ago. Everyone I knew, fans and civilians alike were excited. The FF movies not so much, though I was personally eager to see them.

The FF are core of the Marvel Universe and if they disappeared you'd have to invent some characters pretty much like them to take their place (such as the Avengers). In terms of storytelling they are the nut. Spidey is a lone wolf, but the FF are the public centerpiece of the NYC superhero community.

Rip Off

Humanbelly said...

In the Pizza of the Marvel Universe we remember, the FF are the perfect doughy, flaky crust, and Spidey is the sweet tomato sauce & premium toppings (+extra cheese).


Doug said...

And, it's only a good metaphor if easily understood. Ah, who am I kidding? It's almost lunchtime and I did actually bring leftover pizza today! I'm hungry now!


Edo Bosnar said...

Mmmmmm, leftover pizza, mmmmmmmmmm.

Humanbelly said...

And thus a fine, superior thread is tragically hijacked into the abyss of mundanity. . . (Mundane-ness? Mundanitude. . . ?)


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