Marvel Universe Chronology 01. Reading the Marvel 616 in order.  Fantastic Four #1.

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

For this ongoing series of articles and podcasts, I will be using this website's list of the reading order of the Marvel 616 (main Marvel Universe) - http://cmro.travis-starnes.com/reading-order.php

I had nothing to do with putting that list together but I commend them for such a massive project.  I am also not going to split hairs over whether every single issue listed is exactly where it should be.  It looks good enough to me.  I will be reading these comics and putting a podcast about each on our Patreon feed if you are interested.  Also, Tonya from When It Was Cool will be reading many of these issues as well.  She has basically zero comic book knowledge, though obviously, knows many of these characters through pop culture and movies.

As was the case with many silver age comics, this scene never appears in the book.

As was the case with many silver age comics, this scene never appears in the book.

Fantastic Four - Issue 1 (November 1961)

So, it all starts here.  The first "superheroes" of the Marvel Universe.  Ok, so already there is a problem- what about the golden age characters?  I suppose this list will only cover the silver age forward and that is fine.  The golden age stories are probably best taken with a grain a salt anyway as far as continuity goes.  We should just start off our reading with it being a given that in this world Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch, and their various side-kicks all were active in or around World War 2.  This will obviously play into the story later.

It should be noted that the allure with Marvel (and the version of history you are most often likely to hear in books and interviews) says that part of Marvel's appeal was that the stories took place in the "real" world- New York City.  Stan Lee has often been quoted as saying a youngster could look out the window and imagine Spider-Man swinging past a certain building or down a familiar street.  However, that isn't exactly true.  Though later changed to New York City, Fantastic Four number one is set in the fictional "Central City".

Contrary to popular belief, the original fantastic four story did not take place in new york city, but rather, the ficitional central city.

Contrary to popular belief, the original fantastic four story did not take place in new york city, but rather, the ficitional central city.

The story is still your simple silver age tale with gaping plot holes and the required suspension of disbelief.  The heroes are just running around destructively for apparently no reason.  The Thing is tearing up property, Susan Storm is invisible, Reed Richards and Johnny Storm are inciting panic, all for no good cause.

susan storm "The invisible girl" using her powers for no apparent reason.

susan storm "The invisible girl" using her powers for no apparent reason.

Ben Grimm had no problem walking into the story but once he shed his coat and reveled himself as "The thing" he couldn't manage to get back ouT of it.

Ben Grimm had no problem walking into the story but once he shed his coat and reveled himself as "The thing" he couldn't manage to get back ouT of it.

The first villain we meet in the Marvel Universe is the Mole Man, of all people.  The story clearly and strongly plays on the popular giant monsters craze of the time.  Giant monsters had been popular since the early 1950's and with the success of Godzilla in 1954, it is no wonder, that this comic book just seven years later leans heavily on giant monsters.  Another popular trope of the time was "The Center of the Earth" and this story also plays on a mysterious land in the center of the Earth.  In this instance, it is home to the Mole Man and his monsters who escape to the surface by way of "Monster Island" (which probably sounds very familiar to Godzilla fans as well).

Still, there was something about this story that struck a chord with the readers of the time and quickly became one of the most popular comics on the market.  The family drama, the giant monster tie-ins, and having multiple super powered characters in one story (mimicking and in response to DC Comics Justice League of America) all lead to a memorable launch of the Marvel Universe.  In a short span of time it would be filled with numerous heroes and villains.

giant monsters were a popular comic book and movie theme at the time.

giant monsters were a popular comic book and movie theme at the time.

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