• Brad Gullickson

'Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel' is Our Kind of Kink

We review the new coffee table book from Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear and it's a mighty, marvelous turn-on.

We've read no other comic more times this year than The Fantastic Four #1. With 2021 marking its sixtieth anniversary, we've spent far too many days obsessing over every little inch cobbled together by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Lisa and I devoted five episodes to the romantic relationship at the center of this superhero team, and we spent months stitching together our epic creator interview celebration episode. We more than love this comic - it's our everything, seemingly containing a totemic power that might be responsible for birthing us into being. Or, at the very least, birthing our current personalities and obsessions into being.


The Fantastic Four #1 is not only where Marvel Comics officially began; it's where modern superhero entertainment started. It's the Big Bang from which our current pop culture landscape sprung forth. So, yeah, really, we're all its children.


Too hyperbolic? Should we back it up a bit? A week ago, we might have agreed with you, but then we got this impressive tome in our hands. Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear's Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel is a book we would think no one but ourselves would want, but, then again, it exists. Therefore, there must be plenty of other FF addicts in need of its punishingly fanatical detail.


So, what the hell is it? It's what the title promises - the book presents The Fantastic Four #1 panel by panel. Sometimes these boxes are shown on one page; sometimes, they spread across two pages. Reading Kidd and Spear's book is like pressing your nose into Kirby and Lee's comic. Not against or upon, we mean into. You're venturing beyond microscopic detail; you're walking the surface of the original comic as if you were Neil Armstrong placing his foot upon the moon, digging his heels in, and getting cosmically comfortable in a way no one ever has before.


Photographer Spear shoots The Fantastic Four #1 as if it were an animal. Panel by Panel is not reconstructed from gaudy, overblown, and recolored reprints. Kidd and Spear found some insane collector to hand over their personal copy of the classic comic, and they splayed it open for our benefit (toward the back of Panel by Panel, they also supply this incredible, singular issue page by page, and that's its own unique investigation).


Unless you have a copy on hand, you've never read Kirby and Lee's comic in such a fashion. This is as pure a reading experience as you could have had in1961. The colors, the textures, those glorious Ben-Day dots; you can almost smell the newsprint.


I lost myself reading Panel by Panel. No, that's not quite right. The opposite is true. I found myself in its hypnotic presentation. I fell into this book, and it felt like a baptism had occurred when I came out. The comic birthed me once, and now I am reborn ready to preach its gospel even louder.


Clearly, I'm prone to exaggeration. But I don't think it can be overstated what a profound impact Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel had on me, and I suspect, will have on others who are ready and willing to give themselves over to such religious examination. In Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's comic, we see an emergence. It's not what it will become, but each panel, especially as showcased here, prophesies tremendous potential.


Kidd and Spear make a church out of the Marvel Universe's first comic. Here we can come to pray and roll our minds back into deep contemplation. We can let its pages wash over us, or we can plunge into them and vigorously paddle through its oceanic depths. Oh, god, how many metaphors can I mix? All of them, I'm trying. Stan Lee brings it out of me.


Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel is my kink, and Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear are seemingly like-minded perverts. In lovingly, ravishingly worshipping The Fantastic Four #1, they proudly project their passion for the material and offer an island for the zealously harmonious to bask upon. If you ever walk into someone's library and they have this text on their shelves, then you'll know you're in safe company. Please begin to freak out together.


Grounding the material, thankfully, are Tom Brevoort and Mark Evanier. Their two essays near the book's climax produce a thoughtful historical context. Brevoort's discussion scatters The Fantastic Four #1 into twenty-five blurbs, one for each comic page. He examines various oddities within that may suggest an editorial interference that transformed just another monster comic into the majestic Fantastic Four #1. Evanier's contribution dares to tackle the creation war once again, postulating who did what and whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee deserves more adulation than the other.


Evanier's essay is rational and ultimately loving toward both Kirby and Lee. If you've read his previous thoughts on the matter, this new take will provide few, if any, revelations. Nonetheless, it's always enjoyable to read what Evanier has to say, and his point of view is obviously well-researched and considered.


Brevoort's thesis is an extension of what he's already dissected on his blog and briefly discussed with us on our Patreon page. The four-color anatomy lesson is exhilarating with The Fantastic Four #1's pages and panels at your fingertips. I found myself at several points nodding my head in rhythm to Brevoort's exhibit pieces, fully convinced by the bullpen trickery that must have occurred to radically reshape one ordinary, but stylish idea into a superhero family that would dramatically resuscitate the spandex genre. Despite no spandex on display in issue number one. Lol, I kinda wish the sixties streetwear stuck.


I can imagine a house where Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel rests on a coffee table gathering dust. It's a nifty artifact that will excite many at first glance, but if their heart's not in it, the brick will sit unloved, spine cracked once. For the freaks like me, Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear's exhaustive amplification is like an FF pinup that nearly stretches to infinity. We're going to spread this naughty thing out. We're going to break the binding. We're going to take as much love from it as Kidd and Spear put into it. You better buy two copies.


Quickie Review: Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel is where geekdom, eroticism, and religion meet. Never has The Fantastic Four #1 been treated with such excessive supervision and devotion, and the passion required to manifest this marvel is, frankly, hot. 10/10


Image Credit: © 2021 MARVEL

Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel


Writer: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Designer: Chip Kidd

Photographer: Geoff Spear

Commentary: Tom Brevoort and Mark Evanier


On Sale: Now


Synopsis: Timed for the 60th anniversary, the iconic and influential first issue of the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, deconstructed by award-winning designer Chip Kidd; with text by Marvel editor Tom Brevoort and historian Mark Evanier; and photographs by Geoff Spear


The first issue of Fantastic Four by legendary creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced fans to a now-iconic team of Super Heroes—Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing—ushering in the modern Marvel Age of comics. Kirby’s artistic contributions in this comic book revolutionized visual storytelling and brought a new reality to the way comics stories could be told, the ripple effects of which continue to influence comic book art to this day. Sixty years after its publication in November 1961, this reimagining by award-winning graphic designer Chip Kidd uses an original copy of the comic book (which initially sold for ten cents and now sells for astronomical prices in good condition) to present the classic story in a whole new way that is sure to engage both lifelong fans and the latest generation of Marvel enthusiasts. The book also includes text by Marvel editor Tom Brevoort and historian Mark Evanier (Kirby: King of Comics). Stunningly photographed by award-winning photographer Geoff Spear, Fantastic Four no. 1 is showcased as you’ve never seen it before—oversized and up-close—a panel-by-panel exploration of the entire issue that captures every single detail and nuance of Lee’s story and Kirby’s groundbreaking artwork, making it a must-have for every comic book collection.