With New York Comic-Con upon us and Fantastic Four rumors aswirl, I found myself thinking about one of my absolute favorite things about the FF:
FF #1 marked the beginning of New Marvel. That book, as we know, launched what we would come to know as “Stan and Jack.” Whatever the methodology used by these men, in whatever combination, it achieved a jagged harmony that was like nothing else. That single comic drove superhero books in an entirely different direction from Superman.
The Fantasti-car debuted in FF #3 (March 1962) for two reasons: the team needed transport (only Johnny could fly), and they needed to separate, which was one of the key components of the title’s success. Stan and Jack always pulled them apart to bring them back together. The simple, weird design was perfect for that dynamic.
But the readers called it the “flying bathtub.” So nine issues later, a new version (the Mark II) debuted:
So where did it come from? In a few places in print, Stan gives Jack credit for the design of both models. Was the Fantasti-car just another bizarre Kirby creation from out of nowhere? Not entirely.
Throughout the late fifties and early sixties, the popular scientific magazines were heavily engaged in technological speculation. Because of the space race, much of this imagination was directed toward flight. And the floating, open-air, turbine-driven, VTOL bathtub made some good futurist sense. Later versions were even more domesticated, making it a perfect design for the Richards-Storms-Grimms.
But just as the FF version evolved, so too did the versions in Popular Mechanics. Seen below is a more militarized model, the “Flying Crane,” that prefigures Johnny’s new Fantasti-car:
People say that FF #1 worked not only because of the family squabbling and their not-so-perfect powers, but also because they were tied to the real world. I think they were tied to the imaginative real world, the one that existed just a few steps ahead of us in those wide-eyed magazines with “Science” on the cover. Stan and Jack did their homework. I will have more on the FF at some point (see below). I think that they were far more real than we think.
One more: so if the FF had to go to Latveria, they used the “Pogo plane.” I remember reading that name and Stan’s explanation of how it worked and, you know, totally not believing a word of it.
I obviously didn’t know anything. The Pogo Plane was based on a real plane, the Convair XFY, pictured here in 1954:
There is more to this than we think sometimes. That’s what makes it work.
Brad Ricca is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – The Creators of Superman, now available in paperback. He also writes the column Luminous Beings Are We at StarWars.com. Visit www.super-boys.com and follow @BradJRicca.