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Jason Czeskleba
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 12:06pm | IP Logged | 1 post reply

 Eric Jansen wrote:

Roger Stern randomly finding that typed plot in Stan's old desk (complete with elements KIRBY didn't draw) is pretty conclusive to me.

I think there needs to be a differentiation between the act of CREATION and the (often extended) act of DEVELOPMENT.  I can create a new super-hero in five minutes (or less!) but it might take a week, a month, a year--ten years!--to actually do something with that character.  But without that initial act of creation, there would be nothing to develop.

The existence of the synopsis is not conclusive proof that Stan came up with the initial idea for the characters by himself, because the synopsis could have been typed up after a plot conference between Lee and Kirby.  According to Kirby, this is the way they always worked from the beginning... they would have a verbal plot conference, and then Stan would sometimes type up a written synopsis, sometimes not. 

The most telling fact in support of this is the similarity between the FF's origin and the origin of the Challengers.  It is extremely unlikely that Stan came up with such a similar storyline independently, or that he would deliberately plagiarize an old DC story.  The only plausible explanation is that Kirby was involved in the story development. 

Beyond that, the synopsis has a conversational tone, as though it's part of an ongoing dialogue between the two of them that started at some earlier point. 

 Matt Hawes wrote:
I always find it ironic that Stan Lee, the man responsible for standardizing the credits in comic book publications in a time where credits were rarely given is the same guy the detractors want to demonize as if he hogged all the credit.

It is unfortunate that the discussion is often reduced to extremes, with one side demonizing the other in simplistic terms.  Stan certainly deserves credit for the idea of credits, and he certainly didn't hog all the credit.  But the artists were generally co-writers of the stories, and they generally were not given credit for their contribution to the writing.  That is a valid concern.  Also, they were generally not paid for their contribution to the writing, which was probably a bigger issue for them than the credits.     


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John Byrne
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 12:13pm | IP Logged | 2 post reply

The plane crash was not uncommon in fiction long before the Challengers. See LOST HORIZON as the one example.
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Dave Phelps
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 1:25pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

 Jason Czeskleba wrote:
The most telling fact iA n support of this is the similarity between the FF's origin and the origin of the Challengers. It is extremely unlikely that Stan came up with such a similar storyline independently, or that he would deliberately plagiarize an old DC story. The only plausible explanation is that Kirby was involved in the story development.


I'm not entirely disagreeing with you, but are the stories really THAT similar?

Story 1: Four experts in their chosen fields are on their way to a radio show to do an interview. They suffer what should have been a fatal airplane crash, decide they're "living on borrowed time" and decide to work together.

Story 2: A scientist is concerned that he's about to lose funding for his dream project and that the commies will beat the US to the moon. He, his fiancee, her brother and "a pilot they hired" (see an early FF fan page) break in and steal the completed ship and head for the moon. Unfortunately, as soon as they left the atmosphere they were bombarded by cosmic rays and become unable to continue operating the craft. The autopilot takes over and brings them in for a "rough, but non-fatal landing." As they emerge from the plan, they realize the cosmic rays have transformed them and given them incredible abilities. So, as one does, they decide to become heroic adventureres.

So as far as origin story similarities go, you have: "Decide to become adventurers," which is fairly standard; an air vehicle that doesn't land where/how it's supposed to; and the fact that there are four of them. Even if Kirby wasn't involved with the initial plotting (I think there's evidence to support either argument, unfortunately), I think you have a long way to go to reach "plagiarized." It's just as easy to assume two people came up with a similar solution to a similar problem ("How do you have a small group of people, and only that small group, go through a similar/traumatic experience?").
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John Byrne
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 1:39pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Years ago, one writer tried to turn a typo in Stan's plot into "proof" he'd originally meant the FF for someone other than Kirby.

Incidentally -- READ THE PLOT. It doesn't "sound" as if Stan and Jack had talked it over beforehand.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 2:26pm | IP Logged | 5 post reply

The document in question, for anyone who hasnít seen it:

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Jason Czeskleba
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 2:42pm | IP Logged | 6 post reply

 Dave Phelps wrote:
So as far as origin story similarities go, you have: "Decide to become adventurers," which is fairly standard; an air vehicle that doesn't land where/how it's supposed to; and the fact that there are four of them.


It's not just the events but the sequence in which they occur:  four characters survive a crash of an air vehicle,  and they immediately decide on the spot to become a team of adventurers as a direct result of surviving that crash.  I don't think there's a plethora of previous stories besides the Challengers' origin which feature that exact sequence of events. 

It's also worth noting the story in Challengers #3 has a sequence in which Rocky is blasted into space, and when he lands and emerges from the capsule he has developed various super powers which (among others) include invisibility, super-strength, and the ability to shoot flames from his hands.

The stories are certainly far from identical, but to me these similarities in plot elements seem too much to be coincidental.  The idea that Stan would independently come up with a plot that has ideas similar to things in previous comics, and then just happen to give that plot to the guy who'd written and drawn those previous comics seems an implausible coincidence.  Particularly since Kirby himself said it was not a coincidence, and that he deliberately used elements from the Challengers.  Kirby had a history of reworking and re-using old plot ideas or character elements in new stories (there are lots of examples of this if one examines his output).  So we have the testimony of one of the participants, as well as the external evidence, to support the notion that the initial plot was a collaboration.

It's also worth considering the rejected Lee/Kirby Spider-Man origin story.  According to Ditko, this plot was quite similar to the origin of the Fly, and when he pointed this out Stan decided to scrap it.  It seems likely that the similarities to the Fly's origin were deliberately inserted by Kirby rather than coincidentally conceived by Stan, which means Kirby was involved in developing that plot.  If they were working together in that manner on Spider-Man, it seems likely they did the same thing on FF.

 John Byrne wrote:
READ THE PLOT. It doesn't "sound" as if Stan and Jack had talked it over beforehand.

At one point in the synopsis, Lee states that the FF's mission is to be the first humans to reach Mars.  Then he adds an entire side paragraph stating that "maybe we better make this a flight to the STARS" rather than Mars, because a the rate the Russian space program is progressing, he's concerned that Russians will reach Mars before the issue hits the stands.  This certainly seems suggestive that Stan and Jack had talked before and decided it would be a mission to Mars, but now Stan is thinking better of it, and initiating further discussion with Jack.  If that was not the case, why would he even bother with typing out his rationale for not making it a mission to Mars?  If he had second thoughts as he was typing, he likely would have just gone back and crossed out Mars and written in "the stars."  Why would he need to go into a lengthy explanation of the change if Jack was not even aware it was a change because they'd never discussed it before?



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Dave Phelps
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 3:51pm | IP Logged | 7 post reply

 Jason Czeskleba wrote:
It's not just the events but the sequence in which they occur: four characters survive a crash of an air vehicle, and they immediately decide on the spot to become a team of adventurers as a direct result of surviving that crash. I don't think there's a plethora of previous stories besides the Challengers' origin which feature that exact sequence of events.


I dispute the "direct result of surviving that crash" comment. The FF got powers so they became super-heroes. No powers, Ben decks Reed for rushing into things, and they all move on with their lives (or go to jail for stealing a rocket). Surviving the crash was a necessity (difficult, albeit not impossible, to be a super team if they're all dead), not a motivation. For the Challengers, it was both. As for the similar timing, Silver Age comics/heroes generally got down to business quickly (Spider-Man being a notable exception) so that doesn't really mean anything.

See also the people saying that the FF having chapters like the early Challengers stories did as further "proof" that Jack wrote everything. Makes perfect sense if you ignore all the other Marvel comics that also used chapters for stories longer than five pages... But I digress.


 QUOTE:
It's also worth noting the story in Challengers #3 has a sequence in which Rocky is blasted into space, and when he lands and emerges from the capsule he has developed various super powers which (among others) include invisibility, super-strength, and the ability to shoot flames from his hands.


Hard to see Jack as the one who would pitch "let's revive the Human Torch" (although to be fair he had recently been involved with a Shield/Private Strong revival); giving the Thing strength is just a logical outcome of casting a monster as one of your heroes; and I can see how Kirby handled Rocky's invisibility informing how he ended up handling Sue's powers (i.e. Sue not having to take her clothes off and being able to turn visible again), but that doesn't mean the notion of an invisible character came from him in the first place. The initial write-up for the Invisible Girl owes more to HG Wells than Challengers of the Unknown.


 QUOTE:
The stories are certainly far from identical, but to me these similarities in plot elements seem too much to be coincidental.


But the similarities aren't specific enough that there's no way they couldn't have been coincidental.


 QUOTE:
This certainly seems suggestive that Stan and Jack had talked before and decided it would be a mission to Mars, but now Stan is thinking better of it, and initiating further discussion with Jack.


It's clear that future discussion was planned. But those sections could have easily turned out the same if Stan had done nothing more than decide that Jack was going to be the artist, and possibly told Jack that something was going to be coming.   

I've written emails, draft reports, message board posts, etc. where I say something and then follow it with a parenthetical "(although on second thought, maybe this instead)". Seeing an idle notion in print has a way of making you think about it some more. It's not hard for me to imagine Stan doing the same as a way to keep both options on the table, especially when using a typewriter.

Given how quickly comics were produced in those days, the synopsis seemed a little too "raw" to me to have been produced after a plotting session. OTOH, given that this was an attempt to do Something New, going through multiple iterations makes sense.

I'm not saying it's impossible that Stan and Jack had an initial plotting session, Stan typed up the synopsis and then kicked it back over to Jack for further discussion/evolution. I'm just saying I also don't find it impossible that Stan came up with the initial synopsis on his own and then Jack got involved with the process and further evolved it until we got what was published. Both seem equally plausible to me.


(edited because I screwed up a quote box)

Edited by Dave Phelps on 17 May 2018 at 3:54pm
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Michael Penn
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 3:54pm | IP Logged | 8 post reply

If Stan Lee intended to present this synopsis to Jack Kirby, it makes sense Stan would include asides about his doubts and concerns etc. directly to Jack, e.g., asking him whether the Invisible Girl might not be too sexy. "Better talk to me about it, Jack" does not sound like summing up a conversation they already had or a sudden new doubt that struck Stan as he was writing this up.
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Jason Czeskleba
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 6:50pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

 Dave Phelps wrote:
But the similarities aren't specific enough that there's no way they couldn't have been coincidental.


True.  It is possible they were coincidental.  To me it seems much less likely though, given they are not merely similarities to some random previous story, but similarities to a previous Jack Kirby story.  So it would really be two coincidences:  that Stan independently came up with ideas similar to something done before, and that it happened to be similar to something done before by the very same person he was collaborating with on this new project. 

Beyond that, we have Evanier's testimony in the Kirby trial that Stan told him that that "he and Jack had sat down one day and figured out what the Fantastic Four would be."  And in Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan says that he wrote the synopis after "kicking around" ideas with Kirby and Martin Goodman.

This is a case where we have two conflicting accounts of what happened given by the people directly involved.  In such cases, we have to look to the external evidence to come up with a guess as to whose account is more accurate.  To me, it seems like the balance of evidence makes it more likely that the plot was a collaboration and that the synopsis was typed up after a plot conference between the two men. 

 Michael Penn wrote:
"Better talk to me about it, Jack" does not sound like summing up a conversation they already had or a sudden new doubt that struck Stan as he was writing this up.

What about the comments about Mars vs. "the stars"?  As I said, it seems more likely to me that he would spend a whole paragraph explaining his rationale for the change if it was something he and Kirby had discussed before.  It seems less likely that he would bother to write his rationale for making that change if it was not a change Kirby would even be aware of. 

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John Byrne
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 7:22pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

I'll consider getting the Kirby fanatics to tip slightly towards acknowledging COLLABORATION something of a major victory.
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Eric Jansen
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 8:03pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Beyond that, we have Evanier's testimony in the Kirby trial that Stan told him that that "he and Jack had sat down one day and figured out what the Fantastic Four would be."  And in Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan says that he wrote the synopis after "kicking around" ideas with Kirby and Martin Goodman.
___________________

That still shows that it was a collaboration.  No one's saying that it all came fully formed from Stan's mind, just that it wasn't a solo Kirby creation.

We all know that Stan loves alliteration, and that led to "Reed Richards" and "Sue Storm," but did it also lead to the book's title "Fantastic Four"?

Bringing in Kirby's take on Spider-Man lends credence to the Stan side of the FF's creation too.  Stan tells Jack "Hey, I'd like to do a story about a teenager who gains the abilities of a spider--a Spider-Man!  What can you come up with for that?"  Jack's input was all wrong so Stan gave it to Ditko instead.  If the same process happened with the FF, Stan says to Jack "I want to do a team book called 'Fantastic Four'--four people who get super-powers in an accident--maybe bring back the Human Torch in some way.  How about a monster and a pretty girl?  Led by one of our typical scientist types."  Jack might have thought "A foursome?  I did a foursome over at DC!" and suggested recycling some Challengers elements--some of which Stan accepted.  (Crash landing?)

Even if Jack brought in stuff from CHALLENGERS #3, Stan still had to okay and incorporate what would work long term.

That synopsis reads like a work in process, Stan working out some ideas.  In the days before computers or word processors, it was not easy to make corrections, so you did them by hand in the margins.

Finding the synopsis seems fishy to some, but they might be imagining a pristine and empty desk except for these two pieces of paper.  I keep everything!  I imagine a drawer full of messy and crinkled random notes and files.  Was there a pile of receipts and grocery lists too?  Does anyone know what ELSE Roger Stern might have found that day?


Edited by Eric Jansen on 17 May 2018 at 8:07pm
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Rick Whiting
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 8:40pm | IP Logged | 12 post reply

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Kirby admit to (I think) Joe Simon (in an interview for a book that Simon wrote about comics) that he lied about being the sole creator of all of those Marvel characters and about Stan not having any hand in creating them? Didn't Kirby admit that the only reason why he lied was because he was out of work and hurt? I believe that someone on this forum pointed this out some years ago, but I could be wrong.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 9:03pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

When was Kirby "out of work" post FF?
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Rebecca Jansen
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 9:24pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

Kirby left Marvel while Stan Lee was in Europe if I remember correctly, and stepped right into a better page rate and more input with DC. He wouldn't have left if there hadn't been work elsewhere.

I see the Fantastic Four as something of an outgrowth of Stan hearing about The Justice League comic selling well and their existing monster character focus. Their powers are given a monster-type quality in that first story caused by cosmic rays (not a crash) especially with The Thing, and the first villain is a monster attack type of character too.

The ITC Champions tv show of the late '60s started with an airplane crash, a lot more like Challengers, and the three people rescued by strange Himalayan hermit types were saved and received strange powers which is a bit more like the FF. But mostly I thought of '40s Kid Eternity when I first saw that series. These are old pulp fiction adventure tropes being reshuffled basically.


Edited by Rebecca Jansen on 17 May 2018 at 9:25pm
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Jason Czeskleba
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Posted: 17 May 2018 at 11:03pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

 Eric Jansen wrote:
That still shows that it was a collaboration.  No one's saying that it all came fully formed from Stan's mind, just that it wasn't a solo Kirby creation.

I agree with that.  All I was saying is that I think the most likely scenario is that they created the characters and story together during a plot conference, and then Stan typed up the synopsis... like typing up the minutes after a meeting.  I don't think Stan wrote up that synopsis without notable input from Kirby beforehand.   
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Eric Jansen
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Posted: 18 May 2018 at 12:54am | IP Logged | 16 post reply

I just read the synopsis again and--if taken at face value--it's quite fascinating how LITTLE the original idea seemed like the Challengers!  It's clear that Stan wanted to concentrate on the super-powers--and their drawbacks!  Interesting observations include:

1. The Thing moved ponderously and was practically a villain (a wolf in sheep's clothing).
2. Sue was glamorous but now--literally--lost her looks!  (She would have to wear a lifelike mask to cover her permanent invisibility!)
3. Stan actually mentioned the original Human Torch, and how Johnny would differ from him.
4. No mention of costumes, but Stan did plan out Ben and Sue's regular clothes.
5. The craft did NOT crash, but managed to land.

Nothing there says Challengers!  BUT Stan DID include in the synopsis that the team felt that it was FATE that gave them their powers!  If I was typing a fake synopsis to draw credit away from Kirby and the Challengers, I certainly would have left THAT out!

The FF didn't get their costumes until issue 3.  I wonder if people would have compared the two teams if the FF remained "plain clothes" super-powered heroes.  The only real (initial) connection between the two teams is that there are four of them and Kirby drew both.

(I wonder if the dividing line identifying where Kirby started doing more of the plot is where Ben went from a villainous jerk to a lovable heart of gold type.)




Edited by Eric Jansen on 18 May 2018 at 12:56am
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Dave Phelps
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Posted: 18 May 2018 at 11:08am | IP Logged | 17 post reply

 Jason Czeskleba wrote:
And in Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan says that he wrote the synopis after "kicking around" ideas with Kirby and Martin Goodman.


Oh yeah, forgot about that. Okay, pretty strong vote in favor of the "Stan wrote it up after talking to Jack" theory. :-)

BUT I still think too much is being made of the "amazing parallels" between the plane crashes. In the FF origin, you needed them in space to get exposed to the cosmic rays and on the ground to demonstrate their new powers.* The question of "how do we get from one place to the other?" has a pretty obvious answer and doesn't require someone with prior experience with comics that have a plane crash in them.


*It would've been a little crowded to do it in the rocket and disjointed to have a caption with "they managed to land safely and went home; but a few days later..."
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Robert Bradley
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Posted: 19 May 2018 at 7:16am | IP Logged | 18 post reply

For an idea just how convoluted creator credits can be -

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Darren Ashmore
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Posted: 19 May 2018 at 12:14pm | IP Logged | 19 post reply

IMHO the first similarities of the FF  to the Challs was when they introduced the matching jumpsuits and the HQ  with all the gadgets,  before that FF was more akin to Cave Carson or the Sea Devils. How different would the series have been (and Marvel overall) if they had stuck to costume less superheroes?
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Darren Ashmore
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Posted: 19 May 2018 at 12:29pm | IP Logged | 20 post reply

Of course both Carson and the Devils first appeared after the Challengers but their line ups were more FF like (scientific lead, burly 2nd member, lead's girlfriend, younger 4th). Both Carson and Devils debuted in late 1960, and probably given the lead time for the creation and publication of the FF there was no influence present, but maybe Jack caught wind of these two new upcoming DC strips and at least mentioned it to Stan?
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