This Island Manhattan: New York City and the Space Race in The Fantastic
Manhattan. As pedestrians crowd the sidewalks and cars jam the
streets, New Yorkers
collectively turn their eyes to the sky as a massive object casts
a shadow over the city. Deep in the throes of the Cold War, many likely
wonder if a nuclear threat is on its way from the Soviet Union — perhaps
the shadow has something to do with Telstar, the communication satellite
that was put into orbit on July 10th. Surely it isn’t another NASA
launch; Scott Carpenter just went up in May and the next Mercury mission
isn’t scheduled until October. Anyway, a NASA flight would
not be seen in New York and it certainly would not be launched from
city, as this object, diminishing from sight, must have been. Before
into the stratosphere there is surely a collective gasp as those
below realize just what it is they see escaping the orbit of the
is a building.
Many of those on the ground might have been less shocked at the incredible
sight if they knew that the structure in question was the Baxter Building,
the skyscraper headquarters of the superhero team the Fantastic Four.
Indeed, the infamous super-villain Dr. Doom hijacked the building
and its fantastic
inhabitants, pulling it magnetically with his rocket ship, intent on
launching the heroes, building and all, into the sun. If you read
Marvel Comics’ The
Fantastic Four 6 (Sept. 1962) you would also learn that, inevitably,
Doom fails in this attempt and is carried away on a passing meteor.
Building returns to its original resting place in Manhattan, order
temporarily restored to the city.
This story, “Captives of the Deadly Duo,” is typical of
The Fantastic Four of the 1960s; aerial threats to New York City and
battles in outer space are central elements. A closer look at the stories
produced in the early issues of the comic by writer Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter
Jack Kirby reveals a strong concern for themes typically associated
with threats from outer space, or terrestrial threats that the heroes
in space. What is particularly interesting about The Fantastic Four
is that it stands virtually alone among the superhero comics of its
as a title directly concerned with issues germane to the space race.
other iconic Marvel superheroes of the period had origins in Cold War
nuclear anxieties. However, while Spider-Man contracted his powers
from a radioactive
spider bite and Bruce Banner became the Hulk after being caught in
a gamma bomb blast, only the Fantastic Four acquired their super-powers
into space. Significantly, the entire reason they go into space is
beat the Soviets there, locating the very existence of the group as
superheroes within a space race context.
Judging by the popular culture of the period (from endless magazine
articles about astronauts to soap dispensers shaped like space capsules)
were not only consumed by but also consumed the space race. Romantic
and exciting representations of space travel permeated the cultural
landscape, an indirect extension of the government’s attempt to win public support
for its costly space program. This program was both a government project
and a commodity, the latter functioning to validate the former. In essence
the multi-billion dollar program was sold to the public as a two-dollar
moon replica piggy bank. It makes sense that comic books would be implicated
in this process; what is surprising is how few comics did this to the degree
of The Fantastic Four. This comic embraced the space race as a defining
narrative trope in its monthly tales of a group of astronaut-superheroes
often fighting in and for outer space. These stories in fact were only
slightly more fantastic than the advertisements that appeared in many issues.
A typical ad for a model rocket appears in issue 30 (Sept. 1964) and features
an image of a streamlined rocket poised for lift off. The text promises
that the toy rocket will bring “a new world of adventure” and
is as “exciting as the space age.” A reader could enact his
or her own fantasy adventures in space while reading about the Fantastic
More than just presenting action yarns in outer space, however, The
Fantastic Four does something unlike any other comic book of the period:
the concerns of the space race via the mediated site of New York City.
Marvel comics of the period are famous for naming New York as the location
of their narratives, refusing to create a fictional surrogate city
(such as Metropolis or Gotham) that is typical of the genre. The city
comic books is an actual one, recognizable landmarks apparent throughout
the narratives. Beyond this naming, The Fantastic Four does something
that no other Marvel title of the time does: it directly implicates
as a site of national renewal and progress in the race to space. New
York becomes a gateway to the stars and, concomitantly, a fortress
ideals that the space race rhetoric of the era claimed it embodied.
Raymond Williams contends that in order to effectively perform historical
one must consider the dynamic relation among the dominant (present)
cultural moment, the residual (past), and the emergent (future). In
to The Fantastic Four one can trace how the dominant negotiation of
the residual is apparent in the appropriation of Frontier Mythology
turn of the century, creating a myth of the corporation. The frontier
myth that defined American identity to that point was incorporated
rhetoric of industrialism and monopoly capitalism of the period. This
resulting corporate mythology intersects with the emergent concerns
of the Cold War
and the space race in the 1950s and this emergent threat was pacified
by its incorporation into the dominant by associating it with the residual
of Frontier Mythology. Though here I am focusing only on the first
twenty-one issues, this process is strongly articulated in the “classic” incarnation
of The Fantastic Four, generally regarded as running from issues 1
(Nov. 1961) through 102 (Sept. 1970).
Space is the Place:
Frontier Mythology romanticizes the rugged individual
who represents the nation at large; in this myth personal self-renewal
self-renewal. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, this myth
was threatened by the closing of the western frontier and the ascendancy
of industrial capitalism. By the end of the nineteenth century the American
landscape was radically altered by a proliferation of steel-framed bridges
spanning rivers and increasingly taller steel buildings that dominated
cityscapes. As Cecelia Tichi notes, the designer of these new structures,
the engineer, “became the exemplar of technological power and began
to appear . . . as a new kind of American hero” (105). The hero-engineer
remained a constant figure as national mythology accommodated the changing
economic and technological landscape of the country. Scientist Reed Richards,
the leader of the Fantastic Four, is then part of a tradition of engineer
heroes that includes Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.
The figure of the lone engineer-genius functions in much the same way
the frontiersman does: he puts an individual face on national projects
of enormous scale. If the frontiersman makes westward expansion and all
of its attendant incoherencies understandable, the engineer hero makes
the radical transformation of the American landscape comprehensible.
Most importantly, the engineer and the structures he produces represent
a stabilizing force in a world perceived as increasingly unstable. Tichi
quotes New York City Mayor Abram Hewitt, who, at the opening ceremonies
of the Brooklyn Bridge, observed that while the bridge appeared to lack
motion it was, in fact, “instinct with motion . . . It is an aggregation
of unstable elements . . . The problem was, out of these unstable elements,
to produce absolute stability” (105). By being so strongly linked
with skyscrapers, the FF represent a potentially destabilizing and destabilized
element that can derive stability from the surrounding architecture,
as well as restore stability to it.1
Similarly, the very products of the engineer are themselves an unsteady
element in a national milieu otherwise regarded as constant and natural.
How does one accept the presence of bridges that cut ugly swaths across
the landscape, or towering office buildings that block out the sky? If
Americans see their country as a symbolic new Eden, what does the national
mythology do with the presence of the proverbial machine in the garden?
The skyscraper contains the answer to the question its form poses within
that very form itself. If the world is now experienced as disruptive,
then the skyscraper, while potentially emblematic of that disruption,
points the way to a new realm of stability, that of outer space.
Robert Romanyshyn contends that the “technological world is a work
of reason but of a reason which reaches deeply into dream” (10).
Technology is both the cure for and the symptom of mankind’s malaise
in the newly defined modern world. Within this dynamic, technology offers
one both the reason and the means to escape oneself, to recognize a threat
to one’s very humanity and the means by which one can overcome
that threat. Revised Frontier Mythology manifests this transcendence,
in that the modified American hero seeks a new personal and national
identity beyond the realm of Earth.
Such re-invention is literalized in The Fantastic Four, in which the
primary characters are physically transformed by their space trip into
superior beings. Their re-invention also indicates their temporal distance
from pre-space age America; “the future is now,” as the saying
goes, which means that the past has been conquered and the newly transformed
American is ready to compete with the Soviets in this new era. According
to The Fantastic Four, anxious times call for radical changes: Reed Richards’ body
becomes unbelievably pliable, Sue Storm turns invisible at will, Ben
Grimm changes into a powerful, orange monster, and Johnny Storm transforms
into a living ball of flame. The group’s inherent moral superiority,
a trope of the superhero, and their strong patriotism pacify the threat
suggested by these technologically-derived changes.
Significantly, their leader, Reed, is an independently wealthy and brilliant
scientist-engineer working for the good of his country. This is not only
consistent with the tradition of engineers as inherently ethical but
also works in concert with the growing celebration of industrialized
corporate power that began around the turn of the century. Historian
Charles A. Beard argues that industrialization was the logical successor
to the frontier, its potential for personal renewal as seemingly inexhaustible
as America’s resources. Beard sees the flourishing member of the
industrial state as the natural descendent of the frontiersman and the
farmer. Furthermore, within an industrial society companies naturally
compete with one another for market dominance; productivity, not monetary
gain, is the final arbiter of success. This reclamation of national mythology
transforms the frontier from a material, geographical realm to an abstract,
immaterial one in which physical exploration becomes technological innovation,
market dominance the spoils of the victor.
Advances in space technology, however, render this valorization of corporate
America problematic, for, beginning in the 1950s, outer space becomes
a potential new frontier for national expansion. How does the mythology
that had evolved in a post-frontier context suddenly readjust and accommodate
a newly acquired frontier? This is primarily achieved when Americans
perceive this new frontier in the same way they saw the original one,
as a simultaneous source of renewal and threat. Indeed, with the launch
of Sputnik in 1957, Americans regarded a national space program as imperative
to national survival. Once again, the threat of technology demanded a
technological response. If the American frontier was officially deemed
closed in the census of 1890, it was logical that Americans would project
the concerns of Frontier Mythology onto the stars as soon as the threat
of mass destruction from both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial points
emerged in the national psyche. These concerns are entwined with corporate
enterprise, so that the nation’s project of self-determination
embodies both the space race (the new physical frontier) and market dominance
(the already established immaterial frontier). However, because the space
race would require vast amounts of funding and public support, the U.S.
government had to take a technically complex endeavor administered by
bureaucrats and managed by engineers and make it both understandable
and desirable to the general public. Fear-mongering and patriotic appeals
in the popular media became the most effective avenue for this. Lee and
Kirby’s comic was not the only cultural text performing this work.
However, in its condensation of the space race, the city, and corporations,
it is a unique artifact that addresses multiple concerns of the period
in complex ways.
The Fantastic Four was not the first time popular
culture narrated a national space fantasy (beginning in the 1920s pulp
featured space narratives). However, the mainstream public’s interest
was not fully engaged in a space program until the issue was placed within
the context of the Cold War. With the Soviet Union’s launching
of Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 in 1957 space exploration suddenly no longer
seemed a whimsical scientific luxury but a pressing national emergency.
The rhetoric of space travel quickly took on dire tones and the possibility
of Soviet control of space inspired the creation of the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (1958) and the space race of the 1960s that
culminated in the moon landings of 1969-1972.
Attendant to the promotion of the space race as a national concern was
the construction of the astronaut as a heroic figure, cut from all-American
cloth and ready to outperform his Cosmonaut counterparts. Howard E. McCurdy
notes that by “promoting the astronaut corps, (NASA was) . . .
able to reduce complex technical issues to personal values such as bravery
and patriotism”(88). Media attention on the first contingent of
American astronauts (the “Mercury Seven”) was intense; Life
magazine, which held exclusive rights to each astronaut’s first-hand
stories, alone dedicated articles to them in twenty-eight issues from
1959 to 1963 (McCurdy 88).
By promoting the image of the competent and heroic American male at the
helm of a spacecraft, NASA also promoted the proxy image of the heroic
engineers and scientists who were responsible for the creation and execution
of the program on the ground (The Fantastic Four conflated those roles
into the figure of Reed Richards). Not only did the American public then
have a new frontier and frontiersman to promote national ideals, but
also an image of science and technology as a national boon, thus pacifying
some of the technophobia of the Cold War. The ability to explore space
mediated the threat of global annihilation by nuclear warfare. While
the space program was inherently dangerous to the astronauts, to not
pursue it was perceived as potentially even more dangerous to the national
body. The race to the moon inaugurated by President Kennedy on May 25,
1961 became a national enterprise, validated by television broadcasts
of launches and returns, and the overwhelming presence of space rhetoric
in popular culture.
Engineers and astronauts could not win the race to the moon alone, however.
They merely stood at the vanguard, helming an enterprise in which all
Americans theoretically had a stake. In a speech delivered at Rice University
on September 12, 1962, President Kennedy laid out his ambitious space
plans for the country, linking the project of a moon landing with core
democratic values that define America. Invoking Frontier Mythology, he
said, “This country was conquered by those who moved forward – and
so will space” (Nevins 242). More than this, though, he warned
that America’s failure to fully engage in a space program would
lead to dire consequences, not just for the U.S. but for the world at
large: “[N]o nation which expects to be the leader of other nations
can expect to stay behind in this race for space . . . For the eyes of
the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond,
and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag
of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace” (Nevins 243).
To support the space program is to support freedom and peace, to oppose
it is to allow cruel dictatorship from the skies. The space program became,
under Kennedy, the defining national cause of the decade. Its symbolic
cache only grew as those other ambitious national projects of the decade,
Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and the war in Vietnam,
failed to satisfy the need for national regeneration in uncertain times.
The Place is Space
If both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were
heavily invested in winning public support for the space race, and
popular culture was
a primary tool in this endeavor, it is essential to consider how The
Fantastic Four, the most scientifically-oriented superhero comic of the
time, engages in this rhetorical battle for American hearts and minds.
It is important to first lay out the historical and symbolic significance
of New York City’s skyscraper architecture leading up to the 1960s
to better contextualize an understanding of how the comic works to embrace
national space goals within an urban context, for what is ultimately
at work in The Fantastic Four is a re-inscription of American citizenship
by way of New York City. The city becomes the metonym for the nation,
so that the latter’s concerns are condensed within the space of
the city. If the Fantastic Four are ideal American patriots, then the
comic’s rhetoric compels one to regard the city to which they are
so strongly linked as the ideal American space.
In their exhaustive study of New York City architecture, New York 1960,
Robert A.M. Stern, Thomas Mellins, and David Fishman write that before
World War II, “metropolitan New York was both a miniature and a
distillation of America ,” a model of “the country’s
pluralist, democratic society” (8). In all its congestive, sky-scraping
glory, New York came to embody the push and pull of modern society, its
constrictive boundaries and the limitless potential implied by its soaring
verticality. New York was the site of promise, the city of the future.
In his 1929 book The Metropolis of Tomorrow, architect and artist Hugh
Ferriss renders a fantasy vision of New York that captures this dynamism.
Ferriss’ charcoal depictions of mist-shrouded, towering, and indistinct
skyscrapers represent a vision of the city as a new Athens. The dream-like
rendering of this city of the future is as significant as the civic ideals
such a comparison invokes. As Rem Koolhaas observes, “Ferriss’ most
important contribution to the theory of Manhattan is exactly the creation
of an illuminated night inside a cosmic container, the murky Ferrissian
Void: a pitch black architectural womb” (117). In the vision of
Ferriss, Manhattan is equally a city and an island, a pocket of progress
upon which desires can be projected. The city becomes the location of
ideals that define and transcend the nation, a utopian space that invokes
an imagined past as it envisions an imagined future, in the process creating
an imaginary present. Importantly, the city achieves this symbolic station
by being removed from the rest of the country. It exists in an idealized
space in the American imagination, at once symbolically American but
not actually America. In The Fantastic Four Lee and Kirby depict a Manhattan
that equally represents a simultaneously known and unknown entity to
Such visions of cities are prevalent in science fiction. Janet Staiger
notes that in science fiction films “readily distinguishable sections
of today’s cityscape are present while other parts are rewritten” (97).
In terms of New York, when one pictures the city as utopian this rewriting
tends to serve a modernist aesthetic that valorizes monopoly capitalism.
The tension between residual Frontier Mythology and the dominant corporate
culture of modernity produces a fantasy emergent, the utopian city. Corporate
culture, the modern location of the self-renewing ideas of Frontier Mythology,
is where the individual citizen and the nation as a whole regenerate
and affirm identity, where the American Dream is manifested. It is where
the residents of the city enjoy seemingly limitless material luxuries,
the defining goal of the new, corporatized American dream.
An idealized image of New York is evident throughout The Fantastic Four.
Lee and Kirby represent the city as a utopia contained within a four-colored “Kirbian” womb,
a discrete space that embodies the democratic ideals of American society.
According to Koolhaas, the Ferrissian Void that Manhattan exists in is
a womb in which the city’s architecture “absorbs multiple
impregnation by any number of alien and foreign influences . . . (that)
. . . are effortlessly accommodated in the expanding receptacle of Ferriss’ vision” (117).
Kirby’s vision of Manhattan is a womb equally accommodating to
penetration because the corporate culture that has already sown its seed
there is able to assimilate influences. Kirby’s Manhattan is a
resolute corporate space in which the architecture reflects the ideology
of modern capitalism in its machine-like surfaces. If, as Le Corbusier
famously said, a house is a machine for living, Kirby depicts Manhattan’s
skyscrapers as machines for working and defending America. As the series
progresses his drawings of Manhattan become more abstract and intricate,
increasingly marginalizing the mundane and ordinary, and more fully integrate
the strip’s fantastic beings with their manufactured landscape.
In depicting, for example, the planet-draining machinery of Galactus
in issue 49 (Apr. 1966), Kirby figuratively externalizes the machinery
inside the Baxter Building. By symbolically turning the Baxter Building
inside out, the comic acknowledges anxiety about the corporatized scientific
work Reed does inside the building. In presenting the spectacle of the
FF defeating the externalized alien threat, the comic also pacifies those
anxieties. The scientific industry of corporate America, is, like the
space program, with its televised launches and moon landings, a spectacle
that affirms American progress and superiority.
Invasions of the city come from above and, occasionally, from below,
but those threats are never regarded as a product of the corporate capitalism
that characterizes the city. Indeed, corporate power is rendered as the
source of the city’s protection, a benevolent force, embodied by
the Fantastic Four, which works for the good of all New Yorkers and,
by extension, all Americans. According to Thomas Bender and William R.
Taylor, “in the history of urban form in New York horizontal monumentalism
implies civic or public purpose, while the tower represents the power
of corporate capitalism” (190). In the mythology of the corporate
frontier, the skyscraper embodies the national heroic, appropriating
the symbolic power of the horizontal civic buildings and monuments.
The architecturally bland corporate skyscraper began to dominate the
Manhattan skyline after World War II. Because of economic efficiency,
modernism was the style of choice in the skyscraper boom of the 1950s,
characterized by corporate skyscrapers such as Lever House (1952), and
the Seagram Building (1958), “a tower built to elucidate the .
. . principles of order, logic, and clarity in all things” (Goldberger,
112). This latter building ushered in an entirely new era of modernist
skyscraper in the 1960s; following a change in zoning laws in 1960, Manhattan
erupted in a rash of “sheer tower[s] . . .soaring straight up from
an open plaza” (Goldberger 115).
Manhattan seemed to experience and express the post-war economic boom
more intensely and directly than the rest of the nation; again New York
was the emblematic city. While the boom produced extravagant symptoms
such as the skyscraper, these very characteristics became symptomatic
of much that many regarded as threatening in this boom period. The changes
in New York that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s are an extension of
the general anxieties wrought by modernity and many regarded the city
as a place at once at the center of the world and perpetually threatening
to “spin out of control” (Stern 19). In addition to increased
car congestion in the city, the changing racial make-up of its citizens
informed this perceived loss of control: “During the 1940s and
1950s, 1.2 million whites moved out of the city . . . At the same time,
the city benefited from an influx of southern blacks and Puerto Ricans.
By November 1957 New York would become the first city in the world to
have a black population of more than one million” (Stern 15). Hegemonic
order prescribes American identity within white, middle-class boundaries.
So, while the skyscraper as emblem of corporate America affirmed hegemonic
order, those on the ground who fell outside its boundaries perpetually
challenged this order. The fact of white flight from the city center
lends further symbolic cache to the city’s new skyscrapers. By
extension, if the nation at large seemed rent by racial strife, one could
always look at the Manhattan skyline for affirmation of the status quo.
In these early years of The Fantastic Four, the city is rendered as purely
white. The sign of corporate power becomes the emblem of the white superhero
team, defending American liberties in the face of alien hostilities that
come from above and below and represent white middle-class fears of ethnic
American and Soviet threats. Skyscrapers are as white as spaceships in
the 1960s. The primary occupant of the skyscraper, the white corporate
male, is mirrored by the sole occupant of the 1960s spaceship. If cities
contain emblems of corporate hegemony in the form of skyscrapers that
exist in tension with racial “invaders,” the spaceship represents
a more extreme version of the skyscrapers’ verticality. Of course,
the space program in the 1960s was equally invested in maintaining a
strict racial hierarchy. The program was a vehicle of a nationalism that,
by definition, excluded those who were not regarded as traditionally
part of the nation. NASA was able to render an exclusively white (and
male) vision of America that resonated with essential conceits of Frontier
Mythology, actualizing the rhetorical work of the skyscraper. If corporate
headquarters could only strain towards the sky, NASA could devise a “skyscraper” (that
is, an emblem of white corporate power) that could actually explore that
new frontier. As Lynn Spigel notes, “[T]he racism of space science
went hand in hand with the racism of housing, community planning, and
transportation back on earth . . . Whether in the mundane streets of
suburbia, or through the fantastic voyage to the moon, whites secured
their power through the colonization and control of space” (145).
As another product of white corporate America, The Fantastic Four uncritically
duplicates the silently racist ideology of the space program, conflating
it with the similar rhetorical function of Manhattan’s corporate
skyline. As a result, in its early years the comic admits little to no
space for ethnic or racial minorities except through the reductive symbolism
of generic alien threats. In the Manhattan of the Fantastic Four there
is no white flight from the city center because there is no ethnic other
to flee from. The core of the city is not only resolutely white but it
becomes the center of this white America, the heart of democracy and
freedom, the hub of the world. The Fantastic Four exist in a utopian
Manhattan of white, middle-class New Yorkers who can afford to constantly
look up at the battles overhead because there is no crime on the streets
to distract them. This utopian vision erases the typical problem of the
superhero city; the Fantastic Four never have to concern themselves with
muggings or bank robberies. Their agenda is much more important: the
defense of the free world.
The comic book offers a conservative vision of the present that resonates
with an imagined glorious past as it suggests a paradisiacal technological
future. From its first issue, The Fantastic Four takes Kennedy’s
call to arms to heart, firmly grounding its narrative in patriotically
inflected space age rhetoric centered in New York City. While the purpose
of their trip into space is not clearly stated (in issue 2 Reed says
it was a mission to Mars but this possible objective is never mentioned
again), their urgency to get there is underscored by Sue’s plea
to a reluctant Ben before the mission: “Ben, we’ve got to
take that chance . . . unless we want the commies to beat us to it!” Garbed
in classic astronaut gear inside a prototypical silver rocket, the soon-to-become
Fantastic Four are equipped technologically and ideologically for the
rigors of the space race. And while Ben’s initial fears seem validated
by their subsequent transformations (“You know we haven’t
done enough research into the effect of cosmic rays! They might kill
us all out in space!”), it is significant that the dangers of space
also present the FF with an opportunity to even more effectively defend
American interests as a superhero team. From the first issue on, Lee
and Kirby exploit the appeal of characters that simultaneously represent
anxieties about space travel and pacify such concerns.
They also defend “a way of life,” for both the skyscraper
and the space program are strongly rooted in the mythic American concern
with frontier. Americans became increasingly anxious about the future
after World War II, regarding the Soviet Union as a threat both to the
American way of life and to American lives. As a result American popular
culture further idealized the future and the past. The technological
world that contributed to a sense of displacement and anxiety mediated
a superficial denial of contemporary unease about the future. What results
is a conflicting, neurotic relationship regarding technology and the
future. This neurosis strongly informs and motivates the narrative of
The Fantastic Four, in which the city suffers from perpetual attacks
by super villains and invasions by space aliens. Indeed, the seriality
of the monthly comic and the repetitive nature of its narratives are
further manifestations of this neurotic apprehension of modern concerns.
The comic perpetually enacts an invocation and suppression of anxieties
informed by the tension between the American imagination (based on an
imagined glorious past of Manifest Destiny) and American reality (in
which destiny seems to play no part).
Issue 7 (Oct. 1962) foregrounds the conflation of national concerns with
those of the FF. In this issue, Kurrgo of Planet X sends a robot to Earth
to kidnap the FF so that Reed’s scientific knowledge may save Kurrgo’s
race from a “runaway asteroid.” As his ship approaches Earth “one
of America’s new eye-in-the-sky satellites . . . . flashes the
word to command headquarters below.” The next panel shows army
brass wondering if the spaceship might portend “an attack by the
reds.” That the menace to the FF from outer space is considered
a possible Soviet threat suggests not only a symbolic link between the
two but also that only the FF can recognize and ultimately defeat the
extra-terrestrial threat. Of course if the FF did not exist, Kurrgo would
not even have invaded the earth, again indicating the fundamental tension
of technology that simultaneously produces and mediates threats to the
world. Earth-bound technology is in two important instances here affiliated
with the “good guys,” i.e., America. In the first instance
we see an American satellite benignly monitor the skies for such things
as hostile spaceships. The second instance is the FF themselves, their
vaunted status as technological and ideal Americans highlighted by their
invitation to a Washington, D.C. dinner in their honor. Space is the
place where threats to America reside, but also where American ideals
can be fully realized in response to those threats. If Kennedy invoked
the possibility of Soviet domination from outer space, The Fantastic
Four simply extrapolates that menace to beings from other planets, a
fantastic nemesis juxtaposed against these equally fantastic urban Americans.
Paul Goldberger observes that the New York City skyscraper “symbolized
at once the power of technology and the power of history – or, to put
it another way, they expressed the belief of their corporate owners and tenants
that an adaption of the new technology did not have to mean an abandonment
of tradition” (37). The city in The Fantastic Four becomes an imagined
past and future site of white utopia. People were able to at once deny the
peril of the future and endorse its potential benefits by embracing a depiction
of a national past romanticized within a technologically advanced medium. This
also pacified another hazard brought on by technology, that of a more democratic
society. It is important then that the Fantastic Four not only resides within
a corporate skyscraper, but that their headquarters are at its very top, distancing
them from the hoi polloi the comic depicts almost exclusively as white and
middle-class. The Fantastic Four remains blissfully unaware of any class, ethnic,
or racial divisions that existed in the real New York. Lee and Kirby’s
utopian depiction of the city completely elides the civil unrest that increasingly
gripped other metropolitan areas during the decade (such as the Watts riot
of 1965 and the Detroit riot of 1967). Here the comic locates class strife
exclusively as comic relief, often in the guise of the unseen Yancy Street
Gang, a group of white men whose taunting of the Thing establishes an interesting
tension between these implicitly working-glass men and the working-class inflected
Ben Grimm. As the one member of the FF who cannot control his powers or identity
in that he is always the Thing, Ben’s association with New York working-class
culture is further evidence that the comic regards this culture as less amenable
to the responsibilities of super-citizenship in the space age. The fundamental
narrative conflict between Ben and Reed is emblematic of the comic’s
attitude about class in this context. Of further interest is the fact that
Stan Lee has said that he derived the name Yancy Street from Delancy Street
in New York’s Jewish Lower East Side. Given that Ben Grimm has been identified
in recent years in the comic as Jewish and that both Lee and Kirby were Jews,
the implication that the Yancy Street gang is Jewish adds another dimension
to the comic’s class consciousness.
A striking example of the class division within the group that echoes similar
division within the city occurs in issue 18 (Sept. 1963). A brief sequence
at the beginning of the story depicts Reed and Sue donning space suits to go
swimming. An incredulous Ben (wearing street clothes that mark him as part
of ordinary New York) asks, “Well, why the junior spaceman get-up? They
got swimmin’ pools on the moon!?” Reed explains that they are going
to Hawaii in an “experimental passenger I.C.B.M.” As their rocket
lifts off from the roof of the Baxter Building, we see a couple watching from
the window of their apartment. Significantly, the apparatuses of the FF are
not only instantly recognizable but sources of consumer envy that bring to
the surface the physical and economic distance between the average New Yorker
and the Fantastic Four, especially Reed Richards. However, the comic tone of
this moment pacifies any suggested critique of class division. New Yorkers
are sources of amusement, promoting the suppression of social critique, displacing
national concern onto I.C.B.M. missile trips to Hawaii by ultra-rich superheroes.
Ben’s exchange with Reed echoes the humor and class-tension of the final
panel, particularly when he addresses his leader as “great white father.”
When the comic depicts rampant anarchy in the streets of the city in issue
21 (Dec. 1963), the FF discover that a masked villain called the Hate Monger
has used mind control techniques to sow civil unrest. The fact that he is revealed
at the story’s end to be none other than Adolph Hitler further distances
the narrative from any connection with contemporary issues and allows the Fantastic
Four to retroactively participate in World War II. The story in issue 35 (Feb.1965), “Calamity
on Campus,” suggests that the Fantastic Four might encounter the nascent
youth counterculture of the era. However, when they arrive at the campus of “State
U.,” well-groomed, white students seeking autographs mob them. The “calamity” turns
out to be a robot “Dragon Man” controlled by the villain Diablo.
The cover image of the first issue (Nov. 1961) firmly represents the city under
threat and the FF as its potential rescuers. Of note in this origin story is
how, until their identities as superheroes are firmly established, the FF themselves
frighten and intimidate their fellow citizens. However, in subsequent issues
Lee and Kirby very quickly establish a close relationship between the FF and
their fellow New Yorkers, while also maintaining a distance between the two
groups. Therefore, the FF does not adopt secret identities, nor wear masks
as part of their costumes. This unique break with superhero conventions simultaneously
foregrounds the FF’s identities as “real” people and their
distance from the average citizens who remain steadfastly earth-bound. The
comic denies the common trope of the secret identity, that either the superhero
or “civilian” self is a disguise, that the hero is fundamentally
bifurcated. In The Fantastic Four the superheroic self and the “real” self
are the same, the implied superiority of the superhero utterly naturalized.
What then is the necessity of a superhero name at all? Indeed, throughout the
comic the four are as often referred to by their given names as their superhero
ones, regardless if they are wearing their uniforms or street clothes. In this
comic one of the functions of naming is to further emphasize the gulf between
the ordinary and the extraordinary in this world. As noted earlier, Reed is
the consummate heroic engineer and, while Ben is originally brought into the
group for his piloting skills, Reed is more representative of the heroic astronaut
figure of the time. Ben himself is ultimately too ordinary in his character
(or perhaps too Jewish) to correspond to the ideal American that the original
NASA astronauts represent. Ben constantly needs Reed’s theories and explanations
translated into plain English, but what clearly demarcates the two other than
intellect are their powers and their names. Reed is Mr. Fantastic, able to
stretch his body in nearly unlimited ways, while Ben is the Thing, a rocky
monstrosity who can punch his way out of any prison but the body he is trapped
in. Reed is the consummate modern man, his pliability suggesting the infinite
reaches of space, while the Thing is resolutely pre-modern in appearance and
reach. Throughout the comic it is Reed who explores new dimensions and tests
different ways to reach the stars. He looks as comfortable in a space helmet
as the Thing looks uncomfortable in his orange hide. This division between
Reed and Ben is extended in the Thing’s relationship to more terrestrial
concerns, such as his non-super powered girlfriend Alicia and the Yancy Street
Gang. Reed represents the heroic potential of the engineer-astronaut condensed
into one figure, superior to, but also representative of, the average American.
Average Americans are represented in the comic beyond the nameless faces in
the crowded streets. The comic defines the FF’s elderly postman Mr. Lumpkin,
one of its earliest continuing “normal” characters, as utterly
non-superheroic. This intermediary between the FF and the rest of New York/America
hauls mountains of fan mail to the Baxter Building and constantly asks to join
the FF, showing off his “power” of ear wriggling. In issue 11 (Feb.
1963) Reed responds to Lumpkin’s appeal by patronizing him, saying, “We’re
all filled up right now, Lumpy, but we’ll keep you in mind, old timer!” Sue
then activates the FF’s exclusive (i.e., corporate) elevator and the
group leaves the masses down below. This encounter with the mailman follows
a scene in which the FF interact with children who are dressed up as the Fantastic
Four on the streets. This sequence further infantilizes New Yorkers and again
suggests that they primarily regard the FF with equal degrees of admiration
The second issue (Jan. 1962) represents a tentative step towards a more space-oriented
narrative. Here the villains are a race of shape-shifting aliens, the Skrull,
who attempt to invade Earth. In the earliest example in the series of the conflation
of city space and space-age technology, the Skrull’s spaceship is a disguised
water tower that lifts off from the roof of a city building and which later
returns the FF to Earth.
Issue 3 (Mar. 1962) remains Earth-bound but further foregrounds the city as
an essential component of the comic’s milieu. Issue 1 identifies the
setting as the fictional “Central City,” a name only invoked this
particular instance. While issue 3 does not name the city as New York (this
finally occurs in issue 4), it begins to take on more definite features, introducing
the group’s “secret headquarters” within this urban landscape.
Kirby provides the first drawing of what will later be named the Baxter Building,
a detailed, cut-away diagram of the many components of their headquarters,
including a missile monitoring room, pogo orbit plane hangar, and a long-range
passenger missile. There is also space allocated for living quarters, indicating
that the group has successfully integrated the domestic and work spheres, dedicating
themselves to the defense of humanity/America as fully as the American military
and space program. Additionally, as with the elimination of secret identities,
the lack of secrecy about the group’s headquarters emphasizes their elite
status within the city while creating a sense of intimacy with the rest of
New York. It is this intimacy that allows the Yancy Street Gang to play practical
jokes on the Thing but also admits to the vast superiority of the fantastic
group to average New York. Again, they do not have to hide their identities
or their headquarters because the only “threat” from the city itself
might be a Beatle wig mockingly sent to the Thing. Generally speaking, all
is well on the streets below the FF. Their primary concerns are alien threats
to that well-being, usually from above.
Issue 4 (May 1962) again keeps the action on Earth, but by this point in the
comic Lee and Kirby firmly establish one of the primary images of the series,
that of the FF gliding over the buildings of Manhattan in their Fantasticar.
Whether by way of this car or similar flying vehicles designed by Reed, or
in the use of a flare gun to signal one another, the skies are clearly the
domain of the FF, their near-constant presence in it suggesting its significance
as the city’s most important border. Issue 5 (July 1962), which introduces
their arch nemesis Dr. Doom, is equally important in that we see the first
example of the FF being attacked by way of the building they occupy, further
conflating their identities with their work and living space. Issue 6 establishes
yet another trope to become commonplace in the title, that of New Yorkers reacting
on the street to the spectacle of the Fantastic Four above (several pedestrians
respond to the sight of the Human Torch weaving between buildings). As noted,
it is also in this issue that the Baxter Building is literally made a spaceship.
The story concludes with an image of the building returning to earth, accompanied
by this caption: “[T]he stray individuals who later witness the silent
return of the Baxter Building from the skies write it off as a bad dream .
. . an hallucination resulting from the anxieties that plague our nuclear society.” The
world of the FF is simply too incredible for the average Manhattanite to fully
comprehend, and the only way to accommodate it is to locate it within the context
of the Cold War.
Issue 17 (Aug. 1963) represents the FF as the embodiment of American ideals,
though here they do not simply outperform the United States military, but the
president himself. In this issue Dr. Doom threatens the U.S. with war if his
demand for power is not met. Curiously, his modest condition is to be given
a cabinet post in Kennedy’s administration. This allows for a two-panel
sequence in which JFK discusses Doom’s ultimatum with a pair of advisors,
Jackie and Carolyn silhouetted in the background. Kennedy decides, “There
is only one thing to do! We must show him that the United States cannot be
threatened by anyone! We must move forward and proceed with great vigor! And
now, gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me, it’s Caroline’s bedtime!” The
leader of the free world is strangely passive, his rhetoric of “vigor” notwithstanding.
Duplicating the dynamic of the space race, it would seem that it is the President’s
job to clearly articulate the nation’s agenda, while it is the duty of
its best and brightest citizens to meet those stated goals. Because the President
does nothing more than tuck his daughter in bed, Doom attacks the United States
the next day. He sabotages factory machinery and the nation’s defensive
missile systems and a caption tells us that “almost overnight, the mighty
industrial complex of America seems to grind to a halt!” Finally the
Joint Chiefs of Staff calls on the FF to defeat Doom so that control of the
nation can be restored.
If JFK is not always an actual presence in the comic, he is usually a rhetorical
one. Lee and Kirby focus on the race to the moon in issue 13 (Apr. 1963), which
was on newsstands a few months after Kennedy’s speech at Rice University.
In this issue Reed tells the team that he has discovered “a booster fuel
powerful enough to enable us to catch up with the reds in the race to the moon!” In
a show of American democracy, zeal, and self-sacrifice, the rest of the group
demand that they accompany Reed on what he planned to be a solo mission (“I
can’t ask you to risk your lives with me!” he feebly implores them).
Meanwhile, “behind the Iron Curtain,” the Soviet scientist Ivan
Kragoff is also about to launch a ship to the moon. However, instead of a crew
of patriotic countrymen, Kragoff is accompanied by a less impressive coterie
of “comrades”: a baboon, gorilla, and orangutan that he has trained
to help him on his mission “to the moon—to claim it for the Communist
empire!” Kirby lays out the next page as a panel for panel duplication
of the simultaneous launches. Kragoff and his simian partners pass through
a cosmic ray storm that endows them with super-powers and, interestingly, it
is unclear which rocket lands on the moon first. However, when the FF land
they meet the Watcher, a benign alien who spends his time simply watching events
on Earth, following the prime directive of his voyeuristic race to never get
involved with the affairs of the planet he observes. He temporarily suspends
this rule since the moon is his domain and he sees the FF and Kragoff’s
landing there as a violation. His resolution is to have the FF battle Kragoff
for bragging rights to the moon amidst the ruins of an ancient Lunar civilization.
Inevitably the FF prevail and the Watcher leaves them with these words, “Space
is your heritage—see that you prove worthy of such a glorious gift!” While
his words are directed at all of humanity, they are spoken to Reed, who is
shown in dramatic profile, indicating that the moon has fallen into the “right” hands
and that the Soviets are illegitimate claimants to this “heritage.”
With the race to the moon decisively won by the FF, it would seem the comic
would have nowhere else to go but up after this, which is exactly what happens.
While maintaining the Baxter Building as a base, the FF spend the rest of the
1960s exploring the furthest reaches of space, exemplified by Reed’s
trip to “sub-space” in issue 51 (July 1966), in which he exclaims, “I’ve
done it!! I’m drifting into a world of limitless dimensions!! It’s
the crossroads of infinity—the junction to everywhere!” That the “junction
to everywhere” can only be reached by a wealthy white scientist from
the top of his Manhattan skyscraper headquarters is, by this point in the title,
accepted as a natural condition of the world. After their conquest of the moon,
The Fantastic Four depends more directly on the Baxter Building as both a launching
pad to other galaxies and dimensions and the target for alien invasion and
super villain attack.
All the while, Reed remains emblematic of the hegemonic order the FF defends
and he is often mirrored by the super villains the group fights. Victor von
Doom was a brilliant science student at State University with Reed who was
injured and driven insane by a lab accident. He adopts the name Dr. Doom and
uses his scientific knowledge to wage war on the world. It is significant that
Doom’s given name suggests German ancestry, invoking the Nazi rocket
program headed by Wernher von Braun. Though von Braun worked for the U.S. government
following the war, The Fantastic Four makes no such space for an ambivalent
accommodation of the former enemy. In the comic Doom is resolutely European
(he is the sovereign head of “Latveria”) and irredeemably evil.
As the negative image of Mr. Fantastic, Doom is ideally suited as the group’s
primary nemesis. Similar mirroring occurs in issue 20 (Nov. 1963). This story
is about a lowly lab technician for Acme Atomic Corporation who injures himself
in a lab accident. As a result he gains the ability to control inorganic molecules.
He dubs himself the Molecule Man and terrorizes Manhattan by tearing the Baxter
Building from its foundation and levitating it over Times Square. When the
FF tries to stop him he manipulates the city into revolt against them. Sidewalks,
bricks, underground pipes, water towers, electricity, and even newspapers at
a newspaper stand attack the heroes. To eliminate the hope of outside rescue,
the Molecule Man creates a glass bubble that surrounds Manhattan and traps
the island’s inhabitants. In a striking depiction of this, Kirby draws
an aerial view of Manhattan, emphasizing its skyscrapers and grid layout, while
an Air Force jet passes impotently overhead. Confronted with the disruption
of their power base, the FF are temporarily exiled to the margins of the city.
In fact, they take they subway and end up on Yancy Street, where they are even
assisted by a member of the Yancy Street Gang. The Molecule Man is finally
defeated after Reed deduces his one weakness. Sue affirms the villain’s
role as Reed’s doppelganger when she states, “If only we had been
given his power! What wonderful things we could do for mankind!” Though
she speaks for the group, it is clear that such power could only be managed
by the one man who proved he understands it, Reed.
The Molecule Man represents the ultimate anxiety of modernity and the Cold
War when he claims, “I hereby nullify every man-made law! I countermand
every known rule and regulation! There shall be no law but my will!” The
world is absolutely unstable in the most threatening way. The emblem of modernity
that previously stabilized the city/nation/free world (the Baxter Building)
has been itself rendered unstable and directly menacing. More than this, the
world is unstable as the result of the evil designs of a super-powerful dictator
they cannot reckon with. It becomes the province of the FF, the super-powerful
bastions of democracy, to counter this menace, return the Baxter Building to
its rightful place, and restore order. Technology is only a threat in the ideologically
wrong hands; the skyscraper is only menacing when it is temporarily wrested
from the control of white corporate America. Once that control is reasserted,
once hegemony is again back in place, then the city/nation can continue about
its business until the next threat to its order erupts and it must once again
call upon the FF for help.
The Future is Now, Futurama is Here:
From Ferriss to Kirby, Manhattan has been a site
of perpetual reinscription, an urban palimpsest that seems infinitely
open to fantastic re-imaginings.
Rem Koolhaas writes that Manhattan is “the product of an unformulated
theory, Manhattanism, whose program – to exist in a world totally
fabricated by man, i.e., to live inside fantasy – was so ambitious
that to be realized, it could never be openly stated” (10). The
fictional representation of Manhattan in The Fantastic Four corresponds
to an equally distorted self-image of America perpetuated within popular
culture to, in part, build support for the space race. When the New York
World’s Fair opened its doors to the public from April 22, 1964
to October 17, 1965, this conflation was materially realized. The fair
was, at its uncritical core, “all about the promise that science,
technology and a free society were the keys to building a better tomorrow” (Cotter
and Young 13). The theme of the fair was “Peace Through Understanding” and,
based on the emphasis on corporate-sponsored space-themed exhibits, peace
would be most easily achieved once General Motors helped the United States
build a base on the moon. The fair featured 31 space vehicles “on
loan. . . by NASA and the Defense Department” in a pavilion dubbed
the U.S. Space Park (Cotter and Young 29). This government-sponsored
pavilion equates to the corporate-sponsored exhibits that it stood alongside.
Elsewhere fair-goers could see simulations of astronauts walking in space,
a radio astronomy dish, and a Cinerama film, entitled To the Moon and
Beyond, that played at the Moon Dome, a building whose exterior was a
plastic relief map of the moon’s surface. However, the most popular
attraction was General Motors’ “Futurama,” which depicted
a host of promising American frontiers, including Antarctica, the ocean
floor and, principally, the moon. The exhibit ended with a vision of
the “City of Tomorrow” that looked strikingly similar to
the city the visitors were in, for “cities of the future seemed
largely the same as cities of the present, dominated by skyscrapers and
highways” (Stern 1050). The fair’s inability to contend with
the city’s present was as telling as this uninspired vision of
an urban future. The fair, more than any other before it, was an overwhelmingly
corporate enterprise. Its very symbol, a huge steel globe dubbed the “Unisphere” was
as much an advertisement for the U.S. Steel Corporation, which funded
it, as it was any expression of global harmony. Architectural critic
Wolf Von Eckardt fumed at the time that the fair “only reflects,
in a billion-dollar surrealist distortion mirror, what huckster greed
and hard-sell free enterprise does to us all over the land” (Stern
1031). For many critics the fair was a failure and while it did have
59 million visitors, this number fell well short of its organizers’ goals.
In short, the fair was a money-loser.
Some of this can be directly attributed to the fair’s inability
to address the urban unrest that it placed itself firmly amongst and
helped foment. Rental rates for vending spaces were inordinately high,
excluding smaller vendors. On the eve of the fair’s opening the
Congress on Racial Equality threatened a “stall-in” to protest
the fair. While this protest did not materialize, there was a demonstration
by the CRE to draw attention to what their national director termed “the
melancholy contrast between the idealized, fantasy world of the fair
and the real world of brutality, prejudice, and violence in which the
American negro is forced to live” (Stern 1031). The boundaries
of this mock utopia were simply too porous for it to be tenable. It would
seem the CRE’s claims at least echoed a general lack of enthusiasm
for the fair, as President Johnson’s opening remarks attracted
a crowd less than half the size projected by organizers.
The relative failure of the World’s Fair underscores to what degree
The Fantastic Four successfully elided social concerns of the era. Lee
and Kirby were able to maintain their utopian vision of the city by keeping
it further beyond the realm of reality than General Motors’ “City
of Tomorrow.” They ignored contemporary racial issues in a way
that the World’s Fair could not. For example, the comic book did
not feature a major black character, even for a single story, until issue
52 (July 1966). Even then, that character, the Black Panther, is an African
chieftain and the story takes place almost entirely in his native country.
The boundaries of the white city remain unwavering. There are no African
Americans in this world, only Africans, and they are benign people eager
to assist the FF in their rhetorical battle for a democracy that only
exists in the Kirbian womb of their Manhattan.
What is especially provocative about the FF in the context of the World’s
Fair is how Lee and Kirby so strongly render the group itself in corporate
terms. According to James Oliver Robertson, when corporations appropriated
Frontier Mythology at the turn of the century, they appealed “to the
older myths of community service and voluntary cooperation” while they “revised
individualism and provided an attractive explanation of the rise and ultimate
benefit of corporate big business to a rapidly urbanizing, industrializing
America” (182). By the 1960s the attributes formerly ascribed to the
individual, such as cooperation, opportunity, and success, appeared to be natural
characteristics of the corporation (183). Corporations were so successful at
incorporating the residual of Frontier Mythology that, according to Robertson,
they became “the predominant American models of efficient government.
. . .They do the work of the entire nation, perhaps of the world. They serve
American needs and desires” (183). In the context of the Cold War, an
emergent – anxiety about nuclear war and Soviet occupation of space – was
addressed by the dominant. This resulted in the incorporation of those fears
into the dominant by way of political rhetoric and, most importantly, popular
culture. The Fantastic Four is an ideal text in which to examine how that emergent
was paired with the residual (Frontier Mythology) by the dominant.
Like a corporation, the FF are linked with American interests and Frontier
Mythology and occupy a privileged “super-citizen” status within
the nation. Corporations are legally afforded the rights of an individual and
they are rhetorically ascribed the characteristics of the heroic individual.
The Fantastic Four are treated similarly in the comic. Like a corporation,
the government allows the FF great leeway in how they operate as an organization
and the government often depends on them to help right a listing national ship.
The FF are independently funded by Reed’s wealth, occupy their own skyscraper
headquarters in the heart of Manhattan, and, perhaps most significantly, have
their own “corporate” logo, the 4 in a circle. Members of the group
wear the logo on their matching uniforms with the exception of the Thing, again
indicating his fundamentally class-based difference with the rest of the group.
The insignia is also prominently displayed on their flying cars, personal jets,
etc. The emblem itself suggests exclusivity in its very form and meaning, the
uninterrupted circle that contains and emphasizes the 4. There is no other
group of superheroes like this one – their inherent uniqueness emphasized
paradoxically by their matching uniforms. While most other superhero groups
are a loose conglomeration of heroes who otherwise operate on their own, the
FF are a discrete cohesive unit. The presence of the logo on their uniforms
and their equipment further serves to equate the group as a manifestation of
corporate enterprise, as another set of tools stamped by the corporation and
employed in company service that is ideologically tied with national concerns.
Paul Goldberger maintains that “[m]oving elements in a city, and in particular
the people and their activities, are as important as the stationary physical
parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part
of it, on the stage with the other participants” (2). The Fantastic Four
are privileged moving elements in the milieu of their comic book, an extension
of the immobile icon of their white hegemony, the skyscraper. Those “non-moving” (i.e.,
grounded) elements of the city, its normal citizens, are more than spectators
in that they comprise the great democratic society that the FF exist to defend.
The Fantastic Four need New Yorkers as much as they need super villains, for
both serve to rhetorically validate their existence and gloss over their un-democratic
nature. By association with the national project of the space race, The Fantastic
Four is able to articulate a necessity for the superhero in ways not done before
in comic books. Linked with a national goal equated with national survival,
and intimately connected to the modern skyscrapers of Manhattan, the Fantastic
Four are able to mediate the very tensions of modern society that the existence
of a Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Thing, and Human Torch represents. When
you constantly marvel at sights in the sky above, you are less likely to notice
the metaphoric chains that keep you down. Super-patriots dazzle us, the injustices
of our society lost in the shadows cast by floating skyscrapers that block
1 It is worth noting that the Fantastic Four’s costumes are said
to be composed of “unstable molecules.”
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Matthew Yockey is an Associate Instructor and PhD candidate in the Department
of Communication and Culture and the American Studies Program at Indiana
University. His dissertation examines the role of science and religion
in recent superhero films.
Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (Spring 2005)
Copyright © 2005 by The University of Iowa