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Author Topic: Superman or Fantastic Four: Which series provided the most influental mythos?  (Read 3201 times)
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Last Son
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« on: July 10, 2011, 10:41:09 AM »

Hi.  Cheesy

There are two super-hero franchises more influential than any others, more important in the big picture than even Batman or The X-Men. Those two are Superman and The Fantastic Four.

Let's debate just which franchise produced the more important , better, more fascinating, more varying etc. characters, concepts and places. This especially means Spin-Offs: new comic book characters or teams that appeared first in one of the two books, but were "spun off" from that book right into their own series, where they starred as the feature character(s), and hence, generated their own supporting cast, sometimes even creating spin-offs themselves. (Probably the most extreme example of that would be The Wanderers: a late eighties series featuring characters who were spun off from the Legion of Super-Heroes series, who was a spin-off from Superboy, who, in turn, is himself spun off from Superman.

Okay. The question is: Whose comic "mythos" provided the richer fruits, the more fascinating universe, the more important, varied, better, etc. characters etc? Superman? Or The Fantastic Four?

But let's tackle this question maturely. The point of this question is not to set yourself up as a mindless Superman (or Fantastic Four!) lover; hence, I didn't add a poll to this question. Well have to prove our pick by arguments for it. And only issues from between 1960 and 1987 are eligible as source material. So, sorry Superman fans; but no Ravers. And sorry FF fans: no Fantastic Force either.

Furthermore, arguments along the line of the following "arguments" can't be used:

1) "Superman was the FIRST super-hero. Without him there would be no other super-heroes. All other super-hero characters are spin-offs from him, because they are just distant copies of the Superman concept."
Because it is simply not true. The Phantom (first costumed crime-fighter preceded Supes, as did the winged hawk-people (first super-powered heroes) of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, as did a female super-heroine with mental powers. Superman was the first character to combine costume/double-ID/super powers into one package; but he was just lucky. If he hadn't appeared first, some years later somebody else would have generated a scifi character for comics. Besides, if we allowed such an "argument", there would be no debate.  Shocked

2) "The Fantastic Four forever changed the comics field by introducing personality to the principals, by introducing drama, a shared universe and the continuing story. Besides, since the MU is a shared universe, all Marvel characters are spin-offs of the FF."
Sorry, but this line of "thinking" (if you can even call it that) is just as dumb as the "arguments" above. Characters had plenty of personality before Lee: Lois Lane is very different from Jimmy Olsen, and Wonder Woman is as different from them as she is from the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, or Lori Lemaris. DC characters were just less extroverted. Drama? Read Superboy. Continuing story? Remember the sequence where Supes started to remember his early time on Krypton? Or the gentle change in the JLA as they slowly added members, permanently changing the League and its team dynamic with each member? Shared Universe? DC did it first.. And even in the Silver Age, Superman regularly met with Batman and Robin-- even before the JLA. As for the final argument: it is as untrue as the first one. Only direct spin-offs count, not new books generated by profits of an earlier, completely unrelated book.

Okay. To get started, a few pointers for each series:

Superman has a rich and varied supporting cast. He himself is divided into no less than three different incarnations, each of whom proved able to hold its own feature for a time: Superman, Superboy and Superbaby. But it goes even further: Clark Kent had his own back-feature, as did the Earth-Two Superman (the DC version of the National/Golden Age Superman).

Lois Lane had a successful series, as did Jimmy Olsen. Supergirl was a mainstay for generations, as well. But the best element of the Superman mythos was probably The Legion of Super-Heroes.

The Fantastic Four had its first spin-off early in the sixties, as The Human Torch got his own feature in STRANGE TALES. The Inhumans got their own feature as well. As did The Thing.

Okay, what's your take on it? Whose Series, in the long run, provided the better mythos?

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nightwing
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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2011, 01:21:00 PM »

Interesting question, and the two strips have some commonalities, despite first impressions.  For one thing, I'd argue that neither Superman nor the Fantastic Four are terribly interesting characters in their own right; rather their interest comes from being at the center of vast, intricate and (so it seemed for a while) endlessly inventive mythologies.  And also, each strip seemed to enjoy its wonderfully creative period for just under a decade, after which they basically just coasted, using and re-using those concepts until they wore them out.

Obviously I have a great fondness for the "Superverse," with concepts like the Phantom Zone and Kandor and supporting characters like Kara, Krypto and the Legion.  But the overall effect of these creations was to create a universe around Superman, for Superman; one that made it unnecessary for him to interact with the rest of the DCU (which didn't even have that name, yet).  While Green Arrow or Aquaman were relegated to fairly formulaic battles with hoodlums and such, Superman might be time-traveling one month, trapped in the Phantom Zone the next, and meeting the ghost of Jor-El the one after that.  So his stories were richer (IMO) and more varied than other heroes, but they didn't necessarily add anything to the DCU as a whole.  They were his alone.  Yes, sometimes Batman might join him in Kandor, or Aquaman might meet Lori Lemaris, but it was more a case of their "crossing over" temporarily from their own universe to Superman's.

The FF, in contrast, introduced characters and concepts that were clearly viewed as "community property" from Day One. It wasn't long after Dr Doom debuted before he was harassing Spider-Man, for instance.  The FF gave us the Black Panther (which in turn gave us the location of Wakanda and the element Vibranium), the Silver Surfer and the Inhumans, all of whom quickly spun off into their own books or became integral parts of other teams (like The Avengers and Defenders).  Note that while Lois and Jimmy were "spin-offs" of Superman, they forever remained tied to him, and relied on his participation; even the Legion took decades to venture off without the "crutch" of Superboy to lean on.  But T'Challa, the Surfer, etc were free to go their own way once they spun off.  Thus they're more "influential" since they were allowed to affect the MU in general...the ripples from the FF moved ever outward.

The FF also brought back the Sub-Mariner, which established one of the basic building blocks of the Marvel Universe; the idea that the roots of the "Marvel Age" stretched back to the Golden Age of Timely, thus opening the door to the return of Captain America and, less directly, the creation of the android Vision.  Some concepts seemed more specific to the FF, like the Negative Zone, but Galactus would go on to be a player in THOR and eventually everyone would chip in against him at some point.

And so on.  So if your question had been which mythos was more interesting, I'd have said it was in the eye of the beholder.  But since you asked which was more influential, the nod has to go to the FF.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2011, 01:28:05 PM by nightwing » Logged

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Lee Semmens
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« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2011, 02:08:32 PM »

Superman was the first character to combine costume/double-ID/super powers into one package; but he was just lucky. If he hadn't appeared first, some years later somebody else would have generated a scifi character for comics.

Maybe, perhaps even quite probably; the fact is Superman WAS the first, someone else wasn't. I have never gone along with the notion of "if he didn't do such-and-such first someone else would have done it."

In answer to your question, I would say unhesitatingly, Superman, not the FF.

Superman gave rise to a whole mythos and cast of characters (Lois, Jimmy, etc.) vastly more recognisable in the whole of the world than the FF, even to people who have never read a comic, or even capable of reading period. And I have little doubt he at least partially inspired the creation of Batman.

Sure, the FF have achieved some limited degree of recognition among non-comic fans owing to the movies, but I still maintain more people would have heard of the likes of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, for instance, than nearly all Marvel characters, possibly excepting Spider-Man.
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Last Son
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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2011, 08:39:42 PM »

Interesting question, and the two strips have some commonalities, despite first impressions.  

True! In fact, for the last 7 years or so, basically ever since I read a complete run of the Fantastic Four's first series, I have maintained that the FF are Superman's truest Marvel "counterpart". For despite the fact that Spider-Man is Marvel's main character, its "centerpiece hero" much like Supes is for DC, or that Thor is a very distant Superman clone (both come from highly evolved "super-civilizations", both are the the most powerful hero in each company' respective "all-star team", both have one direct black-haired lover and one former fair-haired ex-lover, their arch-enemy is inhumanly smart and while being truly evil, suffers from so strong a hatred against the hero that mere world domination becomes practically trivial compared to the wish to destroy and humiliate the hero) or that The Sentry is an extremely interesting Superman clone, only the FF generated a whole "sub-mythology" within the greater MU. Much like Superman did within the bounds of the greater DCU.

In theory, you could build a whole line of greatly different comic books about: 1) Superman; 2) Lois Lane; 3) Jimmy Olsen; 4) Superboy; 5) Legion of Super-Pets, for the kids and for more mature readers such as myself who aren't too vain to have fun with super-animals; 6) Superbaby, see comment on #5; 7) Nightwing and Flamebird; 8)Tales from Krypton; 9) Supergirl; 10 Tales from the Phantom Zone; 11) Lory Lemaris. Those alone are already at least 11 books, and I even refrained from using the Legion, who's a "bigger" DC franchise by itself, the New Gods (for similar reasons) and the Earth-Two Superman who is tied to both JLA and JSA. With some imagination and the right lure for the readers, one could even spin off Krypto from the Super-Pets into his own book.

And by a similar token, one could generate the output of a whole publishing house devoted solely to the FF, Dr Doom, the Inhumans, the Kree-Skrull conflict (although that conflict originated outside of the series of the FF, the Silver Surfer and lesser luminaries such as a horror book showcasing Agatha Harkness and the Miracle Man, or even a scifi horror book devoted to the misadventures of Him.

Obviously I have a great fondness for the "Superverse," with concepts like the Phantom Zone and Kandor and supporting characters like Kara, Krypto and the Legion.  But the overall effect of these creations was to create a universe around Superman, for Superman; one that made it unnecessary for him to interact with the rest of the DCU (which didn't even have that name, yet).  While Green Arrow or Aquaman were relegated to fairly formulaic battles with hoodlums and such, Superman might be time-traveling one month, trapped in the Phantom Zone the next, and meeting the ghost of Jor-El the one after that.  So his stories were richer (IMO) and more varied than other heroes, but they didn't necessarily add anything to the DCU as a whole.  They were his alone.  Yes, sometimes Batman might join him in Kandor, or Aquaman might meet Lori Lemaris, but it was more a case of their "crossing over" temporarily from their own universe to Superman's.

Yes, that's how it feels to me too. Superman's "universe", although it is, by editorial edict, a part of the "Earth-One" universe, is nonetheless a world for itself; it is much more consistent than most other "super-hero worlds" (such as Green Lantern's or even Batman's), because it had fixed "rules", instead of warping the character's reality toward whatever any particular story might need at the moment.

The FF, in contrast, introduced characters and concepts that were clearly viewed as "community property" from Day One. It wasn't long after Dr Doom debuted before he was harassing Spider-Man, for instance.  The FF gave us the Black Panther (which in turn gave us the location of Wakanda and the element Vibranium), the Silver Surfer and the Inhumans, all of whom quickly spun off into their own books or became integral parts of other teams (like The Avengers and Defenders).  Note that while Lois and Jimmy were "spin-offs" of Superman, they forever remained tied to him, and relied on his participation; even the Legion took decades to venture off without the "crutch" of Superboy to lean on.  But T'Challa, the Surfer, etc were free to go their own way once they spun off.  Thus they're more "influential" since they were allowed to affect the MU in general...the ripples from the FF moved ever outward.

The FF also brought back the Sub-Mariner, which established one of the basic building blocks of the Marvel Universe; the idea that the roots of the "Marvel Age" stretched back to the Golden Age of Timely, thus opening the door to the return of Captain America and, less directly, the creation of the android Vision.  Some concepts seemed more specific to the FF, like the Negative Zone, but Galactus would go on to be a player in THOR and eventually everyone would chip in against him at some point.

And so on.  So if your question had been which mythos was more interesting, I'd have said it was in the eye of the beholder.  But since you asked which was more influential, the nod has to go to the FF.
Very interesting, Nightwing. To be truthful, of all people you would be the one I would have expected least to give the win to the FF mythos, knowing your affinity to the Superman world. Thanks for your honesty.  Cheesy

But now I'm intrigued. While you gave good reasons why, in the end, the Fantastic Four's world is the more influential, you were rather vague which of the two you find more interesting. I think it's a given that you *like* the "Weisinger Universe" more than the "Kirby/Lee Universe"; but which of the two would you say was more fascinating and just plain more interesting?
« Last Edit: July 10, 2011, 08:41:53 PM by Last Son » Logged
Last Son
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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2011, 08:55:13 PM »

Superman was the first character to combine costume/double-ID/super powers into one package; but he was just lucky. If he hadn't appeared first, some years later somebody else would have generated a scifi character for comics.

Maybe, perhaps even quite probably; the fact is Superman WAS the first, someone else wasn't. I have never gone along with the notion of "if he didn't do such-and-such first someone else would have done it."

In answer to your question, I would say unhesitatingly, Superman, not the FF.

Superman gave rise to a whole mythos and cast of characters (Lois, Jimmy, etc.) vastly more recognisable in the whole of the world than the FF, even to people who have never read a comic, or even capable of reading period. And I have little doubt he at least partially inspired the creation of Batman.

Sure, the FF have achieved some limited degree of recognition among non-comic fans owing to the movies, but I still maintain more people would have heard of the likes of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, for instance, than nearly all Marvel characters, possibly excepting Spider-Man.



Well, Bob Kane himself said that he was partially inspired by Superman's success. And yes, I'd wager good money that Superman is VASTLY better known worldwide than not only the FF AND Spider-Man, but them AND Iron Man AND the Hulk AND the whole Marvel Universe combined! For crying out loud, Superman has become a house-hold name! "Who do you think you are? Superman?"

But that is no more a point than whether or not Superman generated the super-hero genre or was just a very early example of it. Batman did *not* originate in Weisinger's Superman mythos before he was spun off into his own books.

That aside, "popular" is not "influential". Bugs Bunny may be far more recognizable than Supes, but he had certainly not more influence on comicdom. Prove how Superman's world generates better product than the world of the Fantastic Four.
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« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2011, 02:10:25 AM »

Quote
Superman gave rise to a whole mythos and cast of characters (Lois, Jimmy, etc.) vastly more recognisable in the whole of the world than the FF, even to people who have never read a comic, or even capable of reading period. And I have little doubt he at least partially inspired the creation of Batman.

I guess I interpreted the question as "which mythos had more influence on comics" as opposed to which has had a bigger impact on the popular psyche.  Naturally more people know the in's and out's of Superman mythology, but I'd argue (and have before) that this is largely due to non-comics adventures.  People know Lois, Jimmy, Perry, the Daily Planet, etc because of TV, cartoons and movies (and depending on their age, radio) and not because of comics.  Not that those adventures in other media don't count, but in a way it's unfair to count them, just the same.  

If in fact the question is which mythos has had a bigger impact *outside of comics* it's a no-brainer; the honor goes to Supes.  Supes pioneered the whole tradition of merchandising superheroes six ways to Sunday, and you could argue it's the merchandising that drives the whole show these days.  If Superman hadn't conquered radio, TV, movies, toys, apparel, etc, paving the way for others to follow suit, it's arguable comics would already have vanished from the scene.  

Oh, and there's no doubt whatever that Superman "inspired the creation of Batman."  Bob Kane was sent home from DC with specific instructions to "make us another Superman."  If it hadn't been for the input of Bill Finger, that's just what he'd have given us, too; a brightly colored he-man pretty much the same as all the other clones who popped up from every publisher in America, and just as short-lived.

Quote
Very interesting, Nightwing. To be truthful, of all people you would be the one I would have expected least to give the win to the FF mythos, knowing your affinity to the Superman world. Thanks for your honesty.  Cheesy

But now I'm intrigued. While you gave good reasons why, in the end, the Fantastic Four's world is the more influential, you were rather vague which of the two you find more interesting. I think it's a given that you *like* the "Weisinger Universe" more than the "Kirby/Lee Universe"; but which of the two would you say was more fascinating and just plain more interesting?

First, I should mention that Superman's influence wasn't always as direct or literal as the FF's.  He didn't provide a lot of characters for "general use" in the DCU, but he did influence other strips *by example.*  For instance, the success of Krypto gave us Ace the Bat-Hound, Aquaman's Topo and so on.  Mr Mxyzptlk led to Bat-Mite, Zook, etc.  I'd even argue that although the Teen Titans are often assumed to follow in the Robin mold of "kid sidekick," in fact Kid Flash and Aqualad owe just as much to Kara Zor-El: like her, they are essentially youthful versions of their adult mentor, who they don't live with but still rely upon for tutelage and inspiration in the use of their powers.  Basically, when Superman tried stuff that worked, efforts were made to duplicate that success in other strips.  It rarely worked the other way around.

As to which I find more interesting, I tend to lean toward Superman.  The FF was an exciting book for a long run; things never stopped moving and it seemed like the hits would never stop coming. But it always felt like the Baxter Building was some kind of R&D department for the Marvelverse.  New things were always being invented; some didn't take, others grew into big successes, but always there was the understanding that if something did work, it was going to be shipped out to the Marvelverse at large for everyone's use.  In contrast, everything invented for Superman's books was designed to expand and develop HIS world, to enrich HIS mythology.

Look at it this way: a race of super-beings living in a hidden refuge is interesting, but how does it really enrich the FF as characters?  A world-eating giant and a superbeing on a surfboard are all kinds of cool, but when they move on what have they added to the FF's personal stories?  Then consider the Phantom Zone, full of Kryptonian survivors but all of them too evil to ever let out, and each with the potential to destroy the Earth.  Paradoxically their survival of Krypton's destruction actually makes Superman MORE alone.  Or take Kandor, a living piece of Superman's past that's nonetheless tragic and (for a long time) one of Superman's biggest failures.  And so on.  Yes, Phantom Zones and bottle cities are "high concept" notions in themselves, but the real point is what do they mean to Superman, and how does their existence shape him as a character?  He doesn't just happen to be at the center of a bunch of interesting things and people (as the FF so often were); rather those things and people all exist in service to his character.  The elements that built the Superverse were designed to make his world richer and deeper, and himself more fascinating.  They made Krypton a world as defined and developed as Earth itself, and its loss a palpable thing.  They gave Superman a role beyond Earth's protector as protector also of Krypton's legacy and the one who would eventually, Moses-like, lead its last sons and daughters to the Promised Land (it's no coincidence the story where he finally does it is called "Let My People Grow").  

Which is to say, IMO at least, the Superman mythos is more interesting because it's more personal and emotionally charged.  The very same insularity that makes it less sweeping in influence than the FF's also makes it more involving and memorable.  But remember, you're talking to someone who's basically a DC guy at heart.  As such I believe that stories work best when they're written in service to a character, and not with the larger goal of spinning off new titles or "building a universe."  The Lee-Kirby FF was arguably the most prolific idea-factory in the history of comics, but in the end I never really cared much about the characters themselves, with the exception of Ben Grimm, who really was as appealing on Day One as at the end of the run.  Ultimately, as much as I enjoyed seeing what Stan and Jack would come up with next, I would have preferred a lot more stories like "This Man, This Monster," which is comparatively low-key in terms of spectacle, but unparalleled for emotion.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2011, 02:20:17 AM by nightwing » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2011, 09:31:00 PM »

I think among the actual people creating comic books, Fantastic Four had a profound influence for a certain generation. They all seem to have wanted to do something like what Lee & Kirby accomplished with FF--and yet most have failed miserably at trying to duplicate that success.

Superman's Silver Age mythology was kind of looked at as worthless by this same generation. Maybe the Weisinger crew just made it look too easy.

When Byrne rebooted Superman, he kept Superman, but he got rid of virtually everything else. And it was like being a room without any furniture. They tried their best to fill up the room with other stuff, but it didn't have that comfortable feeling.

The beauty of team books is that one character doesn't have to support the whole series. Much as I like Superman himself as a character, there needs to be more than him to keep things interesting--he needs to at least have a secret identity that is somehow different from himself, so then the writers can fall back on telling stories about this other Clark Kent character, when they have run out of ideas for Superman. Having a bottle city, a phantom zone, time travel, a 30th century teen team, friends from distant planets, and a group of quirky supporting characters all helped to keep Superman from getting boring.
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