So, where were we? Oh yes: the other obsession of the Impossible Man. Fantastic Four #175 (which features Galactus eating the Poppupian home planet...it's a long story) ends with the above startling "next issue" blurb. "Most unexpected guest stars of all"? Why, whoever could that be? Doctor Doom? The Black Panther? Robert Goulet? Hmmm, maybe there's a hint of those guest stars on the cover of #176 (right), a cover by the late great Jack Kirby, who co-created Impy back in the classic Fantastic Four #11. Click on the cover image or click here for a close look, 'kay?
Whoa, watch out, boys! Your roughhousing is gonna damage all those vintage seventies Marvel Comics! And in the Marvel Comics Conference Room, yet! Early appearances by Stan, Jack, and the Marvel Bullpen within the pages of various comics cemented the conceit that even within the Marvel Universe, Marvel publishes comic books based on the adventures of the world's greatest superheroes, except here, it ain't fiction. This has led to a number of fun sequences through Marvel's history: Stan and Jack trying to crash Reed and Sue's wedding, John Byrne being kidnapped into outer space to testify on behalf of Reed, and even a 2000 publishing event in which we got to read the comics as they were published inside the Marvel Universe (here's one of 'em).
So when the Impossible Man hits Manhattan and goes off in search of adventure and fun, it's only a matter of time until he runs across the offices of Marvel:
All panels are from Fantastic Four #176 (November 1976), written by Roy Thomas, penciled by George Perez, inked by Joe Sinnott, colored by Michele Wolfman, lettered by Joe Rosen
"Stan? What is a Stan?" wonders Impy in his role of Peeping Poppupian, but we know what and who Stan is, and as for the rest of that Fantastic Four he's peering in on? Well, there's (from left to right below), George Perez, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and, reclining on the sofa and smokin' a big charoot, the King himself, Jack Kirby:
It's the same old story: with the Fantastic Four out of Manhattan on their cosmic adventures, the boys in the Bullpen are at a loose end on what adventure to write up next in the FF's comic book. I can understand their dilemma: if Amy Winehouse decided to take an extended holiday, the entire British press would shut down, and J. Jonah Jameson often prints an entirely blank newspaper when Spider-Man is visiting relatives out in the Midwest. Jack, of course, suggests they can just make the whole story up, but writing a story from scratch? Stan "The Man" ain't havin' none of that:
Just like a large majority of fanboys, the Impossible Man now believes he knows enough about the comic book industry to run it: he wants Stan and the rest to make a comic about him:
Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! A comic book starring the Impossible Man? BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA! Why, that's jus' plain ridiculous! Marvel would never sink that low.
Jack, bein' the man of distinction and taste he is, offers to put the Impossible Man in one of his then-current Marvel titles, but Impy, knowing he'll get on the wrong side of auteur Stanley Kubrick, refuses and begins to rampage through the Marvel offices, transforming himself into various Marvel weapons:
Fleeing, Kirby runs smack-dab into Marvel's production manager John Verpoorten, who's just as much a Jack Kirby fanboy as all right-thinking people should be:
It's not long before the FF arrives to track down Impy, encountering Archie Goodwin ...no, not Nero Wolfe's sidekick (tho' what a team up that woulda made, huh?) but the artist, writer and editor who was one of the guiding lights of comics history and especially of Marvel. This isn't Archie's only "character" appearance in comics, of course: he appeared for years in cartooned editorials in Marvel's line of Epic comics, and "Mr. Nice" in the Batman Adventures comic book was based on Archie (along with Mike Carlin as Mastermind and Denny O'Neil as the Perfessor).
I'm not certain who's guest-starring in this following panel (Marvel's Art Director and some guy in a leopardskin shirt and tri-corn hat), but they get caught up in the meta-fun, too:
As usual, it takes the quantum mind of Doctor Reed Richards to suss out the perfect solution to the problem: build an anti-Impy robot that costs a billion dollars of the taxpayers' money a second to run! Oh, wait, that's too unbelievable, isn't it? No, what he does is much more effective and to the point: the call goes out to get Stan Lee!
Everybody gathers on stage for the Reed's big
Showing the same commitment to his principles that characterized his timeless reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero and his appearance in Mallrats, Stan, the immovable object, won't back down...that is, until he's faced with the unstoppable force...Ben Grimm!
All's well that ends well...or is it, when Stan, like Pharaoh, hardens his heart the instant the FF are gone:
Wah-wah-wah! That's our Stan Lee!
So, everybody's happy, at least until it's time to set up the following issue, where Reed Richards comes face to face with the most startling and frightening classified ad of them all! I'm imagining it started something like this: "Invisible White Female seeks..."
By the way, doncha love that last panel of Reed? Such anger, such angst, such a great opportunity to Photoshop in a cheap joke:
Why don't you try it yourself, oh fearless ones?:
And so, once again, the world is safe, thanks to the Fantastic Four, the Marvel Bullpen, and a wee bit of meta-commentary in a four-color comic book. If you wanna read the story behind the creation of this wacky, far-out issue, well, clickety-click here for Rascally Roy Thomas's editorial page essay. And of course, the Impossible Man learned his lesson and never bothered the Marvel Bullpen again.
(Be back Monday, true bull-lievers, for more Impossibullpen fun!)