By Kate O’Donoghue

I’ll say it: I don’t know much about the Fantastic Four. In fact, I wouldn’t say I’m much of a Marvel expert at all, unless you’re comparing me to the average MCU viewer. I have my favorite characters and runs, of course – I’m no comics rube. But 1965’s Fantastic Four Annual #3 is a far cry from the personally-familiar territory of Runaways or Eve Ewing’s Ironheart for me.

I bring up this newbie-ish-ness because it’s important to my reading of Fantastic Four Annual #3, which hinges almost completely on the reader’s knowledge of the then-Marvel Universe: when I first read it, I was deeply unfamiliar with those early Marvel years, but just as deeply interested in getting to know that history. I googled something along the lines of “important marvel events in order” and this issue just so happened to be the first one on the list. Before the first Kree-Skrull war, before Gwen Stacy’s death, before the Phoenix Saga: there was the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm.

It’s become a bit of a truism to equate superhero comics with soap operas, so you’ll forgive me for expecting to see a bit more melodramatic romance (and a bit more Sue) in this annual. Instead, I, a “new” Marvel reader, was treated to what I have to assume is the first universe-wide crossover event in Marvel’s history. From Professor X to Millie the Model, practically every recognizable Marvel character from 1965 is in attendance.

Speaking of history, this isn’t the first superhero wedding story on the record – that honor goes to DC’s Aquaman and Mera – but it’s almost certainly the second. Beyond being an early Marvel crossover, FF Annual #3 also sets the tone (and the tropes) for all the superhero weddings that followed: from Superman and Lois Lane’s to Hulkling and Wiccan’s.

The cover of 1965’s Fantastic Four Annual #3 doesn’t feature a singular character in its center. Instead, a jagged, blue text bubble takes the spotlight while practically the entire roster of ‘65’s Marvel Universe crowds around it, all of them facing and/or tilting towards the “sensational” copy:


One might expect to see this “Sue and Reed” – the about-to-be-married couple – featured prominently on the cover to an annual that claims to be about their wedding. Instead, we have this word bubble, with more language devoted to the “colossal collection of costumed characters” appearing than to Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl (as Sue was then still known).

Off to the side, just there on the right, among the crowd of heroes and villains, a careful viewer will spot Sue and Reed bursting forth from the margins. They, like the rest of the crowd, are facing the jagged bubble – almost like they’re ready to face it in battle. Almost… like they’re less important than the “continual combat” of their compatriots.

Turn the action-packed cover, and Fantastic Four Annual #3 opens with an unforgettable splash page: Doctor Doom’s eyes peer over the newspaper he’s gripping in his hands. The headline? “TODAY’S THE DAY: WEDDING BELLS FOR REED AND SUE!” Though small portraits of the happy couple appear on the newspaper itself, neither Reed nor Sue show up in person until page seven. This splash page proclaims the real “aboutness” of the annual: not so much Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s marriage as the wedding event itself. This story isn’t about their love; it’s about who their wedding attracts, good and bad alike.

The basic plot is simple enough: Reed and Sue are getting married, and it’s big news, and Doctor Doom hears about it, and he hates them, so he decides to sic a bunch of baddies on the wedding. He uses his “high-frequency emotion charger” to do that, and the baddies show up to ruin the happy day, but the heroes defeat them, and (finally!) Reed and Sue actually get married on the final page.


From the first splash page onwards, Fantastic Four Annual #3 reads as a who’s-who of the Marvel Universe in 1965. The issue itself seems hyper-aware of its status as a vehicle for cameos: the first panel on page 3 begins with a “personal note from Stan and Jack: If you’re a name-dropper, you’re really gonna have a ball now! Ready? Here we go…!” And although this annual is technically about getting Reed and Sue hitched, their marriage is practically tangential – an after-note on the final page – to the other Marvel superstars that appear in these 23 action-packed pages. 

We see the wedding trappings throughout the story – the Thing in a suit, the gathering wedding guests, the blushing bride using her powers while wearing her fashionable wedding dress – but the real attraction isn’t the emotional climax but instead the glut of team-ups and cameos. This editorial note reveals just how self-aware “Stan and Jack” were about the real focus of this issue, and it isn’t a great leap to assume this annual was just as much a marketing ploy as a grand genre experiment. If the Richards-Storm wedding was meant to attract other Marvel characters, it was also meant to attract a whole bunch of curious new readers, too.

So, with this self-aware set-up and hype from Stan Lee, we’re off to the races: the cameos immediately begin. 

Would a list be helpful? Let’s make a list. Not counting the Fantastic Four team, their supporting cast, or their regular enemies (there would simply be too many to name!), here’s a hopefully-comprehensive list of all the Marvel characters who appear or are name-dropped over the course of this issue:

Tony Stark / Iron Man, Stephanie de la Spiroza, Patsy Walker, Hedy Wolfe, Millie the Model, Irving Forbush, Nick Fury, Gabe Jones, Dum-Dum Dugan, Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Doctor Strange, Thor, Matt Murdock / Daredevil, Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Captain America, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Namor, the Hulk, and (drum roll, please) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

While this number of cameos is paltry compared to contemporary Big Two crossover events – even the weddings – there’s something about the issue’s self-awareness that still makes me, a contemporary comics reader, feel dazzled by all these unexpected appearances. I showed up for a Fantastic Four story, and here I have the Avengers and the X-Men and even Spider-Man for the price of admission. Stan Lee’s classic editorializing and the Lee and Kirby cameo at the end tell me that the creators knew just how, frankly, ballsy this kind of story was in 1965. They knew what they were doing in this annual had never been done before, and, in a way, the fractured, spotlight-style structure of this cameo-oriented issue reveals just how much they were making this all up as they went along.

But that’s also what keeps me, the reader, on the edge of my seat, wondering which familiar face will show up next, accompanied by my own delighted laugh. And I’m supposed to be delighted, aren’t I? When Hawkeye and Spider-Man team up in a Fantastic Four story?

Marvel revolutionized superhero comics by creating, piecemeal, an interconnected universe. Fantastic Four Annual #3, from what I know, is one of the earliest instances of that interconnectedness paying off in a really big way. The creators knew it was a big deal, and that comes through – at least for me. The self-awareness of the editorial notes and even the cutesy “Stan and Jack” meta-cameo that caps off the issue are, even all these years later, charming in only a way Stan Lee could be in all his glorious self-hype. I might be reading this annual nearly six full decades after its original publication, but, like the young audience of 1965, I’m still so new to these early iterations of now-iconic characters: the Thing and Daredevil and Jean Grey and more. In that unfamiliarity, I’m the ideal audience, and I appreciate Stan’s guiding hand. I know, intellectually and historically, just how big of a deal this issue is… but I can also feel it.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? This is the wedding issue that set up all the wedding issues to come: when I read a ‘90s-or-later superhero wedding, I expect to see “unexpected” cameos, and I expect to see “unexpected” villains try to ruin the fun. Reading Fantastic Four Annual #3, despite all my contemporary expectations, is still a bonkers thrill-ride because it’s the issue that created all of those classic tropes in the first place. We can’t have Hulkling and Wiccan’s interstellar Jewish gay wedding without Doctor Doom trying to thwart Reed and Sue’s first.

The cover says it all. This isn’t a story about Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl. This is a story about the Marvel Universe – and it’s only going to get more sensational from here, True Believer!


Fantastic Four Annual #3 “”Bedlam at the Baxter Building!””
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby
Inks by Vince Colletta
Colors by Stan Goldberg

Letters by Artie Simek


Kate O’Donoghue is a writer from Long Island and a regular contributor to the Screen Rant comics section. Her criticism and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Gutter Review, Bennington Review, Pleiades, Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. She teaches poetry and creative writing at Purdue University. You can find her on Twitter here or via her website here!


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