The Fantastic Four is one of, if not the most important series in all of comics. Not only is it the comic that kick-started what we now know as the Marvel Universe but it also became the comic worthy of being dubbed the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. But this honor has been absent of late since sadly Marvel has not been publishing The Fantastic Four for several years now due to petty disagreements and battling movie studios. But Marvel has seen the light and later this week Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli will return The Fantastic Four to their rightful place on the comic’s shelves. To prepare myself for the return of Marvel’s First Family I decided to take a deep dive into the fifty-seven year history of the Fantastic Four and luckily there to guide me was Talking Comics’ own Bob Reyer, who generously went above and beyond when guiding me on My Fantastic Four Journey. ( I’ve made note when it is Bob’s writing)
When I think of The Fantastic Four my mind always gravitated toward Stan Lee & Jack Kirby or to John Byrne, who in my opinion are the two most prominent runs in the long and storied history of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. I dove deep into the Lee/Kirby run (read Part 1 here) and was blown away by the genius and creativity that leapt from the page. Then I rekindled my love for the John Byrne era of the FF (read Part 2 here) but I gained a whole new appreciation for what Byrne did with Marvel’s First Family in the wake of reading the Lee/Kirby comics. Yet thankfully these are not the only creators of note who’ve told tremendous tales of the First Family of comics and luckily Bob was kind enough to point me in the right direction of finding the best of the best when it comes to the Fantastic Four.
Now, “all the in-between years” (to quote Frank Sinatra’s “All The Way”) have some fine stuff, in particular by writer Gerry Conway in issues #133 through #152, or Roy Thomas & George Perez in #164-#178:
If you are a fan of ‘70s Marvel then the two above runs are for you since they are two things, classic and wonderful. Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas are two iconic writers who defined Spider-Man and the Avengers for the better part of a decade and whose story telling and story-lines still resonate today. The Conway run includes wonderful artwork by the great John Buscema and Rich Buckler with Joe Sinnott on inks for continuity back to the Lee/Kirby era. These were some fun tales as Sue has left Reed over his shutting down of Franklin’s powers and he even put his son in a coma. Medusa has joined the team as their fourth and the story-lines include Thundra (with an issue by the legendary DC artist Ramona Fradon!-Bob), Dragon Man, a Negative Zone adventure, as well as the return of the Frightful Four. Conway also plays with Medusa and wrote her as a strong protagonist, but he also teases the reader by pushing her and Reed closer, which I’m sure drove longtime Reed-Sue fans crazy. Namor appears toward the end of the run in what might be the most elaborate way ever to rekindle the romance between Sue and Reed by ‘invading’ the surface world yet again. Yes, the stories are dated with heavy ‘70s lingo and settings but they are still wonderful tales and really expand the First Family of Marvel as the first post-Stan-Lee writer on the title.
Roy Thomas and George Perez come along a year later and really impressed me with a great turn on The Fantastic Four. Now this is early Perez, and Sinnott inks him heavily, by orders of Marvel who used Sinnott as a means to harken back to Jack Kirby, but you can see glimpses of the spectacular artist Perez will become. Roy Thomas is such a great writer with a deep history of the Marvel universe (he’s one of the first Marvel fans to transition into a Marvel writer/editor) and this history is apparent in this run as he tells a great Galactus vs. High Evolutionary set on Counter Earth. He also de-powers Ben Grimm, and first replaces him with Luke Cage: Power Man and then in a ‘Thing suit” thate Reed builds for his friend when he starts to feel useless to the team. (This suit will turn up in Matt Fraction’s FF!–Bob )Although a short run it is an impressive run that is exciting and fun.
Moving forward, there are many fun issues and runs such as Walt Simonson’s in #334-#354 or the Tom DeFalco/Paul Ryan run from #356 to #414, but for me, the next truly special issue was in 2002 with Fantastic Four #54 (actually #483): the birth of Valeria as told by Carlos Pacheco, Karl Kesel, and Mark Bagley.
Fantastic Four #267 was a heart-wrenching issue and the final page left me speechless when I first read it and it still has an emotional impact on me today. I wasn’t used to super-heroes losing, and so to have Reed and Sue lose their baby in childbirth was devastating. As emotional as that issue was to read I’m so glad that this issue has nullified that story as the birth of Valeria has been such a treat since she is such a great addition to the family. It was especially potent that Doom was necessary in saving both Sue and Child this time around. Seeing Johnny use Doom’s own sense of honor and the fact that the baby had never done anything to Doom was a great piece of dialogue. Plus Doom’s reward in naming the baby…. Perfect.
Fantastic Four #60 (actually #489): Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo premiere their philosophy about what a “Fantastic Four” comic should be. In the midst of a perceived “slump” in the team’s popularity, Fantastic Four, Inc. (Reed’s patent-driven company that pays all the bills!) engages a PR firm to look into it. When a young man from the company spends a week with the family, he realizes that they aren’t “super-heroes”, but explorers, “Imaginauts” as Mr. Waid styles it! The final pages, as Reed explains his own philosophy to baby Valeria is truly breath taking!
Mark Waid was an obvious fan of the First Family of Marvel and in typical Waid fashion he broke the team down to basics and he was able to do it in one issue. Waid and the late Mike Wieringo entire run on Fantastic Four is an excellent take on the team, but Fantastic Four #60 (#489) is a pitch-perfect “Fantastic Four” story. As Bob stated above it’s a relatively simple concept. To fund the Fantastic Four’s adventuring, technology, and comfortable lifestyle Reed has hundreds of technology patents and has licensed the exploits of the Fantastic Four for financial gain. This has been addressed before but Reed’s final comments are such a beautiful epiphany as Reed explains that he does all of the fantastic exploration, makes all of the great toys, and has turned his friends and family into celebrity super-heroes because his arrogance caused their transformation and so he wants the world to see them as the heroes they are rather than the freaks they could have been thought of. This issue completely reset the book and set it up for a great run that if it had been allowed to continue on the path he wanted to it could have been another Golden Age for the FF.
Fantastic Four: The End #1–#6 (2006): Writer & artist Alan Davis weaves an emotional story of a future where the team has fractured over a tragedy, but as the greatest power the Fantastic Four possess is “family”, there might still be a chance! (This was collected in both trade and hardcover, and is highly recommended for the “seasoned” FF fan!)
I love some alternate timelines or potential timelines and I am a sucker for Alan Davis artwork so Fantastic Four: The End was right up my alley. In the future Reed has solved the aging process so people live long lives and to compensate for overcrowding humans have expanded out into the solar system, living on other planets or on giant space stations. Sadly, the Fantastic Four has grown apart after the ‘death’ of Franklin and Valeria at the hands of Doom. While Reed has thrown himself into his work, Sue has become an archaeologist looking for a way to save her children, Johnny is part of the galactic Avengers, and Ben has moved to Mars with the Inhumans, married Alicia and has three children. But events both internally and externally bring the team back together just in the nick of time. If the ‘80s are your favorite Marvel era then this is a book for you as it has all your classic heroes of that era and written in that style. Alan Davis’ art is incredible and he also gets to show his talent as a writer, which he should definitely do more of. Fantastic Four: The End is a great read, especially for someone looking for a fun, nostalgic comic.
Fantastic Four #606 (2012) “Adventures in Red”: A life hangs in the balance as the team takes their own “Fantastic Voyage” as told by Jonathan Hickman and Ron Garney.
Willie Lumpkin is the longtime mailman for the Fantastic Four and over the years he has even assisted the FF in saving the day. And thankfully the FF gets to repay their debts to Willie in this issue as they do what they do best, adventure and save lives. “Adventures in Red” shows the lengths that the Fantastic Four will go to to save their friends as they shrink themselves down to remove an inoperable brain tumor. Do yourself a favor and read the entirety of the Jonathon Hickman run, as it is a wonderfully plotted long game, which is obviously Hickman’s normal, but the payoffs over the course of the run are fantastic. Yet if you can only read one issue from this run then Bob picked a doozy because this is a wonderful example of the impossible adventures the FF takes on but for the most human of reasons- to save their friend.
Fantastic Four #4 (vol. 4) (2013) “My Funny Valentine”: In the midst of their universe-spanning adventure to find a cure for what is ailing the team, they are invited to a world where Sue is treated as an icon, her image in an ancient cave painting revered as sacred! I won’t spoil any of this, but Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley will more-than tug at your heartstrings as they flash backwards and forwards through the lives of Sue and Reed.
I found this issue to be a delightful tale of both the early days of Reed and Sue as well as the lengths that Reed will go to help his family and show them the love he has for them. Reed is often characterized as the absent-minded professor (which he is) and neglectful of his family (which he can be) but at his core everything he does is for his family (both biological and Fantastical) and this issue really shows that side of Reed. Fraction’s run is sadly a brief one, but very enjoyable as well as its sister title, FF, which tells the tale of the replacement Fantastic Four as they hold down the fort while the real Fantastic Four are travelling through time in space in search of a cure for their cellular degradation. Both series are great reads, Mark Bagley joined Fraction on the main title but FF was blessed with work by Michael Allred that really created an eclectic vibe for the alternative team that included Scott Lang (Ant-Man), Medusa, She-Hulk, and Darla Deering AKA pop-star AKA Johnny’s girlfriend- AKA Johnny forgot to pick a replacement so scrambled at the end and boy was I glad he did. Great books.
Thus ends my final installment of My Fantastic Four Journey but it does not end my reading of the Fantastic Four. It’s been such a fun reading experience to go all the way back to the beginning of the Fantastic Four and my appreciation for the title has only grown. I look forward to the relaunch and can’t wait to see what Slott and Pichelli do on the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. I also know that there are many more great tales in the hundreds of issues I have yet to read and I can’t wait to go back and find even more great stories of the First Family of Comics.
I want to give a tremendous “Thank You” to Bob for helping me on this little journey of mine, it would have been nothing without his generous contribution of time & effort. Thanks Again Bob!