Now Reading: Fantastic Four (1981-2015)

FF1

In other words, I just finished reading an assload of Fantastic Four. Not quite literally every Fantastic Four comics from 1981-2015, but all the ones worth reading in that period at least. I mean it’s not like I went back and read the DeFalco run or anything crazy like that (fist bump to the 2 people that get that)! In fact, I’m just going to gloss over all the less than impressive areas that I did read and just talk about the very best runs, starting with…

John Byrne's run - collected in John Byrne's Fantastic Four omnibuses 1-2
John Byrne’s run – collected most conveniently in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibuses 1-2

As important, and some would say definitive, as this run is, I don’t think I would recommend it to quite everyone. People who were alive in the 80s will still be able to enjoy these stories. Newer generations may not appreciate it so much. Byrne has a unique style of very bizarre and extremely convoluted storytelling. This can be great for the typical semi-OCD comic fan who loves attention to detail and continuity, as Byrne loved to go out of his way to explain the unexplained and tie up every dangling plot thread he could find, but it often makes for some comically overcomplicated plots and I can see how that would be off-putting to some. It definitely makes for some interesting stories though. Byrne wasn’t afraid to cut loose and do wacky things like “Fuck it. We’re all going to go explore the negative zone for a year, because why not?”. These are also some extremely wordy issues, usually with very few pages wasted on 1-2 page action spreads. They certainly don’t pack issues full of as much content these days. If you’re ok with all of this though, and the sheer 80s-ness of it all, then by all means give this run a try. It’s definitely an important piece of Fantastic Four history with a whole mess of stories that are still being built on to this day. I think my only real (and by real I mean entirely irrelevant) complaint was the inexplicably bad haircuts that popped up in the second half. Invisible Woman suddenly gets the worst mullet you will ever see in your life. I mean this is the mullet that all other mullets should be measured by. It is truly the king of the mullets. The Human Torch, perhaps in an attempt to draw attention away from his sisters uber-mullet, then suddenly starts sporting a haircut that I can only describe as some kind of side-parted half bowl cut. I don’t even know, I’ve never seen an actual person with that kind of hair. I don’t even know why I’m talking about haircuts, of all things. I should probably move on now, to…

EDIT: It has been demanded that I put up some pictures of the Fantastic haircuts so before moving on, here you go:

ffhair

 

Steve Englehart's run - not really collected yet. (FF 304-325, Annuals 20-21)
Steve Englehart’s run – not really conveniently collected yet. (FF 304-325, Annuals 20-21)

This picks up right after the Byrne era (give or take a few issues in between). A short, but very unusual and entertaining run. Englehart shakes things up by replacing Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman with Crystal and Ms. Marvel II and putting Thing in charge, which leads to some big changes and some crazy dimension-hopping adventures. This run featured the often overlooked Secret Wars III storyline, which digs into the origins of the Beyonder and Molecule Man and the distinction between them and the race of aliens also known as the Beyonders. Oddly enough, it looks like this story is about to become very relevant again as it was just brought up in the currently running Avengers – Time Runs Out story, which is leading into their next big, and supposedly universe destroying, event: Secret Wars. This run is a pretty big departure from the typical Fantastic Four dynamic and is pretty heavy on references and returns to previous Englehart storylines from some of his Avengers runs and other obscure stories, so is probably not for those looking for a simple or typical Fantastic Four story, but man I love me some classic Marvel Englehart. Anyway…fast forward about 10 years into the future, past some forgettable to terrible stuff and the truly abysmal dark ages of the mid-90s and we come to…

Mark Waid's run - collected in Fantastic Four Volumes 1-3
Mark Waid’s run – most conveniently collected in Fantastic Four Volumes 1-3

Waid takes the same advice and pretty much just ignores almost everything from the last decade and takes things back to basics. He manages to pull off an impressive mixture of lighthearted and charming family drama, comedy, and deadly serious threats to the team and the world. It’s just a really excellently paced and produced run all around and is the kind of thing that any fan, old or new, can pick up and enjoy with very little knowledge of the material beforehand. It’s probably the ideal starting point for someone looking to get into the Fantastic Four. Personally, I don’t think I would call it the very best era of the FF though. For me that award would go to…

Jonathan Hickman's run - collected in Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four omnibuses 1-2
Jonathan Hickman’s run – most conveniently collected in Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Omnibuses 1-2

First of all, while this run deals with some subjects that were brought up in the previous brief eras of Straczynski/McDuffie/Millar at times, I can’t bring myself to recommend any of those runs as they just weren’t very good overall. I don’t know. Just go read the wiki on Nu-Earth and you’ll be fine. Anyway…back in the day I heard Hickman referred to as “the new Warren Ellis” and that is somewhat decent way to describe him to those who don’t know him already now, I guess. Imagine him as Ellis, but more complex and less cynical and you’re not far off. Hickman unleashes a sprawling epic here, with the fascinating addition of the Future Foundation concept, wherein the Fantastic Four starts up what starts out as a school for super-gifted children in its home base. This leads to a new approach to and by the Fantastic Four and kicks off a slow and complex, but highly entertaining build-up to a massive, cosmic, all-out war. There’s a reason people are always talking about this run and for Hickman to currently be headlining the Avengers line and its related big events, and thereby basically steering the ship of the whole Marvel universe. I wouldn’t recommend it to impatient people with short attention spans and a dislike of complicated plots, but then again, I probably wouldn’t recommend anything to a jerk like that!

 

Finally, a brief word about the most recent Fantastic Four runs. Fraction’s run, if it can even really be called that with how it ended, and also about to be featured in an omnibus of its own, is another one that I can’t really find it in myself to recommend. It started off well, but you know when the writer just takes off a little over halfway through the story, that it’s just not going to end well. Fraction and Marvel don’t seem to get along anymore and one of the results was Fraction suddenly dropping the two FF titles he was writing. His notes and general direction were picked up by fill-ins, who were competent writers in their own right, but it just didn’t feel right anymore. Mark Bagley, the artist on one of the two titles, seemed to get bored around the same time too and got noticeably, progressively sloppier until being replaced for the last several issues. On top of all this, the series’ were canceled prematurely and so the ending to the “long”-running plot was very noticeably rushed and all that had been building up ended up falling flat on its face in disappointment. Nowadays, we find ourselves in the Robinson era, which is turning out better than I expected, despite it apparently being designed with the sole intent of destroying the Fantastic Four in some kind of weird effort to kick sand in the faces of Fox and their upcoming terrible looking new FF movie. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out in the end, but anyway…now you know what I’ve been reading lately. Next up is…well you’ll have to come back here and find out when it’s posted.

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