Essential Fantastic Four volume 5


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, John Romita, John Buscema, John Verpoorten & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2162-6

With the fifth collection of tales from “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” the dream-team of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee was sundered and a reeling Marvel entered a new epoch of uncertain futures and bold new directions – which is rather ironic since it was the company’s reticence to give the artist creative freedom which led to Kirby’s jumping ship to National/DC in the first place…

This volume covers the final days of “the King’s” reign on Marvel’s flagship title and the shaky start of a new era covers Fantastic Four #84-110 (March 1969-May 1971) plus the covers of FF Annuals #7 and 8, but also includes a few surprise features to stun and startle art-lovers everywhere.

The narrative delights begin with the start of a four-part epic starring their greatest foe. ‘His Name is Doom!’ (by the team supreme of Lee, Kirby & Joe Sinnott) found Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, Thing and substitute member Crystal returning from battling Maximus and the Inhumans only to be intercepted by Nick Fury and the super-spies of S.H.I.E.L.D. looking for a favour…

The Steel-Shod Dictator had apparently devised unstoppable super-robots and the quixotic quartet was asked to infiltrate the sovereign state of Latveria to ferret them out. However it’s impossible to sneak up on the most paranoid man in the world and the heroes were easily intercepted and captured. ‘Within This Tortured Land’ found them “guests” in Doom’s fairytale Ruritanian paradise, but even with their powers removed they soon discovered the cruel iron within their velvet prison as the Monarch of Latveria began testing his deadly Doombots on his own subjects. When the automatons went wild the entire kingdom was imperilled in ‘Victims’ and only the last-minute arrival of Invisible Girl Sue Richards allowed the FF and the villagers to survive Doom’s cataclysmic failsafe plan

The shocking final confrontation and conclusion came in ‘The Power and the Pride!’ which wrapped up the saga in a bombastic blend of super-science, soap opera and delightful melodrama seldom seen in comicbooks before or since.

Fantastic Four #88 found the five champions back in the USA and looking at an unconventional new house found by the dedicatedly-domesticated Sue in her perpetual quest to carve out a relatively normal life for her new son. Regrettably the trendy detached dwelling in ‘A House There Was!’ had been designed by the FF’s oldest enemy and ‘The Madness of the Mole Man!’ predicated his turning the entire world blind and wiping out the extended heroic family entirely.

The Thing took centre-stage in the next extended epic as he was kidnapped to another world when ‘The Skrull Takes a Slave!’ in #90. Abducted to fight in gladiatorial games on a colony world patterned after Earth’s 1920s gangster era ‘The Thing… Enslaved!’ introduced rival Skrull mobs vying for supremacy and a noble slave destined to slaughter our shanghaied champion. ‘Ben Grimm, Killer!’ ramped up the tension as Thing and mechanoid marvel Torgo discovered that their home-worlds were hostage to their fortune and ferocity in the arena…

Meanwhile Reed, Johnny and Crystal had not been idle. While Ben was at ‘The Mercy of Torgo!’ his Earthly brothers-in-arms were enacting a desperate plan to save him and destroy the Skrulls planetary doom-weapon.

After the cover to the all-reprint Fantastic Four Annual #7 a series of single issue stories kicked off with the debut of eldritch babysitter/governess Agatha Harkness in ‘The Return of the Frightful Four!’ a rollercoaster romp of action and suspense most significant for finally giving Sue and Reed’s baby a name after a year of shilly-shallying… Franklin Benjamin Richards.

The Monocle was a technological assassin determined to cause global Armageddon in #95’s ‘Tomorrow… World War Three!’ in the middle of which Crystal was abruptly abducted by her own family, after which ‘The Mad Thinker and his Androids of Death!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) once again proved no match for the heroic foursome whilst ‘The Monster From the Lost Lagoon!’ offered a decidedly different take on the horror-movies it gloriously pastiched when the First Family tried to combine a quick tropical vacation with a little rumour-busting creature-hunt…

Both Joe Sinnott and the Sentry Sinister returned in #98’s ‘Mystery on the Moon!’ as the global fervour over the first lunar landing in 1969 (conveniently forgetting, of course, the FF’s own visit to our satellite in issue #13) resulted in a cracking yarn wherein the team stopped the intergalactic Kree empire from sabotaging mankind’s first steps into space, whilst in #99 the heartsick Johnny Storm invaded the hidden home of the Inhumans intent on reuniting with his lost love at all costs when ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’

With a restored Crystal happily in tow the 100th anniversary adventure featured a daft but spectacular battle against robotic replicas of their greatest enemies in ‘The Long Journey Home!’ but #101 provided a far more intriguing contest when criminal combine the Maggia bought the team’s skyscraper headquarters in a cunning, quasi-legal ploy to steal the FF’s scientific secrets, culminating in ‘Bedlam in the Baxter Building!’

Fantastic Four #102 featured the first cover not drawn by The King as John Romita (senior) prepared to jump into the artistic hot-seat following Kirby’s abrupt move to the home of Superman and Batman.

After an incomprehensibly vast catalogue of creativity an unthinkable Changing of the Guard occurred when the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (His) Ideas for arch-rival National/DC where he crafted his Fourth World Magnum Opus as well as a host of other game-changing comicbook classics…

An era ended at Marvel when the King abdicated his seemingly divinely-ordained position. Left to pacify and win over again the stunned fans were Stan Lee and a couple of budding talents named Romita and Buscema…

Kirby was not quite gone however, as he and Sinnott opened an impressive extended epic wherein the mutant menace Magneto used guile and subterfuge to turn ‘The Strength of the Sub-Mariner’ and his undersea armies against the FF and entire surface world…

Romita and inker John Verpoorten took over the story in mid-stream depicting America ‘At War with Atlantis!’ as Magneto inevitably betrayed Namor, inspiring the Prince to join with the embattled quartet to prevent ‘Our World… Enslaved!’, which is followed here by the cover of Fantastic Four Annual #8 (which had reprinted the original clash between Subby’s undersea empire and the surface world from the first FF Annual) after which Lee, Romita & Verpoorten began the low-key but extremely effective tale of ‘The Monster in the Streets!’

When Crystal was taken ill – preparatory to writing her out of the series completely – Reed’s examination revealed a potential method of curing the misshapen Thing of his Rocky curse, but whilst he was preparing Ben Grimm for the longed-for process a mysterious energy-beast began to tear up the city. By the time ‘The Monster’s Secret!’ was exposed in #106 the team strongman was near death and Crystal gone… seemingly forever.

Joe Sinnott returned – again – in #107 in ‘And Now… the Thing!’ as John Buscema took over Kirby’s other masterpiece (he had begun drawing Thor four months previously from issue #182) wherein the tragic man-beast gained the power to become human at will. It seemed the best of all possible outcomes but something wasn’t quite right… However, before Reed could investigate an old foe popped up again. Sort of…

FF #108 was something of a surprise to fans. ‘The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man!’ reintroduced a character never before seen by recycling portions of a rejected Lee, Kirby & Sinnott tale with new framing sequences illustrated by Buscema and Romita. The mysterious Janus had tapped into the anti-matter power of the Negative Zone once and now he had “returned” to steal more by crashing through the portal in Reed’s lab. Unfortunately this had attracted the attention of extinction-event predator Annihilus, who had long sought entry into our life-rich universe…

Forced to follow the truly mad scientist Reed, Ben and Johnny once again faced ‘Death in the Negative Zone!’ and this compelling compendium closes on a cliffhanger with Fantastic Four #110 as, with a little arcane assistance, Reed escaped doom in the anti-matter cosmos only to realise that the “cured” Ben Grimm had become a lethal threat to all humanity in ‘One From Four Leaves Three!’

Did I say closes? Not quite; as this massive monochrome tome still finds room for a selection of original un-inked Kirby pencil pages from #89 and even reprints a photo gallery of the entire Marvel Bullpen from circa 1971. Boy – talk about bonuses…

These are the stories which confirmed Jack Kirby as the absolute master of superhero storytelling and gave Marvel the push needed to overtake the decades-dominant DC, as well as the valiant efforts tat saved the company after the Great Imaginer left for their biggest rival. They’re also some of the very best comics ever produced and as thrilling and compulsive now as they ever were. This is another must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative.

© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.