Essential Fantastic Four volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3063-5

By this seventh collection of tales from “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” the Fantastic Four had settled into a kind of comfortable stylistic nostalgia, although the stories – no longer fuelled by Jack Kirby’s staggeringly inventive imagination and High-Concept conveyor belt of mind-bending ideas – maintained the new taste for urbane melodrama and topically-tinged new characters all wrapped up in soap-opera methodology, science fictive social speculation and super-villain-dominated Fights ‘n’ Tights romps.

It wasn’t Stan and Jack but it stood up on its own terms…

This volume covers Fantastic Four #138-159 (June 1971- August 1973) and includes FF material from Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2-4 as well as the other half of a rather significant crossover tale from Avengers #127.

In the previous collection the never-ending stress was forcing Sue Richards apart from her husband and Inhuman warrior-princess Medusa had taken her place in the team whilst the Invisible Girl (as she still was) cared for son Franklin, now a toddler with strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems…

Mr. Fantastic was not taking the trial separation well and issue #138 saw him left behind in an increasingly disturbed depressive state when old comrade Wyatt Wingfoot came looking for assistance against impossible, unimaginable disasters.

Madness is… The Miracle Man’ by Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott began a period when rocky everyman Ben Grimm became the de facto star of the Fantastic Four and here he, the Torch and Medusa travelled to Wingfoot’s tribal lands to battle the former hypnotist they had first seen in their third adventure.

Now, however, thanks to the charlatan’s subsequent studies under ghostly Cheemuzwa medicine men, the maniac actually could alter reality with a thought…

The battle concluded in the next issue wherein ‘Target: Tomorrow!’ saw the villain who could control matter but not himself spiralled frantically out of control with our heroes struggling indomitably on until the Miracle Man made a fatal error…

Reed’s travails took a darkerturn in Fantastic Four # 140 as ‘Annihilus Revealed!’ found the insectoid Negative Zone tyrant kidnapping the ever more powerful Franklin and invading the Baxter Building in search of new worlds to ravage. In triumph the bug horror disclosed his incredible origin to the helpless Wingfoot before dragging all his enemies back to his subspace hell to engineer ‘The End of the Fantastic Four!’

And as the heroes languished in the Negative Zone, on Earth Ben’s girlfriend Alicia was lured to the Balkans by another arch enemy…

However, even though the beaten heroes counterattacked and gained an unlikely victory, Annihilus’ prior tampering with Franklin had triggered a cosmic catastrophe. As the boy’s limitless power began to spiral out of control, his tormented father was compelled to blast the boy, shutting down his mutant brain and everything else.

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to put his own son into a coma, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in deserting the grief-stricken Mr. Fantastic and declaring their heroic partnership defunct…

With only ruthlessly pragmatic Medusa remaining, FF #142 saw the shell-shocked Richards with ‘No Friend Beside Him!’ (by Conway & new artist Rich Buckler – whose faithful pastiche of Jack Kirby under Sinnott inking produced a wave of favourable nostalgia in fans then and now) whilst the Thing followed Alicia to Europe.

Here they were attacked by a sinister supernatural horror named Darkoth the Death-Demon even as Johnny and Wyatt headed for Metro College to see their old sports coach Sam Thorne on his way to an Alumni reunion.

Reed was another attendee, despondently dragged there by Medusa, but nobody expected that weird foreign kid who had been expelled so long ago to turn up, leading to ‘The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Doom!’ (Conway, Buckler & Frank Giacoia)…

The Mad Monarch was never one to forgive a slight, real or imagined, and as he gloatingly revealed himself to be the creator of Darkoth and jailer of the Thing he also boasted to his captives of his latest scheme to eradicate human free will.

Typically, though, the Iron Dictator hadn’t considered how his death-demon might react to the news that he was an artificial puppet and the monster’s ‘Attack!’ (#144 with Buckler & Sinnott art) resulted in a cataclysmic clash and Doom’s defeat…

Back together but still disunited, the FF again parted company in #145, as the Torch then accompanied Medusa on a visit to Attilan – the hidden city of the Inhumans – only to be brought down by a lost race of ice people to endure a ‘Nightmare in the Snow!’ (art by Ross Andru & Sinnott).

The snow troglodytes’ plans to turn the world into an ice-ball only they could inhabit went bizarrely awry when the Thing joined the crashed heroes and a dissident faction trained by a Buddhist monk pitched in, leading to a happy ending all round in the concluding ‘Doomsday: 200° Below!’

This was period of great experimentation and expansion at Marvel and Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974) launched as a forerunner in a line of supplementary double-sized titles starring the company’s most popular stars.

In this initial exploratory outing – the title became Giant-Size Fantastic Four with the next quarterly issue – Conway, Buckler & Sinnott crafted ‘The Mind of the Monster!’: a blockbusting battle team-up as Bruce Banner came calling, still seeking a cure for his mean green alter ego and the sympathetic and occasionally self-loathing Thing foolishly let him play with one of Reed’s devices…

Unfortunately their mutual meddling with the Psi-Amplifier only switched their minds leaving the Rampaging Hulk trapped and running amok in the Thing’s body whilst Ben/Hulk struggled to stop him.

The situation worsened when trans-dimensional Femizon Thundra pitched in, mistakenly believing she was helping her main squeeze Ben battle a big green monster, and the violence intensified when Reed, Johnny and Medusa got involved in  ‘Someone’s Been Sleeping in My Head’

Of course in the end it took everybody and a cunning plan to set the world to rights in the spectacular conclusion ‘…And in This Corner: the Incredible Hulk’

Fantastic Four #147 continued the action-tinged melodrama with ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ (Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) as Sue started divorce proceedings whilst taking comfort from long-time stalker Prince Namor.

When Reed, Johnny and Ben tried to “rescue” her, the Atlantean thrashed them and she sent them packing…

To add insult to injury the dejected men returned home to find the Baxter Building invaded by the Frightful Four and were forced to fight a ‘War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor!’ Sadly for The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster they had no idea their newest ally Thundra was smitten with the Thing…

Issue #149 then resolved the Sub-Mariner storyline as the undersea emperor invaded New York in ‘To Love, Honour, and Destroy!’, but his awesome attack was only a cunning plan to trick Sue into reconciling with her husband…

Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 then revealed a time-twisting ‘Cataclysm!’ courtesy of Conway, John Buscema & Chic Stone wherein cosmic voyeur The Watcher warned of a hapless innocent who had inadvertently altered history thanks to Dr. Doom’s confiscated time machine. Moreover the imposing extraterrestrial expected the FF to fix the problem…

With more than one temporal hot-spot, Reed and Johnny headed for Colonial America to rescue the Father of the Nation in ‘George Washington Almost Slept Here!’ whilst Ben and Medusa crashed into the “Roaring Twenties” and saved the time-lost wanderer from being rubbed out in ‘The Great Grimmsby’

Thinking their mission accomplished the heroes were astounded to then find themselves trapped in timeless Limbo battling a monstrous giant dubbed Tempus before escaping to their restored origin point in ‘Time Enough for Death!’

For months Johnny had been fretting that his first true love Crystal had decided to marry super-swift mutant Quicksilver but that plot-thread finally closed with a 2-part crossover tale that began in Avengers #127 as ‘Bride and Doom!’ (by Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) saw the Assemblers travel to the hidden homeland of the Inhumans for the marriage of the aforementioned Pietro to elemental enchantress and Royal Princess only to stumble into a uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives.

Once again the sinister robotic colossus Omega had incited revolt but this time it wasn’t insane usurper Maximus behind the skulduggery but an old Avengers enemy who revealed himself in the concluding chapter in Fantastic Four #150.

Here ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ ( Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) found both hero squads join Black Bolt’s Inhumans against the malign A.I and only saved by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last, ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ finally ended events on a happy note… for everybody but the Torch.

FF #151 then began revealing the truth about the mysterious Femizon as ‘Thundra and Lightning!’ introduced the male-dominated alternate Future Earth dubbed Machus and its brutal despot Mahkizmo, the Nuclear Man, who explosively invaded the Baxter Building in search of a mate to dominate and a new world to conquer…

Inked by Jim Mooney #152 revealed ‘A World of Madness Made!’ as the team were held captive in the testosterone dimension whilst Medusa seemingly fled, but actually sought reinforcements from the diametrically-opposed Femizon future alternity, resulting in two universes crashing together in the concluding ‘Worlds in Collision!’ by Tony Isabella, Buckler & Sinnott.

Reworked by Len Wein, Fantastic Four #154 featured ‘The Man in the Mystery Mask!’ – a partial reprint from Strange Tales#127 in which Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman pitted Ben and Johnny against ‘The Mystery Villain!’.

Here, however, Bob Brown, Giacoia & Mike Esposito found that Reed’s early lesson in leadership had been hijacked by another old friend with explosive and annoying results…

The next extra-special adventure in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3 revealed ‘Where Lurks Death …Ride the Four Horsemen!’ as Conway, Marv Wolfman, Buckler & Sinnott described the invasion of cosmic aliens intent on scourging the Earth. Forewarned after the team battled the first horror in ‘…There Shall Come Pestilence’, the harried heroes split up with Medusa and Johnny striving against international madness in ‘…And War Shall Take the Land!’ whilst Reed and Ben strove to conquer the personification of Famine in ‘…And the Children Shall Hunger!’, before all reuniting to wrap up the final invader in‘…All in the Valley of Death!’

A minor classic followed in Fantastic Four #155-157 as the long dormant Silver Surfer resurfaced in ‘Battle Royal!’ (by Wein, Buckler & Sinnott), apparently a murderous and willing thrall of Doctor Doom.

The dictator could command the Shining Skyrider because he held the alien’s lover Shalla Bal – had indeed threatened to take her in marriage – but as seen in ‘Middle Game!’ (with Roy Thomas joining as co-writer and Editor) the Surfer could not kill and merely delivered the FF as prisoners to the Devil Doctor’s citadel.

However there were schemes within schemes unfolding and Doom was playing a waiting game whilst he covertly stole the Skyrider’s Power Cosmic to fuel a deadly Doomsman mechanoid…

With Thomas in full authorial control ‘And Now… the Endgame Cometh!’ saw the heroes fight back to conquer the Lethal Latverian, but all were blithely unaware that the entire charade had been a crafty confection of malign and manipulative demon Mephisto

Meanwhile over in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Sinnott united to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’, a young mutant who had grown up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possessed.

When his parents passed away the kid was inexplicably drawn to New York but the hi-tech suit he wore to contain his condition began to malfunction and the boy became a mobile fission device that could endlessly, lethally replicate itself…

Thankfully the FF were aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who took young Jamie under his wing…

This formidable high tension Fights ‘n’ Tights tome terminates with another nostalgia-tinged 2-part epic which began in FF #158’s ‘Invasion from the 5th (Count it, 5th!) Dimension’ by Thomas, Buckler & Sinnott, wherein one of the Torch’s earliest solo scourges returned to occupy the land of the Inhumans.

Extra-dimensional dictator Xemu began his campaign of vengeance by dispatching Quicksilver to lure Medusa back to Attilan. The intention was to make the defiant Black Bolt utilise his doomsday sonic power on the invader’s behalf, but the conqueror needed the silent king’s beloved as a bargaining chip.

However, when the FF accompanied her into the obvious trap, they brought a hidden ally who unobtrusively turned the tables on Xemu, unleashing ‘Havoc in the Hidden Land!’ and thereby at last reuniting the First Family of comicbook fiction…

This power-packed package also includes unused cover versions for Fantastic Four #141, 155 and 156 to add to the overall Costumed Drama and delight fans everywhere.

Although Kirby had taken the unmatched imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Stan Lee carried the series for years afterwards. So once writers who shared the originators’ sensibilities were crafting the stories a mini-renaissance began…

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, this period offered fans a tantalising taste of the glory days and these solid, honest and intriguing efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1973, 1973, 1973, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.