Fantastic Four: the Beginning of the End


By Dwayne McDuffie, Karl Kesel, Paul Pelletier, Tom Grummett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2554-9

The Fantastic Four has long been considered the most pivotal series in modern comicbook history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the roster has changed many times over the years but always eventually returns to the original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who have together formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are actually maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious and impetuous younger brother Johnny Storm; survivors of an independent space-shot which went horribly wrong once ferociously mutative Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously changed into outlandish freaks.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and form force-fields, Johnny could turn into self-perpetuating living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The sheer simplicity of four archetypes – mercurial boffin, self-effacing distaff, solid everyman and hot-headed youth, uniting to triumph over accident and adversity – shone under Stan Lee’s irreverent humanity coupled to Jack Kirby’s rampant imagination and emphatic sense of adventure.

Decades of erratic quality and floundering plotlines followed the original creators’ departures, but from the beginning of the 21st century Marvel’s First Family experienced a steady climb in quality which culminated in their own blockbuster film franchise.

A key factor in the series success was an incredible roster of unforgettable villains and this slim compilation – re-presenting Fantastic Four #525-526 and #551-553 – features a brace of the very best at their very worst…

By this time the FF had achieved the comfortably universal status of being defined mostly by their current creators (like a Brannagh or Olivier Hamlet, Rathbone or Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes or Stan Lee vs. Frank Miller Daredevil) and this beguilingly mismatched collection gathers two story-oddments which wouldn’t comfortably fit in the themed compilations that surround it, but nonetheless offer some splendidly entertaining Fights ‘n’ Tights action from the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” for fans and aficionados to enjoy…

The drama anachronistically kicks of with a 3-part ‘Epilogue’ from Fantastic Four #551-553 (January-March 2008) which followed the return of the original quartet after a period when the universe had been championed by a substitute team (see Fantastic Four: the New Fantastic Four)…

‘The Beginning of the End’ by scripter Dwayne McDuffie, illustrated by Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, opens 75 years after the great superhero Civil War. Reed Richards has triggered a global revolution in humanity, but he spends his days as warden of a high security facility with only six incorrigible reprobates pent within.

When that number is suddenly reduced by one the science hero isn’t too bothered: after all, he remembers it happening decades ago…

Back at Now, the in-their-prime FF are astonished to find Doctor Doom accompanied by elderly incarnations of Sub-Mariner and recent team-mate Black Panther sitting on their couch. After the usual violent preamble the visitors explain they have come from the future to stop Richards from making the greatest mistake in human history…

Reed has a secret room in the Baxter Building where he brainstorms his “100 Ideas” to create a utopia, but Doom and his fellow time-travellers are determined to stop the super genius from instigating Idea 101 – the concept which made the future a living hell.

To prove his point the Iron Dictator reveals the shocking fate of his wife and comrades in years to come. In response Reed picks up a gun and murders one of his “guests”…

The shocking saga continues with ‘The Middle of the End’ as Reed proceeds to expose the time-tossed terror’s true intent, but as combat climaxes his comrades – so recently sundered by the Civil War and still trying to regain trust in each – other cannot shake the dread that there’s a kernel of truth in what Doom predicts …

The suspense then roars into overdrive when the Fantastic Four of Doom’s distant era materialise, determined to recapture the fugitive and prevent catastrophic time-branching no matter who has to pay the price in ‘The End’

After a stunning all-out battle, a measure of equilibrium is restored before this cunning chronicle harks back to Fantastic Four #525-526 (June-July 2005) for ‘Dream Fever parts I and 2’, written by Karl Kesel with art by Tom Grummett, Larry Stucker & Norm Rapmund.

A less conflicted First Family have just returned from a peril-packed jaunt to the Micro-verse when alarms alert them that arcane immortal alchemist Diablo is attacking a bank, but this time he’s not looking for loot or even a fight…

Revealing his origins in 9th century Spain the mage wants the FF’s time machine so that he can return to his birth era and crush the sadistic Inquisition before it can torture and murder millions – and he’s prepared to raze New York to get his way…

After failing to capture the mystic maniac the heroes return home but are plagued by shared horrendous dreams which increasingly set the family at each other’s throats. Reed’s researches, however, soon prove Diablo is not the cause but only another victim of what seems to be a globally debilitating epidemic of nightmares…

Frantically racing against time the pliable genius traces the true cause of the contagion but to save the world the quarrelsome quartet might well have to strike that deal with the devil…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Michael Turner and Jim Cheung plus a selection of pre-inked pencil pages from issues #551 and 553, The Beginning of the End is a fast-paced, action packed and tension-soaked chronicle of fantastic fragments that provides all the thrills and chills a devoted Costumed Drama lover could ever want.
© 2005, 2007 and 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.