Fantastic Four: The Life Fantastic


By J. Michael Straczynski, Karl Kesel, Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone, Drew Johnson, Casey Jones, Lee Weeks & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1896-1

The Fantastic Four has long been rightly regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comicbook history, responsible for introducing both a new style of storytelling and a radically different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the line-up has changed many times over the years but always eventually returned to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who jointly 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, 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 Lee’s irreverent humanity coupled to Kirby’s rampant imagination and tirelessly 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 and sustained climb in quality which culminated in their own film franchise, currently experiencing its own radical reboot.

The return to peak quality was the result of sheer hard work by a number of “Big Ideas” writers and this slim hardback compilation – re-presenting Fantastic Four #533-535, spanning January to April 2006, supplemented by a selection of celebratory one-shots comprising Fantastic Four Wedding Special (January 2006), Fantastic Four Special 2005 and Fantastic Four: A Death in the Family (July 2006) – wraps up J. Michael Straczynski’s brief but splendidly entertaining tenure in the command chair.

Illustrated by Mike McKone (with inkers Andy Lanning, Simon Coleby & Cam Smith) the never-ending excitement opens with a bombastic three-part tale which is perhaps the ultimate clash between the Hulk and the Thing… and possibly the funniest yet most heart-rending FF story ever written…

‘What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas’ opens as the Hulk – now governed by Bruce Banner’s intellect and working for SHIELD – dramatically fails to defuse a gamma bomb and is caught in the resulting blast…

In New York Reed and Sue are facing their greatest battle; trying to stop Simone Debouvier of New York’s Division of Child Welfare from placing their children Franklin and Valeria into State custody to protect them from the Fantastic Four’s life-threatening influence and circumstances. It’s almost a relief for the embattled parents to despatch their boisterous and understandably furious team-mates to Nevada so they can concentrate on navigating the tricky legal maze of the Social Services system.

When Torch and Thing arrive it’s too their worst nightmare: the gamma blast has seemingly devolved the Hulk’s mind back to his primitive, enraged and devastatingly destructive state and supercharged his body. The heroes are all that stand between the unstable juggernaut and the utter destruction of the city…

Utterly overmatched, Ben is pushed to his limits in ‘Shadow Boxing’ but even amidst the hurricane of shattering violence, he realises it’s not rage but guilt that is pushing the over-Hulk to such brutal excess, even as back in New York Reed and Sue take a desperate gamble to keep their family together…

The transcontinental confrontations crash into a pair of stunning victories for heart and brains over brawn in the climactic finale ‘To Be This Monster’

The rest of this slim, sleek and celebratory volume concentrates on a wealth of special editions and follows up first with Fantastic Four Wedding Special where Karl Kesel, Drew Johnson, Drew Geraci & Drew Hennessy combine to venerate the past and offer tantalising glimpses of things to come when Sue and Reed go for a quiet meal and – thanks to the technological miracle of time travel – discover that every guest is the happy couple themselves, plucked from key moments of their fantastic past and incredible future…

That gloriously heart-warming spectacle is followed by a far more tense but no less intriguing yarn from Fantastic Four Special #1 with Dwayne McDuffie, Casey Jones & Vince Russell depicting ‘My Dinner with Doom’ as Reed opts to try fine dining and frank conversation as a way of finally ending the long-standing feud between him and the relentless and duplicitous Iron Dictator. If only Doom was as open-minded about the eventual outcome…

Focus shifts to Johnny for the last epic as Fantastic Four: A Death in the Family (Kesel, Lee Weeks, Rob Campenella & Tom Palmer) sees the frat-boy goof suddenly forced to wise up, man up and make a horrific choice to save his beloved, fractious family from certain doom in another time-travel flavoured adventure.

In this story however, there is no happy ending…

A stellar combination of apocalyptic action, heartbreak, suspense and hilarious low comedy, this exhilarating compilation also includes a stunning cover gallery by McKone, Gene Ha, Leinil Yu, Morry Hollowell and Weeks to provide a warm, fast-paced, tension-soaked Fights ‘n’ Tights chronicle which will provide all the thrills and chills a devoted Costumed Drama lover could ever want.
© 2005, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.