Fantastic Four: Disassembled


By Mark Waid, Karl Kesel, Paco Medina, Mike Wieringo & Juan Vlasco (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1536-6

The Fantastic Four is rightly regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comics history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a strikingly fresh manner of engaging readers’ imaginations and attention. The heroes are felt by fans to be more family than team and, although the roster has temporarily changed many times over the years, the line-up always inevitably returns to the original core group of maverick genius Reed Richards, wife Sue, trusty friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s younger brother Johnny; all survivors of a privately-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong when Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

After crashing back to Earth, the quartet found they had all been mutated into freaks. Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying monster who, unlike his comrades, could not reassume a semblance of normality on command.

This particular game-changing compilation gathers issues #514-519 (August-December 2004), highlighting more of the spectacular run by writer Mark Waid and much-missed illustrator Mike Wieringo; celebrating their “back-to-basics” approach which utterly rejuvenated the venerable property and marked one more ending of an era.

What You Need To Know: after banishing their greatest enemy to Hell, the team attempted to save Doctor Doom’s now-leaderless nation of Latveria. To do this, Reed unilaterally seized control of the postage-stamp kingdom to keep it being from being torn apart and swallowed by its land- and tech-hungry Balkan neighbours.

Although done for the right reasons, Mr. Fantastic’s drastic solution alienated friends and allies – and even his own team-mates – and lost him the respect and support of the entire world.

Contemporaneously in the Marvel Universe: as the FF became unloved pariahs and practically bankrupt, the “World’s Mightiest Heroes” were shut down and rebooted in a highly publicised event known as Avengers Disassembled (of course it was only to replace them with both The New and Young Avengers).

The event spilled over into the regular titles of current team members and affiliated comic-books such as Spectacular Spider-Man, with close allies the Fantastic Four inexorably drawn into their Big Show.

Said Show consisted of the worst day in superhero history as the unsuspectedly insane Scarlet Witch attacked the Avengers from within, resulting in the utter destruction of everything they held dear and the death of several members and associates. The side-bar sagas collected here concentrate on the uncalculated fall-out of that devastating sequence of events…

It begins in the 3-part ‘Dysfunctional’ (by Karl Kesel, Paco Medina & Juan Vlasco) when, with the heroes at their lowest ebb, incorrigible arch-foe The Wizard targets them, using a new roster of his antithetical cohorts in The Frightful Four. This iteration (Hydro-Man, the Trapster and mysterious new pyrokinetic “Fire Maiden” Salamandra) start enacting the Wizard’s devious plan just as Johnny finds his new girlfriend Cole Wittman at the centre of a bizarre series of tectonic disasters.

When she is invited back to FFHQ for tea and tests, shock follows shocks as Cole reluctantly lets the Wizard’s minions in…

The poor girl is the unwitting product of the evil super-genius’ genetic tinkering: a test-tube baby combining his and Salamandra’s DNA and somehow able to affect gravity. It is, unfortunately, an ability the poor dupe has no control over…

As the two FF’s spectacularly clash and the villains come out on top, the Wizard’s true intentions are revealed as he murderously disposes of one of his own to make way for Daddy’s little girl to join his team. Moreover he has broadcast the entire battle to the world, in his arrogant determination to prove his superiority to the fallen Reed Richards…

Battered but unbroken the heroes pick themselves up, determined to find their foes and rescue Cole. The girl is already regretting her actions as her “father” elatedly reveals the circumstances of her creation and exults in the success of his greatest “experiment”…

The staggering counterstrike almost goes horribly wrong when Salamandra’s true nature is exposed, resulting in a catastrophic struggle and a tragic pyrrhic victory for the Fantastic Four…

The main event sees the return of creators Waid & Wieringo (with Kesel inking) for ‘Fourtitude’ as Halloween finds the team on the road to recovery if not public redemption. Reed has already rebuilt their fortune with a brief flurry of invention and profitable patents – such as the self-inflating, self-retrieving basketball – and, as darkness falls, cosmic calamity offers Fantastic Four, Inc. a chance to restore their shredded reputation…

Out of the darkness of space four monumental alien pylons crash into the waters around Manhattan and begin sucking the island up into the void. With the Avengers gone, the Mayor has no choice but to turn to the pariah-team to save his city and perhaps the world…

They are already at work rescuing citizens when the call comes and soon Richards and his comrades have penetrated one of the vast constructs to discover the horrible truth behind Manhattan’s abduction.

Benevolent alien technologist Zius had discovered a way to mask planets from the attention of world-devouring Galactus, potentially saving trillions of lives and possibly resulting in the eventual doom by starvation of the cosmic cannibal. However he has learned that on Earth a counter to his process exists.

Thus he has raced to our world to remove that single threat to universal salvation.

It doesn’t take long to determine that the force in question is Sue, whose powers include making the unseen visible. Zius was willing to throw New York into the Sun to ensure the safety of the cosmos, but with the World-Eater undoubtedly getting closer every moment she surrenders herself in return for the island’s safe return…

Desperate Reed quickly devises a way to obviate the necessity to kill his wife and the aliens prepare to leave, satisfied but utterly unaware of the brilliant stratagem Richards has used to bluff them.

As New York rejoices in the triumph of its now restored and redeemed champions, Sue discovers she is now a Human Torch whilst her brother possesses the critical invisibility power.

…And that’s when the star god arrives and takes possession of the mortal threat to his infinite existence…

To Be Continued…

With an eye-catching cover gallery by Gene Ha, Morry Hollowell, Wieringo, Kesel & Paul Mounts, this compulsively engrossing epic of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction truly carries on the legacy of mind-bending imagination and breathtaking excitement established by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Epic and engaging, this is a treat for comics fan and newcomers alike – even if you need to get the next volume too…
© 2004 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman volume 1: Solve Everything


By Jonathan Hickman, Dale Eaglesham & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5303-0

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

The quartet are better known as maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious younger brother Johnny Storm; driven survivors of an independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and eventually, project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was mutated into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

Throughout its history the series has always been more about big ideas than action/adventure and this compilation – gathering issues #570-574 from October 2009 to February 2010 – highlights the first forays of a truly mind-boggling run from scripter Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News, Pax Romana, Secret Warriors and much more) who truly lived up to the series’ “Big Sky Thinking” antecedents…

It all begins with the breathtaking 3-parter ‘Solve Everything’ – illustrated by Dale Eaglesham – and ‘Is It Playing God If You’re Truly Serious About Creation?’ wherein certified super-genius Richards, driven by childhood memories of his demanding father, faces the greatest challenge and most beguiling seduction of his fantastic life.

After defeating the latest mad assault by scientific criminal Bentley Wittman – giant robots piloted by hideously modified clones of the deranged hyper-intellectual super-foe – the villain upsets and destabilises the victorious Richards by challenging him to examine some cold hard facts.

The Wizard postulates that the world is broken and about to tear itself apart but everyone is too busy applying band-aids to try fixing it…

The exchange stays with Richards. Even as the family goes about its usual business Mr. Fantastic discusses things with his three year old daughter Valeria – a savant even smarter than he is – and then retires to his private lab to mull things over.

The Room of 100 Ideas is the place where Richards has made his greatest breakthroughs and triumphs, the sanctum from which he has changed the world over and over again, but it also harbours one last dream and goal…

Idea 101: Solve Everything…

Now he uses a long-mothballed device to contact a mysterious inter-dimensional organisation of intellectual supermen to help him fix the world and at last discovers that the benevolent Council is completely composed of alternate Earth iterations of himself, all waiting patiently for him to join their elevated ranks. The self-appointed champions of rationality and guardians of the multiverse feel it is time he lived up to his true potential. He is sorely tempted…

The grand tour of perfect possibilities continues in ‘You Stood Beside Me, Larger Than Life and Did the Impossible’ as the newcomer proves his worth by killing an attacking planet-devouring Galactus and a legion of Silver Surfers on Earth 2012, all before popping home to touch base with his friends and family at breakfast. They are preparing for son Franklin’s upcoming birthday and, even though Richards cannot share his new experiences with them, Sue knows something big is troubling him.

After a frank but vague discussion, the distracted super-mind promises to have everything sorted one way or another in seven days…

His time “in the lab” in actuality finds him travelling to every incredible corner of Creation where his agglomerated alternates police and improve the lot of all humanities. Over and again their combined efforts have created a fantastic technological paradise but still Richards has unresolved, inexplicable reservations, especially at night in bed, thinking about his family and recalling conversations with his own father…

The intellectual idyll is rudely shattered in ‘We Are Men We Have No Masters’ when the multiversal Council is attacked by Celestial Space Gods intent on using their inter-dimensional discoveries to take control of all realities. The apocalyptic battle decimates the ranks of the Richards before a solution and ultimate victory is achieved, and, as the cosmic dust settles Reed at last makes his decision – the only one a really smart man can…

Originally published as ‘Adventures on Nu-World’ (and illustrated by Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie) the next tale focuses on the Thing and Human Torch as they take a long-anticipated vacation-break on an artificial resort much like a cosmic Las Vegas, blithely unaware of two extremely important facts.

Firstly, that Reed and Sue’s kids have stowed away aboard their transport, but probably more critical is the realisation that the man-made world is in the midst of a civil war prompted by the entire planet having slipped into the event horizon of a Black Hole…

With a host of guest villains including Skaar, Son of Hulk, ‘These Are the End Times’ follows the slow procession and brutal struggle to total obliteration and highlights the astounding gifts of toddler Valeria who secretly solves the problem and gets (almost) everyone home safely…

The story portion of this splendid celebration of all things Fantastical concludes with ‘All Hope Lies With Doom’ (originally ‘Days of Future Franklin’ by Edwards & Currie again) as the boy’s birthday finally arrives and the extended family – including Dragon Man, uncle Spider-Man, the kids from Power Pack and mutant orphans Artie and Leech – enjoy the party of a lifetime. It’s only slightly spoiled when a time-travelling raider crashes the affair, and he’s soon sent packing by the adults – but not before he delivers a secret warning to Valeria and a unique gift for the birthday boy.

Valeria isn’t worried: after all, if there’s one person she can trust, it’s her grown up brother Franklin…

This collection also includes a huge Cover Gallery by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Dave McCaig, John Rausch & Javier Rodriguez with variants from Eaglesham & Paul Mounts, John Cassaday & Laura Martin, Marcelo Dichiara, Christopher Jones & Sotocolor.

Smart, tense, thrilling and exhibiting genuine warmth and humanity, this is a grand starting point for new or returning readers with a view to recapturing the glory days of fantasy and science fiction, and especially a different kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights theatre…
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four


By Christos Gage & Mario Alberti with Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4423-6

After a shaky start in 1962, The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the groundbreaking creative powerhouse that was Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Eventually the quirky, charming action-packed comics soap-opera became the model for an entire generation of younger heroes who imperceptibly began elbowing aside the staid, more mature costumed-crimebusters of previous publications and eras.

Since the 1970s the Astounding Arachnid and his hard-luck alter ego Peter Parker have become full-blown multimedia icons and survived every manner of seemingly insane reboot and upgrade to become globally real in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Tarzan, Superman, Batman and Harry Potter.

The Fantastic Four are – more often than not – maverick genius Reed Richards, his fiancée (later wife) Sue Storm, their trusty friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother Johnny, driven survivors of a independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the quartet found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and, eventually, project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was mutated into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

A core element of superhero comics is the “team-up” wherein costumed champions unite to tackle a greater than usual threat, or even each other; a sales-generating tactic taken to its logical extreme at Marvel wherein most early encounters between masked mystery men were generally prompted by jurisdictional disputes resulting in usually spectacular punch-ups before the heroes finally got on with allying to confront the real menace…

Combining Marvel’s biggest franchise and most creatively influential series, this slim, slick tome collects the 4-issue miniseries Spider-Man/Fantastic Four (from August to September 2010) by scripter Christos Gage and artist Mario Alberti, reprising their earlier trawl through key points of Marvel history affecting the wall-crawler and assorted iterations of X-Men.

Also focussing on the long, convoluted, inextricably interwoven relationship of the solitary web-spinner and the First Family of Superheroics, this compilation also offers an earlier crossover of the icons first seen in Peter Parker, the Sensational Spider-Man #42 and Fantastic Four #218 (both from May 1980).

The first chapter of the main story is set just after stuffy Mr. Fantastic and Sue Storm announced their engagement, a time when Peter Parker had just started college at Empire State University.

A ‘Crisis on Campus’ was triggered when the institution hosted a secret conference of world leaders and Victor Von Doom, absolute monarch of Balkan kingdom Latveria, demanded his arch-foes the FF should be his bodyguards. With the State Department pushing all the patriotism buttons the furious foursome had no choice but to reluctantly comply…

Intended merely as a means to aggravate and humiliate his enemies, the ploy became deadly serious when enraged Atlantean Prince Namor and his sub-sea legions attacked the meeting seeking vengeance on Doom.

Events escalated when the Iron Dictator refused to stay locked in a super-secure Panic Room and possessed the body of the Human Torch to personally rebuke the Sub-Mariner’s insults. Total catastrophe seemed unavoidable until the physically overmatched web-spinner proffered a brilliantly sneaky way to break up the cataclysmic fight…

Unknown to all participants, however, a clandestine time-travelling foe was the chaos as cover to acquire elements necessary to bring about the downfall of his greatest foes and the very rewriting of history…

‘Symbiosis’ skips forward a few years to the time after the first Secret Wars, when Spider-Man discovered that his new smart-tech black costume was in fact an alien parasite. The uniform had attempted to bond permanently to Peter and had to be forcibly removed and contained by Reed and the FF.

The strange invader (see Spider-Man vs. Venom and Amazing Spider-Man: the Saga of the Alien Costume for further details) would eventually bond with deranged, disgraced reporter Eddie Brock, becoming Venom, a savage, shape-changing dark-side version of the Astounding Arachnid, but in this untold aside the cosmic creature broke free almost immediately, seizing control of Richards, temporary replacement She-Hulk and eventually Reed’s son Franklin.

The boy possessed dormant power on a level to reshape the universe and, as Spider-Man selflessly attempted to lure the Symbiote away by offering himself as a sacrifice, the mysterious time-thief again surreptitiously stepped in to purloin another artefact crucial to his plan…

Once the heroes had at last repelled and incarcerated the parasite peril, the saga shifted forward to the time when Skrull outlaw De’Lila invaded Earth, with her own people hot on her viridian high heels.

Evading heavy pursuit she attacked the FF and seemingly killed them. Disguised as a grieving Sue Richards she then recruited four heroes – The Hulk, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Spider-Man – to hunt down the murderers.

Their quest took them deep into the bowels of the Earth and battle with the Mole Man and his legion of monsters, before she was exposed and defeated. The shapeshifting psionic siren had been seeking a semi-sentient ultimate weapon called a Technotroid and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ occurs minutes after the close of the original story (for which see Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed) as the temporal raider frees De’Lila from her Skrull captors as a deadly diversion whilst he takes the essence of the Technotroid for himself

Deprived of her trademark duplicity but with her telepathic abilities augmented, the temptress simply makes most of the men and Skrull cops her love-slaves and sets them upon Sue, new temp Sharon “She-Thing” Ventura and Spider-Man, forcing the irrepressible wall-crawler to use the most shocking of tactics to free the males from their murderous stupors…

The decade-long scheme of the mystery time-bandit is finally revealed in the concluding chapter ‘Family Values’ as – in the present – Spider-Man is lured to the Fantastic Four’s HQ and attacked with the rest of the team by one they had long considered to be part of their exotic extended family, lost in combat years ago…

Armoured with ultimate power and sporting a colossal chip on his shoulder, the prodigal intends to destroy Dr. Doom and offers the astounded gathering a chance to prove their loyalty by joining him…

When they try to humour the clearly disturbed assailant he cracks and all hell breaks loose…

However not all the heroes’ power can affect the attacker but Spider-Man, child of misuse, ill-fortune and isolation thinks he sees a kindred damaged spirit in the maniacal marauder…

Wry, witty, explosively action-packed, bombastic and genuinely moving, this clever re-evaluation of the bonds between the First Family and the solitary Spider-Man is a delightful celebration of everything that made Marvel such a force for change in the industry, and it’s a real shame that new readers won’t be able to pick up on the historical continuity scholarship that underpins a great fun yarn. That being said, this is still a funnybook frolic the freshest newbie to comics can easily follow…

Following the fearsome festivities is a section of sketches, pencils, unused and working drawings from Alberti, before the compilation concludes with an old-school saga from Peter Parker, the Sensational Spider-Man #42 and Fantastic Four #218.

The action begins when ESU student Peter Parker goes on a class jaunt on a party boat  and is lured into a trap by the Frightful Four in ‘Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death’ by Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck & Jim Mooney.

The villains had broadsided the wall-crawler after new recruit Electro impersonated the Human Torch and, in the concluding ‘When a Spider-Man Comes Calling!’ (FF #218 by Mantlo, John Byrne & Joe Sinnott, the Trapster repeats the tactic to ambush the crime-busting quartet, allowing his comrades the Wizard and Sandman to take over the Baxter Building citadel of the heroes.

…At least until the fighting-mad web-spinner finally breaks free to launch an unstoppable counter attack…

Most people who read comics have a passing familiarity with all these characters, and even occasional consumers won’t have too much trouble following the backstory in this magnificently compelling Costumed Drama, so if you’re looking for some fun-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy this could well be the one for you…
© 1980, 2010 and 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection Book 3


By Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo, with Howard Porter, Norm Rapmund, Karl Kesel & Paul Smith (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5657-4

The Fantastic Four is widely regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comics history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a strikingly fresh manner of engaging readers’ imaginations and attention. The heroes are felt by fans to be more family than team and, although the roster has temporarily changed many times over the years, the line-up always inevitably returns to the original core group of maverick genius Reed Richards, wife Sue, trusty friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s younger brother Johnny; all survivors of a privately-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong when Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

After crashing back to Earth, the quartet found they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not reassume a semblance of normality on command.

This particular compilation gathers issues #503-513, highlighting more of the spectacular run by writer Mark Waid and much-missed illustrator Mike Wieringo, gloriously celebrating their “back-to-basics” approach which utterly rejuvenated the venerable property, beginning in 2003.

Waid’s greatest gift is his ability to embed hilarious moments of comedy into tales of shattering terror and poignant drama, but that’s sensibly suppressed here for the story-arc ‘Authoritative Action’ (illustrated by guest artists Howard Porter & Norm Rapmund) which sees the team return to Latveria following their spectacular defeat of Dr. Doom (for which see Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection book 2).

Arguably the most dangerous man alive, their arch foe was also supreme ruler of the tiny Balkan nation, his deadly inventions and ruthless reputation holding his subjects in an all-enveloping security cocoon whilst simultaneously keeping at bay every country surrounding the Ruritanian holdover.

Now, with the Iron Dictator gone,Hungaryis only the first of a dozen states seeking to forcibly annexe the territory and seize Doom’s lethal arsenal of technological terrors…

Maimed and potentially crazy following that fateful final clash, Reed has brought the FF back to the kingdom to keep the far-from-grateful citizens safe until the Latverians themselves can decide their future. Unfortunately the responsibility-wracked Reed Richards has neglected to inform the United Nations and his own government of this arbitrary action. In the eyes of the world it looks like the heroes have simply staged a coup…

Most Latverians are equally suspicious. To them their aloof, autocratic, media-controlling former ruler was a paternalistic despot who provided a paradise free from hunger, crime and strife with all the benefits of full employment and cradle-to-grave healthcare…

As the team break into Doom’s castle they find his robots removing their master’s creations and Reed orders his increasingly uneasy comrades to stop them, destroy the trash and store any devices that might be useful. They are even more disturbed when their leader hangs their logo from a flagpole and tells them that the team is staying to run the country…

The deed precipitates an international crisis and the UN calls in super-spy Nick Fury (leader of the organisation’s peacekeeping force S.H.I.E.L.D.) to take charge asHungary,Serbia and Symkaria all mobilise their armies to take back “their” territory.America too is incensed, fearing the FF’s actions will be construed as Yankee imperialism.

In the beleaguered principality Reed is clearly losing it. All his efforts to show the people what a monster Doom was go awry and he is slowly uniting the culture-shocked citizens against him. Even his devoted friends and family have their doubts – at least until Richards uncovers Doom’s hidden nuclear arsenal and underground intercontinental missile base…

Resorting to a media blitz, Reed opens Doom’s Fortress to the Latverians but only succeeds in provoking a suicide attack by ultra-nationalists, even as the UN issues an ultimatum: unless the FF vacate the country within 48 hours a “Coalition of the Willing’ comprising 39 nations including Russia and China, will declare war on them and America, liberating Latveria – and Doom’s arsenal…

In the postage-stamp kingdom, Ben and Johnny, frightened that Reed’s recent traumas have tipped him over the edge, try to negotiate with the Latverian resistance before the situation worsens, but are caught in a police sweep of deadly Doombots controlled by the now clearly insane Mr. Fantastic…

With Fury compelled to lead the coalition to proveAmerica’s innocence, Reed finally drives away his family just as the massed armies utterly surrounding the kingdom attack. But of course he has always had a plan. It involved plucking Doom from the torments of Hell and exacting a truly horrific and proper punishment upon the dictator and himself, but it’s all ruined when Sue, Ben and Johnny return to save him, allowing the dictator’s soul to escape and possess the Fantastic Four…

Even after that debacle is successfully concluded, Doom dispatched back to Hell and Latveria finally free to chart her own course, the FF are international pariahs awaiting trial for treason…

The battle also cost Ben’s life.

The team return to America in ‘Hereafter’ (illustrated by the returning Wieringo & Karl Kesel) which saw the ultimate inventor push his intellect to the limits of imagination and create a device to take Richards – and his unbelieving wife and brother-in-law – to Heaven and bring Ben back…

Spectacular and truly cosmic in scope, this bold tribute to the unlimited imagination of Jack Kirby acts as an inspirational re-set button for the series and this volume ends with a bunch of far lighter tales celebrating the team’s past and highlighting that comedy touch Waid, Wieringo & Kesel were famed for.

Fantastic Four #512 and 513 led with a 2-part action romp ‘Spider Sense’ as in the wake of the Latveria incident, self-promoting “playa” Johnny Storm went wild after his old frenemy Spider-Man surrendered (after five straight years) the title of “New York’s Least Eligible Batchelor” to the Human Torch…

Unable to handle the prospect of being unpopular Johnny became even more unconsciously obnoxious, demanded satisfaction of the arachnid avenger and got into a battle at a water park that deprived him of his confidence, his dignity and his pants – and that was before the hilariously Z-list villain Hydro-Man attacked…

This outrageous exploration of super-heroic Bromanticism was supplemented by a brace of superb and gently affectionate short stories rendered by the masterful Paul Smith. ‘Gone Fishin’’ peeked into the restored relationship of Reed and Sue as both dwelt upon old potential paramours, whilst the last teamed the Invisible Woman and her husband’s college girlfriend Alyssa Moy in a telling time-travel yarn which disturbingly hinted that  some things were ‘Best Left Forgotten’

With a full cover gallery by Tony Harris & Tom Feister, Wieringo & Karl Kesel

and Paul Mounts, this power-packed primer also includes

 

Superbly entertaining, immensely exciting and genuinely challenging, this run of tales was a sublime renaissance for the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” and this collection also includes bonus material comprising deleted scenes, the ‘E-mail Exchange’ resulting from the proposal to go political and also add God to the list of luminaries who have guest-starred in the series, notes of the art tribute to Kirby in #511 and unused pencil art and promotional designs.

Utterly absorbing, top quality Fights ‘n’ Tights mastery from some of the greatest creators in modern comics, this is another book no aficionado should ignore …

© 2003, 2004, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection Book 2


By Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo, with Casey Jones, Karl Kesel & Larry Stucker (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5658-1

The Fantastic Four has long been considered the most pivotal series in modern comics history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging readers’ imaginations and attention. Regarded by fans as more as a family than a team, the roster has changed many times over the years but one which inevitably reverts again to its original core group.

Those steadfast stalwarts are maverick genius Reed Richards, wife Sue, their tried and true friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s younger brother Johnny; survivors of a privately-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the quartet found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not reassume a semblance of normality on command.

This compilation gathers issues #67-70 of the 3rd volume (before the series reverted to its original numbering) and then #500-502 plus bonus material from the Directors Cut edition of #500, highlighting the spectacular run by writer Mark Waid and much-missed illustrator Mike Wieringo, gloriously celebrating their “back-to-basics” approach which utterly rejuvenated the venerable property in 2003.

Key to that revival was a thorough reassessment and reappraisal of the team and their greatest enemy as seen in ‘Under her Skin’ (FF #67, May 2003, inked by Karl Kesel) wherein Victor Von Doom at last abandoned his technological gifts and inclinations, rejecting them for overwhelming sorcerous might to humiliate and destroy his greatest rival Reed Richards.

All he had to do was sacrifice his greatest love and only hope of redemption…

This terrifying glimpse into Doom’s past and shocking character study in obsession was the prologue to a 4-part epic entitled ‘Unthinkable’ which opened one month later and would end with the resumption of the title’s original numbering in Fantastic Four #500.

Waid’s greatest gift is his ability to embed hilarious moments of comedy into tales of shattering terror and poignant drama, and it’s never better displayed than here when the First Family of Superheroes suddenly find their daily antics and explorations ripped from them. The method is straightforward enough: Doom attacks them through their children, using baby Valeria as a medium for eldritch exploitation and sending firstborn Franklin to Hell, a payment to the demons to whom the debased doctor has sold the last dregs of his soul…

A supreme technologist, Richards had never truly accepted the concept of magic, but with Master of the Mystic Arts Dr. Strange oddly unwilling to help, the reeling and powerless Mr. Fantastic nonetheless leads his team to Latveria for a showdown, still unable to grasp just how much his arch-foe has changed.

Invading the sovereign – if rogue – nation, the team fight the greatest battle of their lives but lose anyway. The normally quicksilver mind of Richards seems unable to deal with the new reality and the FF are locked away in prisons specifically and sadistically designed to torment them. As a sign of his utter disdain, Doom locks his broken rival in a colossal library of grimoires and mystic manuscripts, knowing the defeated, dogmatic scientist can never make use of what is there. Big mistake…

Before attacking the FF, Doom had ensorcelled Dr. Strange, but had greatly underestimated Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. Struggling to free himself, the mage establishes contact with Richards and begins to teach the unbelieving ultra-rationalist the basic of magic…

By the time Doom discovers his danger, Reed has freed his comrades and daughter and in the catastrophic battle which ensues the Iron Dictator replaces Franklin in as the hostage of Hell, but not before, in one final act of malice, he maims Reed Richards with a searing mystic retaliation, melting half his face by means which neither magic nor medicine can mend…

Although victorious, the Fantastic Four are far from winners. Doom’s assault upon the family has scarred them all, but none more so than Franklin, whose time in Hell has left him deeply traumatised and almost catatonic. In the 2-part follow-up ‘5th Wheel’ (illustrated by Casey Jones), Sue and Ben desperately search for treatments that can break through the boy’s wall of silence whilst Johnny begins a campaign to drag Reed out of a post-traumatic funk. The only thing that seems to motivate the obsessively brooding inventor is a half-baked scheme to use Doom’s captured time-machine and visit the dictator’s boyhood…

Meanwhile in the now, a visit to a funfair has resulted in a breakthrough – of sorts – forFranklin, but only reveals that the boy is still, in so many ways, trapped in hell. …And for Johnny there’s a terrifying realisation that his infallible, perfect Brother-in-Law is going to shoot the still innocent Victor Von Doom before the child can grow into the greatest menace in history…

Superbly entertaining, immensely exciting and genuinely challenging, this run of tales was a sublime renaissance for the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” and this collection also includes a wealth of bonus material from the Director’s Cut anniversary edition, including a cover gallery, deleted scenes and outtakes, with commentary from Waid & Wieringo, pencil cover sketches, unused draughts and designs, a rundown of the creative process from script to finished page, Stan Lee’s original treatment for Fantastic Four #1, a tribute section from cartoonist Fred Hembeck, and a reproduction of every cover in the series’ monumental run.

What more do you need to know?

© 2003, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four: Extended Family


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, John Byrne, Steve Englehart, Walter Simonson, Dwayne McDuffie, John Buscema, Arthur Adams, Stuart Immonen, Paul Pelletier & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5303-0

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’ passionate attention. Regarded more as a family than a team, the roster has changed many times over the years and this long overdue examination from 2011 at last gathered a selection of those comings and goings to form a fascinating primer for new fans looking for a quick catch-up class.

I strongly suspect that it also performed a similar function for doddering old devotees such as me, always looking for a salutary refresher session…

If you’re absolutely new to the first family of super-fantasy, or worse yet returning after a sustained absence, you might have a few problems with this otherwise superb selection of clannish classics featuring not only Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch but also most of the other Marvel stalwarts who have stuck a big “4” on their chests (or thereabouts) and forged ahead into the annals of four-colour heroic history.

However if you’re prepared to ignore a lot of unexplained references to stuff you’ve missed there’s a still a magically enthralling treat on offer in this terrific tome.

The Fantastic Four are – usually – maverick genius Reed Richards, his fiancée (later wife) Sue Storm, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother Johnny, driven survivors of a independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the quartet found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and, eventually, project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was mutated into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

This compilation gathers issues #1, 81, 132, 168, 265, 307, 384 and 544 of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” as well as issue #42 from the third volume which began in 1998. Confusingly, the title resumed its original numbering with this tale so it’s also #471.

It all began with the November 1961 premier release  which introduced ‘The Fantastic Four’ by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and showed the mysterious Dr. Richards summoning his fiancée Sue, their friend Ben and Sue’s brother Johnny before heading off on their first mission. Via flashback we discover their incredible origins and how Cosmic Rays transformed them all into outlandish freaks…

Richards’ body had become impossibly pliable and elastic, Sue could fade away as a living phantom, Johnny could briefly blaze like a star and fly like a rocket whilst tragic Ben had been turned into a shambling, rocky freak. Shaken but unbowed the valiant quartet vowed to dedicate their new abilities to benefiting all mankind.

In ‘The Fantastic Four meet the Mole Man’ they foiled a sinister scheme by another hideous outcast who controlled a legion of monsters and army of subhuman slaves from far beneath the Earth by bravely uncovering ‘The Moleman’s Secret!’

This summation of the admittedly mediocre plot cannot do justice to the engrossing wonder of that breakthrough issue – we really have no grasp today of just how different in tone, how utterly shocking it all was.

“Different” doesn’t mean “better” even here, but the FF was like no other comic on the market at the time and buyers responded to it hungrily. Throughout the turbulent 1960s, Lee & Kirby’s astonishing ongoing collaboration rewrote the book on what comics could be and introduced fresh characters and astounding concepts on a monthly basis.

One such was The Inhumans. Conceived as an incredible lost civilisation and debuting in 1965 (Fantastic Four #44-48) during Stan & Jack’s most fertile and productive creative period, they were a race of disparate (generally) humanoid beings, genetically altered by aliens in Earth’s distant pre-history, who consequently became technologically advanced far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens.

Few in numbers, they isolated themselves from the barbarous dawn-age humans, first on an island and latterly in a hidden Himalayan valley, voluntarily confined to their fabulous city Attilan – until a civil war brought them into the public gaze.

Old foe and charter member of the villainous Frightful Four, Madame Medusa was revealed as a fugitive member Royal Family of Attilan, on the run ever since a coup deposed her lover – the true king Black Bolt.

With her cousins Triton, Karnak and Gorgon, the rest would quickly become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, but Medusa’s bewitching teenaged sister Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw were the real stars of the show. For young Johnny it was love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly change his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

Crystal stuck around for many adventures and eventually when the now-married Sue had a baby and began “taking things easy”, the Inhuman Princess became the first official replacement in the team.

From FF #81 (December 1968 by Lee, Kirby & Joe Sinnott) ‘Enter – the Exquisite Elemental’ saw the devastatingly powerful girl join Reed, Ben and Johnny just as incorrigible technological terror The Wizard attacked the team. In blisteringly short orderCrystal promptly pulverized murderous maniac and began a long combat career with the heroes.

After untold centuries in seclusion, increasing global pollution levels began to attack the Inhumans’ elevated biological systems and eventually Crystalhad to abandon Johnny and return to Attilan. By the time of Fantastic Four #132 (March 1973) Lee & Kirby had also split up and Roy Thomas, John Buscema & Sinnott were in charge of the show.

The concluding chapter of a 2-part tale, ‘Omega! The Ultimate Enemy!’ described how Crystal, her brand new fiancé Quicksilver and the rest of the Inhumans were attacked by their genetically-programmed slave-race the Alpha Primitives, seemingly at the behest of Black Bolt’s diabolical brother Maximus the Mad.

The truth was far stranger but the strife and struggle resulted in Medusa returning toAmericawith the team…

The more things changed the more they stayed the same, however, and by FF#168 (March 1976) Sue was back but the Thing was forcibly retired. ‘Where Have All the Powers Gone?’ by Thomas, Rich Buckler & Sinnott revealed how Ben had been reverted to normal, pedestrian humanity due to radiation exposure and a blockbusting battle with the Hulk and, deprived of the Thing’s sheer power, Reed had enlisted Hero for Hire Luke Cage as a replacement.

However the embittered Grimm simply couldn’t adjust to a life on the sidelines and when brutal bludgeoning super-thug Wrecker went on a rampage the merely mortal Ben risked life and limb to prove he could still play with the big boys…

After years in the creative doldrums the FF were dynamically revitalised when John Byrne took over scripting and illustrating the feature. Following a sequence of bold innovations the creator used the company wide crossover ‘Secret Wars’ to radically overhaul the team, and issue #265 (April 1984) revealed the big change in a brace of short tales re-presented here. Firstly in ‘The House That Reed Built’ the group’s Baxter Building HQ was the star as the automated marvel diligently dealt with a sinister home-invasion by Frightful Four alumnus The Trapster, after which Sue Richards was introduced to the Thing’s replacement (Ben having remained on the distant planet of The Beyonder for personal reasons) as the greenly glamorous She-Hulk joined up in ‘Home Are the Heroes’.

Jumping to October 1987, Fantastic Four #307 offered the most radical change yet as Reed and Sue retired to the suburbs to raise their terrifyingly mega-powered son Franklin, leaving the long-returned Thing to lead a team that consisted of the Human Torch, old flame Crystal and troubled super-strong Amazon Sharon Ventura who used the sobriquet Ms Marvel. However, before they even had a chance to shake hands, the new team was bitterly battling arcane alchemist Diablo in the gripping thriller ‘Good Bye’ by Steve Englehart, J. Buscema & Sinnott…

An even bigger shake-up occurred during Walter Simonson’s run in the gimmick-crazed ‘90s. In an atmosphere of dwindling sales, high-profile stunts became the norm in comics as companies, realizing that a large sector of the buying public thought of themselves as canny “Investors”, began exploiting their readership’s greed and credulity.

A plot twist, a costume change, a different format or shiny cover (or better yet covers: plural), anything – just so long as The Press got hold of it – translated directly into extra sales. There are many stories and concepts from that era which (mercifully) may never make it into trade paperbacks and collections, but there are some that deserved to, did, and really still should be.

Simonson was writing (and usually drawing) the venerable flagship title with the original cast happily back in harness and abruptly interrupted his high-tech, high-tension saga with a gloriously tongue-in-cheek graphic digression. Three issues, #347-349, poked gentle fun at the trend-meisters and speculators, consequently becoming some of the “hottest” comics of that year.

Reprinted here from FF #347 (December 1990) is that splendid first chapter ‘Big Trouble on Little Earth’ (illustrated by Arthur Adams & Art Thibert, assisted by Gracine Tanaka) which revealed how a Skrull outlaw invaded Earth, with her own people hot on her viridian high heels. Evading heavy pursuit she attacked the Fantastic Four and seemingly killed them. Disguised as a mourning Sue Richards she then recruited the four best-selling heroes in the Marvel Universe – Spider-Man, The Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider – to hunt down “the murderers” as The NEW Fantastic Four!

Their hunt took them to the bowels of the Earth and into battle with the Mole Man, and revealed fascinating background into the origins of monsters and supernormal life on Earth.

What could so easily have been a cheap stunt was elevated not only by the phenomenal art of Adams but also the lovingly reverential script, which referenced all those goofy old ‘Furry-Underpants Monsters’ of immediate pre-FF vintage, and was packed with traditional action and fun besides. Sadly only the first pulse-pounding chapter is included here but you really should track down the entire tale as seen in Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed

Roster change became a constant during that desperate decade. When Tom DeFalco, Paul Ryan & Danny Bulandi took over the series they tried every trick to drive up sales but the title was in a spiral of commercial decline. Reed was dead – although Sue refused to believe it – and Franklinhad been abducted. Her troubled fellow survivors had their own problems. Johnny had discovered his wife Alicia was in fact the Skrull infiltrator Lyja, Sharon Ventura was missing and Ben had been mutilated in battle and taken to obsessively wearing a full-face helmet at all times.

In #384’s (January 1994) ‘My Enemy, My Son!’, Sue hired Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man to act as the team’s science officer whilst she led an increasingly compulsive search for her lost love. No sooner had the new boy arrived than Franklin reappeared, grown to manhood and determined to save the world from his mother, whom he believed to be possessed by a malign spirit named Malice

Following the crossover event “Onslaught” the FF were excised from Marvel’s continuity for a year. When they returned rebooted and revitalised in 1998, it was as Stan & Jack first envisioned them in a brand-spanking new volume.

Always more explorers than traditional crimebusters, the FF were constantly voyaging to other worlds and dimensions. In Volume 3, #42 (June 2001 and double-numbered as #471) Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Marin, Jeff Loeb, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger offered a blistering battle between the Torch and old frenemy Namor the Sub-Mariner which raged through New York City whilst Reed, Sue and Ben were lost in the Negative Zone. Strapped for allies, the two then formed an alliance against mutual foe Gideon with Johnny re-recruiting Ant-Man and She-Hulk before accepting the Atlantean’s cousin Namorita as the latest part-time member of the Fantastic Four…

This meander down memory lane concludes with another major overhaul, this one stemming from the publishing event The Initiative in 2007.

Fantastic Four #544 (March of that year) featured ‘Reconstruction: Chapter One – From the Ridiculous to the Sublime’ by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, with Marvel’s first family bitterly divided after the events of the superhero Civil War.

After years of stunning adventures, the close-knit group split up after the Federal Superhuman Registration Act divided them; Reed siding with the Government and his wife and brother-in-law joining the rebels. Ben, appalled at the entire situation, dodged the whole issue by moving toFrance…

A story-arc from issues FF #544-550 (originally running as ‘Reconstruction’) began in the aftermath in a group reconciliation, but with temperaments still frayed and emotional wounds barely scabbed over…

When Reed and Sue attempted to repair their damaged marriage by way of a second honeymoon to the moon of Titan – courtesy of the Eternal demi-gods who inhabited that artificial paradise – on Earth, Ben and Johnny were joined by temporary houseguests Black Panther and his new wife Ororo, the former X-Man Storm.

The royal couple of Wakanda had been forced to leave their palatial New York embassy after it was bombed, but no sooner had they settled in than old ally Michael Collins – formerly the cyborg Deathlok – came asking for a favour.

A hero named Gravity had sacrificed his life to save Collins and a host of other heroes and his body was laid to rest with full honours. But now, that grave had been desecrated and the remains stolen. When the appalled New FF investigated, the trail led directly into intergalactic space…

After visiting the Moon and eliciting information from pan-galactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, the new questing quartet travelled to the ends of the universe where cosmic entity Epoch was covertly resurrecting Gravity to become her latest “Protector of the Universe”.

Unfortunately she wasn’t likely to finish her magic as the Silver Surfer and Galactus’ new herald Stardust were attacking the sidereal monolith, preparatory to her becoming the World-Eater’s next meal…

For the rest of that epic you’ll need to seek out Fantastic Four: the New Fantastic Four

With a full cover gallery and pin-ups by Steve Epting & Paul Mounts, this power-packed primer and all-action snapshot album is a great way to reacquaint yourself with or better yet discover for the first time the comicbook magic of a truly ideal invention:  the Family that Fights Together…
© 1961, 1968, 1973, 1976, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2001, 2007, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest


By Dan Slott, Khoi Pham, Rafa Sandoval, Stephen Segovia, Paco Diaz, Harvey Tolibao & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3746-7

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the Incredible Hulk. The Mighty Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package.

Over the decades the roster has continually changed until now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks.

In recent years, Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin) had, through various machinations, replaced Tony Stark asAmerica’s Security Czar: the “top cop” in sole charge of a beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom, especially in regard to ultra-technological threats and all metahuman influences…

Under Stark’s tenure a Superhuman Registration Act had resulted in a divisive Civil War amongst the costumed community with tragic repercussions, but the nation and the world were no safer.

At one stage the planet was almost lost to an insidious Secret Invasion by alien Skrulls leading to Osborn’s succession and the former villain’s exerting overt control over America by instigating an oppressive “Dark Reign” which saw the World’s Mightiest Heroes driven underground. To cement his position Osborn actually replaced the Avengers with his own hand-picked team of criminals and impostors.

From that particularly troubled time comes this fast and furious compilation collecting issues #21-26 of Mighty Avengers (2009) and material from Secret Invasion: Requiem wherein Stark/Iron Man’s lack of leadership and poor judgement during the crisis has led returned founding-member Henry Pym to seize control of the Avengers.

What You Need to Know: the Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who’ve bedevilled Earth ever since Fantastic Four #2 and they’ve long been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After years of humiliation and defeat the metamorphic malcontents finally hit on a winning plan, and to this end they gradually replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably superheroes and other metahumans.

When the plot was first uncovered it led to a confrontation between Earth’s champions and a Skrull ship full of what appeared to be old friends – some of whom had been dead for years. Were they escaped humans or yet another army of newly undetectable super-Skrulls? With no defender of the Earth knowing who to trust the planet almost fell to a determined massed onslaught…

With all stories written by Dan Slott, ‘How I’ll Remember You’ (illustrated by Khoi Pham & colourist Chris Sotomayor) opens proceedings as robotic Avenger Jocasta looks through the copious wardrobes of Janet Van Dyne whose ultimate sacrifice ended the Skrull assaults. Although the Wasp died, her memory patterns were encoded in the very confused robot and the conflicting data is beginning to cause a few problems…

For a start she is increasingly drawn to Pym, a man Jan was married to for years and a bi-polar genius who has just changed his powers and identity again. In the past Dr. Pym created the roles of Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket, but now he’s calling himself the Wasp…

The 3-part ‘Earth’s Mightiest’ begins with ‘The Smartest Man in the Room’ (inked by Crimelab Studios’ Allen Martinez & Danny Miki) and sees two survivors of the decimated Young Avengers sifting through the rubble of the group’s iconic Mansion when the long-gone Scarlet Witch appears. The last time she was seen her madness caused the deaths of many team-mates and the dissolution of the Avengers, but now the enigmatic figure seems intent on putting the band back together.

As well as now commanding all of America’s covert agencies and military resources under his umbrella organisation H.A.M.M.E.R., Osborn also has his own suit of super-armour. As Iron Patriot he leads a hand-picked team which includes Greek War-God Ares, golden superman Sentry, a new Marvel Boy and seemingly familiar heroes Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man and Wolverine (played by criminal killers Bullseye, Moonstone, Venom and the clawed mutant’s deeply disturbed son Daken) on high profile missions as part of a prolonged charm offensive.

Whilst Iron Patriot leads his ersatz team in media-hogging missions, the juvenile Vision and Stature are manipulated by the Scarlet Witch into joining Hercules, child genius Amadeus Cho, U.S.Agent, the Hulk and even faithful butler Edwin Jarvis as they petition Pym to reorganise and revitalise the Avengers.

She even approaches the out-of-favour Iron Man…

The boy Cho – “seventh smartest person on the planet” has deduced that a Chaos Cascade is warping the laws of physics and threatens humanity but whilst Osborn’s Avengers are wasting time fighting the catastrophic symptoms, the young genius has come to someone potentially even sharper to help tackle the cause…

Pym deduces that the crisis has originated in the mystic provinceof Transia and he’s right. On haunted Mount Wundagore the cursed mystic Modred has been working to bring Cthon, god of Chaos to Earth through the terrifyingly puissant tome the Darkhold.

By the time the scratch-team reach the Balkan ground zero however, the mage has succeeded in his task and the demon deity strides the Earth in the once-comatose body of the Witch’s brother Quicksilver

‘The Writing on the Wall’ opens with a Cthonic crisis slowly wrecking the planet, even as the extremely unwelcome Iron Man strong-arms his way onto the team and straight into a knock-down, drag-out tussle with the ever-irascible Hulk. Pym and the rest of his ill-fitting squad ignore them and instead brave Modred’s lair where the size-shifting scientist gleans a possible solution.

It all has to do with Quicksilver’s mind and soul which are now trapped in the pages of the discarded Darkhold…

The first epic concludes with ‘Three Little Words’ when, in final battle with the disunited defenders, the smugly omnipotent Cthon stupidly underestimates the devious subtlety of the Shrinking Man’s science…

In the happy aftermath with the demon-god banished and both Quicksilver and the World restored, the Scarlet Witch disappears again, taking with her a dark and very damaging secret…

On a high, the Mighty Avengers decide to stick together in ‘Chasing Ghosts’ (with art by Rafa Sandoval, Roger Bonet Martinez & John Rauch) as the provocatively intransigent Witch orchestrates a distracting clash with Nazi bee hive-mind Swarm whilst her obsessed mutant speedster brother Quicksilver desperately tries to catch a few moments alone with his estranged and oddly acting sister.

Meanwhile Osborn (who is also secretly conspiring with a Cabal of super-villains including Asgardian God Loki, gang-boss The Hood, mutant Emma Frost, Taskmaster, Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom) finally acts to remove his Avenging rivals by sending H.A.M.M.E.R. troops to shut down Pym’s trans-dimension laboratory/citadel…

With the lab slowly detaching from the Real World and Pym’s impossible, hush-hush dream project critically endangered, the embattled heroes split up as the final story-arc ‘Mighty/Fantastic’ (illustrated by Stephen Segovia, Paco Diaz, Harvey Tolibao, Noah Salonga, Jean-Francois Beaulieu & June Chung) finds The Wasp forced into conflict with one of his oldest friends and allies.

By most people’s standards Reed Richards is the Smartest Man Alive, but when he is asked by Pym to return a device which could save the dissolving extra-dimensional lab, the leader of the Fantastic Four makes a big mistake by saying no and even questioning the erstwhile Ant-Man’s intellect and stability.

Of course you realise this means war….

Desperate and really ticked off, Pym and his team launch an assault on the FF to regain the urgently needed doodad in a tension-drenched caper dubbed ‘The Baxter Job’ which culminates in a spectacular, impossibly even-matched fracas and a delightfully off-beat but apropos ending in ‘You Can’t Get There from Here’

Remarkably self-contained and clear-cut for a book so mired in multiple complex continuities, Earth’s Mightiest offers a huge amount of fun, thrills and tense suspense which will delight fans of Costumed Dramas.

This sterling tome also offers a gallery of covers used and unused from Khoi Pham, Marko Djurdjevic, Crimelab Studios’ Allen Martinez, Dave McCaig, Danny Miki, Dean White, Jason Keith, and a Dark Reign teaser ad by Daniel Acuña.
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Fantastic Four – a Full Colour Comic Album


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott (World Distributors {Manchester} Ltd)
No ISBN:

The origin of the Fantastic Four saw maverick scientist Reed Richards summon his girl-friend Sue Storm, their friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother Johnny before heading off on their first mission against invading subterranean monsters and their malevolent master the Mole Man. In a handy flashback we discovered that they were driven survivors of a private space-shot which went horribly wrong.

In the depths of space Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and they plummeted back to Earth where they found that they’d all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks…

Reed’s body became elastic, Sue gained the initially involuntary power to turn invisible, Johnny could briefly and harmlessly burst into living flame and poor, tragic Ben turned irrevocably into a shambling, rocky freak. Shaken but unbowed they vow to dedicate their new abilities to benefiting mankind…

With their red and gold uniforms in stark contrast to the Torch’s lethally hot blue flame and the Thing’s gritty granular monolithic mauve hide, the heroes won global renown and…

No, wait, surely that’s not right…

Well yes, but only in this beguilingly peculiar British album released to tie-in with a strictly regional British release of the 1967-1968 Fantastic Four cartoon series produced by Hanna-Barbera and designed by the legendary Alex Toth.

As the only survivor of a family day out, it’s still one of my most treasured comic possessions and I’ll admit it makes precious little sense on a cognitive level.  It’s certainly no more than an intriguing or irrelevant oddity to most fans, but for me – and many similar Brits of a certain vintage – items like this are irreplaceable nostalgic touchstones of a personal Grand Age of comics wonderment which even smell and feel of thrills and fun and innocent joy…

The contents are an odd mix too. The cartoon show adapted many of the earliest and formative groundbreaking Stan Lee/Jack Kirby classics but the trio of terrific tales came from the stunning mid-Sixties run when the creators were at their absolute peak of perfection…

The only complete and self-contained yarn is ‘This Man This Monster’ from Fantastic Four #51 (June, 1966) and still considered by many to be the greatest single FF story ever. A masterpiece of mood and introspection, it found the Thing’s body usurped by a vengeful, petty maverick scientist who subsequently discovered the true measure of a man, paying the ultimate price for his jealous folly…

The Black Panther was an African monarch whose secretive kingdom was the only source of a unique alien metal dubbed Vibranium. These mineral riches had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland and he had attacked the FF as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first Negro superhero in American comics.

Although that tale didn’t make the final cut his origin was revealed here in ‘The Way it Began..!’ (from Fantastic Four #53, cover-dated August 1966) and disclosed how decades before when a ruthless scientist and his mercenary army had invaded Wakanda,  the young Prince T’Challa had single-handedly avenged the murder of his father T’Chaka and driven off the raiders. Now, as incredible creatures of living sound ravaged the Hidden Kingdom, the Panther and the FF teamed up to stop the returned villain who had been transformed into an utterly new form of life and was calling himself Klaw, Master of Sound

Fantastic Four #57-60 displayed Lee & Kirby at their utmost best; with an extended epic of astounding drama and majesty as the most dangerous man on Earth stole the Cosmic Power of alien refugee the Silver Surfer and rampaged unstoppably across the face of the planet.

Sadly, ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’, ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ and ‘Doomsday’ were omitted for this edition and the strangely compelling card cover classic only includes the very last chapter of that superlative saga wherein the team’s valiant resistance allowed Reed’s ingenuity and sheer guts to turn the tables and save all humanity in magnificent manner in ‘The Peril and the Power!’(#60, March 1967)…

These are the stories that cemented Marvel’s reputation and enabled the company to overtake all its competitors. They’re also still some of the best comics ever produced and as exciting and captivating now as they ever were, even in this truly bizarre and torturously truncated form. This is a surely only one for the most dedicated completists, but the timeless tales reprinted are stories every fan should know.

© MCMLXIX (that’s 1969 to you True Believer!) Marvel Comics Group. All rights reserved throughout the world.

Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four


By Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier, Rick Magyar & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2483-2

If you’re new to the first family of comic books, or worse yet returning after a sustained absence, you might have a few problems with this otherwise superb selection of high-concept hi-jinks featuring Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch. However if you’re prepared to ignore a lot of unexplained references to stuff you’ve missed there’s a magically enthralling epic on offer in this terrific tome.

The Fantastic Four were – usually – maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fianceé and later wife Sue Storm, their friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother Johnny, driven survivors of a private space-shot which went horribly wrong when Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth the quartet found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and tragic Ben was trapped as a shambling, rocky freak. Shaken but unbowed they vowed to dedicate their new abilities to benefiting mankind.

After years of stunning adventures the close-knit fantastic family came to a parting after the Federal Superhuman Registration Act put the team on opposing sides of the costumed heroes’ Civil War, when Reed sided with the Government and his wife and brother-in-law joined the rebels. Ben, appalled at the entire situation, dodged the issue by moving to France…

This volume collects Fantastic Four #544-550 (June-November 2007 and originally running as the story-arc ‘Reconstruction’) and picks up in the aftermath of a group reconciliation, with temperaments still frayed and emotional wounds barely scabbed over…

The witty drama begins with ‘From the Ridiculous to the Sublime’ as, in an attempt to repair their damaged marriage, Reed and Sue take a second honeymoon to the moon of Titan courtesy of the Eternal demi-gods who inhabit the artificial paradise, whilst on Earth, Ben and Johnny are joined by temporary houseguests Black Panther and his wife Ororo, the former X-Man Storm.

The royal couple of Wakanda have only recently been forced to leave their palatial New York embassy after it was bombed…

No sooner have they settled in than old ally Michael Collins – formerly the cyborg Deathlok – comes asking a favour…

When a young hero code-named Gravity sacrificed his life to save Collins and a host of other heroes, his body was laid to rest with full honours. But now, his grave has been desecrated and the remains stolen. When the appalled New Fantastic Four investigate, the trail leads directly into intergalactic space…

After visiting the Moon and eliciting information from pan-galactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, the quartet travel to the ends of the universe where cosmic entity Epoch is resurrecting Gravity to become the latest “Protector of the Universe”.

Unfortunately she might not finish as the Silver Surfer and Galactus’ new herald Stardust are preparing the sidereal monolith to be the World-Eater’s latest snack…

‘Don’t Make Me Embarrass You in Front of Your Friends’ finds Reed and Sue nearing Titan and beginning their break as, in another corner of the Cosmos, the FF battle the gleaming invaders in a desperate holding action. Whilst the Panther and Collins return to Earth for a Deus ex Machina weapon, ‘Aw, That’s Just Crude’ sees Gravity revived just as Galactus himself shows up, ravenous and ready to eat everything…

As the new universal protector shows his mettle by defeating the planet-devourer, Reed is forced to put the honeymoon on pause when his idle examination of an interstellar probe makes him suspect that the entire solar system might well be in danger…

‘Never Ask Her if she’s Wearing Colored Contact Lenses’ finds Reed back on Earth, with Sue simply sunning herself on Titan. However, whilst Mr. Fantastic’s suspicions are confirmed by fellow heroic super-scientist Hank Pym, The Wizard and a host of super-villains from previously iterations the Frightful Four attack and capture the Invisible Woman, but only after a truly cataclysmic clash…

Already distracted by the revelation that an alien race on the verge of extinction had sent the probe as a warning and that an all-consuming horde of marauders dubbed Contrasepsis was heading earthward, Richards flies off the handle when the Wizard boasts of Sue’s plight via long range radio beam. However when he rushes to return to Titan, Reed’s ship explodes…

Luckily the wily Panther had suspected a trap and ‘Kind of an Expensive Test’ finds the heroes hurtling towards the outer moon and a Battle Royale with the despicable scum who had tortured the Invisible Woman.

Even though the Wizard had a terrifying hidden ally, the devastating duel eventually ends in the good guys favour, but not before Sue displays why she is the scariest member of the FF and not one to ever be pushed around, after which ‘So I Guess You’re Saying the Honeymoon’s Over’ finds the Fantastic Six hurtling into deeper space where the Contrasepsis are massing. What they find is a violent degradation in the fabric of reality and a massing of the Watchers, all gathered to observe the end of everything…

It all comes together in a spectacular anniversary romp wherein the assembled heroes, Gravity, Stardust and the Silver Surfer and master of magic Doctor Strange unite to solve a cosmic mystery and save the conceptual being who is the very personification of life in ‘Should Eternity Perish’

Also including a cover gallery from fan-favourite Michael Turner and pencilled pages from the penciller, this brilliantly scripted yarn by Dwayne McDuffie, with captivating art from Paul Pelletier, Rick Magyar & Scott Hanna, perfectly blends high-concept action with dazzling wit and razor-sharp comedy moments to create a perfectly wonderful Fights ‘n’ Tights extravaganza no clued-in, space freak comics fan could possibly find fault with.

Fantastic Fun. Get it.
© 2007 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Avengers volume 6


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown,
Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, Rich Buckler, John Buscema, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3058-1

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that most issues includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

This monolithic and monumental sixth tome, collecting the ever-amazing Avengers’ world-saving exploits (presenting in crisp, stylish monochrome the astounding contents of issues #120-140 of their monthly comic book between March 1974 and October 1975, plus Giant-Size Avengers #1-4 and crossover appearances in Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four #150), saw scripter Steve Englehart examine the outer limits of Marvel history and cosmic geography as he took readers to the ends of their universe and the beginning of time…

Opening this epochal tome is ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ from Avengers #120, by Steve Englehart, Bob Brown & Don Heck, wherein terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attacked again with a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini, with heroes Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis seemingly helpless to stop them.

In the blistering battle of #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’, illustrated by John Buscema & Heck, even the added assistance of Captain America and the Black Panther is of little advantage and with Mantis injured the team begin to question her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes after the criminal Libra revealed a shocking secret…

Avengers #123, depicted by Brown & Heck, began a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin For Mantis!’ as Libra’s claim to be Mantis’ father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Mistress) brought the team to Indo-China.

The criminal ex-mercenary declared that he left the baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but the bewildered warrior-woman has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the Priests. Meanwhile the gravely wounded Swordsman has rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but was again too late. It is the tragic story of his wasted life…

Issue #124 found the team stumbling upon a scene of slaughter as clerics and criminals lay dead and a monstrous planet-rending alien horror awoke in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ by J. Buscema & Dave Cockrum…

Mantis was forced to accept that her own memories were not real after Avengers #125, which unleashed ‘The Power of Babel!’ when a vast alien armada attacked and, in combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were trapped out of phase with their home-world.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had featured in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature and Iron Man, and included in this compendium is ‘The God Himself!’ scripted by Englehart from Captain Marvel #33 (plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin & Klaus Janson) wherein the mad Titan Thanos finally fell in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding ten chapters…

It was back to business in #126 as in ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Brown & Cockrum) villains Klaw and Solarr attacked Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins returned to the fold to delve into superhero history with ‘Nuklo… the Invader that Time Forgot!’ for the first quarterly edition of Giant-Size Avengers.

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank AKA The Whizzer in a tragic tale of desperation as the aged speedster begged the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis since the early 1950s. Unfortunately within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover while in the throes of a stress-induced heart-attack the Whizzer let slip that he was the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

In Avengers #127 Sal Buscema & Joe Staton signed on as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ when the team travelled to the hidden homeland of the Inhumans for the marriage of the aforementioned Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal only to stumble into a uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives.

Once again the robotic giant Omega had incited the revolt but this time it was controlled by an old Avengers enemy who revealed himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

Fantastic Four #150 featured ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ by Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which an impossible battle of FF, Inhumans and Avengers was ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ ended events on a happy note.

But not for long: in Avengers #128’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton) the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness began tutoring Wanda Frank in actual sorcery to augment her mutant power, unwittingly allowing dark mage Necrodamus access to the Mansion and their souls, whilst the increasingly troubled Mantis began making a play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthazoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she would bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

In #129 ‘Bid Tomorrow Goodbye!’ kicked the simmering saga into high gear when Kang the Conqueror appeared, determined to possess the legendary female figure he called the Celestial Madonna.

Apparently this anonymous creature would birth the saviour of the universe, and since no records survived disclosing which of the three women in Avengers Mansion at that crucial moment she actually was, the time-reaver was determined to abduct all three and forcibly make Kang the inevitable father of the child…

This time not even the assembled Avengers could stop him and, after crushing and enslaving them, Kang made off with Wanda, Harkness and Mantis, with only the swiftly declining Swordsman free to contest him…

The tale continued into Giant-Size Avengers #2 with ‘A Blast from the Past!’ (illustrated by Cockrum) as reluctant returnee Hawkeye rushed to the team’s rescue, reuniting with old adversary Swordsman and an enigmatic entity named Rama-Tut who claimed to be Kang’s reformed future self…

Against all odds the merely mortal heroes managed to free the enslaved Avengers and rout the unrepentant Kang – but only at the cost of the Swordsman’s life…

Avengers #130’s ‘The Reality Problem!’ (Sal Buscema & Staton) found the heartbroken and much chastened Mantis joining the team in Vietnam to investigate her mysteriously clouded past, only to be drawn into pointless combat with Communist exiles Titanium Man, Radioactive Man and Crimson Dynamo, thanks to the petty manipulations of sneak thief  The Slasher

The brief battle concluded and the trail then led to ‘A Quiet Half-hour in Saigon!’ during which the American Adventurers were again attacked by Kang who trapped them in Limbo and unleashed a Legion of the Unliving against them…

With another time-villain Immortus added to the mix, ‘Kang War II’ saw temporarily resurrected heroes and villains Wonder Man, 1940’s android Human Torch, the Monster of Frankenstein, martial arts assassin Midnight, the ghostly Flying Dutchman and Baron Zemo decimate the Avengers and the trauma and tragedy were further exacerbated as Mantis kept seeing the spectre of her deceased lover…

This absorbing thriller by Englehart, Thomas Sal Buscema & Staton segued inexorably into Giant-Size Avengers #3’s ‘…What Time Hath put Asunder!’ illustrated by Cockrum & Joe Giella, which saw Earth’s Mightiest Heroes pull victory from the ashes of defeat and receive a unique gift from one of the assembled Masters of Time…

Avengers #133 began ‘Yesterday and Beyond…’ (Englehart, S. Buscema & Staton) as the team followed Mantis to the beginnings of recorded Galactic history and the unravelling of her true past, whilst Vision was dispatched to glimpse his own obscure and complex origins; a double quest which encompassed the Kree and Skrull empires, the defeated Star-Stalker and deceased Priests of Pama and Thanos, and the telepathic Titan dubbed Moondragon, as well as a goodly portion of classic superhero history in ‘The Times That Bind!’ before #135 revealed that ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (illustrated by George Tuska & Frank Chiaramonte) and brought all the disparate elements together in Giant-Size Avengers #4.

‘…Let All Men Bring Together’ (art by Heck & Tartaglione) climaxed the long-standing romance between the Scarlet Witch and Vision and another far more cosmic union with a brace of weddings and the ultimate ascension of the Celestial Madonna – even though demonic extra-dimensional despot Dormammu did try to spoil the show…

A new era was supposed to begin in Avengers #136 but a deadline was missed and instead ‘Iron Man: DOA’ by Englehart, Tom Sutton & Mike Ploog was reprinted from Amazing Adventures #12, wherein the newly mutated and furry Hank McCoy AKA the Beast had attacked the Armoured Avenger whilst mind-controlled.

Although an excellent story in its own right, it rather gave the game away for the next issue after the painfully depleted team declared ‘We Do Seek Out New Avengers!!’ (art by Tuska & Vince Colletta) and amongst the applicants – which included Moondragon, Yellowjacket and the Wasp – was an athletic, enigmatic guy bundled up in a raincoat…

No sooner had the introductions begun than a cosmic interloper attacked, hunting for the honeymooning Witch and Vision, but the ‘Stranger in a Strange Man!’ was far from his expected level of puissance and the heroes soon smelled a rat – unfortunately not before the Wasp was gravely injured…

After all the intergalactic hyper-cosmic extravaganzas and extended epic-ing, Avengers #139 ‘Prescription: Violence!’ and #140’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Ant’ end this volume on a comfortingly down-to-Earth scale as the malevolent Whirlwind tried to murder the bed-ridden Wasp and her devoted defender Yellowjacket succumbed to a growing affliction which doomed him to exponentially expand to his death until the refreshed, returned Vision and the bludgeoning Beast saved the day…

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to. In this volume, between them they also showed how much more graphic narratives could become and these terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right.

Although not to every reader’s taste these fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, so no lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.