Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5963-6 (HB)

Monolithic modern Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now is due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #142-150 (January-September 1974) and includes a blockbusting battle-bouts from Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2, as well as the other half of a rather significant crossover tale begun in Avengers #127.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother Johnny miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after cosmic rays penetrated their stolen ship’s inadequate shielding. As they crashed back to Earth the uncanny radiation mutated them all in unimaginable ways…

Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields whilst Johnny could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. They agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born the Fantastic Four.

Before the pictorial pleasures commence, scripter Gerry Conway offers more behind-the-scenes insights in his Introduction ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ after which dramatic tensions resume with the team in tatters.

In the previous collection the never-ending stress forced Sue Richards apart from her husband and Inhuman warrior-queen Medusa had taken her place in the team whilst the Invisible Girl (as she was condescendingly dubbed) cared for son Franklin, now a toddler with strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems. When an attack by antimatter tyrant Annihilus escalated little Franklin’s powers and triggered a cosmic catastrophe, his tormented father was compelled to blast the child, shutting down his mutant brain and plunging him into a coma to save the universe. The act of desperation revolted his teammates and triggered mass resignations…

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to neutralise his own child, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in declaring their heroic partnership defunct. With only ruthlessly pragmatic Medusa remaining, FF #142 finds the shell-shocked Richards with ‘No Friend Beside Him!’ (as Conway inker Joe Sinnott were joined by new artist Rich Buckler, whose faithful pastiche of Jack Kirby produced a wave of favourable nostalgia in fans then and now) whilst the Thing followed long-time girlfriend Alicia Masters to central Europe.

She has been lured to the Balkans with promises of a medical breakthrough that can cure her blindness, but after Ben arrives, they are promptly attacked by a sinister supernatural horror named Darkoth the Death-Demon

Back in the USA, Johnny and old pal Wyatt Wingfoot head for Metro College to see their old sports coach Sam Thorne on his way to an Alumni reunion. Reed is another attendee, despondently dragged there by Medusa, but nobody expects that weird foreign kid who had been expelled so long ago to turn up, leading to ‘The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Doom!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia)…

The Iron Dictator was never one to forgive a slight, real or imagined, and as he gloatingly reveals himself to be the creator of Darkoth and jailer of the Thing, Victor von Doom further boasts to his captives of his latest scheme… to utterly eradicate human free will.

Typically, though, the tyrant hasn’t considered how his death-demon might react to the news that he is sham. The outraged artificial puppet rebels and the monster’s ‘Attack!’ (#144 by Buckler & Sinnott) results in a cataclysmic clash and Doom’s defeat…

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

The snow troglodytes’ plans to transform the world into an ice-ball only they can inhabit go bizarrely awry as the Thing joins the frozen heroes. When a dissident faction trained by a Buddhist monk pitch in too, the conclusion is a happy ending all round in ‘Doomsday: 200 Below!’

This was period of great experimentation and expansion at Marvel, with new formats and lines launching almost continuously. Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974) was a forerunner in a line of supplementary, double-sized titles starring the company’s most popular stars.

In this initial exploratory outing – the title became Giant-Size Fantastic Four with the next quarterly release – Conway, Buckler & Sinnott crafted ‘The Mind of the Monster!’: a shattering reprise of earlier titanic team-up triumphs as Bruce Banner came calling upon the FF, still seeking a cure for his mean green alter ego. Unfortunately the Thing is overly sympathetic, and in his self-loathing foolishly allows the fugitive physicist to modify one of Reed’s devices…

Unfortunately, that mutual meddling with the Psi-Amplifier switches their minds, leaving the Rampaging Hulk trapped and furiously running amok in the Thing’s body whilst Ben/Hulk struggles to stop him.

The situation descends into more chaos when trans-dimensional Femizon Thundra pitches in, mistakenly believing she is helping her intended main squeeze Ben battle a big green monster, and the violence intensifies to the max when Reed, Johnny and Medusa get involved in second chapter ‘Someone’s Been Sleeping in My Head’

Ultimately it takes everybody and a cunning plan to set the world to rights in the spectacular, full-throated conclusion ‘…And in This Corner: The Incredible Hulk!’

Following a bunch of editorial extras from the special, the monthly mayhem continues in

Fantastic Four #147, which offers up action-tinged melodrama with ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ (Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) wherein Sue starts divorce proceedings whilst taking comfort in the arms of long-time admirer/stalker Prince Namor of Atlantis. When Reed, Johnny and Ben tried to “rescue” her, the Atlantean thrashes them and she sends them packing…

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

Issue #149 then finally resolves the scandalous Sub-Mariner storyline as the undersea emperor invades New York in ‘To Love, Honour, and Destroy!’. Happily, his awesome attack is only a cunning plan to trick Sue into reconciling with her husband…

Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 then reveals a time-twisting ‘Cataclysm!’, courtesy of Conway, John Buscema & Chic Stone, wherein cosmic voyeur The Watcher warns of a hapless innocent who has inadvertently altered history, thanks to Dr. Doom’s confiscated time platform.

Moreover, the imposing, supposedly non-interventionist extraterrestrial expects the FF to fix the problem…

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

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

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

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

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

The narrative concluded for the moment, one last treat is supplied via a selection of contemporary house ads to wrap up this morsel of Marvel magic.

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

Certainly the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, but this period offers fans a tantalising taste of the glory days and these solid, honest and intriguing efforts will be welcomed by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will also thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.