Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 15


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, Rich Buckler, Bob Brown, Dick Ayers, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6625-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Frantic Festive Fireworks… 8/10

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 #151-163 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3-4: collectively spanning November 1974 to October 1975 with Stan Lee long gone from the prestigious title but with his co-creator still very much in evidence through a new generation of artists mimicking his visual verve and punch.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimmand 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.

Following an effusive and fact-filled Introduction from writer editor Roy Thomas the dramatic tensions resume withGiant-Size Fantastic Four #3 courtesy of plotter Gerry Conway, scripter Marv Wolfman and illustrators Rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott. The extra-special quarterly magazine was devoted to offering epic thrills, herein revealing ‘Where Lurks Death …Ride the Four Horsemen!’ as cosmic aliens arrive, intent on scourging the Earth.

Forewarned after the team stumble across the first horror in ‘…There Shall Come Pestilence’, the harried heroes split up with Inhuman stand-in for Sue Richards Medusa and Johnny striving against international madness in ‘…And War Shall Take the Land!’ whilst Reed and Ben strive to conquer the personification of Famine in ‘…And the Children Shall Hunger!’, before all reuniting to wrap up the final invader in‘…All in the Valley of Death!’

Crafted by Conway, Buckler & Sinnott, FF #151 then begins revealing the truth about a mysterious Femizon who had been stalking the Thing. ‘Thundra and Lightning!’ introduces the male-dominated alternate Future Earth dubbed Machus and its brutal despot Mahkizmo, the Nuclear Man, who explosively invades the Baxter Building in search of a mate to dominate and a new world to conquer…

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

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

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

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

When his parents pass away, the kid is inexplicably drawn to New York City, but the mysterious hi-tech suit he wears to contain his condition malfunctions and the boy devolves into a mobile fission device that can endlessly, lethally replicate itself…

Thankfully the FF are aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who dutifully takes young Jamie under his wing…

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

The dictator can command the Stellar Skyrider because he holds the alien’s lover Shalla Bal – threatening to take her in marriage – but as seen in ‘Middle Game!’ (with Roy Thomas joining as co-writer and Editor) the Surfer cannot kill and merely delivers the defeated FF as prisoners to the Devil Doctor’s citadel.

However, there are schemes within schemes unfolding and Doom is playing a waiting game whilst he covertly siphons the Skyrider’s Power Cosmic to fuel a deadly Doomsman mechanoid…

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

The furore is followed by another nostalgia-tinged 2-part epic beginning with FF #158’s ‘Invasion from the 5th (Count it, 5th!) Dimension’ – by Thomas, Buckler & Sinnott – wherein one of the Torch’s earliest solo scourges returns to occupy the homeland of the Inhumans.

Extra-dimensional dictator Xemu opens his campaign of vengeance by dispatching mutant Quicksilver to lure his sister-in-law Medusa back to Attilan. The intention is to force defiant King Black Bolt to utilise his doomsday sonic power on the invader’s behalf, for which the conqueror needs the silent king’s beloved as a bargaining chip.

However, when the FF accompany her into the obvious trap, they bring a hidden ally who unobtrusively turns the tables on Xemu, unleashing ‘Havoc in the Hidden Land!’ coincidentally and at long last reuniting the First Family of comic book fiction…

This formidable high-tension Fights ‘n’ Tights tome terminates in pan-dimensional panic which ensues when a multiversal conflict is cunningly concocted by a hidden mastermind orchestrating Armageddon for a trio of dimensionally-adjacent planets in ‘In One World… and Out the Other!’

Devised by Thomas, J. Buscema & Stone, the first chapter sees shapeshifting Reed Richards sell his patents to a vast corporation, even as in the streets his counterpart from another universe is kidnapped by barbarian warlord Arkon the Magnificent. That abduction is investigated by a very Grimm Thing who has uncomfortable suspicions about what’s occurring…

With Buckler & Sinnott assuming the delineation, ‘All the World Wars at Once!’ expands the saga as Johnny Storm visits the recently liberated 5th Dimension Earth to discover it under assault by androids from yet another slightly different one…

As the Thing teams up with his other-earth counterpart to quell a dinosaur invasion, “our” world is assaulted by an army from the 5th dimension led by the Human Torch. With each realm believing itself provoked by trans-terrestrial aggressors, the divided team only knows one thing: each invading force is using weaponry invented by Richards…

The crisis peaks in ‘The Shape of Things to Come!’ as the mastermind is exposed and the scheme to annihilate three worlds come close to fruition, necessitating a voyage to a cosmic nexus point and a devastating battle with yet another twisted alternate-reality hero to save three worlds in a spectacular and poignant ‘Finale!’ in #163.

This power-packed package also includes the covers to all-reprint Giant-Sized Fantastic Four #5 and 6; the original unused cover for GSFF #5 (which became FF #158-159); house ads and the all-new material from The Fabulous Fantastic Four Marvel Treasury Edition (#2, December 1975).

This bombastic oversized tabloid edition featured a bevy of classic yarns and is represented here by front-&-back cover art from John Romita, a frontispiece by Marie Severin, a Stan Lee Introduction, the contents page and a double-page pin-up of the team and supporting cast by John Buscema & Giacoia.

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 Lee carried the series for years afterwards. So once writers who shared the originators’ sensibilities were crafting the stories a mini-renaissance began…

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, this period offers fans a tantalising taste of the glory days. These honest and extremely capable efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.