Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

ff9First Published: August 2013

Contents: Fantastic Four #184 (July 1977) to #188 (November 1977) and #190 (January 1978) to #207 (June 1979); and Fantastic Four Annual #11 (1977) and #12 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Bob Hall, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas Scratch, Salem’s Seven (Bructacus, Gazelle, Hydron, Reptilla, Vakume, and Vertigo), Adora, Nova Prime

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: This is it! The day we thought would never happen. The Fantastic Four have broken up. The Four is no more. Good thing this is the ninth and final volume of Essential Fantastic Four,.

When we left off with the last volume, the Fantastic Four was at a crossroads. Reed Richards is powerless. Now at other times when the team has been down one member, they simply recruit another member to fill the spot. Not this time. Nope, time to disband the team and go their separate ways. Let’s give up the lease on the Baxter Building and move on. Johnny tries driving race cars, Ben becomes a test pilot, Sue goes to Hollywood to star in a movie, and Reed joins a think tank. And everyone lived happily ever after, right?

As luck would have it, the individual stories eventually merge into one storyline, bringing the foursome back together. Seems like Reed has been working on a project for a mysterious benefactor that turns out to be none other than Doctor Doom. This leads to Reed being launched into space to be exposed to cosmic rays once again, leading to predictable results. Reed returns to Earth in his stretchable form and leads the team to stop Doom from taking over the world.

The volume comes to the conclusion with the start of the Skrull-Xandar war, which was also featured in the final issues of the Nova series. Unfortunately, neither Essential book contains the full storyline. You need to track down the Nova Classic Vol. 3 trade paperback to get the full story if you can’t find the individual issues.

What makes this Essential?: I admit I am very partial to this era, as I was reading the Fantastic Four on and off as these issues came out in the late 1970s. Honestly, this build-up to issue #200 is a good Doctor Doom story, a character that had not been used much in the pages of Fantastic Four for some time. Personally, I think that helped recapture some of the nostalgia of the Lee-Kirby era with this big storyline. Marv Wolfman really gets these characters and doesn’t get the credit he probably deserves for his work on Fantastic Four. This would be a near perfect collection if it didn’t force us to track down the finish to the Nova storyline.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #189 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four Annual #4, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3. The new cover to Fantastic Four #189 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: John Byrne’s legendary run from 1981 (Fantastic Four #232) to 1986 (Fantastic Four #295). Byrne did a stint as the artist on the book shortly after the end of this Essential volume, but those issues were still written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo. Byrne got a two-issue try out in #220 and #221 where he wrote and drew the issue. But beginning with issue #232, Byrne took over as the regular writer and artist on the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”. The book was really revitalized under Byrne’s direction and reaches new creative levels not seen since the days of Jack and Stan. This run has been collected in two Omnibus editions and multiple Visionaries volumes. If you are a fan of the Fantastic Four, you should own a set of these issues in your collection.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4

marvel2i1vol4First Published: January 2012

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #78 (August 1981) to #98 (April 1983), and #100 (June 1983); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 (1981) and #7 (1982)

Key Creator Credits: Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, David Anthony Kraft, Alan Kupperberg, David Michelinie, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: American Eagle, Champion

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 3

Overview: He’s the hero of millions, but still the #1 target of the Yancy Street Gang. That’s right, we’re back with another collection of adventures of Ben Grimm, better known as the Thing. This is Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4.

As we have seen in multiple team-up collections, the hero of the book (The Thing) meets up with another character that they generally would not be interacting with much in order to stop a villain that they generally would not be interacting with much. That’s how we get issues such as Thing + Machine Man vs. Ultron, or Thing + Captain America vs. MODOK, or my favorite Thing + Sandman vs. Miller Lite.

The issues in this book are mostly one-and-done. We do get a couple of multi-part stories, as well as plenty of references to events going on over in the Fantastic Four book. But this book can easily be read without needing to consult dozens of other comics from this era.

Sadly, Marvel Two-in-One came to an end during this volume. For the oversized final issue, creator John Byrne came in to revisit a favorite story he did more than four years ago, in Marvel Two-in-One #50. In that issue, the Thing teamed up with the Thing (on an alternate Earth). For issue #100, the Thing revisits that alternate Earth and teams up with Ben Grimm. It made for a nice character study to say goodbye (but not for long) to the Thing’s team-up title.

What makes this Essential?: My rule with this blog has been that all of the team-up collections are must reads. I stand by that statement, but…. I’m a little disappointed with this collection. It’s still very good and enjoyable, but it doesn’t match the quality level that we found in Volume 3. The stories seem rather average here when looking back to the Project Pegasus and Serpent Society stories. We do get some memorable issues, but no great stories. 

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #99 is not reprinted in this collection. This issue features a team-up with the ROM, who Marvel no longer controls the publishing rights for to include in reprints.

Who’s Who:
Marvel Two-In-One #78 – The Thing & Wonder Man
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 – The Thing & American Eagle
Marvel Two-In-One #79 – The Thing & Blue Diamond
Marvel Two-In-One #80 – The Thing & Ghost Rider / Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3.
Marvel Two-In-One #81 – The Thing & Sub-Mariner
Marvel Two-In-One #82 – The Thing & Captain America
Marvel Two-In-One #83 – The Thing & Sasquatch
Marvel Two-In-One #84 – The Thing & Alpha Flight
Marvel Two-In-One #85 – The Thing & Spider-Woman  
Marvel Two-In-One #86 – The Thing & Sandman
Marvel Two-In-One #87 – The Thing & Ant-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #88 – The Thing & She-Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #89 – The Thing & the Human Torch
Marvel Two-In-One #90 – The Thing & Spider-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #91 – The Thing & the Sphinx
Marvel Two-In-One #92 – The Thing & Jocasta
Marvel Two-In-One #93 – The Thing & Machine Man
Marvel Two-In-One #94 – The Thing & Power Man and Iron Fist
Marvel Two-In-One #95 – The Thing & the Living Mummy
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 – The Thing & Champion
Marvel Two-In-One #96 – The Thing & the Marvel Universe
Marvel Two-In-One #97 – The Thing & Iron Man 
Marvel Two-In-One #98 – The Thing & Franklin Richards
Marvel Two-In-One #100 – The Thing & Ben Grimm

If you like this volume, try: The Thing series that started following the cancellation of Marvel Two-in-One. John Byrne, who was overseeing the Fantastic Four title during this era, was asked to take on Marvel Two-in-One. While Byrne found Ben Grimm to be an interesting character, the stories he had in mind did not necessarily need a guest star each month. So the decision was made to bring Marvel Two-in-One to an end, and relaunch the book as The Thing with a #1 issue. The series ran for 36 issues and can be broken down into three arcs. The first arc covered the first ten issues, looking into Ben’s past and his relationships with his teammates and Alicia. The second arc went from issue #11 to #22, as Ben chose to stay on Battleworld following the end of the original Secret Wars. The final arc from #23 to #36 has Ben back on Earth, but not part of the Fantastic Four. Instead, he spends time traveling around the country and spends some time as a professional wrestler. The first and second arcs have been recently reprinted in The Thing Classic trade paperbacks, although many of the original issues should be easily found in back-issue bins.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

ff8First Published: May 2010

Contents: Fantastic Four #160 (July 1975) to #179 (February 1977) and #181 (April 1977) to #183 (June 1977); Fantastic Four Annual #11 (June 1976); Marvel Two-in-One #20 (October 1976); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, John Buscema, George Pérez, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Bill Mantlo, and others

Key First Appearances: Crusader, Frankie Raye, Captain Ultra, Texas Twister

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

Overview: Pay attention people! There are a lot of moving parts in this book, and if you skip a page, you might be totally lost. We’ve got multiple Reed Richards and Johnny Storms and Things, but only one Sue Richards. And if you look closely, you will see some familiar faces in the Marvel Bullpen, with Stan, Jack, George, Roy and more. All of this and more in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8.

The book starts out with a three-way war between different universes. One of those universes features a Fantastic Four where Reed Richards gained the powers (and rocky outlook) of the Thing when they were exposed to the cosmic rays. There’s another Johnny flying around too in this battle, so keep an eye out for him.

An eventful moment in the history of the team followed a unique team-up between the Thing and the Hulk. As the two were skipping around the midwest, the Hulk’s gamma-radiated body counter-acted the Thing’s cosmic-radiated body and turned him back into Ben Grimm. Faced with the requirement to maintain four powered members on the active roster, Reed recruits Luke Cage, the hero for hire, to serve as a member of the team. Luke’s stay with the team is short, thanks to the shenanigans of the Puppet Master, but it gave Reed enough time to finish an exoskeleton Thing suit for Ben to wear and regain his place in the team. However, we realize about this time that Ben is not the only one without a power loss, as Reed’s stretching ability is starting to weaken, causing him great pain when he uses his abilities.

Next, a time-travel story that teams the Fantastic Four with the Invaders and the Liberty Legion during the days of World War II. The team no sooner returns to 1976 before they find themselves caught up in a showdown between the High Evolutionary and Galactus. The world devourer is seeking to consume the High Evolutionary’s Counter-Earth, and the FF is sent out to seek out a suitable replacement world to sustain Galactus. One is found, but it comes with a cost – the return of the Impossible Man.

Upon their return to Earth and a wild romp through the Marvel Comics offices, the Fantastic Four must stop the latest recruitment drive for the Frightful Four being held at their own headquarters in the Baxter Building. Despite the aid of Tigra, Thundra, and the Impossible Man, the Frightful Four are able to best the team with their new recruit, the Brute, who is actually the Reed Richards from Counter-Earth. The Frightful Four are defeated, but the Counter-Earth Richards replaces his counterpart as leader of the Fantastic Four, banishing our Reed Richards to the Negative Zone. The team soon realizes that the Reed leading their team is not the Reed they know and love, and they go out in search of their missing friend, but not before they encounter Annihilus.

What makes this Essential?: Once again, I wrestled with how I wanted to review this book. The end of this book is the exact era when I started reading Fantastic Four issues off of the newsstands. So I am trying to not allow my childhood nostalgia of the title cloud my objective review of this collection. I like this better than the previous Essential volume, so that is a plus. I think Roy Thomas finally started to understand the possibilities of what he could do with the characters and began working on the characters and concepts that most interested him. The art is superb, whether it comes from either of the Buscemas, Perez, or the underrated Rich Buckler. But….. I still don’t think these stories live up to the moniker of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.” I would rather be reading the Lee-Kirby issues or skip ahead to the John Byrne run.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four Annual #11, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 and Marvel Two-in-One #20 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Fantastic Four #180 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four #101, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5. The new cover to Fantastic Four #180 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: the 2011 Impossible Man trade paperback, collecting many of the green hero’s more memorable appearances. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in Fantastic Four #11, the character was quickly forgotten about when the bad feedback came in from the readers. He sat dormant for nearly 15 years before writer Roy Thomas brought him back in Fantastic Four #176, making him a supporting character for the next few years in the FF title. In the 1980s, the Impossible Man started expanding into other parts of the Marvel Universe, crossing paths with the likes of Spider-Woman, the New Mutants, and the Silver Surfer. In many ways, you could consider the Impossible Man to be the Marvel equivalent to Bat-Mite or Mr. Mxyzptlk, as the annoying character that can do most anything to vex the star of the title. This trade paperback collects many of those fun appearances.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 3

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 3

First Published: July 2009

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #53 (July 1979) to #76 (June 1981); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 (1979) and #5 (1980)

Key Creator Credits: Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, John Byrne, George Perez, Ron Wilson, Jerry Bingham, and others

Key First Appearances: Grapplers (Letha, Poundcakes, Screaming Mimi, Titania), Serpent Society (Anaconda, Black Mamba, Death Adder, Sidewinder), Deathurge, Maelstrom,

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 4

Overview: Let’s be honest as we start this review. This should not be called a Marvel Two-in-One book. Rather, it should be called Marvel Thing-and-Everyone, as most everyone in the Marvel Universe seems to cross paths with Ben Grimm in the pages of this Essential. With team-ups featuring the Avengers, the Inhumans, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more, you are getting way more than two heroes per book in this series.

This book is notable for the two main story arcs that developed under the leadership of co-writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio. The first story arc became known as the Project: Pegasus Saga. The government facility was introduced in the prior Essential (in issues written by Macchio) as an energy research center. The Thing is brought in to help with security, as one of the items in the facility is the Cosmic Cube. (For those of you only familiar with Marvel from the cinematic universe, the Cosmic Cube would be the Tesseract!) As you can imagine, a plethora of foes come through with the intent of claiming the Cosmic Cube, and it is up to the Thing, Quasar, Giant-Man, Thundra and others to keep the facility safe and the cube in place. This story arc introduced a new set of villains known as the Grapplers. Two of the members would become quite prominent later on, as Titania became a feature foe in Secret Wars, and Screaming Mimi would change her name to Songbird and become part of the Thunderbolts and Avengers Forever.

The other story arc that developed was the Serpent Crown Affair. The Serpent Crown has long been floating around between the pages of The Avengers and The Defenders. Worlds have been destroyed over this crazy piece of headwear. This should come as no surprise to anyone at this point, but Ben Grimm finds himself caught up in the middle of it all. Thankfully, this is a team-up book, so he gets help from some of his friends along the way, such as Stingray, Triton, Hyperion, and the Scarlet Witch. And once again, this story arc introduced a new set of villains known as the Serpent Society. Gruenwald would bring back these characters quite often during his legendary run on Captain America.

In addition to these longer story arcs, there are still the traditional one-and-done stories scattered throughout the book. Two of my favorites came towards the end of this book. Issue #75 featured the Thing and the Avengers traveling to the Negative Zone to battle Annihilus and Blastaar. The outcome of this story set up the Negative Zone storyline from John Byrne in the pages of Fantastic Four two years later. The next issue, #76, featured the Thing and Iceman meeting up to stop the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. This was a back-issue purchase for me when I first started collecting. I’m showing my age here, but I was a big fan of the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends Saturday morning show. When 12-year-old me saw this issue, I just had to have it because Iceman was featured in the book. I was a little disappointed when I realized later that neither Spider-Man nor, more importantly, Firestar would be making an appearance.

What makes this Essential?: This is a unique collection. First, as a team-up book, yes it should be essential to own. All of the team-up books from the 1970s and 1980s should be must own. Second, the approach to the comics in this collection is totally turned around. Generally, the team-up book is a one-and-done story, and the creative team may vary from issue to issue. Sometimes, an inventory story is used just to go ahead and clear the files. But with issue #53, Gruenwald and Macchio take over the book as co-writers. They developed an ongoing storyline that stayed within this book, creating multi-issue storylines that would continue to be referenced after the story arc had finished. Their first arc, the Project: Pegasus Saga, was so popular, it was reissued as a trade paperback in 1988. Mind you, at that time, trades were not the standard. They were few and far between back then. Give this collection a look!

Who’s Who:
Marvel Two-In-One #53 – The Thing & Quasar
Marvel Two-In-One #54 – The Thing & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #55 – The Thing & Giant-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #56 – The Thing & Thundra
Marvel Two-In-One #57 – The Thing & Wundarr
Marvel Two-In-One #58 – The Thing & Aquarian 
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 – The Thing & Black Bolt
Marvel Two-In-One #59 – The Thing & Human Torch
Marvel Two-In-One #60 – The Thing & Impossible Man  
Marvel Two-In-One #61 – The Thing & Starhawk
Marvel Two-In-One #62 – The Thing & Moondragon
Marvel Two-In-One #63 – The Thing & Warlock
Marvel Two-In-One #64 – The Thing & Stingray
Marvel Two-In-One #65 – The Thing & Triton
Marvel Two-In-One #66 – The Thing & Scarlet Witch
Marvel Two-In-One #67 – The Thing & Hyperion
Marvel Two-In-One #68 – The Thing & the Angel
Marvel Two-In-One #69 – The Thing & the Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Two-In-One #70 – The Thing & the Yancy Street Gang
Marvel Two-In-One #71 – The Thing & Mr. Fantastic 
Marvel Two-In-One #72 – The Thing & the Inhumans 
Marvel Two-In-One #73 – The Thing & Quasar
Marvel Two-In-One #74 – The Thing & the Puppet Master
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5 – The Thing & the Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #75 – The Thing & the Avengers
Marvel Two-In-One #76 – The Thing & Iceman
Marvel Two-In-One #77 – The Thing & Man-Thing

If you like this volume, try: the Squadron Supreme mini-series from 1985. The 12-issue series was written by Mark Gruenwald, with art by Bob Hall and Paul Ryan. The Squadron Supreme was first introduced in the early 1960s as a Justice League analog to fight the Avengers, then known as the Squadron Sinister. Later, a new Squadron Supreme was introduced as living on a parallel earth to the traditional Marvel Universe. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the Squadron was brought in anytime a writer needed a JLA-type group for a story. In 1985, Gruenwald pitched a concept that would become his most famous work. The Squadron Supreme mini-series had the team of heroes decide that they needed to take over the world in order to rebuild their war-ravaged planet (yes, they had issues with the Serpent Crown here). The majority of the heroes vote to create the perfect Utopia, even if it means that some citizens must sacrifice their personal liberties. However, even the best of intentions can fall short. The Batman analog, Nighthawk, opposed the Utopia plan, and left the team, eventually building his own team (of former villains) to oppose the Squadron. The Green Arrow analog, Golden Archer, abused the power available to him to get a teammate to love him. The series finishes with the two sides in an all-out war to decide the future of Earth. Overall, this is an intriguing look at what could happen if the superheroes were real. This came out in the same era as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, helping to change how superhero stories could be told. Squadron Supreme has remained in print over the years, in various trade paperback, hardcover, and omnibus collections. This should be a must-read for any comic fan.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

First Published: July 2008

Contents: Fantastic Four #138 (September 1973) to #159 (June 1975); Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974); Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 (August 1974) to #4 (February 1975); and Avengers #127 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Darkoth, Mahkizmo,  Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: We are moving into the mid-1970s with the Fantastic Four. Not that things are ever normal around the Baxter Building, but there seems to be a set formula for most of these comics. We have the famous foursome of Marvel, with Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa. Wait, what, Medusa? Don’t you mean Sue? Yeah, this is the Fantastic Four of the mid-1970s. Sit back and enjoy the ride in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

For starters, Sue is still caring for the youngest member of the family, Franklin Richards. There are times during this run where Sue goes multiple issues between appearances. Thankfully, Medusa of the Inhumans has stepped in to help the group live up to their team name. And speaking of the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are invited to Attilan for the marriage ceremony between Quicksilver (former Avenger) and Crystal (former FF member and sister of Medusa). Sadly, there are very few Marvel weddings that go off without a hitch, and this momentous event is crashed by Ultron.

The other issues feel like echoes of the past. John Buscema and Rich Buckler both seem to embrace the Kirby style for the book, in terms of layout and characters. The writers give us a healthy dose of familiar foes, such as the Hulk, Doctor Doom, and the Frightful Four. And Thundra still shows up trying to convince Ben Grimm that they would make beautiful children together.

The highlight of the volume comes toward the end, with the final Giant-Size Fantastic Four, #4, in this collection. In a story co-written by Len Wein and Chris Claremont, Jamie Madrox (a.k.a. the Multiple Man) makes his debut. Madrox is a mutant who is able to create duplicates of himself when he is hit. The Fantastic Four was finally able to stop Madrox with the help of Professor Xavier from the X-Men. This FF comic came out right at the end of the reprint run in the X-Men book, and just three months ahead of Giant-Size X-Men #1 hitting the shelves. Wein would handle the re-introduction of the X-Men, before handing off the reins to Claremont, who would oversee the mutants for more than 15 years.

What makes this Essential?: I don’t want this to read as a negative judgment on the Fantastic Four. I have been a big fan of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben for many years. There are times when you have the right creators on the book (Stan Lee & Jack Kirby or John Byrne comes to mind) and this is the greatest comic in the world. There are a lot of other times when you have creators on the book whose goal appears just to get a comic out each month. That’s exactly what I feel when reading most of these issues. The writers seem to have troubles scripting Sue, relegating her to motherhood and off of the main team, replaced by Medusa in most issues. There are very few new characters created during this run, as listed above, relying instead on retreading the same familiar characters from the Lee-Kirby years. Even as a die-hard FF fan, I don’t know that I would suggest other fans to grab this collection.

Footnotes: Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 6.

Fantastic Four #154 is a reprint issue, with a new framing sequence. The story was originally published in Strange Tales #127, which was reprinted in Essential Human Torch Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 2014 Fantastic Four series from James Robinson and Leonard Kirk. This series will be coming to an end in a few weeks, due more to senior editorial decisions than sales figures or story arcs. But there is still time to get caught up and finish the final story (for the foreseeable future) of Marvel’s first family. Robinson shakes things up, placing the team in red uniforms and breaking apart the group. (On a side note, if you were to read some of the actual comics collected in this Essential, you would see Johnny Storm sporting a red version of the classic Fantastic Four uniform. So take that everyone that complained about Robinson messing with the uniforms.) With the team splintered, the individual members find themselves slowly brought back together, as they find that their recent setbacks, as well as other moments from their past, have all been influenced by one person. Robinson is a master storyteller, and this has turned out to be a great run. This is one I look forward to re-reading in one sitting when the final issue comes out later this spring.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

First Published: May 2007

Contents: Fantastic Four #111 (June 1971) to #137 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Walter Collins, Overmind, Air-Walker, Thundra,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Overview: Let’s set the scene here. Jack Kirby has just recently left the Fantastic Four (and Marvel). If this had happened in the last 10 years, more than likely Marvel would have cancelled the book and relaunched it the next month with a new #1. But in the 1970s, the book must go on month after month, so welcome aboard to Archie and Roy and Gerry and John. You have big shoes to fill, so let’s see how you do in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6.

To ease the transition, let’s bring in a lot of familiar faces. With Sue still caring for Franklin, Crystal and Medusa take turns as members of the Fantastic Four. Of course, if those two are around, then the Inhumans cannot be far behind. (But why is Quicksilver hanging out with Inhumans, and seems to be quite close to Crystal…)

Let’s bring in some familiar foes. Doctor Doom? Check! Galactus and his new herald Air-Walker? Check! The Frightful Four? Check! Dragon Man? Check! Diablo? Sigh, check. But we also get some new challengers, such as the Overmind. But the most treacherous foe is finally shown in Walter Collins, the constantly irate landlord of the Baxter Building. (“Johnny, what did you do with the rent check?”) Thankfully, John Byrne was finally able to have Reed write off Collins years later during his fantastic run of the 1980s.

The most interesting introduction in this volume is Thundra, who comes from the 23rd century when Earth is ruled by Femizons. She travels back to the 20th century to fight the strongest man, who happens to be Ben Grimm. Thundra will become a familiar face in the pages of Fantastic Four, working as an ally of our heroes and as an enemy as a member of the Frightful Four. She eventually develops a romantic interest in Ben, much to his chagrin.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, I really do. But this volume just feels like a let down after the Lee-Kirby run. Maybe it’s not fair to compare these issues against that run, but this is the situation. The stories are decent but not dynamic. The art is very good but never breathtaking. There are some moments that rise up close to greatness, but then I wonder how Lee & Kirby would have done it. Case in point, in Fantastic Four #116, Doctor Doom leads the Fantastic Four against Overmind and Mr. Fantastic, I loved the issue, but I wanted to see Kirby draw that issue. A Fantastic Four completist should own this volume, but it is not essential for a casual Marvel fan.

Footnotes: The front and back covers to Marvel Treasury Edition #21 (1979) are included in this volume. The treasury edition reprints Fantastic Four #120 to #123, which are collected in this Essential. In addition, early versions of the covers to Fantastic Four #130 and #131 are also included in this book.

If you like this volume, try: the Inhumans mini-series from 1998. Written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, the 12-issue series was part of the Marvel Knights launch. Several story arcs are at work in this collection: Attilan is under attack from external and internal forces. The next generation of Inhumans debate their future before entering the Terrigan Mists. And the royal family shows that they are just as dysfunctional as any other family. The tale fills in the gaps in the Inhumans history, fleshing it out into an epic story. This is one of the best Marvel stories ever, and probably needs to be read multiple times to catch everything. This has been collected repeatedly in trade paperback and hardcover editions, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

First Published: June 2006

Contents: Fantastic Four #84 (March 1969) to #110 (May 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Torgo, Agatha Harkness, Ebony

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Overview: Welcome back to the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, starring the Fantastic Four, although there appears to be five people running around in the blue union suits. Let’s dive into Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5!

The stories in this volume start crossing over multiple issues, running three to five issues and immediately leading into the next storyline. This volume starts out with a Doctor Doom story, followed by the Mole Man and then Torgo. Other extended arcs bring back the Inhumans, and a Sub-Mariner/Magneto multi-part story.

In between battles, we are introduced to Agatha Harkness, a witch who will serve as a nanny for young Franklin Richards. This will allow Mom and Dad to still be full-time members of the Fantastic Four. Agatha Harkness will become a fixture in the Marvel Universe for many years to come, watching over Franklin and helping to train the Scarlet Witch in the pages of The Avengers.

The highlight of this book is Fantastic Four #100. The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master launch another attack on the Fantastic Four, by controlling nearly every past Fantastic Four foe to attack the team as they are trying to travel home. Doctor Doom, the Sentry, the Wizard, the Hate Monger, the Sub-Mariner, and many others all try but fail. The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master have one last secret weapon in reserve, an android version of the Hulk. Only the Hulk android cannot be controlled, just like its namesake, and destroys the lab. The Fantastic Four finally catch their breath (and a plane) to make their way home.

What makes this Essential?: This is it, the end of the Lee-Kirby run on Fantastic Four. With 102 consecutive issues plus a few scattered issues after that, Stan and Jack created the definitive run on Marvel’s First Family. Everything you need to know about the FF can be found in their run. So, for that reason, I could make the argument that Essential Fantastic Four Volumes 1-5 should be in every collection. This is an interesting volume because we start to see what happens after Kirby leaves the book. Can you imagine the conversation in the Marvel Bullpen, telling John Romita, Sr., that they need him to take over Fantastic Four AFTER Kirby’s run? (Although taking over Amazing Spider-Man AFTER Steve Ditko probably gave Romita the experience that he needed.)

Footnotes: Fantastic Four Annual #7 (November 1969) and #8 (December 1970) reprinted material from earlier issues of Fantastic Four. The covers for the two annuals are reprinted in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World storyline from DC Comics. In 1970, Kirby’s run was coming to an end, on both Fantastic Four and Thor, as well as with this run at Marvel. The next generation of writers and artists was coming into the Marvel bullpen, and the publishing company was turning into a corporation. Kirby had been offered a new but unfavorable contract by Marvel, and refused to sign. DC immediately offered a contract, and Kirby moved back to the Distinguished Competition. Right from the start, Kirby started up a story line that was dubbed The Fourth World. He took over duties on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and introduced three new books: The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Mixing equal parts of super-hero tales with a pantheon of gods, Kirby’s Fourth World was an epic story before the concept of epic stories had been conceived. These stories have been reprinted numerous times, most recently as a Jack Kirby Omnibus collection.