Today is the first post in a short series about the Fantastic Four. We start with Fantastic Four Lost Adventures from 2008. I bought this trade paperback in the sale at icy Aberdeen’s Plan 9 before Xmas.
The Lost Adventure aka “The Menace of the Mega-Men” was the original story intended for publication in FF#102. Stan rejected it, however and went with the first part of the Namor/Magneto team-up. Then, pages of the artwork were re-purposed for issue 108. This was in the wake of Kirby’s departure for DC and the launch of his Fourth World tetralogy. Dark days for Marvel’s House of Ideas.
The original, completed here ( with the original Kirby pages as a bonus) and published in 2007, is a fairly weak Corsican Twins story- a theme Kirby would return to with (King) Kobra. The art is vibrant and gutsy but the good and bad twin plot is oddly undramatic. Aside from an encounter between bank-robbing evil Janus, Ben and Johnny, there’s little action. The story is on a par with the lacklustre Monocle or Maggia issues.
The published version “The Maddening Mystery of the Nega-Man” (sic) is superior in my opinion. Here, singleton scientist Janus has experimented with the energies of the Negative Zone and, like Captain Kirk, has unleashed an evil doppelganger. This Lee/Buscema arc, as with the contemporary Thor, has elements of horror and tragedy and while John Morrow of Twomorrows says it makes no sense, the Neg Zone connection is more logical than Kirby’s newly-minted Mega-Man module.
I’m biased because, as a little boy in the early 70s, I found this period of the FF utterly compelling and quite upsetting. The brain-damaged, cynical Thing, Reed facing death in the Negative Zone, eerie Agatha Harkness and the monstrous, sadistic Annihilus were all recycled FF tropes from the late Sixties- but I hadn’t read them before and I was unable to look away, as it were. The published FF#108, ultimately, feels more modern and vibrant than New Gods #1, “across the street” in the same month.
NB: Marvel did eventually introduce a villain called Megaman, a faceless antagonist in Marv Wolfman’s Nova – and a total rip-off of another Star Trek episode “Metamorphosis”.
This book also reprints The Last Fantastic Four Story by Stan and John Romita Junior. The plot revolves around the retirement of the FF after a rehash of the original Galactus storyline.
This time, the population of Earth is judged a menace by a Cosmic Tribunal which dispatches a colossal Adjudicator. I compared this “Day The Earth Stood Still” homage story unfavourably with the Thomas/ Colan “Judgement in Infinity” trilogy from 1982’s Wonder Woman.
I don’t find that JRjr’s style resonates with me; his work seems like Simonson on a larger, more simplified scale. The plot is also humdrum and anticlimactic- the FF and Galactus team up to save the Tribunal from their enemies the Decimators and in a Roddenberry moment, the human race is found worthy. The FF’s retirement then seems an inexplicable development in the light of this victory. Still, fans of JRjr get cameos of: DD, Spidey, Prof X, Doc Doom, Namor, the Surfer, Cap, Vizh, Thor, Iron Man, Doc Strange, the Inhumans, Cyke, Storm and Wolvie.
The 25th anniversary adventure Homecoming is a mammoth tale from the mid-80s. It starts well with moody Barry Windsor- Smith pages then descends into page after page of cramped and unremarkable art with a charmless story by Jim Shooter. The mutilation of Johnny Storm by the Mole Man is needlessly unpleasant and the plot about raising a new continent for outcasts from the ocean floor is unconvincing. Minor character “Hopper” Hertnecky is Shooter in excelsis. Coming so close to the 300th issue, this disappointment is a cliche-ridden drag, loaded down with acres of lifeless dialogue.
Stan’s comedic pastiche If This Be Anniversary– celebrating the 45th anniversary -is quite unfunny but still has a weirdo charm thanks to the talents of Dragotta and Allred. It’s like a modern(ish) Not Brand Ecch. But even a FF fanatic would find this volume unrewarding, sad to say.
Next time, we’ll look at another, perhaps more successful pastiche of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.
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