Lat week in Glasgow, I met up with an old Uni pal, whom I had introduced to comics ( via Swamp Thing and the Sienkiewicz New Mutants in the mid-80s). Now we are middle-aged and with about twenty years to catch up on, we did a lot of reminiscing. He did suggest that my cultural tastes were rather wistful and backward-looking. I fully accept that: my favourite songs this week are Any Way that You Want Me by Evie Sands ( 1969) and Born To Be With You by Dion (1975).
While I enjoy many modern Marvel titles- Ms. Marvel, Al Ewing’s New Avengers, Mark Waid’s All-New Avengers ( and his recent DD run), Silver Surfer and Hellcat- my heart quickens at images like these:
There’s a popular Facebook page which celebrates the heyday of Marvel UK ( say, 1972-76) and there’s a deep, nostalgic tug of affection for classic Marvel.
I found that yearning at its strongest at the beginning of the 21st century as the Ultimate Era dawned. The House of Ideas seemed to be rejuvenating and retelling the stories of its iconic heroes. It seems that some comics creators also felt that longing keenly too.
In Inverness, at the end of last year, I bought a discounted hardback edition of 2001’s Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine in The Works. Described as a love letter and a birthday card for the FF’s fortieth anniversary, this is a collection of retro pastiches by Erik Larsen, Bruce Timm, Ron Frenz and others.The conceit is that this maxi-series takes place between the 100th and 101st issues of FF in 1970 and as such, it’s a hodge-podge of Kirby swipes and a tribute to the MU of that era.
Interestingly for me, it’s a period that marks quite a change in my reading of Marvel Comics. A lot of my purchases ( more accurately, comics bought for me) were value-for-money reprints as hip Marvel seemed to lose ground to the social commentary of DC. Ironically “defector” Kirby’s Fourth World would be a strange and short-lived curiosity as Golden Age reprint fever would subsequently swamp DC. Marvel subsequently flourished creatively in Sword and Sorcery and Kozmic Head Shop meanderings.
So: is WGCM any good? I feel it’s a very padded storyline that could been told in half the number of issues. In fact, at the time, I had abandoned the original run by issue 9. Still, I rather liked seeing the FF encountering other Kirby Kreations like the Sentinels and AIM. I particularly enjoyed the return of the original iteration of Sam Wilson as a falconer, despite his drab “psychedelic ghetto” costume.
Similarly, Mar-Vell’s cameo was interesting, given that the Kree debuted in the FF. It also made sense to me that Blastaar would join the Frightful Four after his brief alliance with Sandman. I always liked the blue-skinned Stephen Strange, Lorna Dane and the Wanda-Pietro-Goliath Avengers of the early 70s.
However, the story itself is hugely derivative of the mid-Sixties Cosmic Doom epic. Doc Doom steals several esoteric power sources- including an Atlantean trumpet, the Inhumans’ Helix of Randac, the Cosmic Control Rod and the Watcher’s Ultimate Machine from Tales To Astonish– in a quest for godlike power. That power is ultimately wrested from Galactus himself.
Perhaps Stan and Jack would have eventually pitted Victor against the purple planet eater if Jolly Jack no longer wanted to create new characters and scenarios. But while the FF’s visit to Asgard was overdue, I found some of the story titles jarring . For every “The Baxter Building Besieged” there’s a “Touched by the Hand of Havoc”.
The issue devoted to the battle between the Hulk and his duplicate – perhaps the android from issue 100- is tedious. The second episode is a complete rehash of the first Kree Sentry story and Namor’s attack on NYC with his sub-sea creature army was more old hat. However, the ingenious use of pre-FF Marvel Monsters like Sporr, the Blip and It, the Living Colossus was charming and more inventive than the climactic hand-waving of the Cosmic Cube.
This hardback is handsome and heartfelt but it doesn’t quite capture the invention and intensity of the original material. On the other hand, it’s more entertaining than the Lost Stories collection I reviewed previously.
Coming soon: the Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky JLA
All images presumed copyright of the original owners