The Fifth Element

Even now, I have  hazy childhood memories of the very early Seventies: far-off , summery days in my dad’s garden, with its collection of ramshackle, pungent pigeon lofts.  I would be squinting at “American comics” in the rare Scottish sunlight: Buscema’s epic Thor; Astonishing Tales with Ka-Zar and Doc Doom; occasionally, the Industrial Iron Man and very rarely, a polished Thomas/Buscema Avengers.

DC selections might be a rare Tuska Legion story in an old Action or Superboy; the ginchy new Satellite JLA or maybe something spooky like the Phantom Stranger or the dread Batman.

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_103

Above all others, though, came the Fantastic Four. I think this issue might have carried a fan letter about a grown-up Franklin Richards joining  a Fantastic Five. That idea really caught my imagination and astoundingly, I lived to see it happen.

FF spider -girl

The F5 made their debut in the late 90s Spider-Girl comic, a very popular title. (Why isn’t there a movie for Mayday?  For more Spider-Girl thoughts, see my other blog Some Fantastic Place:http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/why-have-cotton.html)

F5 2

The MC2 universe seemed to be set some ten-to-fifteen years ahead of mainstream Marvel continuity, where the heirs of Wolverine, the Black Panther, Black Goliath and Hercules were adventuring and Nova was a leading light.

F5 Doom

With characters like Johnny’s Skrull wife, Lyja and the Psi-Lord iteration of Franklin, Tom DeFalco developed ideas and plot threads from his 90s FF run but the first series was curtailed after five issues. The Five returned several years later, however, for a miniseries in 2007. I’ll look today at the trade paperback of that run. I picked this one up in Aberdeen just before last Christmas.

final doom

The first thing to note is that, as the title implies, the arc is simply about an apocalyptic struggle with Dr. Doom, very reminiscent of the “Cosmic Doom” saga of the mid-Sixties. There are some subplots about child custody featuring the second Ms. Marvel, Ben Grimm’s ex, Sharon Ventura.

Dr. Doom, imprisoned in the ruins of Atlantis by a goatee-d Namor, finally breaks free, and imbues multiple robot duplicates with the Power Cosmic.  One Doombot defeats Reed, Johhny and Doom’s protege Kristoff. In a flashback, we learn how Ben was originally injured by the suicide attack of Terrax. Ben’s bionic implants are destroyed but he escapes Doom’s prison.

Doom gives Reed a diabolical dilemma- exile his son, Ben’s two kids and Johnny’s son , the shape-changing Torus, into space- or NYC will be hurled into the sun(!)

When not  subsequently torturing Reed and Namor, Doom declares himself emperor of Earth, crushing the Avengers.

Avengers next

In a reprise of Jean Grey’s fate in X-Men 100, Franklin becomes supercharged by cosmic rays and leads the kids in an attack on Doomstadt.  In an echo of both The Final Victory of Doctor Doom and Simonson’s run, Reed and Doom become locked in eternal mental battle. Sue and Kristoff remain  in Latveria with Reed and look after the comatose Reed, while Rad/Alyce goes home with her mother.  Grimm/Jake ( who was born in his mutated, orange form) takes Reed’s place in the F5.

Franklin, by the story’s end, is a masked radioactive “freak”, not unlike the Doom Patrol’s Larry Trainor. There’s an hysterical note of tragedy that I don’t really associate with Stan and Jack- tormenting the heroes is more of a Byrne trope.

The art is cartoony and the figurework attenuated but it has energy and some charm. While the theme of family and legacy is appropriate, the dialogue is a drawback: corny and generic . There’s little character or individuality in its soap- operatic tone. Doom is a ranting megalomaniac with none of the black humour or chivalry that made him Marvel’s greatest villain in the Sixties.

In some ways, I preferred the vitality and scale of the Larsen maxi-series we revisited last time. Fantastic Five is still a more entertaining read than the Lost Stories volume but probably more to the taste of 90s comic fans.

Coming soon: the 60s JLA.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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2 comments on “The Fifth Element

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I’m sure I bought a first issue of a mag called The Fantastic Five in which Spider-man became the 5th member, but I don’t think it was this one. Maybe my memory’s playing tricks on me.

  2. Dougie says:

    That’s the first issue of What If by Roy Thomas and Jim Craig. You are spot on with the other details but it ends badly for Reed as Sue leaves him for Namor, the vixen!

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