FANTASTIC FOUR: Two 40th Anniversary Visions (Mania.com)

By:Arnold T. Blumberg
Date: Monday, November 26, 2001

This week is a perfect time to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, and indeed, the 40th birthday of the Marvel Universe in general as well. A few days ago, just in time to commemorate this landmark in the history of the First Family of comics, two limited series devoted to their adventures presented their final issues. Grant Morrison and Jae Lee's 'Dark FF' tale, FANTASTIC FOUR 1234, wrapped up with issue #4, while the year-long retro celebration, THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE, concluded with a twelfth installment jam-packed with art by a number of Kirby clones and Stan "The Man" Lee himself on scripting chores. While both titles paid tribute to the team that served as the foundation for the House of Ideas, they couldn't have taken more distinctly different creative paths if they tried. Both series present unique visions of the FF and their world, and yet both capture much of what made them the stars they remain today. First and foremost, the central binding theme that embedded them forever in the minds of fans lingers behind all of the fancy trimmings family.

So says Galactus! Interior artwork from WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE #12.

Is it pure coincidence that both final issues sport virtually the same exact image on their covers, that of a malevolent Doctor Doom the FF's eternal arch-foe towering over diminutive members of the Four with energy beams pouring from the eyeholes in his mask? If so, the similarities between both titles do not end with that eerie artistic convergence. Both series have focused on yet another attempt by Doom to embroil the Four in Machiavellian machinations designed to destroy them utterly and render unto Doom what he believes to be his nothing less than the entire planet Earth, and perhaps the universe as well. Say what you will about the iron-clad monarch, but he's no piker when it comes to ambition.

Doom triumphant! Oh we said that already didn't we? Cover to WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE #12.

He's also the ultimate opposite number to the leader of the FF, Reed Richards, otherwise known as Mister Fantastic. The saga of the Fantastic Four has often been the story of these two men and their unceasing rivalry. Richards is ever the man of morals and science, eager to expand his knowledge and that of the human race. Doom is a man consumed by his own vanity and ambition, and also driven by the memory of a mother forever trapped in Hell. Where Richards turns to science, Doom frequently dabbles in magic, although his intellect is easily a match for Richards' advanced brain. Doom's fatal weakness is his own over-confidence, but the two will never end their war readers wouldn't let that happen.

John Romita Sr.'s art for FANTASTIC FOUR: THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE #12

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the superteam that also served as a surrogate or alternate family to so many readers, there was no better choice than to depict a showdown with Doom himself, but what a difference a few writers and artists make. THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE reveled in painstakingly re-creating the look and tone of the classic '60s Marvel tales, right down to the Kirby-like artwork, stilted and pretentious prose, and all-encompassing cosmic terror that often threatened the FF and the world. Throughout its twelve issue run, the title has paid tribute not only to the history of the FF but the entire Marvel Universe as well, boasting a plethora of cameos and subplots, and leading up to the ultimate cliffhanger of all time the ascendance of Doctor Doom as Supreme Being in the Universe, courtesy of the Cosmic Cube. The fact that we know in our hearts that even the Doom God will fall to the genius of mere mortal Richards does nothing to dampen the excitement. This is good old-fashioned Marvel superhero storytelling, with the crispness, clarity, and unmistakable warmth of the Stan & Jack era. It meandered a bit here and there, and the overwrought faux Kirby art could get tiresome (particularly in the hands of those ill equipped to manage it hello, Al Milgrom), but over all, THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE was a lovely tribute to the glory days of the FF and the Marvel Universe.

Hey Sue, that ain't Reed. Um...Sue? Interior artwork from FANTASTIC FOUR 1234 #4.

If that series looked back for inspiration, Grant Morrison's FANTASTIC FOUR 1234 instead looked...sideways. Morrison too drew on the same premise, pitting the FF against an overpowered Doom who had at last bent reality to his will and altered their very existence. He too played on the notion that Doom's vanity would again prove to be his weak point, setting up his fall from supremacy by the end of the series. But unlike the previous title, Morrison's series cast the FF in a very dark and unflattering light, depicting a team far less likely to triumph and more likely to succumb to its own inner demons. The miniseries suffered because of this, as it veered too sharply from the FF as we've always known them, but it is to Morrison's credit that he would take the squeaky-clean image of the Four and muddy them up in this disturbing tale of what might have been. Credit must also go to artist Jae Lee for dropping the FF into such a suitably muddy environment

Doom triumphant! Yeah, right. Cover to FANTASTIC FOUR 1234 #4.

One thing remains the same: Doom never learns. Anyone who remembers the original SECRET WARS maxiseries knows that Doom has been a god before, and he didn't fare too well on that occasion either. The FF have a way of bringing deities down to Earth, whether it's a Doom consumed with delusions of grandeur or a world-eating nightmare known as Galactus. The FF may be mortal, but they're valiant protectors of their planet and race, and those nifty super-powers go a long way to improving the odds. But of course, the powers are secondary to the team's true strength their love and respect for one another.

Key to the success of the Fantastic Four as a team and a title is that unwavering devotion to family, an attractive quality that can't help but endear these characters to generations of comic book readers looking for more than another 32 page gallery of splash page fight sequences. The Fantastic Four was a ground-breaking series when it began, introducing a level of humanity to the portrayal of superheroes that transformed the genre and forged a strong emotional bond with readers. The FF have been through many changes over the years, but they continue to face every challenge together. They are heroes a superteam without peer but most importantly they are a family, and we have been privileged to share their moments of triumph and tragedy for forty years. Here's to forty more years with the Four!

















FANTASTIC FOUR: THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE

Grade: A-

Issue: No. 12


Author(s): Erik Larsen, Eric Stephenson, Stan Lee, Ron Frenz & Joe Sinnott, John Romita & Tom Palmer, Dan Jurgens & Al Milgrom, Steve Rude, Jorge Lucas, Bruce Timm, Scott Hanna


Publisher: Marvel Comics


Price: $2.99

 


















FANTASTIC FOUR: 1234

Grade: B-

Issue: No. 4


Author(s): Grant Morrison, Jae Lee, Jose Villarrubia


Publisher: Marvel Comics


Price: $2.99