Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Classics - The Fantastic Four "Top 10"

I wanted to do something special to celebrate passing a thousand posts here at Chuck's Comic of the Day - so here it is: For this week's "Classic" review, I'm going to list my personal Top 10 issues from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on the Fantastic Four.

I'm not including their Annuals in the list (but I'll get around to reviewing them eventually, I hope). These are the issues that I remember most fondly, for various reasons.

The glaring omission is probably the first issue - it's historic, but frankly not that great a comic. The team was still working out the kinks, frankly.

Anyway, here goes - my top 10, in reverse order (natch).

#10 - Fantastic Four 28

This comic is another great example of the Marvel formula wherein the good guys fight each other because of a misunderstanding.

Here the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master team up (for the first time, I believe), take control of Professor X and pit the Fantastic Four against the X-Men.

The comic features loads of action, some fun plot twists and a great battle.

It's not deep, it's not meaningful, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.

#9 - Fantastic Four 18

I can't swear that this was the first issue of the Fantastic Four that I ever read - but it's the first one I remember reading.

It was loaded with mind-blowing concepts - alien races threatening the Earth! The Super Skrull, who copied the abilities of the entire FF! A battle royale where the good guys seem to have no chance of winning!

And this was one of the earliest issues where Kirby really started having fun with Mr. Fantastic's abilities, as he forms a giant hammer with his hand and turns into a human glider.

It was an action-packed issue, and as a kid I knew this was something special. The FF shot to the top of my comics list. (Even though the ending of the story was a bit of a cheat.)

#8 - Fantastic Four 4

This is a comic I first read as a reprint, and even though the style of it was a bit crude compared to later efforts, it's loaded with power.

This one starts out with the Human Torch quitting the team (each member had a turn at this - some more than once). He hides out in the Bowery, where he finds a bearded bum who has amazing strength. He gives the guy a shave with his flame (kids, don't try this at home), and the bum is revealed to be the Sub-Mariner!

Recovering his memory, Namor goes to war against the human race, and dredges up a Godzilla-sized monster to help destroy New York City.

This one holds up amazingly well today, and managed to work in some romance and heroism in there, too.

#7 - Fantastic Four 23

If earlier issues sparked my interest in the series, this comic sealed the deal.

Dr. Doom plans a series of traps to try to eliminate the FF. He empowers three men (The Terrible Three - not Lee and Kirby's greatest creations) with specific abilities and manages to catch our heroes.

But when they escape, Doom triggers his biggest trap - a Solar Wave, which (somehow) slowly opens a portal to space. As the expanse of space spilled across the floor toward our heroes, I was transfixed.

The series was really getting its creative juices flowing, and I would be there the rest of the way (which is to say, I'm still buying this comic every month).

#6 - Fantastic Four 26

One of the things Marvel did better than any other comics company, bar none, was fill an issue with action.

And few issues can beat this one, as we have the Fantastic Four and the Avengers teaming up to fight the Hulk in New York, with loads of destruction and mayhem along the way.

The heroes don't exactly work well together - they practically stumble over each other in their eagerness to tackle the Hulk - but it was a blast to read and, I suspect, Stan and Jack were having as much fun as the readers were.

#5 - Fantastic Four 46

By this point, the creative team as really hitting on all cylinders.

After a few glimpses the issue before, with this issue we finally meet the Inhumans, as Black Bolt and the Royal Family attack the FF (they were confused about a lot of things at the time).

The issue is packed with amazing sequences, as The Seeker tries to track down the Inhumans, captures the monstrous Dragon Man, all while the battle is raging.

The issue is loaded with amazing visuals, characters and concepts. By this point, Lee and Kirby and working on a different level from the rest of the industry.

#4 - Fantastic Four 43

What agony this issue caused!

It was the wrap-up to an exciting story wherein the Frightful Four had brainwashed the Thing and the Human Torch into becoming evil and attacking the Fantastic Four. All seemed hopeless - and this issue had the answers.

But... it arrived at the news stand the same day as Fantastic Four Annual #4, which featured the wedding of Reed and Sue! My family was on the way to my Grandparent's house to visit some cousins who were in town, and my 9-year-old self only had a quarter - enough to buy one issue or the other, but not both!

After much agonizing, I bought the annual. When we arrived at my Grandparents house, my cousin Jon loved the FF Annual and offered to buy it from me. When I hesitated, he offer 50 cents - so I sold it to him and talked Dad into stopping at the news stand again on the way home, and I gleefully bought both issues.

Lucky for me! It's a terrific issue, loaded with surprises and drama.

#3 - Fantastic Four 40

This could almost be my favorite issue.

The second of two parts, it features an FF who have lost their powers - yet they must confront Dr. Doom, who has taken control of the Baxter Building (their headquarters), and is turning Reed's inventions against the team.

Aided by a Wally Wood-drawn Daredevil, the team faces overwhelming odds. They regain their powers through a bit of trickery by Reed (kind of a dirty trickery, at that), but it leads to a powerful moment.

The team needs the help of the Thing to defeat Doom - but Ben hates being trapped in his monstrous form. After the change, he takes his anger out on Doom in a battle that is both brutal, intense and gripping.

I'd compare that final sequence to the classic Lee - Ditko scene where Spider-Man was trapped under machinery (actually, that issue was published after this one). The Thing battles through on courage and heart alone. It's a powerful sequence, and one of my all-time favorites.

#2 - Fantastic Four 51

Lots of fans will tell you that this is the best issue of the Fantastic Four - but they're wrong.

It is a great issue! It's a sad tale of a scientist who manages to steal the Thing's powers and appearance, intending to kill Reed Richards. Instead, he learns the most important lesson of his life - and redeems himself.

It's one of the most emotional issues of the Fantastic Four, and one of the best-written, too.

As a side note, this is also the issue where Reed discovers the Negative Zone - another example of Lee and Kirby kicking out ideas (seemingly) without even breaking a sweat.

#1 - Fantastic Four #49

Most fans call it the "Galactus Trilogy," but this is the issue at the heart of the series. The previous issue just set up the confrontation, and the next issue wrapped up the story quickly.

But here we have the FF fighting the impossible battle, as they fight God. I mean, Galactus, the world eater.

There's so much story crammed into this issue, it's staggering. We discover the purpose of Galactus and see an image of the fate Earth faces. The FF attack him and are immediately defeated. We meet the Silver Surfer (who recites one of the great lines in comics: "Nay, it is supremely credible!") The FF attack Galactus again (with somewhat better success). They fight the Punisher (not the guy with the skull on his chest). The Human Torch flies across the universe with the help of the Watcher. The Silver Surfer decides to attack his master!

These days, it would take a 12-part mini-series to cover that much ground.

This was Lee and Kirby at their best, combining action, cosmic concepts, romance, adventure - adding a lot of heart, and weaving it all into an amazing tapestry.

It's a stunning body of work, and it's still my all-time favorite comics series. Classics indeed!


Anonymous said...

Chuck, great choices! A couple of
words pop up more than once in your
reviews...FUN and ACTION. Elements
missing from most of today's comics. What's the big news about
today's FF? WHO is going to die?
Today's comics are filled with talking heads and endless dialog...
little ACTION and NO FUN.
Your ten choices for favorite FF
issues are brimming with fun and
action and thus stay with us as the
classics they are.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, thanks! You're right - those issues were loaded with drama, but the focus was on adventure and entertainment. And who did that better than Lee and Kirby?

Kyle said...

Great top 10 Chuck! And a belated Congratulations on 1K posts! I have a hard time -reading- everyday!

You really nailed it on how much story Lee & Kirby packed into one issue... the ideas and concepts just come flying off the page...!