I love a good anniversary issue.
Anyway, Fantastic Four #35 – ‘legacy number’ #680 – came out this week, later than planned. Which is ironic, as a tale featuring time travelling villain Kang the Conqueror should always make the deadline. Written to mark the 60th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1, it involves a competition organised by Immortus for his alternate selves – the aforementioned Kang, Rama-Tut, the Scarlet Centurion and gatecrasher Scion, a new variant – to recover the treasure of their ancestor, Nathaniel Richards, split into four parts along Reed Richards’s timeline.
Behold, the Toilet Cosmic
It’s actually a projector with a message that wouldn’t shame a TV soap, but it really is unprepossessing… imagine what Jack Kirby could have come up with. Sadly, this issue isn’t drawn by the late King, co-creator with Stan Lee of the fabulous Fantastic Four. It was drawn by John Romita Jr, who doesn’t quite have the same imaginative knack. To be honest, it’s been drawn by Romita on a bad day. Maybe two, at most… I can’t imagine this issue took long, given how sketchy and downright ugly many of the pages are.
Romita has done much better work in his long career. Here’s he’s working with a number of inkers, but none make much difference to the finished quality. I wouldn’t care but writer Dan Slott comes up with an interesting conceit that’s the perfect excuse to employ a variety of artists – after returning with their piece, each player tells of how they destroyed the FF in a different timeline. We could have had Steve Rude, Doc Shaner or someone with a throwback style homaging Kirby for the early years segment, Mark Bagley on an encounter with the Thunderbolts, Dale Eaglesham or Steve Epting back for a Future Foundation fracas… and Romita could have handled the current day stuff.
As it is, Romita does pencils and inks throughout, even for the potentially fun ‘contemporary’ covers, and, well, finally Johnny’s ‘matchstick’ nickname is justified.
Honestly, it was tough to get into the story, the pictures – ‘art’ is overstating – were so distracting. And the redesign of Rama Tut is as tragic as it is unnecessary.
As for the story, I suspect I’m totally Kanged out – after Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s epic Avengers Forever, he should have been retired. Nowadays, every Kang story seems to get bogged down in his convoluted history. As this issue appears, he’s also in his own mini-series – on the back of the recent Loki TV show – which is treading the same ground. While ‘Death in Four Dimensions’ does have a twist, it’s very much a case of ever-diminishing Kangs, and an unwelcome interruption to Slott’s regular storyline.
Things I did like in the script include Johnny seeing through his old foe Beetle’s Mach-1 makeover in ten seconds flat; a lovely scene with Ben and Johnny during the Jonathan Hickman run; Reed being consistently dickish when it comes to focusing on others’ problems; and this:
Sue and Johnny’s comments are a fun nod to the cover of FF #1 back in 1961.
There’s a second story, following an unfortunately placed recap of last issue. ‘Some Family Time’ is a very busy two pages by writer/artist Jason Loo, who’s knew to me, in which the team have a very by-the-books encounter with Mole Man. The art is pleasantly non-House style, there’s great Moloid action but the dialogue is a tad clunky. I could see this in a giant, but it’s an odd choice for a supposedly landmark book.
Finally, there’s a beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated tale by Mark Waid and Paul Renaud, which looks back to the origin of the FF.
‘Stars’ rehashes a clever plot point Waid introduced when he was regular writer, but if you’ve not come across it previously, you’ll be grinning like a loon. It certainly puts Reed in a better light than pretty much any other story this millennium. And given how this story shows he was willing to redesign his spaceship cockpit so he could fly into space alone, rather than simply add more radiation shielding, he could use the help. The personalities of all four future superheroes are wonderfully presented, and I love the new (to me, at least) detail that as his powers kicked in for the first time, Johnny stripped off… you would, wouldn’t you?
Mark Brooks contributes a crisp, classy cover illustration featuring everyone who’s been a member of the FF, I just wish it were allowed to stand alone. That big ‘60’ frame and ochre colour block really get in the way.
All in all, this won’t go down as a classic anniversary issue, but if you have Marvel Unlimited, it’s probably worth a look when it drops online in a few months. I can’t, though, recommend you spend $9.99 or local equivalent on an issue that barely captures that original Lee/Kirby magic. This is one of the few issues of the Fantastic Four not to claim on the cover that it’s ‘The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine’. I’d say that’s honesty in advertising.