Fantastic Four #35 review

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.

From this…
…to this

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.

10 thoughts on “Fantastic Four #35 review

  1. The youngest version of Sue in particular is pure body horror and Romita is probably the only big name artist worse than Byrne at drawing children. I also don’t get why Rama Tut and Crimson Whatever get bland redesigns unless there was indeed a two day deadline. I wish too someone had remembered the version of Rama Tut who succeeds Kang and predates Immortus…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was the Celestial Messiah storyline and he had retired back to Egypt as Rama Tut once he was over being Kang and then went into suspended animation in a failed effort to change things so Kang did not kill Swordsman.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I seriously don’t understand how and why Romita, Jr. still gets work, other than the name. I had to stop reading his run in one of the Superman books because I just hated his art. It’s so unattractive. Not in a ‘unique style’ way like Riley Rossmo (who I like but others find offputting) but more in a ‘I don’t give a crap about my job. Here’s some art’ type of way.
    But maybe it’s just me.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Mister Slott is a cheerleader. I’m not saying he doesn’t believe what he says but he’s also a company man and even if he hated being forced to write for Romita, there would be no evidence in writing or online. I actually like his loyalty even with this and even when he went all in with the awful way they ended MJ and Peter’s marriage.

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  3. I haven’t read all of this issue yet, but I thought the Jason Loo story was perfect for an anniversary issue like this. It’s a little hard to notice, but there are visual cues between panels — hands, stretching powers, flame blasts, etc — that direct you from one panel to the next in order to follow a particular character. The way the characters diverge and reconnect is really cleverly handled. Just reading the panels left-to-right makes it a confusing mishmash, but following the Torch, and then following Reed, etc., gives four tiny stories on 2 pages. The story itself is fairly run-of-the-mill, but I found the storytelling technique itself — the divergence and intersection of the characters, and how all the stories have to work together on that same spread — fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhh, yep, most of the little hands are cut off on guided view, and it doesn’t follow their direction at all. Looking at it again with the whole spread on my screen, though, I can’t process it well enough to enjoy the cleverness, though I appreciate it now I know it’s there. This is why I can’t drive…

      Liked by 1 person

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