It seems like forever since the Fantastic Four has had an ongoing series on the stands, but come August, Marvel’s first family will be back in all-new adventures courtesy of writer Dan Slott and artist Sara Pichelli. To remind readers of how great the FF can be, Marvel is putting out several trade paperbacks of classic adventures, including the ginormous Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The New Fantastic Four. At just over 500 pages and with a $39.99 price tag, this volume is the perfect summer read for the comics fan looking for storytelling variety and some pretty significant moments in FF history.
When you grow up reading Marvel Comics, you can’t help but gain a rough understanding of the wider Marvel Universe, even if you just follow one character or team. For me, it was the X-Men, but as everything in the MU is connected, I was pretty aware of what was happening to the Fantastic Four in the ’90s thanks to pre-internet joys like trading cards and Wizard magazine. This Epic Collection volume (No. 21 in the FF series) covers a pretty eventful string of issues between 1990 and 1992.
It all kicks off with Fantastic Four #347, which itself kicks off the surprisingly short introduction of the New Fantastic Four comprised of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk and Ghost Rider. Why was I surprised this story only ran for three issues? Because when I was a kid, I was always seeing this edgier version of the FF–on trading cards, in issues of What If? and so on. I would have assumed the Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny went missing for a year or something.
Either way, this tale written by Walter Simonson and illustrated by Arthur Adams is pretty fun and, of course, oh so ’90s. And the creators are in on the joke, as the cover of #348 says “The World’s Most Commercialist Comic Magazine!” and #349 says “The World’s Most Collectible Comic Magazine!” The Punisher even appears for a split second in what’s billed as “the world’s most exploitive cameo!”These little jokes highlight something many creators seem to forget every now and then–that the Fantastic Four should be fun. This isn’t meant to be the edgiest title on the market, and that’s OK. Battles with giant monsters, the Thing and the Human Torch fighting an alien-powered gorilla and a Christmas celebration can all be found in this collection’s pages.
Once you hit #350, the return of the one true Doctor Doom, it becomes very apparent this time in Fantastic Four history was about putting some genies back in their bottles. Doom–badder than ever–is back in charge of Latveria, the Thing is back to his rocky self, the bizarre She-Thing is no more and then there’s the fact that Johnny Storm is married to the Thing’s greatest love Alicia Masters. How does Marvel solve a problem like that… oh, Alicia was a Skrull all this time, duh!
Yep, long before Marvel was having Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson cut deals with the devil to get out of their marriage, the House of Ideas was honing its skills as comics’ most inventive divorce attorney. I’m happy I finally had a chance to read the story of Lyja and how she came to impersonate Alicia, as like the New Fantastic Four, this was a much-talked about aspect of the ’90s FF.It’s a good story, just like the majority of the issues in this collection. These are far from the greatest Fantastic Four stories ever told, but they’re very comforting, like a good FF tale should be. You want to pick up an issue of the Fantastic Four and see the Torch picking on the Thing. You hope that Reed will dream up some type of device only he could build to save the day. The fab four are the comfort food of the Marvel Universe and this trade–produced by reliable creators like Simonson, Adams, Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan–will fill you up for a long time to come.
That’s not to say it doesn’t slow down every now and then. While Marvel’s Epic Collections deliver a great many comics in one handy volume, there are always a few throwaway issues in the mix that do little to enhance the book’s theme. For instance, the cover says “The New Fantastic Four,” but those guys are only in three of the 14 regular FF issues in here. But that’s fine. After all, what Wolverine fans don’t want to learn about Devos the Devastator?
So if you’re like me, a comic book fan who loves filling in the blanks in Marvel’s constantly evolving history, then I can’t recommend Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The New Fantastic Four enough. And you know what? After finishing this trade, I really wanted to read what comes next… because I can’t for the life of me figure out how Marvel could take the Fantastic Four back to basics, only to “kill off” Mister Fantastic, give the Thing a bad-ass mask (and a gun!) and have the Invisible Woman take a pair of scissors to her costume not long after.
If anyone at Marvel who puts together these collections is reading–please give me an Extreme Fantastic Four collection, or whatever they were supposed to be before Jim Lee had no choice but to relaunch them with Heroes Reborn.