The late 1990s were a very odd time for the Fantastic Four. Their main superheroes returned from the Heroes Reborn Earth with Chris Claremont in charge of writing and Salvadore Larroca drawing most of the issues. Marvel has released the first complete collection, and the second volume is out this week. In it, we get stories like Invisible Woman solving her alien transformation with sheer will, a teenage Valeria showing up and claiming her father is Dr. Doom, and Reed Richards literally becoming Doctor Doom. It’s a wacky and also dense 492 page collection that has interesting wrinkles but suffers from too much text that drowns out the art, and some rather over-the-top female costumes.
This book opens in the most confusing ways. I haven’t read the first volume in a while and found myself googling story summaries to figure out how we got here. Invisible Woman slowly growing less and less human was a shock to me as well as the dimension-hopping. It opens with a Kree Avengers story that’s perplexing, only lasting for one issue and then shifts completely to the characters living new lives as thieves (and going by Richards Reed, Grim Ben, Stormy Sue, and Matchstick Johnny). The identity of this book is hard to pin down as the story and the plots are constantly shifting. It’s as if Claremont wanted to inundate us with ideas so as to avoid grasping onto any one thing and hating it. This book is also infatuated with creating new characters that are instantly forgettable. Hippolyta and Hades come to mind, and they are only two that pop in to be the baddies and then are forgotten almost as quickly.
There are a lot of bizarre ideas in this book. Take for instance Sue’s transformation into an alien predator. At one point she’s being consoled by Reed that he’ll fix her condition and she openly tells him she wants to kill and eat him. Yikes. When she does transform back it’s in a confusing way, using a life support pod and sheer will. She touches herself in this scene in a strangely erotic way screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Speaking of erotic, the breasts on the characters in this book are laugh-out-loud huge. They’re comically large and throw off the costume design and look of most female characters.
A saving grace in this volume is the inclusion of Valeria. I can’t say it makes a lot of sense in the context of just this book, but when you read up on the character’s origin, the storied history of Sue unable to have a child, and how Valeria was brought into the stories long after this collection ends, you see some interesting ideas at work. Claremont is clearly playing around with jealousy between Sue and Reed when we find out Dr. Doom is Valeria’s’ father. It’s also an interesting look at alternate dimensions, possibilities unknown to the characters, and how the very strange sci-fi concepts these characters interact with are the norm for them. Dr. Doom is prominent in this chunk of the story too and he’s a reminder the series is stronger with him in it.
Overall this is an odd book that’s tough to read since it’s so dense, at times incomprehensible, and shows its age with the female character and costume designs. I’m not sure it’s worth reading since it is so dense, but if you’re willing to take it on there are some interesting ideas at work here. It also plays an important part in Valeria’s origin and has some strong writing of Dr. Doom to go along with it.