Fantastic Four #280 – (1985) – Throwback Review

Byrne’s art is clean and graceful as ever. His She-Hulk is a particular highlight and her journey through the hellish burning city is a real stand-out.

Fantastic Four #280

Written and Drawn by John Byrne
Released – July 1985    

Published by Marvel Comics

The Fantastic Four is surrounded by an angry mob, with flaming torches and fists raised, crucified against giant stone letters spelling the word HATE while New York City burns in the background. It’s a dark and powerful image by writer and artist John Byrne and inker Jerry Ordway and makes a great cover for Fantastic Four #280. I definitely want to read on.

The story begins with the FF standing outside a giant hole in the ground, all that remains of the Baxter Building, their home, and base of operations, which has been plucked out of the ground and fired off into space and ultimately blown up. This all happened the last issue and necessitates a quick recap for anyone like me who missed it.

Exposition in older comics is always a pleasure to read. It’s clunky and unnatural and usually between characters who already know what happened but I love it all the same. Byrne being an excellent writer actually does it really well in this issue. It’s all done in a quick three panels on the second page as Reed Richards explains all to a disbelieving police officer.

Perhaps I should insert some exposition of my own. This issue comes somewhere in the middle of John Byrne’s revitalizing run at a time when She-Hulk has replaced The Thing as the team’s wise-cracking muscle.

Obviously, a building disappearing and leaving a gap in the skyline is going to draw a crowd and it’s here where the story’s dark mood begins to manifest itself. It starts with one old man, a tenant of the Baxter Building angrily berating the “Fancy-pants super-hero” for letting his snack shop be destroyed which he’s run for twenty-two years and carried a lifetime’s worth of memories.  Reed Richards tries to placate him but it’s clear nothing he can say can help and it’s the first indication of how powerless super-heroes can sometimes be.

Instead, a police officer takes charge, pulling the man away and slamming him against the wall. The old man is revealed to be a Jewish-German immigrant and comparison to Nazi Germany and stormtrooper tactics are soon made explicit. Byrne is not pulling any punches and isn’t interested in his point being misunderstood.

Things escalate quickly when the She-hulk tries to intervene. The police and then the watching crowd turn on the Heroes. She-hulk is arrested and the mob surrounds the others throwing bricks and brandishing clubs. Unwilling to use their powers against ordinary people the FF are forced to split up and retreat only to find that the epidemic of hate and anger has spread to the whole city.

It’s a strong opening act reminiscent of Byrne’s award-winning work with Chris Claremont on the Uncanny X-Men who as mutant outsiders are continually hated and feared by the world. Except the Fantastic Four aren’t outsiders. They are the mainstream, Marvel comics most famous and loved superhero team. If the world can turn against them in a flash, it can turn on anyone and the impact is all more powerful because of it.

The rest of the issue follows a more conventional line as the real Villains make their move but the themes of powerlessness continue. Mr Fantastic struggles against the power of propaganda and She-Hulk finds that no matter hard she hits she can’t defeat a villain whose powers are intangible hatred and fear.

Byrne’s art is clean and graceful as ever. His She-Hulk is a particular highlight and her journey through the hellish burning city is a real stand-out.


Verdict

A very grounded issue of the Fantastic Four with a serious point to make with an excellent opening act and a brilliant cover. As a casual fan, I’d definitely be interested in reading more from Byrne’s 80’s run.


Reviewed by Ross Kelly



The Thing #1 – Review

This is really good comic. Writer Walter Mosley and artist Tom Reilly pack so much into the thirty-two pages that’s instantly worth reading it again and again!

The Thing #1 (1/6)

Written by Walter Mosley
Art by Tom Reilly
Colour Art by Jordie Bellaire

Released November 2021
Published by Marvel Comics

Join Ben Grimm, or The Thing to use his professional name in a new six-part solo series entitled The Next Big Thing. Set away from the Fantastic Four’s present continuity, somewhen in the team’s past, this is something to be enjoyed on its own, without the need for a ‘previously on’ recap button.   

And I hope you do enjoy it. Because I thought it was fantastic! There, got my verdict in early…

This is really good comic. Writer Walter Mosley and artist Tom Reilly pack so much into the thirty-two pages that are instantly worth reading it again and again. It’s got a bit of everything, action, humor, super-hero hijinks, and a surprising amount of horror. Presumably, the kitchen sink will be in issue two.

But mostly it’s full of character. Mosley and Reilly combine to capture all sides of Ben’s personality, from his big heart to his big temper. Reilly’s cartoon-style art is incredibly expressive and perfect for capturing the range of emotions on The Thing’s rocky exterior. However, the standout theme is one of loneliness and melancholia. Despite his positivity and can-do attitude, Ben is still a man forever trapped in the body of a rock-skinned monster. Although it’s his jealousy and not his appearance that is the biggest obstacle to love and happiness.

Ben returns home from a few days fishing, ever-lovin’ and ready for some company only to find the Baxter building empty and the rest of the FF and girlfriend Alicia away being busy or having fun. Ben is out of the loop and reunions will have to wait. It’s the first touch of sadness but there’s more to come.

The reunions don’t go well. Ben’s jealousy and temper get the better of him and he ends up getting arrested by the superhero police. The prison sequence is great fun, locked up with the Avenger Hercules (who’s hungover) in an unbreakable cell. It’s proper superhero daftness and it’s a joy to watch them break out.

Bailed out by his teammates and dumped by Alicia, Ben is offered the chance to join an intriguing new dating agency. Reluctant at first but loneliness and bad dreams change his mind. There’s a lovely scene where Ben has to fill out a character questionnaire form and has to be thoughtful and honest with himself. In fact, every page seems to have a lovely moment or surprising detail in it that elevates everything to another level.

Sometimes it’s just a panel, like the look of regret on Reed Richard’s face unable to ease his friend’s pain. Other times it’s the whole page. Ben walking alone through the cavernous fairy-tale Baxter Building surrounded by wonders, a Beast minus his beauty. I could list a dozen other special moments.

Meanwhile, there’s a horrifying new villain called MOT stalking the streets and dreams of New York. A death-like figure is able to reach into a person and pull out their heart, corrupt it, and then put it back in. MOT’S sequences add an unexpected strain of horror to the story. There’s some strong imagery and nasty violence (and the consequences of violence, which is refreshing). However, there’s nothing gratuitous. Like everything else in this comic, its pitched just right.

Finally, Ben starts a new day with a message in his inbox and he’s off to meet someone new. A positive ending on what’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. 

Then the wall explodes. Roll on issue two.


Verdict.

See above. Superb storytelling and great art, a really strong exploration of the character, and packed with lovely moments. These guys really know their Thing!


Review by Ross Kelly


Fantastic Four: The Prodigal Son #1 – Review

Back in the summer of 2019 when comics were plentiful, the Marvel universe welcomed Prah’d’gul (or Prodigal according to mishearing Ben Grimm) in three one-shot comics where our young visitor from space bumps heads with three of Marvel’s mainstream titles. First up it’s the Fantastic Four!

Fantastic Four: The Prodigal Sun #1

Written by Peter David
Art by Francesco Manna
Released: September 2019

Published by Marvel Comics

Back in the summer of 2019 when comics were plentiful, the Marvel universe welcomed Prah’d’gul (or Prodigal according to mishearing Ben Grimm) in three one-shot comics where our young visitor from space bumps heads with three of Marvel’s mainstream titles.

First up it’s the Fantastic Four, who at the time of publication had only just returned to Earth after a few years of unpublished adventures in an alternate dimension and were busy settling into the early stories of Dan Slott’s excellent monthly run.

Prodigal crashes in the Savage Land, a prehistoric jungle hidden in the Antarctica much loved by the X-Men and populated by Dinosaurs and various warring tribes of pre-agricultural types. Our hero barely has time to pull a dramatic pose before he’s eaten by a T-Rex who must lie in wait for crashing spaceships, so often do they occur in this supposedly secluded paradise. (This is a great recurring gag in Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers. Pause while I go and re-read the first few issues.)


Unfortunately for Rex, Prodigal is hard mouthful to swallow and he’s quickly exploding his way out and being proclaimed a God by the locals. This suits him fine and he’s soon got his new congregation looking for a replacement spaceship and stirring up trouble with the neighbouring tribes. It’s a quick start, but one-shots don’t let you hang around and soon enough Ka-zar and Shanna, the underdressed Heroes who rule the Savage Land, have got the FF on the phone asking for help getting rid of the troublesome interloper. Cue action.


Peter David knows his game and keeps the script light and frothy with plenty of jokes. The classic superhero meet-cute fuelled by misunderstanding and bravado is played for laughs but soon begins to wear thin. It’s all a bit one-note and silly and Prodigal mainly comes across as an arrogant jerk complete with annoying catch-phrase. Unfortunately, the limited page count doesn’t give him much opportunity to redeem himself. Perhaps in the following instalments we see a bit more of his character. A bit of mystery would have been welcome too.
There’s time for a touch of perfunctory back-story but the few lines we get doesn’t sound that original or exciting. Mostly this is all just an excuse to showcase Prodigal’s fairly conventional superpowers, which in world full of superheroes isn’t that interesting. Even the Fantastic Four don’t really get that much to do. Reed and Sue get a few nice moments but The Thing and Human Torch are barely in it. I think Johnny Storm gets one line.


Francesco Manna art is solid and dependable if a little short on the spectacular. Again, I think the limited page-count doesn’t give him a chance to really shine. There was a real missed opportunity to draw an exploding Tyrannosaur, which I’m sure he would have enjoyed. But no room for it. Shame.
Next up for Prodigal it’s back into space and if the cover is to be believed it’s a zero-gee dust-off with the Silver Surfer while a ringside Galactus places his bets before a final meeting with the Guardians of the Galaxy rounds off the trilogy. After that, who knows? Did Prodigal become a regular somewhere? Did he become interesting? Maybe I’ll look online to find out. Then again.


Verdict
Mostly fun but ultimately a conventional intro for a conventional character. Prodigal didn’t really excite and I don’t think the FF gained much by being in it. Next time Ka-zar calls you Reed, send the reserves and save yourself the bother.


Ross Kelly
30/12/21

Fantastic Four #35 Review

Naturally there’s a strong theme of family linking the stories and especially highlighting its importance to Reed Richards himself. Both Slott and Waid acknowledge that for Richards, nothing is more important than his family…


Fantastic Four #35
Reviewed By Ross Kelly

Written by Dan Slott, Jason Loo and Mark Waid.

Art by John Romita Jr, Jason Loo and Paul Renaud.

Released September 15, 2021

Published by Marvel Comics

Three tales as Marvel’s first family celebrate their sixtieth birthday in this oversized anniversary epic.

The main feature is written by series regular Dan Slott with art by John Romita Jr and together they craft a fun time travelling adventure into the FF’s history. Kang the Conqueror, time surfing megalomaniac and his various incarnations are on the hunt for ‘The Prize’, a final gift left to Reed Richards by his father, which had been split into four pieces and hidden at different points in Richard’s time line. Naturally the Kangs want it, whatever it is, and that’s reason enough for each Kang to invade a different period in the team’s past.

First stop, the sixties and the team are still new, still coming to terms with their powers. The first Kang turns up with an army of loyal Sarcophobots (Robots dressed as Egyptian mummies, and my new favourite word) and using his future knowledge promptly defeats the fledging team. 

Trips to the nineties and noughties follow and its soon three nil to the Kangs, who bicker and gloat, like a bunch of evil Doctor Whos. I won’t spoil part four of the story but its safe to say that all is not lost and Reed Richards has a plan. It all ends when we find out what the Prize is, setting up the next issue and Slott’s on-going story.

The trips to the past are good fun and Slott and Romita Jr don’t try and emulate the styles of comics past. They have their own story to tell. Instead, we’re treated to some nice homage covers in-between each jaunt, which help set the scene and allow Slott to keep the story moving at a brisk pace helped along by Romita Jr’s quick, bombastic art.

After the main event come two back up features. A two-page spread written and draw by Jason Loo sees a trip to the park interrupted by The Mole Man in an echo of the Four’s first issue story from 1961.  Loo packs in the panels and the story reads like a choose your own adventure puzzle giving the reader four paths to follow to the inevitable gag punchline. It’s an entertaining diversion before the third offering, a fresh retelling of the team’s origin story written by Mark Waid with art by Paul Renaud.

This time the story is told from the point of view of Mr Fantastic and how he carries the guilt for changing his friends lives forever. It was his over confidence and arrogance that unintentionally caused the horrific transformations that changed Sue, Ben, Johnny into The Invisible Woman, The Thing and The Human Torch. And Renaud’s art definitely portrays the changes as horrifying. Particularly that of Johnny Storm who is drawn as a man literally burning alive. In the first moments after the transformation, they are presented as monsters, terrified of each other and themselves. Four individuals afraid and divided.

Richards imagines them as outcasts shunned by society, their old lives full of promise and hope, over forever. His redemption comes by changing this fate, using all his talents to give them new lives. One of fame and adventure. Turning them into a team of superstars. Heroes.

This is easily the best FF origin story I’ve read and any new fan experiencing the story for the first time is in for a treat. My favourite story of the three on offer.

Naturally there’s a strong theme of family linking the stories and especially highlighting its importance to Reed Richards himself. Both Slott and Waid acknowledge that for Richards, nothing is more important than his family.  


Verdict

Thoroughly enjoyed it. A great birthday issue with a marvellous time traveling romp and a fresh perspective on the team’s origin. Definitely worth a read for old fans and new. Plus, there’s a letters page, which is always a good thing.


Reviewed By Ross Kelly

Fantastic Four #34 Review

Fantastic Four #34, written by Dan Slott with art by R.B. Silva ends the Bride of Doom storyline with the Four and friends trying to get out of Doctor Doom’s wedding reception with their lives…


Fantastic Four #34.
Reviewed by Ross Kelly

Writer: Dan Slott.

Art:    R.B. Silva.
Release Date: 28/07/21
Publisher: Marvel

Fantastic Four #34, written by Dan Slott with art by R.B. Silva ends the Bride of Doom storyline with the Four and friends trying to get out of Doctor Doom’s wedding reception with their lives.

Cards on the table, I haven’t read much Fantastic Four before and starting at the end of a big dramatic storyline, maybe isn’t the best place to begin. But coming cold into a comic and playing catch-up can sometimes be fun and fortunately this was one of those times.

Marvel’s handy re-cap policy brought me quickly up to speed, it’s the Fantastic Four and old friends Black Panther and Namor, the Sub-Mariner verses their premier league adversary Doctor Doom and his bride to be Victorious in a classic story of a wedding gone wrong. Then it was straight into the action.

And more action. This issue is pretty much one long pitch battle. I thought it was great. Writer Dan Slott does a good job of keeping the pace up whilst allowing plenty of moments for the characters to shine. If you’d never read the Fantastic Four before this issue, I think you’d come away with a firm handle on each team member and the relationships between them, all within a few brief speech bubbles. There are also a few good jokes to help lighten the tone.

But this is really a Doctor Doom issue. From the magnificent opening page of him in his wedding armour, to the close ups of his scarred eyes peering out from his mask he is running the show, keeping the heroes guessing right up until he plays his final ace, changing the life of one of the unfortunate Four forever.

And if Doctor Doom looks good the rest of the issue isn’t bad either. This is how superhero comics should look. R.B Silva almost liquid art combined with colourist Jesus Aburtov’s bright and bold colours make every page look wonderful. The whole thing crackles with energy, literally in some cases as energy bolts BZZZT with power only to explode in a gigantic KRAAKABOOM. The creative team are clearly having a good time playing with their sound-effects.


Verdict:

I really enjoyed this. Full of action, drama, colour and energy, a proper superhero comic. Look forward to reading more. BZZZT!


Reviewed by Ross Kelly 01/08/21