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Comics You Should Own – Fantastic Four #347-349

Why those issues, you might ask?  Why indeed …

Oh, I suppose I SPOIL these issues. But it’s not like they’re all that mysterious!

Fantastic Four by Walter Simonson (writer), Arthur Adams (penciller; with “pencilling assistant” Gracine Tanaka), Art Thibert and Al Milgrom (inkers).

Marvel, 3 issues (#347-349), cover dated December 1990-February 1991.

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I don’t want you to get the idea that all Comics You Should Own are deathly serious affairs because that’s what “real” comics are all about.  There is, and should be, room for frivolity in comics, and when it’s done as pitch-perfect as these three issues, it’s just something to be admired.

These comics come from the tail end of a time when Marvel actually made fun of itself.  Very rarely do they allow that anymore (Slott’s She-Hulk comes to mind, but even that mocks the conventions of comic books more than the company itself), and it’s a bit sad.  Whereas some older comics fans are nostalgic for the 1970s, I’m nostalgic for the late 1980s/early 1990s, before the market blew up and Image took over and comics lost their sense of humor.  Fantastic Four, which sold poorly in 1990 compared to many points during its history, was still the flagship title of the company and recalled the Marvel Age of Comics, and the fact that Simonson shamelessly mocked the hand that fed him in it reminds us of a time when comics from the Big Two still had a less sophisticated feel to them, instead of today, where everything is geared toward the next movie promotion.  I would love to see Marvel do something like these issues today, but there’s not enough time for distractions like this when they’re too busy dealing with “real world” issues.

But, you ask, isn’t this a ridiculous comic book in which the “hot” characters in the Marvel Universe circa 1990 – Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk – supplant the Fantastic Four?  Doesn’t that make it a crass marketing technique?  Well, of course it does, but unlike these days, when Marvel uses Wolverine to “react” to Captain America’s death in a completely artificial “event” book, in these comics the company acknowledges the pandering to the utmost.  As they point out on the covers:

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Plus, on the cover of issue #349, they throw in:

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This kind of nuttiness makes these issues a complete joy to read, because we recognize that Marvel is cashing in, but at least it’s a fun story to read.  If you’re going to shamelessly exploit your top moneymakers, at least you get Simonson to write a slam-bang action adventure book and get Adams to draw it.  Adams does far too little comics work these days, so going back and looking at the work he has done is all we get.  He has a blast with Simonson’s tale, as well, drawing malicious Skrulls, monsters, superheroes, the “Joe Fixit” Hulk, and the Mole Man with a kind of crazed abandon.  His women are beautiful without being skanky, his men are muscular without being steroided, his Skrulls are goofy yet still threatening, and his monsters are straight out of a 1950s sci-fi movie.  Simonson throws plenty at him to draw, but he does it all with flair.  It’s a shame to consider how very little output Adams has done over his career.

The story is somewhat convoluted, but it has to be in order for Simonson to get the four characters together to replace the FF.  So what’s the story?  Well, I’ll let Simonson’s words and Adams’ art explain …

A Skrull lands on Earth and plots trouble:

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There is the usual situational drama that afflicts superhero teams: Johnny Storm can’t get Nebula out of his mind, even though he’s married to Alicia, while Ben’s girlfriend, Shary, is distraught about becoming the Thing again.  This is not your father’s Fantastic Four, apparently, and these subplots mean very little for the purposes of this story.

The Skrulls track their prey:

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The female Skrull takes out the entire Fantastic Four in the space of five pages, thanks to her shape-shifting abilities and a “synapse disruptor”:

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The Skrulls land on Monster Island and find, well, monsters:

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The Skrulls implant neural disruptors in the monsters to rile them up, hoping their activity will “increase the mental stress level across the planet” so they can track the Skrull fugitive.  The Mole Man does not like this:

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The female Skrull, whose name is De’lila, lures the replacement heroes to Four Freedoms Plaza and tells them, in the guise of Sue Storm, that the FF have been killed.  She gives them a “sub-photonic spectro-analyzer” to find the assassins.  After sending them on their way, she reveals that she’s looking for a Skrull ship that crash landed on Earth, but she’ll have to revive Reed to find it.  The Mole Man, meanwhile, discovers that the people stirring up his monsters are aliens.  When Reed wakes up, De’lila tells him she’s looking for … an egg.  No, seriously:

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The new FF fights monsters:

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The Mole Man captures the Skrulls:

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Reed discovers the crash site, and he and De’lila fly deep underground:

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The new FF enters the Bermuda Triangle, flies into the hole down which the Skrulls fell on Monster Island, and encounters the Mole Man:

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Ghost Rider drags the reason why the Skrulls are there out of their captain:

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Just then Reed shows up, but he’s not in the mood to argue, as he’s under De’lila’s mind control.  De’lila uses her telepathy to influence the heroes and the Mole Man, who turn against the Skrulls, but she can’t sway Ghost Rider, who, well, manages to clear their minds, but he’s not sure how:

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Reed and De’lila escape, but the new FF goes after them.  They get trapped under a cave-in, but Hulk holds up the ceiling while they figure out how to escape.  De’lila continues to use her mind control powers to keep Reed in thrall, and after doing some smooching with him, she tells him about the Inorganic Techno-Troids, which are “a series of indestructible, synthetic entities, so powerful that only the empress can control them.”  She plans to use the one inside the egg to “shake the empire.”  Back in the tunnel, Ghost Rider again saves the day:

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In New York, Franklin discovers the Fantastic Four, tied up in the elevator, and frees them all.  They discover that Reed went to Monster Island, so they head on out.  Back on the island, Reed and De’lila find the spaceship, but a monster has claimed it:

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The new FF show up, but De’lila holds Reed hostage so that they have to help her retrieve the egg.  They get it out, but the Hulk stops De’lila from taking it.  Then the Mole Man shows up, saying that he’s taking the egg.  As a fight appears imminent, the real Fantastic Four shows up.  As they confront each other, De’lila sneaks toward the egg, but Spider-Man stops her.  He webs the egg out of her reach, right to … the monster who was sitting on it.  She has decided that the egg is her baby, and defies the Mole Man, who orders her to give it to him:

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The monster’s mate shows up and plans to attack everyone, but the Skrull captain triggers a bomb so that everything explodes.  He explains the the Inorganic Techno-Troids are the ultimate bodyguards.  They imprint on the empress at birth and live to serve only her.  Because they are so unstoppable, he must obliberate everything.  As the bomb counts down, the egg hatches, and the Techno-Troid imprints on … the monster.  De’lila is distraught over this tragedy, naturally.  The monster tells the Techno-Troid about the bomb, and the new baby saves the day:

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De’lila uses her mind control powers to attempt to flee by lip-locking with Reed again (right in front of Sue!), but Reed is no longer under her control, and he does it just to get her synapse disruptor away from her.  Reed’s love for Sue saves the day!

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Ghost Rider makes De’lila confront her crimes, which isn’t pleasant, and Spider-Man convinces the Mole Man to let them go.  There’s a funny Punisher cameo, and everyone goes home happy.  Well, except for De’lila:

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I have spent so much time on the plot because this is a wonderful example of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.  Simonson isn’t concerned with deep meaning or important themes, he’s just interested in entertainment, and he achieves it magnificently.  These three issues are never going to show up on a list of greatest comics ever.  They are Comics You Should Own, however, because they show how glorious Marvel comics once were and only appear to be very sporadically today.

Simonson, interestingly, also has a handle on the Fantastic Four, which is why this story is a bit above just sheer entertainment (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Reed, as noted, holds onto the love of his wife in order to resist De’lila’s mind control.  Early on in the book, Ben and Shary have a nice moment, even though the circumstances of the situation are unknown.  (Of course they’re not unknown, because the fact that Ben is human and Shary is back to being the Thing are covered in earlier issues.  I’m speaking as someone who didn’t read the comic book and picked these up because I was a fan of Adams’ work.  In issue #349 Ben shows up as the Thing, so the transformation was voluntary, I assume.  But that’s a back story for another day!)  Reed uses a colloquialism (“tell that to all my friends in the Marines”) to Roberta, the FF’s robot receptionist, that allows her to realize that what he’s saying is untrue, so she wakes Franklin to rescue the FF.  (That’s an actual colloquialism, apparently, although why the hell Reed would know it is beyond me.)  All of these little touches show us, more than past and future writers of the comic who state it loudly and proudly, that the Fantastic Four are a family who can rely on each other.  It’s these nice touches in an otherwise wacky adventure that make this something more than just a cheap marketing ploy.

Despite the tackiness of appealing to the nu-skool fanboys who drooled over the Next Big Thing back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Simonson and Adams (and Marvel) created a nice comic book with this adventure.  It uses the present “hotness” of the characters, but it also remains deeply rooted in Marvel history, but not in a way that completely loses the new reader.  Simonson and Adams did not create a masterpiece, but they did create a gloriously fun comic that contains almost everything you could want in a superhero book.  If Fantastic Four #347-349 isn’t an epic story delving deep into the soul of humanity, it is the kind of book we don’t get too often these days, especially from the Big Two.  We get glimpses of this kind of story now and then, and it’s nice to look back at one that did it supremely well.

I can’t say if this has been collected in trade, but I seriously doubt it.  It’s can’t possibly be difficult to find or cost too much, and although it’s probably not worth it to pay more than 6-7 dollars for these three issues, for that much you get a very fun comic with gorgeous art and a definite old-school feel.  There’s nothing wrong with frivolity once in a while!

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32 Comments

Those were great issues. Hell, the whole Simonson run is great, and it’s actually being released in a Visionaries trade shortly, if anybody’s looking to check it out.

I agree with most of your points, although I’m not sure that Marvel doesn’t do fun books like this anymore. Ultimates is crazy over-the-top superhero fun, I like what I’ve seen of the ‘commercial’ team in New Avengers (I’ve gone back and read the first year or so, after avoiding it for the longest time thanks to bad internet buzz), and the Marvel Adventures Avengers books puts a bunch of ‘hot’ characters together for fun stories, apparently.

But yeah, Simonson’s FF is definitely comics people should own!

Yeah, I would have just included Simonson’s entire run. It was amazing.

Rohan Williams

April 24, 2007 at 2:02 am

If anyone reading this picks up the entire run, they get the classic time fight issue and an evil Soviet robot built by the Disney corporation. So yeah, the replacement FF story is great, but, as I’m sure Greg knows, so’s the rest of the run (which has sweet, sweet Simonson art).

It has been collected in trade. TWICE!

First with just that storyline, not many moons after the original publication, and then on the “X-Men Visionaires: Arthur Adams”, with pretty much all other Arthur Adams Marvel Comics except for the Longshot mini, which has went out of print about five minutes after the original publication and Marvel hasn’t thought about reprinting (don’t ask me WHY!).

It’s quite sure that it will be on the second “FF Visionares: Walt Simonson” book, which will be its THIRD reprinting, making those stories some of the most reprinted 90s books! Deservedly so, IMHO.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

I remember these three issues just rocking my world when they came out.

Ben doesn’t “transform” into the Thing for these issues, he puts on a suit of power armor that Reed designed to look like the Thing, for use on those occasions where Ben’s turned human but the FF still needs a big orange rocky guy. It’s not as powerful as the real Thing, but it’s certainly a lot better than your average guy. Ben actually returns to being the Thing in the very next issue–Doom cures Sharon of being orange and rocky, then holds her hostage, and Ben naturally decides to subject himself to artificial cosmic rays and become the Thing again to go rescue her.

And lots of people know “Tell it to the Marines” is a code for “What I just said is untrue.” I learned it from ‘Doctor Who’.

I remember these issues. Unfortunately the cashin tactic worked. I was reading the Simonson FF as it came out but I couldn’t find those three issues anywhere when they were released. Curses!

I have heard many good things about Simonson’s entire run on FF, but I don’t own them. Hence, I can’t speak about them. I’ll have to track down the trade paperbacks or even (gasp!) the back issues!

Good to know these are in trade. I wasn’t sure because the stupid trade paperback website where I get my info was down and I couldn’t find anything on Google.

I like how Marvel collected all of Adams’ work in an X-Men trade, even when he was doing the FF. And yes, it’s very odd that Longshot is not back in print.

You’re right about Marvel doing fun stories, Rohan, but none of those examples you give make fun of the company itself. That’s what I was talking about.

Cool picks.

I know I’ve recommended it many times before, but CABLE/DEADPOOL is a great comic for many reasons, one of which is that it still retains the sense of humor most mainstream superhero books have lost. Deadpool makes fun of himself and superhero cliches constantly.

Also, I thought Waid’s run on FANTASTIC FOUR had some great comedic moments. FF has been and should always be a great sci-fi adventure book with a lot of heart and a sense of humor. The fact that it’s often funny at the exact moment other comics take themselves too seriously is one of the FF’s hallmarks.

These were some of the first Marvel comics I ever bought. I did so solely on the basis of having the team’s “Rookie” card in the Series II set of Marvel trading cards.

I love how Spidey is the leader, not because of any particular ability, but just because he’s the only guy who doesn’t hate all the others.

I almost forgot: NEXTWAVE NEXTWAVE NEXTWAVE.

Ultimates is a very different beast, full of lots of negative vibes instead of celebrating the best of the genre.

Actually, the latest Marvel Adventures: Avengers does feature a nice jab at the company’s current direction.

“Like we would ever throw Hulk into space…”

It appears that we can now rely on Jeff Parker to skewer the sacred cows. This is good.

I love these issues! One of my favorite bits is this throwaway gag of a monster poised to destroy the Tanner Residence from “Full House”.

Sadly, The “New” Fantastic Four were reunited in FF #374, ostensibly as a plug for the wretched Secret Defenders series.
It’s utter crap.
Not only is the blatant commercialism of the guest stars presented without the self-awareness, wit, and charm of Simonson’s run, but Wolverine ends up doing what he does best all over The Thing’s face (Forcing Ben Grimm to wear a salad bowl with eye slits, because, y’know, what woman will have him now?).

Heck, yeah! These comics were just plain fun, and that’s speaking as a fan of the Simonson FF who WANTED to grouse that this would have disrupted the regular flow of the title.

The FF have so many few female villains that I kinda whish De’Lila could have been a recurring character. She even gets turned into a hero in my Flipside version of Marvel comics– see the fake covers and fic I do at http://ozbot.typepad.com/marvelflipside Plug! Plug!

At the same time I loved this story, I get REALLY peeved off at the people that slavish declare that the Hulk/Wolvie/Spidey/G Rider combo should be treated as a canonical “version” of the FF, that they all should be considered members of the FF. Can’t these people see this story for what it is, a joke? They were brought together by a villain, rescued (not replaced) the team for one adventure, in a shamlessly self-admitted “goofy” story, and this is supposed to be canonical?!

For me, Ghost Rider and the ‘Whoa! Cleansing fire! OK…well, hey, whatever works!’ bit just sums it all up. Pure joyful absurdity = serious comic goodness.

I simply love the Simonson Sound Effects. When was the last time you saw a “KRAMMMMPH!” or “Smooch! (with two little hearts)” in a Marvel comic.

Actually, the latest Marvel Adventures: Avengers does feature a nice jab at the company’s current direction.

“Like we would ever throw Hulk into space…”

I am enjoying Marvel Adventures: Avengers so much more than any of the “real” Avengers titles Marvel is publishing nowadays. It’s a really fun series, and it definitely does not take itself too seriously. I mean, in issue #9, everyone on the team gets turned into MODOK…

http://parkerspace.blogspot.com/2006/10/oh-yeah.html

That was such a cool issue :)

Mobelius Rodelius

April 25, 2007 at 8:09 am

Greg, these are some awesome issues. Thanks for spotlighting some prime turn-of-the-decade Marvel. I want to join the chorus of commenters pointing our that Simonson’s whole FF run was amazing; the arc with the time sled (rosebud II) is one of the best comics stories ever.

Very good choice. These were recently reprinted in one of the Panini UK comics books and they were a great read.

> These comics come from the tail end of a time when Marvel actually made fun of itself. Very rarely do they allow that anymore

You’ve not been reading Cable/Deadpool, have you?

I did put “very rarely,” because I knew someone out there probably does it. There’s a big difference between doing it in Cable/Deadpool (if they indeed do that) and doing it on the company’s flagship title, however.

I’m really going to have to check out Cable/Deadpool, I guess.

For me, there is no better comics sales gimmick than to see “written and drawn by Walt Simonson” in the footers. And to have him on the Fantastic Four? One of the best runs in Marvel comics.

layne said:

“Sadly, The “New” Fantastic Four were reunited in FF #374, ostensibly as a plug for the wretched Secret Defenders series.
It’s utter crap.”

This, of course, was part of Tom DeFalco’s run on the FF. I found an old issue of HERO that had an interview with him about his plans for the title, in which he said, “It’s going to start out bad, and just keep getting worse and worse as it goes on.” Rarely have I seen such honesty and candor in a comic book writer. :)

(I actually like Tom DeFalco a lot, but his run on the FF played to his weaknesses–he’s good at the retro-Silver Age light-hearted adventure stuff, and the mandatory tone of comics back then was “dark and humorless, with big shake-ups to the status quo every year.” It felt very much like he was writing that series at gunpoint.)

I had an Urban Legends installment recently where DeFalco discussed how he was desperate to raise sales, so he just tried to do as many gimmicks as possible to raise sales.

Rohan Williams

April 26, 2007 at 2:02 am

“You’re right about Marvel doing fun stories, Rohan, but none of those examples you give make fun of the company itself. That’s what I was talking about.”
Ahhh, true. As someone pointed out earlier, though, Nextwave was pretty good at that sort of thing. I haven’t read much She-Hulk, but Dan Slott’s Thing poked fun at the company a bit as well, for memory. Spidey’s gimmicky new suit, that sort of thing. Anyone know if he keeps that up in She-Hulk?

But yeah, thanks for posting this, Greg. Just in time for the Visionaries trade! But really, if anyone is super-keen to read the Simonson stuff (and who wouldn’t be?) it’s probably cheaper to just track down the original issues. They didn’t cost me much when I got ‘em a while back.

I really love Tom deFalco’s comics (seriously!), but his
FF was easily his worst work.

He isn’t bad on the Fantastic FIVE, tho’.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

StephenSanders

April 27, 2007 at 8:14 am

Dan Slott’s ‘Great Lakes Avengers’ seemed to be sold as ‘fun’ comics with heroes you couldn’t take too seriously.

However, in the comic itself Squirrel Girl talks directly to the reader lamenting all the death and dismemberment that were part of the story and seemingly unavoidable in any current superhero tale.

I guess this is an example of a modern ‘fun’ comic and also a commentary on current trends within the industry.

Its a good book, but I guess Slott was having his cake and disembowelling it at the same time!

I’m laughing now thinking about the shortness of the two Grasshopper’s careers!

Love this team. I always like how the Human Torch starts his flames with the line FLAME ON!!!

Looks like you’ve “bumped” every subject, so I hope you don’t mind late comments.

1. I’m still a little bummed that none of the covers aped FF #1. Does that tag me as more a John Byrne’s FF fan than Walt’s?

2. Is “the world’s most exploitive cameo” connected to the ’50s giant monster movie “Tarantula,” or has it been an Urban Legend in my own mind? Around the time this comic first came out, TV stations that were still showing old movies had begun a trend of referring to it as “‘Tarantula’ with Clint Eastwood.” Young Clint had gotten work as (get this) a jet fighter pilot who fired rockets and napalm at the spider. His screen time amounted to about two minutes (if you include the footage of “his” plane) in the final three minutes of the movie — this after eight or 10 commercial breaks and reminders, “You’re watching ‘Tarantula,’ with Clint Eastwood.”

jack: I didn’t know about your second point. That’s pretty funny. Given Simonson’s age, perhaps he was thinking of that when he was writing these – he probably would have been watching those kind of movies growing up, but I don’t know if he was thinking about that when he wrote the “cameo” scene.

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