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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – Fantastic Four #1

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the signed variant cover of Fantastic Four #1…

Fantastic Four #1 vol. 2 (published November 1996) – story by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, art by Lee and Scott Williams

Since it’s that time of year where we gather together with our family, I thought the timing was right to discuss the “Heroes Reborn” relaunch of Marvel’s “first family,” the Fantastic Four. In 1996, Marvel controversially killed off the Fantastic Four, Avengers and Doctor Doom, during a battle with the villain Onslaught. Rather than leave the characters dead or resurrect them for new stories, Marvel outsourced reboots of these titles to some of their former creative “superstars” – namely Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. The new series would feature “modern” reimaginings of the Avengers and Fantastic Four’s origin stories. To explain where these stories took place in Marvel’s establish continuity, it was later revealed that these “reborn” heroes existed in a “pocket universe.” To mark the first issue of Fantastic Four (as well as all the other “Heroes Reborn” relaunches), Marvel published a variant cover edition signed by Jim Lee!

But what about inside the comic?

This Gimmick or Good? entry is a somewhat tricky one for me, because I’m caught between two viewpoints. On one hand, there is nothing abjectly wrong with Lee and Brandon Choi’s work on Fantastic Four #1. For the most part, it’s a totally acceptable re-telling of the Fantastic Four’s origin, with some new twists that I think actually enhance the story, and a few others that are only mildly irritating in that mid-90s comic book industry kind of way. However, after reading through the first major arc of this series, I also can’t convince myself that this reboot was the least bit necessary. And considering who Marvel farmed out these classic origin stories to, it would appear that the whole “Heroes Reborn” initiative was just a cynical, sales-driven plot designed to provide vanity projects for some of the company’s former home run hitters from better financial times.

FF1_02

For comparisons sake, I liken “Heroes Reborn” to Marvel’s Ultimate line, which debuted a few years later. Both instances marked modern-day re-tellings of classic Silver Age stories. But there was something fresher and more inspired about what Brian Michael Bendis was doing on Ultimate Spider-Man or Mark Millar on The Ultimates that made those series feel like a worthwhile diversion from the “mainstream” Marvel universe. With Lee and Choi’s Fantastic Four #1, I find myself thinking, “if I wanted to read Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny’s origin story, I would just pick one of the 900 or so freely available reprints of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original story.”
Any characterization tweaks deployed by Lee and Choi come across as being nuanced and risk-averse. So now Ben Grimm is a Persian Gulf War vet rather than a Cold War era U.S. Marines Corps test pilot. Johnny is his usual brash self, but now he’s got the money to back it up. Reed is ever the egghead, though his simple “I want to go to Mars” declarations from the Lee/Kirby comics have evolved into him wanting to explore interstellar anomalies of the galaxy.
I think the character who has changed the most (and arguably for the better) is Sue. She is no longer the damsel in distress, finding herself kidnapped by Namor or Doom, and she even uses a little “kick boxing” she picked up at the gym to take down a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

FF1_01

Now, I can’t give too much credit to Lee and Choi here. Over the course of the original series, various creative teams made an effort to strengthen Sue’s character, even changing her name from Invisible “Girl” to “Woman.” But it’s still nice to see Sue kicking some keister right out of the gate, even before she gets her super powers. Still, in traditional 90s fashion, Lee and Scott Williams illustrate Sue with a little more “sex appeal.” It’s a little odd for me to see Sue with such a tiny waist and largely proportioned chest and butt. Granted subsequents artist have illustrated Sue this way, and she was portrayed by former FHM “Sexiest Woman in the World,” Jessica Alba in both movies, but I’ve always held the idea that Sue’s “appeal” in the Lee/Kirby days was her girl next door beauty – not … whatever it is we have here.

FF1_04

Oh, and apropos of nothing, but Mole Man is totally jacked in this comic. That looks weird to me.

FF1_03

As for Lee and Choi’s script, again, there’s nothing terrible about it, but like a lot of stories that Lee plotted in the 90s, all of the dialogue comes across as stilted and weighed down with too much technical mumbo jumbo about secret launch codes and S.H.I.E.L.D. protocols. There just isn’t that space operatic joy of the original Lee/Kirby collaboration, and while I know I can’t hold Lee and Choi to such a high standard, it all comes back to me wondering what Marvel thought this relaunch would add to the world of comic books when this project was green lit in 1996.

Verdict: Gimmick

37 Comments

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jim Lee is not very good.

Agreed, i can’t see the attraction to Lee’s work. He hasn’t improved with age either, most artists work changes over time as they evolve into better artists. Same could be said for most of the Image artists from that time period though.

Indeed. He is all-out broken, even. There are interesting aspects to his drawing, but his anatomy is flawed and cheesecakey to the point of distracting from the storytelling, which definitely suffers from it.

I was reading FF at the time and if there was one title that needed a shake-up (besides the teen Tony Stark of the Avengers), it was this one. I think Defalco was writing it at the time and it didn’t seem like he had much left in the tank. Of course, then he went on to create Spider-Girl so he probably just needed a change.

Every now and then, though, he can nail it with the iconic shot, such as Captain America leaping out at you in that flashback issue with Wolverine, or the numerous Batman shots that he has done. I will also forgive all issues of Sue cheesecaking as, rather sadly, it’s still a step up from the 4-kini she rocked not too long before that.

FF is my favorite superhero comic of all time, and I can honestly say that this was one of my LEAST favorite things that ever happened in comics.

If he had drawn her as a girl-next-door in that panel with Ben this ariticle would be about how Lee draws women with a dumpy ass. She’s a rich superhero, of course she keeps it toned.

I’m not really a Jim Lee fan. His style doesn’t appeal to me more than others with a rougher line and more interpretation of the human figure than trying to mimic the ideal version of it. But dismissing his talent or figure anatomy is plain jealousy.

It was the 90′s. Jim wanted to make money. He catered to a demand. No different than before. No different than now. Who cares if something ‘doesn’t hold up’ or ‘age well’? You know what aged well? The check he deposited in the bank that set his family up for life. Tastes and styles come and go and come again.

This article was clearly written to fill a slow news day.

Here’s an idea. Instead trying to stain someone’s career because they ‘made it’. Try featuring new work by someone you think has talent that is’t getting any exposure.

Might as well say it. I hate Jim Lee.

That panel of Sue kicking the dude in the face is one of the worst poses I’ve ever seen from that kind of action. Looking at her from the torso up, you’d think she was just standing around and talking, yet her legs look to be from someone else’s body. Greg Land would cringe.

I don’t mind the art in the rest of this issue, though. I grew up with Jim Lee’s art and I’ll always appreciate it. X-Men #1 was my favorite comic as a kid, and a lot of the panels in that issue are ingrained in my memory as being some cool, iconic shots.

You guys had to have been there. In the 90′s, Jim Lee was red hot from his Punisher War Journal, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men and WildCATS stints, so getting him to draw FF was shot in the arm that FF needed. Keep in mind, Iron Man, Avengers, Cap, Thor and FF were in the middle of really crappy 90′s runs. Teen Tony, Shirtless Thor, Armored Cap and all…

Jim Lee is the best he is at what he does… but what he does isn’t my cup of tea at all.

Even by Jim Lee’s usual standards though, those pages are exceptionally shitty. I’d have said they were Rob Liefeld if I didn’t know better, particularly the Sue kicking pose.

My favorite era Lee was when he was going over Carl Potts’ roughs. I get the attraction, but I am not a fan of his work the last 10 years or so, it looks really phoned in. That said, he CAN be an amazing artist, when he works with a looser, less comicy style. When he went through that period in the mid 00′s where he was wanting to work on European comics, he did some amazing stuff. Some of his sketchier work in the flashback scenes from Hush show off that skill, and it looks amazing.

Wish he pushed himself more, at this point it’s just him doing him, with little addition to anything we’ve seen before.

Also, he needs to stop working with the same inkers all the time, lots of those Wildstorm guys he works with frequently make his stuff look really flat and bland, although I think they think they are doing the opposite.

Blahblahblah, comics. etc.

Have any of the core Image guys really gotten better since their heydays? Leifeld obviously didn’t. Jim Lee, while I think he did some decent Batman work, hasn’t really evolved much with all the crosshatching and makinf all his figures look like they are mugging for the camera in extreme poses even when doing the most mundane things. Silvestri’s recent stuff is so sketchy and unformed it looks like the patterns in my cat’s scratching post. I haven’t seen Valentino do anything lately, so couldn’t comment on that. McFarlane doesn’t do much anymore as far as I can tell, but his most recent stuff that I saw (Haunt covers?) looked almost identical to his early Spawn work. I would have to say that in my opinion only Portacio, with his pretty good work on Non-Humans, has actually improved into a solid artist. But even that stuff isn’t too far removed from his Image stylings.

I would say this article itself is more gimmick than good.

Featuring Lee and a Heroes Reborn title is pointless – it’s been done before, it garners the same hateful and derogatory comments that have been written before, there’s nothing fresh to discuss etc. Google Heroes Reborn Fantastic Four #1 and you’ll see countless other articles with the same POV and the same comments.

I usually enjoy these articles but couldn’t be bothered to read through this one.

Please go back to reviewing lesser known or discussed titles, as you’ve previously done. Much more interesting.

It obviously wasn’t the intent, but “Heroes Reborn” wound up being hugely important. It was a major influence on the Ultimate line, which were (in turn) a big influence on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They kinda saved the company, but not in the way they intended.

Of the “Heroes Reborn” titles, Jim Lee’s FANTASTIC FOUR was the best. I kind of liked it, but I am generally pro-Lee.

I was a young kid back then and I remembered thinking the cover was really cool. The interior art…not so much. But I absolutely LOVED the artwork in the Avengers book from that Heroes Reborn series.

I quite like Jim Lee’s art, and I liked the art in this, but the writing was pedestrian at best.

I only got as far as the first issue of this comic. I was eleven years old at the time, and even then I found it poorly paced and underwhelming. Immediately after that page where Ben’s become the Thing and he’s inadvertantly names himself in his moaning, he and Sue are surrounded by Moloids, Ben’s too busy feeling sorry for himself to react, and then when Sue uses her invisible power for the first time, Ben thinks she’s died and busts out the “It’s Clobbering Time”. This all happens in the span of three pages, and comes across as even more dry and forced with its character beats than the original origin sequence (which can be forgiven for coming out in the early sixties, when the audience would’ve easily bought that the team would immediately decide to use their powers for good right after receiving them).

I mostly missed the Heroes Reborn stuff. So, they killed the characters off, then rebooted them, then said actually, that was some other universe… and then I presume reversed the deaths? I thought only DC made such messes.

I hadn’t had a previous interest in the Fantastic Four when this came out but a new launch in a small, contained world of only four titles appealed to me. I remember being disappointed when Reed pointed out that it seemed like they had been through this before. I dropped it after the second issue when it was obvious they would be rejoining the regular MU at some point in the near future.

@Mike — It was the 90?s. Jim wanted to make money. He catered to a demand. No different than before. No different than now. Who cares if something ‘doesn’t hold up’ or ‘age well’?

Jim Lee is arguably the single individual most responsible for the XTREME! 90S style/trend that more or less killed the medium as a commercially viable business and put 5 out of every 6 local comic shops out of business within a few years of the crash.

The current state of comics as a “dead” medium/industry? That’s partially his fault.

So the idea that “who cares lol at least it was successful” is hugely misinformed. It was NOT successful AT ALL. Not when it caused any entire formerly profitable industry to crash to the point where it now only exists to maintain IPs for movie studios.

Jim Lee is only famous because he knows how the play the industry game better than his peers. He’s always had the smarts to attach himself to big projects that are guaranteed to move certain numbers for which he of course has no problem with taking credit for. But the only reason any of the 90s comics that made him famous in the first place moved such big numbers is because of the speculator market. If literally ANYONE else had drawn X-Men #1 or WildC.A.T.S. #1 they would have sold just as many copies.

@turk: You forgot Erik Larsen. He has written & drawn every issue of Savage Dragon for over twenty consecutive years now, and in my humble opinion, he has consistently improved over that time period. Perhaps it is an acquired taste, but I’ve been a fan of Savage Dragon since day one, and it is currently my favorite ongoing comic book series.

I wish the New 52 would fold as fast as Heroes Reborn did.

Interesting that Jim Lee is involved in both. Even more so, given that he was one of the Image wonder boys who took on the Establishment in order to gain creative freedom over their “work,” – which Lee promptly sold out to DC, leading to a cushy gig where he mostly sings the corporate praises of the Big Two’s elder half and their 75+ years of rich, yet rebooted “history.”

The more things change…

I liked Lee’s early stuff over Carl Potts’ roughs as well, but honestly? I have more respect for Jim Lee the BBC broadcaster than I do for this tool.

I enjoy your work over on chasing Amazing Mark but the problem I have with these G or G articles is you don’t take the whole story line or in this case the previous years FF series into consideration. You compare Lee/Choi FF to Lee/Kirby FF. Obviously the original as well as anything by Kirby is going to blow this comic away but it’s not as if this comic immediately came out after that! Read FF from 1995 all the way to this issue and then tell me this reboot wasn’t necessary to not only revive the franchise but give new fans a reason to be interested in Fantastic Four.

@J. Ryan – Thanks for the compliments on Chasing. As for this article I compare Lee/Choi to Lee//Kirby because those are both origins. What I found unnecessary was rebooting the series from its origins without doing anything dynamic with the rebelling except putting Jim Lee’s name on it. I get that the DeFalco run leading up to this is considered blah and some change is needed but I don’t see this being change for a positive. I’m sorry you wished for even more context but I feel like these columns can get a little long anyway and the general concept is to determine if a comic with a cover gimmick that likely bumped sales from casual readers or speculators was good enough to just pick up and read.

As for some of the other comments as to “why” I’m bothering to write about Heroes Reborn and not something more obscure, I write a column about 90s gimmick comics. Heroes Reborn was a big part of the 90s and is obviously relevant into today I the way it rebooted an entire series while ignoring continuity . At some point Heroes Reborn was going to be covered. This is that day. I’ll try and conjure up something fresher next time.

[...] Good that focuses on comics from the 1990s with gimmick covers (Gimmick or Good?) takes a look at the “Heroes Reborn” reboot of Marvel’s first family, Fantastic Four, by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi. In 1996, Marvel famously killed off some of its most famous [...]

@J. Ryan Buck –

Not that guy you were responding to, but I actually was reading FF back in 1995. And as heartbreaking as it was to see what Marvel/Haras was doing to the team, what Lee did to them was twice as bad.

I thought the ‘more obscure’ comment was pretty funny myself, considering this column started with Spider-Man 1, and has covered Batman’s broken back and the death of Superman…

@Anonymous, you would have a hard time proving Lee and his style were responsible for the speculator boom and bust of the 90′s. The publishers making the ‘collectible’ comics, the stores and magazines promoting them, like Wizard, were far more ‘responsible’ than a single artist. As with all speculator boom/busts, it was mostly down to the people buying the comics (or those buying them for the wrong reason).

@kdu2814 –

The established fans who were reading before the speculator market stopped reading because of the 90S XTREME! garbage that Lee and his peers over at Image were pushing. The influence of that killed the industry and it was Lee that originated it.

@ Anonymous

The established fans who were reading before the speculator market stopped reading because of the 90S XTREME! garbage that Lee and his peers over at Image were pushing. The influence of that killed the industry and it was Lee that originated it.

That is pretty grossly unfair.

Jim Lee (like most of the Image guys) was cashing in on something that was already happening. You can see the influence of artists like John Byrne and Art Adams in his work. In other words, he was following the eighties X-Men thing.

I did not quit comic book reading in the 90s. What Lee was doing had only a little influence on what DC was doing, and most of Marvel’s mistakes were unrelated to what Lee was doing. If ‘fans’ did not like Lee and Image they were easy to avoid.

A big part of the industry bust was the boom that preceded it, and those were mostly new buyers, and they were mostly interested in chasing ‘valuable collectors’ items and joining the fad.

@Dean Hacker — That is pretty grossly unfair.

The industry crash says otherwise.

@kdu2814 — I did not quit comic book reading in the 90s.

Most people did.

“I mostly missed the Heroes Reborn stuff. So, they killed the characters off, then rebooted them, then said actually, that was some other universe… and then I presume reversed the deaths? I thought only DC made such messes.”

Basically, what happened is that Onslaught attacked New York, and the non-mutant heroes were able to enter into some kind of void and absorb him, to save everybody. But they assumed they were going to die.

The regular Marvel Universe continued more or less as normal, except that everybody left over (Spider-Man and the mutants, mostly) was sad that all the heroes were dead. (Thunderbolts got it start around this time.) But even in the issue where they died, or the Aftermath issue anyway, it was strongly hinted that Franklin Richards was using his powers in some way. Heroes Reborn was launched, and notably Bruce Banner seemed to exist in the Reborn universe even though The Hulk was still in the main universe. I forget how, but this was important to the general story.

I think if the books had been popular, they would’ve kept going as a separate off-shoot thing, like the Ultimate universe, but they were always going to come back eventually.

@sean,
The explanation on the Heroes Reborn Banner was: during the fight with Onslaught, the Hulk had Jean Grey turn off the Banner side of him so the Banner personality wouldn’t hold back Hulk’s anger/strength. Then, a side-effect of Onslaught using Franklin’s reality warping powers caused Hulk and Banner to split. Banner then joined the other heroes entering Onslaught while Hulk continued on in his own book.

The first marvel comic I ever got was X-Men #1 and I fell in love with the X-Men and Lee’s art. For years I read every X-Men book and that was it from Marvel but when Heroes Reborn happened and Jim Lee came back I was willing to read whatever he did. I wasn’t a fan of the Fantastic Four or Iron Man or Captain America or The Avengers, the only experience I had to that point with Iron Man and the FF was from the 90′s cartoons which were cheesy as hell and altogether awful but when I read the Heroes Reborn stuff I was hooked to it all. I haven’t gone back and read those books since and they may be lame gimmicks but for me it was gimmick that worked……..Oh and I hated Liefeld’s art even as a 12 year old and I noticed a marked improvement in Cap and the Avengers after he was gone.

I guess I never saw Sue Storm as the girl next door type. Wasn’t she trying to be an actress before she became a member of the FF? (And not the stock theater actress but a movie star actress). She eventually morphed into a MILF but she was always a lot younger than Reed. I’d put her much more on the glamor end of the Marvel scale than GND.

Though in any case it’s sad that a kickboxing class means you can take out a highly trained SHIELD agent. No wonder Nick Fury keeps getting fired.

@Mike
Ah, the “obviously jealous” argument. Popular among teenagers. I generally like Jim Lee’s artwork, but there are legitimate criticisms one could make that don’t involve jealousy in any way.

I never viewed Sue as the girl next door type. At all. I was always under the impression that she is considered one of the most attractive women in the Marvel universe. And that’s not getting into the woman’s memetic MILF status.

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