The last time I did a comprehensive FF re-read I stopped with the last of the Kirby issues (or rather the first two of the four Romita issues that wrapped up the story). That brings me up to Fantastic Four #105. John Romita was as humble to take over Fantastic Four for the King in 1970 as he had been to take over Spider-Man from Steve Ditko in 1966. He didn't feel qualified in either case, as did his best to draw in their respective styles both times. Why Stan Lee didn't assign Joe Sinnott to ink I have no idea, but #103-105 were inked by John Verpoorten.
#105 opens with the Thing, Johnny and Crystal enjoying some hot dogs from a street vendor, when suddenly the city is wracked by a series of explosions. Crystal unexpectedly collapses, and Johnny flies her back to the Baxter Building to seek Reed Richards' help. Meanwhile, Sue has been shopping and finds herself closer to the source of the mysterious explosions. She goes to the street to find Dr. Zoltan Rambow, a colleague of Reed's, pursuing an energy being.
Back at the Baxter Building, Reed has diagnosed Crystal as having an adverse reaction to the pollution she has no resistance to and says she must return to the Inhumans' Great Refuge or die. Reed has also discovered, in Crystal's DNA, what he thinks can be a cure to the thing's condition. Summoning Lockjaw, Crystal quickly says her goodbyes and departs immediately for the Great Refuge. Johhny flies off in frustration and soon comes upon his sister in conflict with the energy being. Sue cannot leave the conflict, but urges her brother to get Reed and Ben. Johnny returns to the Baxter Building only to find Reed at a critical juncture in his attempt to cure Ben.
CLIFFHANGER: Reed must choose between the life of his wife and that of his best friend.
It is widely accepted that Jack Kirby plotted most if not all of the Fantastic Four stories. I have generally come to the conclusion that if Stan Lee is credited with "script" that Jack Kirby provided the plot (or at least co-plotted). The credits for this issue list Stan Lee "story" and John Romita "illustration." #105 is one of the most densely-plotted and action-packed issues in a long time (the Sub-Mariner/Magneto conflict notwithstanding). Jack Kirby certainly didn't have anything to do with this issue. I think just because Stan Lee hadn't been regularly plotting Fantastic Four for some time doesn't mean he couldn't.
"A quick check shows the second volume to be tough to find especially at a price I'd be willing to pay."
"I enjoy reading your synopsis' (synopsii ?)"
#246 opens with a classic splash of the Thing stapped to one of Reed's gizmos. In this case, though, Reed is just going through the motions for Ben's sake, only pretending to seek a cure now that he knows about Ben's mental block. This issues has a slight crossover with Micronauts #41 which I had completely forgotten. Trapped on Earth once again, the Micronauts spent an issue in Dr. Doom's Liddleville, and #246 shows them leaving.
this issue is mostly action-oriented and can be summed up very quickly. While Dr. Doom's mind is trapped in a tiny disfigured robot in Liddleville, his robots plan for his escape. they lure the FF to the Latverian Embassy to return his body, which they have held in suspended animation since #236. The trap is sprung, they are separated, and each must face a Dr. Doom robot of his or her own. Pages 16-17 represent an interesting experiment in storytelling in that the panels can be read either in tiers or columns as each of the four defeats his or her opponent simultaneously.
Little did they know they had been fighting inside a vessel and, by the time the robots are defeated and the real, resored Doom emerges, they are in Latveria. The twist comes when Doom asks them to help him regain his throne, just as they once asked him for help back in #116.
He opens a portal and shows them a Latveria wracked by war since Zorba took over as king.
This issue's plot is pretty straightforward: the FF help Doom regain his throne. As they stand in the town square after curfew and Doom makes his case, a young boy named Kristoff runs down the street and bumps into him. The boy's mother appears from a doorway pleading that her son not be killed, seemingly putting the lie to Doom's claims of how happy they were under his rule. But as soon as the woman recognizes that is is "The Master" and not the secret police, she breaks down in relief. Doom places the woman under his personal protection just as the real secret police arrive and kill her.
Zorba really has become a tyrant, declaring martial law just before the country's first free and fair elections were to be held. When he realizes Doom has returned, Zorba unleashed Doom's killer "Doomsday" robots to destroy the population, giving the FF no choice but to fight in defense of the population. They fight for two hours, giving Doom the opportunity to find Zorba and apparently kill him off panel. the FF are under a post-hypnotic suggestion not to fight Doom, and he gives the permission to leave. We haven't seen the last of Kristoff, though.
Byrne was the first FF writer to writer Sue well, I think. She had more of a personality in his hands than before. He also showed a recurring interest in having her use her powers creatively.
The Galactus story made use of her ability to make the invisible visible. That goes all the way back to the expansion of her powers in #22. I doubt it had made a single appearance since then.
Sue had used the pillow technique at least once before, way back in #47.
Like #240, #248 is as much an Inhumans story as it is an FF one. Lockjaw transports the FF to the Moon for the Naming Ritual of the new baby born to the Royal Family. No sooner do they find out the baby's name is Luna than all hell breaks loose. John Byrne often folds some hard science into his stories, and in #248 he asks us to buy some pretty far-out (read: "impossible") concepts. But he respects the laws of science even as he turns them on their head (before finally revealing what's really going on).
He is also adept as comic book pseudo-science as denonstrated by the revelation the that Inhumans use the "reverse polarity of the anti-gravity generators that lifted them off Earth to maintain a normal gravity field within the city." That shows he's at least thinking about real science.
Suddenly, the Moon is drawn out of orbit even as Reed notes that no known technology could generate such a powerful tractor beam. the vast scale of the ship generating the beam is revealed as the Moon is slowly drawn inside of it! Reed points out that the raw materials needed to construct a ship of that size would require the resources of a dozen stellar systems. We are clearly in "Mopee" territoty at this point, although I did not know that term in 1982.
"The scope of this vessel beggars comprehension," says Reed, "and yet, atmosphere and gravity are registering as Earth-normal." The pull of gravity within the chamber causes the bottom third of the Moon to crumble away. It was at this point in the story I realized something else must be going on the first time I read it. We weren't being asked to believe the Moon could crumble away and then be restored (as would inevitably happen by the end of the story); no, something else was definitely going on, but what? Just as Reed deduces the ship must be automated, in walks a 5000 mile tall alien with 3000 mile long strides!
Johnny flies off under his own power to do a little recon, while the others plus Black Bolt leave Attilan in one of the Inhumans' ships... just before the alien, unaware, runs its finger over the Moon's surface, decimating the city! Reed and the others have landed on a ledge on the wall. As Johnny joins them, his flames flickers and dies. Ever analytical, Reed points out Johnny couldn't have flown all that way, some 100,000 miles he estimates, under his own power. Also, the giant alien is too big to support its own weight.
They witness a fleet of ships rise from the ruins of Attilan to attack the alien, although the ships would be too far away to be seen by the naked eye. Black Bolt shouts a message for his people to break off the attack, which only serves to cause the alien to attack them with the equivalent of "bug spray." Johnny bursts into "nova flame" (although he shouldn't have recovered from his flight there so quickly), only to be swatted by the alien and killed. One by one, Reed witnesses the others killed. I'm not going to reveal what's really going on for benefit of those who have not read it, but it's a satisfying ending.
On a stylistic note, Byrne draws Triton with the more "fish-like" look of his first appearance (despite the fact that it was Kirby himself who changed the look as the characters progressed).
John Byrne had a life-long desire to do Superman. That wish eventually came true, but in the meantime, he used Dave Cockrum's stand-in for Superboy in order to float his radical theory about how the Man of Steel's powers actually work (more hard science). A few years later, Byrne flipped the concept of the cover and used the FF's counterparts from the LSH.
As the story begins, Gladiator has pursued a Skrull ship from Shi'ar space to our solar system via hyperspace. Just outside the orbit of Pluto, the Skrull's apparently blow up their ship in a last-ditch effort to take Gladiator out.
Meanwhile on Earth, Ben and Johnny take a walk through Central Park. Ben saves a young girl from a frightened horse, and Johnny runs into Julie D'Angelo, dressed as a clown for a drama class assignment. He had been avoiding her since Frankie left Earth, but discovers seeing her is not as painful as he thought it would be. Now that the Baxter building has been repaired, Byrne gives us an old-school cut-away view of the interior. Reed has observed the explosion near Pluto and is tracking something he believes to be "shrapnel" heading directly toward Earth at 100 times the speed of light. [John Byrne (not to mention Reed Richards) should know better than that.]
Dazed from the explosion, Gladiator arrives in New York city and mistakes the Fantastic Four for the Skrulls he had been pursuing. A fight ensues, and Gladiator handily defeats them.
CLIFFHANGER: Four of the X-Men (Cyclops, Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler) arrive on the scene and prepare to fight Gladiator. Or do they?
This is part two of the story begun in the previous issue, but for those who picked up only the double-sized 250th issue (maybe to see Byrne draw the "X-Men" again), it begins with POV character Spider-Man. He arrives on the scene after the FF have been defeated and helps Mr. Fantastic back to the Baxter Building (re-enacting the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15 on the way). Captain America is also folded into the mix, with a surprise appearance by Bernie Rosenthal, another former "Byrne" character.
It becomes apparent, at least to readers, fairly early on the the "X-Men" are actually Skrulls. (The heroes really have no reason to suspect that they are, so they can be forgiven for taking a while to figure it out.) After a pitched three-way battle, Mr. Fantastic uses what he has observed about Gladiator's powers to defeat him. Would his tactics have taken out Superman? We'll never know. Gladiator realizes the error of his way and takes charge of the Skrull prisoners. The issue ends with a gag later blatantly stolen by Rob Liefeld for his short-lived Youngblood series (but all of Liefeld's swipes are pretty blatant).
The issue ends with a pin-up, later used as an alternate cover for the very omnibus collection I am reading. Thus ends what is (arguably) John Byrne's first story-arc on the Fantastic Four. Today being Wednesday, I'm now off to make my weekly excursion to my LCS.
From what I remember of Byrne's run, he seems to have preferred Doctor Doom to the Fantastic Four, at least from a dramatic perspective and was very protective of the Diabolical Despot.
I do recall being slightly miffed that Zorba was shown to be worse than Doom. He was originally a heroic figure who obviously was in WAY over his head. Latveria needed an army of social workers and psychologists after Doom's ouster but instead had their lives turned upside down with "freedoms" that they didn't understand.
Byrne was protective of Doctor Doom... especially from Chris Claremont, as we shall see.
I read #246-247 long before I read #200, so I didn't have a problem with Zorba's portrayal. Today, I see Doom and Zorba as representative of the split in the Republican party.
"A bold new chapter in the lives of the Fantastic Four" begins as the they go "Into the Negative Zone" for the next five or six issues. Reed's newly rebuilt access to the Neg Zone is a tunnel that drops 500 meters, but only the first meter exists in our dimension. Reed explains that it's "dimensionally transcendental." He has christened their vehicle the "Negative Zone Exploratory Module, Mark I."
Now that Reed has baught the Baxter Building, he and Sue hold their first tenants meeting. Reed quickly decides he's going to set up an agency specifically to handle that. Now that Franklin is normal (i.e., powerless), Sue wants to move their immediate (i.e., nuclear) family out of the Baxter Building.
Johnny decides to audit one of Julie's dramatic arts classes. she introduces him to Sharon Selleck. Sharon is interested in Johnny, but Johnny is interested in Julie, who is in turn interested in an actor named Grey Landers who is also taking the class.
With Agatha Harkness retired, they again prevail on Alicia for some free babysitting while they are in the Negative Zone. (This will be Sue's first trip.) Reed isn't sure how long they'll be gone due to the way the distortion zone may affect the relative flow of time. After only two hours, Alicia hears the distinctive sound of the Zone Access cycling. But it's not the FF... it's Annihilus!
"Special Collector's Edition!" proclaims the cover, but I'm not sure why. The insides, like the cover, are printed sideways (to simulate another dimension), but this is not the first comic book to be printed in such a way. (It is, however, by my count, only the second.) I will say, reading this issue in "omnibus" format is particularly annoying. "Chapter 1 of an exciting four-part epic deep within the Negative Zone!" another blurb tells us. That's not strictly true. First of all, the story began last issue, and second, they'll still be in the Neg Zone midway through #256. Anything to sell copies, I guess. If this issue is printed sideways, why not the next three (and a half)? The last blurb advertises "Bonus Feature! FREE Lakeside Skin Tattooz inside!" I have never heard of "Lakeside Skin Tattooz either before or since," but my copy of #252 still have the "tattooz" bound inside. Nice "action shot" of the team. And that's all I have to say about the cover.
One thing I will say about the "Negative Zone Exploratory Module, Mark I": it may be "dimensionally transcendental," but it is definitely not "bigger on the inside"! The first planet they visit is populated by a primitive race; if this were Star Trek, the "Prime Directive" would certainly be in effect. A young girl named Taiya has been chosen to be the "Bride of Ootah" (think: "Bride of Kong"). The natives immediately attack but are stopped by the aged crone Mama Shonti who proclaims they fulfil the prophecy of "The Four Who Fall from the Heavens." If that sounds a bit cliche to you, Ben and Johnny both suspect she made up the "prophecy" on the spot when she saw them kicking her tribes' collective butts. Reed has been incapacitated by a dart (paralyzed, but otherwise unharmed), which makes Sue team leader. I was surprised at that development when I read this story for the first time 40 years ago... pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless.
Back at the Baxter Building, "Alicia Masters' gravity-defying skirt" makes its first appearance. (Annihilus has her hanging upside down by her ankles, yet her skirt clings to her legs, modestly covering her underthings.
[SPOILER] Turns out, "Ootah" is the name of the ancient, futuristic city built by the natives' ancestors. Long ago, it drove them out and the people have been living a primitive existence outside the city's walls ever since. Every once in a while, they offer the city a "bride" for no apparent reason. Ben proves that Ootha is not too picky by throwing a boulder into the doorway. It is "accepted" by Ootah (i.e., vaporized) and the natives realize they have been needlessly sacrificing brides for generations. Johnny destroys the defenses and the three rush in. Ben sees a huge, multi-colored living organism hanging from the ceiling and starts hitting it.
Meanwhile, back in the village, Reed has has time to reflect on the situation. The paralysis wears off and he rushes to the city of Ootah, but it's too late. Ben has killed it. It turns out, the ancient Ootans created an organic city, not necessarily sentient, but alive nonetheless. It eventually came to see the people as "germs" and expelled them from its "body." It similarly destroyed any "bride" which subsequently tried to "invade." With the organism now dead, killed by the Thing, the natives rush in and start to tear the city apart like maggots devouring a corpse. [END SPOILER]
Reed cautions not to take anything at face value while in the Negative Zone.
Sounds like Byrne saw "Death to the Daleks" as well.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Turns out, "Ootah" is the name of the ancient, futuristic city built by the natives' ancestors. Long ago, it drove them out and the people have been living a primitive existence outside the city's walls ever since.
"Sounds like Byrne saw 'Death to the Daleks' as well."
Next issue's "Mantracora" bears an even stronger resemblance to "Omega" than #242's "Gaius Tiberius" did.
As the story opens, the Fantastic Four have been in the "Mark I" for two weeks, eating only protein capsules designed to produce no waste products so they don't have to go to the bathroom at all. they soon encounter a generational arc and are brought aboard. the aliens' story is this: they come from a planet described as "a gleaming blue gem afloat in a sea of pearly moons." One day, the moons shift in orbit wreaking habit on the world below. It is determined that only 20,000 of the worlds' population can be saved, so a giant space arc was built, an automated, cryogenic "sleeper" ship. Soon after takeoff, it was revealed why the moons shifted orbit: their sun went nova and badly damaged the ships navigational computer. The ship's AI decided to awaken 500 of the colonists. They have been traveling in search of a home for 10,000 years, 500 generations. Reed thinks he can fix the ship's navigational system, because of course he can.
"Meanwhile," back on Earth, Sharon has given Julie a haircut. (I forgot to mention last issue that not only are the two girls classmates, but Sharon is Julie's new roommate as well.) Eager to see Johnny again, Sharon suggests that Julie call him at the Baxter Building. It's only been two days (from their perspective), but Julie agrees. Unbeknownst to her, it is Annihilus who answers the phone! After the phone call, the scene shifts to the Baxter Building that Annie's body is deteriorating and he now wears a helmet in the form of his true face. In an homage to a scene of Doc Doom from issue #10 (one of the first FFs I ever read (reprinted in Marvel CIC #8, which I acquired as a backissue),
Annie removes his mask. (Keep FF #10 in mind because it's going to become relevant for another reason entirely several issues from now.) But I digress.
Back in the Negative Zone, the generational sleeper ship arrives on a world that is a virtual paradise. the Captain and First Officer don't find it at all appealing, though, and flee in terror back into the ship. Reed realizes that, after 500 generations on the ship, that has become the natural habitat of the 500 due to evolution. But the rest of the colonists have been in stasis for 10,000 years and it would be the perfect world for them. The Captain rejects this notion, however, and shuts himself off with his First Officer (those are their names as well as their functions) who also happens to be his Life-Mate. Soon, the First Officer calls off the battle between the FF and the crew. the FF enter the bridge to find the Captain dead.
[SPOILER] The big twist is that the solar flare all those years ago didn't simply damage the navigation system, but the life pods as well. The 500 colonists who were revived to operate the ship were actually the only survivors. Of the original crew, only the First Officer was designated mentally strong enough to handle the truth, and it has been a secret passed down to that one person only for generations. When this first Officer revealed the secret to his Life-Mate, he couldn't take it and died of shock. the ship then takes off again in search of a planet they will never find for a group of colonists that no longer exists. [END SPOILER]
These last two issues have had a distinct "Star Trek" feel, which is appropriate because, in the 2Ks, John Byrne did a very good run of traditional Star Trek comic books for IDW. His most recent (last?) series was a series of Star Trek "photo-novel" comics that were every bit as good as the original series (IMHO).