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

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#182: The plot of the next two issues is provided by Archie Goodwin, Jim Shooter and Len Wein until a new regular writer can be found. the scripts are by Bill Mantlo, pencils by Sal Buscema, and inks, as usual, by Jolitn' Joe Sinnott. As the issue begins, the Thing brings the Metalloid back to the Baxter building and turns it over to "Reed," who immediately gets rid of thundra, Tigra and the Impossible man and sends Ben and Johnny into the Negative Zone. Meanwhile, Sue and Alicia have followed Agatha Harkness back to Whisper Hill only to witness her and Franklin being abducted by three mysterious figures, all of whom disappear from sight. 

Back in the Negative Zone, Ben and Johnny figure out too late that the "Reed Richards" who sent them there is an imposter. They find the real Reed and Annihilus just in time to save them from the Mad Thinker's mind-controlled android. Back on Earth, Sue has returned to the Baxter Building but is defeated by the fake Reed's alter ego, Brute. CLIFFHANGER: Brute throws the semi-conscious Sue out of the window!

The DDD would hit Fantastic Four even worse very soon!

#183: From a distance away, Thundra, Tigra and the Impossible Man witness Sue being thrown from a baxter Building window. Thundra tosses Impy at her (against his will) and he is able to effect a rescue. He is miffed and walks off, but not quite out the series... yet. The three women fight their way back into the FF's HQ to fight the Brute. On the other side of the Neg Zone portal, the Thinker's android monster makes its way toward Earth. (A flashback reveals that this is the Thinker's original android and details how it underwent such a metamorphosis.) Reed, Ben and Johnny borrow Annihilus' ship with the understanding that they will return the Cosmic control Rod to him. After their return, a three-way battle ensues. The android is defeated but the Thinker escapes. the Reed richards of Counter-Earth experiences a change of heart and personally returns the Control Rod to Annihilus in the Negative Zone, a one-way trip. 

The Baron said:

My first encounter with the DDD.  I was not a happy boy.  I wonder when the last example of the DDD was, before they just started having books come out late.

I don't know for sure, but I think this problem continued until the comics companies stopped using newsprint. Charlton had its own printing plant (to their detriment) but Marvel and DC relied upon World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois, to print their comics. IIRC, the contracts stipulated that their presses would not be idle. The comics were slotted into the production schedule. If they failed to submit a comic to be printed the comics company would be fined. The fine must have been enough to deter the comics companies, resulting in the unplanned reprint issues. IMO, they should have had generic covers ready for these reprint issues. Using a cover that promises a story that isn't there seems unethical to me. I wonder if sales of these issues were as high as non-reprint issues? I was crazy enough (prices being so low back then) to buy the issue even if I knew it was reprints so that I didn't have to remember why I didn't have that issue number.

The letters page of #181 has a farewell note by Thomas in which he says he originally meant to end his run with #178 and announces Len Wein as his successor.

Thanks, Luke. Marvel Masterworks don't usually include letters pages, unless they feature column-length editorials about some aspect of the content of the issue. For example, MMW FF v 17 includes a letters page editorial titled ""The Story Behind the Story" from #176. In his preface to v17 (Len Wein writes the introduction), Thomas says only, "For some reason, my pal Gerry Conway had to spell me on #179..." the credits for #184 read: "Len Wein: Brand-New Writer/Editor; George Perez: Returning Prodigal Penciller; Joe Sinnott: Same Old Embellisher."

#184: After the adventure in the Negative Zone, the FF (and various hangers-on) drift off in separate directions, Thundra and tigra leaving for good. Reed, Sue and Ben set off for Whisper Hill in search of Franklin. Reed is still powerless, and Johnny does not respond to the emergency flare. Soon after they arrive, they discover that Johnny has already been captured by a cyborg assassin code-named "The Eliminator." They defeat it and Agatha Harkness' house is destroyed, but they are still no closer to finding Franklin.

#185: A clue found at Whisper Hill leads the Fantastic Four to the quaint small town of New Salem, CO, nestled high in the Rocky Mountains. Before leaving, Mr. Fantastic outfits himself with a set of mechanical "extensors" which mimic his powers to a degree. The Impossible Man, after having gone to a movie at a theater last issue, returns to the Baxter Building and resumes watching TV. Meanwhile, back in New Salem, the Fantastic Four meet Nicholas Scratch, the mayor of the town. (Neither the town's name nor the mayor's gives any of them cause for concern.) Observing the scene, Agatha Harkness (with Franklin) casts a spell which leads to the true nature of the town (one of Satan-worshipping witches) to stand revealed. 

#186: The FF are reunited, in captivity, with Franklin and Agatha. She reveals that she initially kidnapped him in hope of using his powers for protection from her own people. (Not only is Franklin now powerless, but she could have appealed to the FF for help.) An escape attempt draws the FF into conflict with Salem's Seven: Brutacus, Hydron, Thornn, Vakume, Gazelle, Reptilla and Vertigo. In the Baxter Building, the Impossible Man falls victin to unknown assailants. Meanwhile, back in New Salem, Agatha has been accused of treason (specifically, revealing their location to outsiders) by Nicholas Scratch. During the course of the trial, the real traitor is reveald to be Scratch himself. The witches cast a spell of banishment on Scratch and he disappears. As the FF depart, the town of New Salem disappears and Agatha reveals that Scratch was her own son. 

"I wonder when the last example of the DDD was, before they just started having books come out late."

"I don't know for sure, but I think this problem continued until the comics companies stopped using newsprint... Marvel and DC relied upon World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois"

I'll bet you're right; I was going to say the same thing. It was 1992 when they stopped.

The last case I specifically remember was Miracleman #8 (Eclipse Comics, 1986). Miracleman had just tossed his arch foe, Emil Gargunza, to Earth from orbit at the end of the previous issue. #8 begins with Miracleman floating in space and thinking, "Tonight the sky is lit by a singular star--the bright star that was once Emil Gargunza, an evil man who gave me life--and brought me dreams..." At that point, editor Cat Yronwode breaks the forth wall and enters the story shouting, "NO! I can't go through with it!" Then she goes into a page-long rant, railing about "that period during the mid-1970s when it seemed like every third Marvel Comic was an unannounced reprint." She even cites Dr. Strange "riding around on a big white horse looking for the Ancient One's ego or something equally occult, when all of a sudden he goes into this bit about, 'Ah, the Ancient One... how well I recall our first meeting...' and they hit us with the Steve Ditko reprints!"

She can't do that and goes on to explain that the book is behind because the town of Guerneville was flooded by the Russian River. So, 1986 is the last time I remember it happening. Anyone else have anything more recent?

I think I remember a reader's letter from the late 70s or early 80s that suggested Toro might have had children, and a reply that said Roy Thomas had been leading up to such a revelation during his run on Fantastic Four. I took this as a reference to the Frankie Raye storyline.

Re fill ins, Marvel overcame the problem partly by putting in place an editor staff, partly by the addition of incentives to its payment system, and partly by regularly producing emergency fill in issues for each series. (At the start these were designed to be runnable in more than one title. I believe I've seen Avengers #169 noted as an example. I think Avengers #163 probably was.) In the 80s the fill-ins were routinely run between stories, before they got too out-of-continuity, but I suppose there must have been cases where they were used in emergencies. A mismatch between a next issue blurb and what appeared could be a tell.

I think the direct market eventually evolved in such a way that it became more important that an issue match what had been solicited than that it should ship on time.

#187: The team, Agatha Harkness and franklin return to the FF's Baxter Building HQ only to find the Impossible Man unconscious. A quick search reveals their foes to be Klaw, Master of Sound (from Ka-Zar #20) and the Molecule Man (from Iron Man Annual #3). Taken by surprise, the FF are defeated, but Impy regains consciousness and takes out Klaw. The Molecule Man's intention is to use Reed's psi-amplifier to permanently transfer his consciousness from his wand (where it has been housed) to his host body. CLIFFHANGER: Something goes wrong and the Molecule Man's mind is transferred into Reed's body!

#188: Molecule Man flees and the Watcher appears. A battle of wills between the Molecule Man and Reed Richards leads to an attack on the city. The "Fantastic Three + 1" arrive on the scene and the battle is joined, but when Impy is stopped from using lethal force on Reed's body, he leaves in a huff. (Is this the last we are to see of the putrid Poppupian? Unfortunately, no.) the Molecule Man is eventually defeated when he tries to control the Unstable molecules of the FFs' costumes. (Just go with it.) Back at the Baxter Building, the still powerless Reed resigns from the Fantastic Four. Sue goes with him. The next issue is to be titled "Four No More!" but we will not see it for three more issues. 

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