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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The Invincible Man in #197 is a mash-up villain, as his powers come from the Psycho-Man's mental weapons, taken from his surrogate body.

The second Hauptmann - who is quite unlike the first - was a recurring character in Doom stories for several years.

#207 is like a Marvel Team-Up story. The bit where Peter Parker starts working for the Daily Globe is a significant development for a guesting character with his own title.

The bit where the Sphinx recreates ancient Egypt in #212 recalls the sequence where Kukulcan restores the Maya city in X-Men #26.

FF ANNUAL #14: It's back to MMW for this one because it's not by John Byrne. This time Marv Wolfman is paired with George Perez (for the first time?) in a sequel to #185-186, featuring Nicholas Scratch and the Salem Seven. Last week I mentioned the two-volume set of Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Perez. The second volume contains FF #185-186 as well as Annual #14, which is convenient but, as the stories are set a year apart (story-time), it doesn't really "read" well. Under duress, Franklin Richards' latent powers briefly resurface.

Marv Wolfman: "This issue itself was actually a horror story that brought the FF to New Salem, home of the witch, Agatha Harkness. As for George's art, it's brilliant, and his double-page spread introducing us to the mystical city is staggering both in its design and complexity. It is an amazing piece of work. Especially when you realize how young George was at the time."

#215-216: Although Marv Wolfman's presence would be felt at Marvel for another month or two on Star Trek and Spider-Man, this two-parter represents his last work on Fantastic Four before leaving for DC. The villain is Blastaar, who on a personal note, was featured in two of my earliest comics: Marvel Greatest Comics #45 (a reprint of FF #62) and a coverless copy of Marvel Team-Up #18. Just last week I read for the first time the issue of Thor featuring the villain from the Negative Zone which linked MTU #18 and FF #215. 

In #216 the focus shifts to Professor Randall James, a friend of Reed's who subjects himself to a evolution ray after being mugged. In a way, it is an updated version of what was supposed to be the "ultimate" fate of Lee and Kirby's high Evolutionary. Again, under stress, Franklin's powers manifest themselves. #216 was scripted by Bill Mantlo, who would also write #217-218.

#217: Marvel's "Disco Dazzler" was included via editorial fiat, but this issue will likely be remembered more for the destruction of HERBIE the robot.

#218: In a story carried over from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #42, the FF and Spidey fight the Frightful Four, who's ranks now include Electro in the fourth spot. 

MMW FF v19 concludes with an existential tale of the Silver Surfer and Galactus reprinted from Epic Illustrated #1. It's by Stan Lee and John Buscema and is worth reading if you've never seen it anywahere else. 

At this point, John Byrne leaves Fantastic Four to do Captain America with Roger Stern. 

I've always liked Franklin's 4 1/2 t-shirt.

Blastarr was the first Neg Zone villain. Annihilus debuted a year and a half later. He resembles Ulik. DC Indexes tells me Fantastic Four #62 came out the same month as Thor #139, so they debuted quite close together.

This was the era when Franklin became a post-toddler living with the FF. Arguably, his parents neglected him before this.

The Randall James side of #215-#216's story has similarities to Wolfman's story for Machine Man #12.

MMW v20 (#219-231 and Annual #15)

This is the Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz volume, and I've been looking forward to it for two reasons. First, Moench & Sienkiewicz's Moon Knight was my favorite series for a time, and these issues of FF were done in the same time frame. Second, I have described in the past how, in the '80s, I collected series "in three directions at once." By the time I started buying FF regularly, the "Byrne run" was already well under way. I collected "backwards" to #232 (the beginning of the Byrne run), but my collection from the beginning forward stops with #218.

I have mentioned before how this approach left "gaps" of various sizes in my collections, namely Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor and Dr. Strange. I never mentioned Fantastic Four before because the gap was only 13 issues. Also, thos issues were readily available and inexpensive on the backissue market and, theoretically, I could pick them up whenever I wanted, so I just deemed my FF collection "complete." I never did pick up the actual backissues, but this Masterworks was released three years ago and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since. And that's the second reason: because, to this day, I've never read these issues before. 

#219: Not every writer invited to write an introduction to a Marvel Masterworks editions titles it, but Doug Moench titled his "The Big-Kid Stuff Cold Turkey Fail" which pretty much told me everything I needed to know. Editor Jim Salicrup approached Moench about writing a year's worth of FF, and added Bill Sienkiewicz to the deal in order to sweeten the pot. The story itself features the Sub-Mariner and little-used villain Captain Barracuda (Strange Tales #120, Sub-Mariner #11). I am a fan of Subby, but his guest appearances in this era (Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange), after the cancellation of his own solo series generally leave something to be desired. 

Doug Moench had his own misgivings: "Seeing Bill's pencils for the first issue, #219's 'Leviathans,' I immediately feared that I'd had good cause to fear all my fears. Even though i was no Stan Lee, I nevertheless pictured Jack Kirby visuals the whole time I was writing the story--and now Bill's style, in the actual art was, of course, completely different. Which made me realize that my writing was also and inevitably completely different from the Stan Lee style. this concern, this apprehension of not living up to the legacy of my favorite comic, haunted me for the entire year of our run and I never did get over it. Looking back on the work now, however, I think I may have been a little too hard on myself and definitely way too hard on Bill. the art, at least, is extremely solid." 

Wow, I have no memory of Bill Sienkiewicz ever working on the FF.

#220-221: Knowing #219 was already behind schedule when he assigned it to Moench and Sienkiewicz, Salicrup slotted in two fill-in issues, written and penciled by John Byrne (his first writing assignment on FF) which had originally been intended as a promotional comic, in order to allow the new team to get ahead of their deadlines.

JOHN BYRNE: "Jim Salicrup had asked me if I wanted to do a comic book that would be distributed by Coca-Cola. They wanted to use the fantastic Four in a self-contained story and they didn't want anything huge and cosmic, so no planets exploding or anything like that. But when my very innocuous story was finished, Coca-Cola nevertheless thought it was much too violent. If you go back and look at it, you'll see that the thing clobbers a couple of robots, but even that was too violent for Coke and they rejected it. Since the story was slightly shorter than a double-sized issue, Jim suggested we add a couple of pages, cut it in half, and run it as two issues of Fantastic Four."

Because it was intended for a audience who may have no prior experience with the Fantastic Four, it's a pretty basic and entertaining story. Also, it turns out I have read this one before; I used to own the Fantastc Four Visionaries: John Byrne tpbs before I replaced them with the John Byrne Fantastic Four omnibuses. 

#222-223: Bill Sienkiewicz is in full "Neal Adams" mode here, even moreso than he was in #219, but Joe Sinnott's inks, as always, keep it looking like the Fantastic Four. Nicholas Scratch, Agatha Harkness' son, still trapped in the "Dark Realm" to which he was consigned, is still somehow about to access the Baxter Building via the Negative Zone (!?) and take possession of little Franklin. Unable to contact Doctor Strange (due to writer's fiat), Doug Moench brings in his own character, Gabrial the Devil slayer, from Marvel's B&W horror line. Salem's seven is folded in in #223.

Johnny is shown racing again. Lorrie, a girl on the pit crew, hits on him. Strangly, this makes him think of Crystal, not Frankie. (Maybe Moench didn't know about Frankie...?) In any case, as long as she's been around (and would continue to be around), no one make much use of her until John Byrne came along. But I'm getting ahead of the discussion. 

DOUG MOENCH: "The worst of it [Moench's fear of editorial interference], as I recall, involved Franklin Richards. Nobody copuld decide, at the time, how his vaguely evolving powers should be defined. Furthermore, the poor kid was tangled in some loose threads, which were now deemed less than binding. So I was asked to extricate him and then clarify things by establishing a new status quo, which didn't really clarify or define much of anything. Hay, at least I tried to make it interesting." 

Franklin's powers remain unclear and undefined to this day, as far as I know, anyway. "Up until the last time I checked," let us say. Every time he's used he seems to have a different set of powers, and that includes alternate future realities as well. At the end of this story, Agatha Harkness stays with her people and, as Luke alluded to last Friday, Franklin stays with the FF full time from now on.

In #219 the Thing pronounces "Sub-Mariner" as "Sub-Marineer": that is, like "marine" rather than "mariner". Perhaps in the Marvel U it's pronounced both ways.

In the period the Thing was often depicted as eating junk food and watching late night TV.

The Salem's Seven/Gabriel story was obviously a homage to The Exorcist.

At this point the FF guested in the final issues of Shogun Warriors, also written by Moench. He'd previously written the FF in 1978-79 in the later issues of Godzilla, beginning with #20.

During Bill Mantlo's run the FF guested in Micronauts #16-#17. The villain was the Psycho-Man. According to Mantlo's intro. to Micronauts Special Edition #3 the identity of the Micronauts' microverse with the one from Fantastic Four #75-#77 was part of his Micronauts proposal.

"Perhaps in the Marvel U it's pronounced both ways."

I think it is often incorrectly pronounced in the MU (as in the case of the thing in #219) to show a character's dialect. [See Sub-Mariner #1 (1968) for a further example.] In Namor #8, Headhunter says, Well, well. what have we here? The one and only Sub-Mareener, in the flesh," to which Namor deadpans, "Sub-Mariner." It is clear by her body language and his facial expression that she was purposefully mispronouncing it to get under his skin, and he was clear not going to take the bait (so to speak). 

ANNUAL #15:In addition to the 12 monthly issues Salicrup contracted from Moench was this annual. Moench wrote both stories but Sienkiewicz was unable to do the art, so the main story was assigned to George Perez. Moench, coincidentally, wrote the very first published story Perez ever illustrated, a humorous "Deathlok" two-pager in Astonishing Tales #25. Perez has improved a lot since then. I've read this one before, probably in one of the FF Visionaries: George Perez tpbs. 

Actually, I've read the second story, too, so I probably picked up a copy of the original somewhere along the way (because the main story features Captain Marvel, most likely). [I almost said "the original Captain Marvel" because Marvel has had so many, but that's still the "Big Red Cheese" (although even that character is no longer known as "Captain Marvel); I guess I could say "Marvel's original Captain Marvel." But I digress.] In Latveria, King Zorba's reign is not going as well as he might have hoped after the overthrow in #200. There are a number of loyalists, apparently, who would like to see Doom back in power. I find this story much more believable today than I did 30+ years ago. 

Moench had been the last writer of Captain Marvel, and had continued on the feature when it moved to Marvel Spotlight. His last issue doing the feature, #3, had appeared about a year earlier. Since then Mar-Vell had appeared twice more in the title and guested in Incredible Hulk, but those issues had been by others.

I think the annual was Mar-Vell's last substantial appearance before the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel. DC Indexes indicates Marvel Two-in-One #69 came out just after, but apparently his appearance there was a cameo. Supermegamonkey tells me a story was prepared for Marvel Spotlight #12, but the title was cancelled. It appeared much later in Marvel Super-Heroes #3.

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