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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Thanks, as always, Luke, for all of the insightful "color commentary." I'm half tempted to pull out the ol' longboxes to find some of those letters pages you mention, but I'm anxious to more on with the discussion.

"When the origin was retold in #126 the Thing was depicted as having transformed into his modern rocky form when he first changed."

Well, yes and no. the flashback you're referring to was courtesy of Reed Richards' thought-projector helmet and represented how Ben remembered (or thought of) those events. A few pages earlier, the first image he projected was of his "lumpy" self just after he first transformed: "Hey! That ain't me--or is it? Sure! That's how I looked when I first turned into the Thing--way back when!" The real reason, I think, had less to do with a conscious change of design on Kirby's part than it did on how his pencils were inked. The Thing eventually started to look less lumpy and more rocky; his look evolved over time.

"The stuff about the Enclave in #240 resolved the dangling thread from the end of #206 about Medusa's capture."

Oh, thanks for that! I read #206 just a little while ago and I didn't even pick up on it. It also explains the "next issue" blurb of #239 which promised to reveal "the fate of Medusa." Huh? 

I always thought that the Thing's change was because of the praise John Byrne got for Marvel Two In One #50 despite not drawing him exactly in the same way. Of course he wasn't being inked by Joe Sinnott in FF. It also had to be easier drawing and inking "Lumpy" Thing than "Rocky" Thing!

The revelation of Aunt Petunia did come out of left field but it was worth it for Johnny's reaction! Normally Ben refers to her as "Aunt Penny" but it did foreshadowed Marisa Tormei's Aunt May!

#241:

This is it: my "first" issue of Fantastic Four after a years-long semi-hiatus from comic books. I bought pretty much one of everything that day, I immediately recognized Fantastic Four as a cut above the rest, and I would soon collect "backwards" to #232. But I did not recognize John Byrne's work, although I had read two of his series before. In 1982 I had not bought an issue of X-Men since Giant-Size #1 in 1975, but I had bought the entire Stern/Byrne run of Captain America when it was new. At the time I bought #241, I probably didn't even know Jean Gray was dead, despite her death being alluded to in #240 when Attilan landed directly on top of the spor where she was killed (or should I say "killed"?). I didn't recognize Byrne's style from Captain America when I bought FF #241, nor did I recognize it from Doomsday +1 when I bought his Captain America

When Attilan flew across the continent of Africa, SHIELD tracked an energy source originating near Wakanda. Since SHIELD had no authority there and the Black Panther had renounced his Avengers membership, the Fantastic Four were sent to investigate. Inside a natural formation called the Black Tower of M'Kumbe, they discover a faux Roman civilization ruled by an emperor who calls himself Gaius Tiberius Agustus Aggrippa. In reality, he was a common footsoldier named Flavius Scollio who discovered an alien power source centuries ago. He murderd the alien and donned its armor. Cutting to the chase, when Sue removed his helmet, there was nothing left inside (a motif which Byrne might have borrowed from Doctor Who's Omega). 

Just as #240 was as much an Inhumans story as an FF one, so too is #241 very much a Black Panther story. Some of the best Marvel stories result when two or more "franchises" converge. 

When Gaius dresses Sue up in Roman fashion, her hairstyle changes. The one from #232 had been parted on the side and had pretty much grown out, anyway. From this point on, her hair will remain parted in the middle as it grows increasingly longer from issue to issue. (I never really paid much attention to this before; it's like "following the sugar cubes" in Watchmen.) 

For these next three issues I'm going to have to switch back over the the Behold... Galactus! Monster Edition. Only those over-size 14" x 21" pages suit this story best.

#242:

#241 was my "first" issue (since #149, anyway), but I would have been just as happy had it been this one. On the page 1, Byrne philosophizes about the vastness of space; page 2 is the splash featuring Terrax (which eventually sent me scurrying for #210-213 on the backissue market); pages 3-4 depict Reed and Sue (and Franklin) taking down the tree after Christmas.

ASIDE: Reed invented a mechanical tree which folds up into itself for easy storage. Sue is miffed because it's so "...practical!" Years later, I saw something very similar for sale in a Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue: The Remote Controlled Height Adjustable Tree. I see from the link that "this item is no longer available." Too bad. It was a steal at only $799.95.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Pages 5-6 show Ben and Alicia in Central Park. I immediately recognized that the artist had drawn the Thing in his "lumpy" form, but I couldn't get too upset about it. I hadn't read the past 93 issues and I recognized that something may have changed while I wasn't looking. On pages 7-8, Johnny and Frankie attend Julie's play. Then Terrax hits Manhattan and the $#!t hits the fan! 

Ben, Johnny and Frankie converge on the Baxter Building just before Terrax uses his axe to cleave the top two stories. A major fight ensues, culminating in Terrax, from atop one of the World Trade Center Towers, using his powers to lift the entire island of Manhattan into the air. Sue uses her little-used power to make the invisible visible, and renders the force field opaque. By turns, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man and Daredevil are drawn into the fray, all but Daredevil are outside the bubble. 

Iron Man and Thor work to save those trapped in the tunnels, now flooded by the Hudson and East Rivers (which is more that Gerry Conway thought to do in Marvel Team-Up #28). Spider-Man tries, and fails, to reach the ascending island. On a hunch, Reed has the team don spacesuits. Confronting Terrax on the roof of the WTC, he retracts the field enough for them to know they're now in orbit, in a vaccuum. If they defeat Terrax, everyone in NYC will die. Then he shows them that Galactus has been pursuing him, and he workds become the next issue blurb: "That is your task... TO DESTROY GALACTUS!"

I have this dream (or maybe it's a fantasy): that someday, some non-comics reading fan of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" asks me to recommend some comic books to read. Fantastic Four #242-244, referred to in some circles as "The Second Galactus Trilogy," would certainly be in contention. 

#243:

Don't ask me why the cover blurb says "Need We Say More?" rather than "'Nuff said?" With this issue, Captain America and Wasp are thrown into the mix. A footnote references Dazzler #10-11 and Rom #26-27, but it would be some time before I was to seek out those issues on the backissue market. Galactus defeats Terrax and restores Manhattan, including tunnels, phone lines, electricity, the works. But then, depleted to begin with, he needs to feed. the assembled heroes object, and fight against him. Doctor Strange arrives on the scene and, using the Images of Ikonn to bring Galactus face-to-face with all the victims he has killed, defeats him single-handedly. Dwindling in both size and strength, GALACTUS FALLS! in another stunning stunning full-page panel. In another final speech turned into a "next issue" blurb, Reed says, "We have no choice... WE HAVE TO SAVE GALACTUS!

#244:

In a wonderful display of non-linear storytelling, five days have passed and a bedraggled Johnny Storm staggers into Julie D'Angelo's apartment. She calls Reed and Sue, and the flashback begins. Under Reed's direction, the effort to save Galactus begins. Iron Man supplies parts and materials from Stark International, and Thor powers the machine. Galactus reghains consciousness, but he is still in a weakened state. Reed identifies several uninhabited planets which would suit Galactus' needs, but he's too weak to travel to them should they not prove sufficient to his needs, so we're right back where we started.

Then Frankie Raye suggests a solution: she will become Galatus' new herald if he will spare the Earth. He agrees and boosts her power so that she may travel in and navigate through space. Johnny tries to follow but cannot, and disappears for nearly a week. Before Galactus himself departs, he declares that Earth is safe from future attacks, not only because of Frankie's sacrifice, but because on Earth, he may have found beings he can call friends

Flash forward a few months to Spring. The repairs to the Baxter Building are well under way, but Mr. Collins, the FF's landlord, is hassling them again. Finally fed up, Reed exercises a clause written into the contract when the FF declared bankruptcy. (A footnote signed by editor Jim Salicrup says issue in #9, but I think Byrne must have meant #191.)

Reed finally gets in contact with the Latverian Embassy to tell them they have had Dr. Doom in cryogenic suspension since #136, and the ambassador asks that the frozen body be returned. Also in the room is none other than Doom himself! (Or is it a robot?)

Later, Reed is delivering a lecture at ESU and sue is on her way to a TV studio to be interviewed, leaving Ben to babysit Franklin. Franklin watches TV (an old Leave It To Beaver rerun) while his uncle fiddles with a Rubic's Cube sent to him by the Yancy Street Gang. Finally giving up, the Thing tosses it to Franklin and leaves the room for a snack. Franklin tries to solve the puzzle for a time, then his mutant powers kick in, the puzzle is solved, and his "HERBIE" robot explodes!

NEXT: "Childhood's End" 

I always felt that there must have been something really wrong with Frankie Raye if she's willing to participate in mass genocides just to travel the cosmos. She is not making an epic sacrifice like the Silver Surfer did (btw, where WAS the Surfer? Couldn't he have given Galactus a cosmic booster shot or something?), she made a quid pro quo agreement for her own benefit.

And obviously she had no emotional attachment to Johnny, Julia or anyone!

"I always felt that there must have been something really wrong with Frankie Raye if she's willing to participate in mass genocides just to travel the cosmos."

You're not wrong. When Reed pointed out to her, "There would inevitably come a time when you would have to lead him to an inhabited world," she replied, "So? A few less bug-eyed monsters? What's that compared to my being able to go... out there?" In the first Hercules mini-series, she led Galactus to just such a world and her comment was: "Bugs. Ick," She's a shallow person and Johnny is better off without here. (Hercules took place in an alternate future, but her characterization was consistent.)

"She is not making an epic sacrifice like the Silver Surfer did... she made a quid pro quo agreement for her own benefit."

Which was a definite plus as far as Galactus was concerned: "Too many times before have I chosen a herald who came to me with noble purpose. Such purity of heart is ill-suited to the tasks which befall my heralds. So did I choose Terrax, a man of corrupted morals and evil nature. But that proved only to work against me. But this female has reasons of her own., and would suit me well." According to "The Last Galactus Story" (also by Byrne), Nova is still serving Galactus in the far future and her refers to her as "the most faithful of my heralds." Is she even still around? She was in Silver Surfer when Ron Marz was writing it, but I can't think of anything more recent. 

"btw, where WAS the Surfer?"

I'm sure you know the Surfer will reveal his shiny self before too many more issues will pass, but where was he during this story? It toon three issues, but only a couple of hours actually passed story-time while Galactus was on Earth. The Surfer could well have been on the other side of the planet at the time and unaware of his "once and former" master's presence. I don't have a problem with that.

"And obviously she had no emotional attachment to Johnny, Julia or anyone!"

Johnny showed up at Frankie and Julie's apartment five days after Frankie left Earth, and Julie apparently didn't even notice she was missing! That lack of emotional attachment works both ways in the case of Julie is what I'm saying.

Between his FF appearances Terrax appeared in Dazzler and ROM.

The cover of #244 is a homage to imagery from the Lee/Kirby Silver Surfer graphic novel. A different Galactus hand image by Byrne with the Surfer appeared in the one-shot Silver Surfer #1 (1982), and was used as the cover of the album Surfin' with the Alien. DC Indexes says the one-shot came out the same month as Fantastic Four #242. Byrne wrote it and Stan Lee scripted.

I wasn't buying comics in the Eighties so I missed Byrne's entire run. His take on the FF is so often mentioned as a series high point I feel that I need to read them at some point.

I have finally read most of Walt Simonson's run on Thor and have also read the first reprint volume of Frank Miller's Daredevil. Byrne's FF will be added to the future reading list.

"DC Indexes says the one-shot came out the same month as Fantastic Four #242."

Hey, that's right! Maybe that answers Philips question of where the Surfer was during the Galactus/Terrax fracas. (The FF make a brief appearance at the beginning when their HQ was still intact.) That one-shot is not included in the Byrne FF Omnibus (either volume) however it is included in The Marvel Universe by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1. For the more economically minded, it also appears in the Silver Surfer Epic Collection Vol. 3, which leads with "The Answer," the short story by Stan Lee and john Buscema from Epic Illustrated #1, which leads into the one-shot and, in turn, into the 1987 series by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, a book which, IMHO, should be on everyone's shelf. ("The Answer" can also be found in the second Byrne FF Omni.) 

"Byrne wrote it and Stan Lee scripted."

...and Tom Palmer inked! As I opined on the "Post-Kirby Thor" discussion recently, "Tom Palmer is likely anyone's best inker." I don't know if that holds true for John Byrne, but I think his worst inker is John Byrne. 

#245:

This cover gives a good look at Sue's current hairstyle.

The story begins with Sue being interviewed by Barbara Walker on Woman to Woman. Walker is an A-class passive/aggressive Bitch-with-a-capital-B and her staff knows it. She starts off by referring to Sue as Sue Storm rather than Sue Richards, and we're off! It's a wonderful five-page sequence. When the FF emergency signal flare is seen in the sky, Walker's staff purposefully neglects to tell her about until after taping, a hour later. 

By the time Sue returns to the Baxter Building the emergency is over, but she knows something is wrong because the power is off in the HQ. Their private elevator is not working, either, so Sue uses an invisible platform, the highest she has ever attempted, to enter from the outside. Inside she finds Reed, Ben and Johnny defeated by a tall man with long, flowing blond hair and a beard. After a pitched battle, he telekinetically knocks her out the window and she has to use her force filed as a giant "mattress" to save her (another first).

"I wasn't buying comics in the Eighties so I missed Byrne's entire run."

Okay, Kev... this [SPOILER] is specifically for you.

The mysterious man ends up to be Franklin, accidentally grown to adulthood by using his powers to solve the Rubic's Cube at the end of last issue at the same time Wally Cleaver asked the Beav, "When will you grow up?" This artificially accelerated growth wiped his memory, but the real problem is that he now has use of his full adult abilities but the mind of a child. The others appear on the scene and it is Sue who is the first to recognize her son. Reed ascertains that reverting him to childhood would be even worse than leaving him as an adult because he would have his full adult powers in the body of a child.

Although he still has the emotions of a child, he has the intellect of an adult and knows what must be done. He has to "burn off" his excess power before using his power to revert to his true age. He has the power to cure the Thing, despite the fact that he is "permanently" in his lumpy form after Reed's last failed experiment. Ben grouses, as usual, and Franklin pears into his mind to see what's wrong. He is shocked by what he finds and telepathically communicates his plan to his father. Reed agrees, and the thing begins to glow.

When the glow fades, the Thing has not reverted to Ben Grimm, but to his rocky form. Reed explains that Franklin just didn't have the power to cure him completely, so he reverted him to a form he was more comfortable with. Ben is okay with that, but after he and Alicia depart, Reed explains to Sue that Franklin discovered Ben's deep-seated fear that, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, Alicia loves him only as the Thing. Franklin is now a child again, but he also placed psychic dampers on himself so that his powers would no re-emerge until his body was sufficiently mature to handle them. Also, Ben is no longer permanently the Thing, so the potential for a cure again exists. 

[END SPOILER]

This story establishes that franklin is currently five years old, so that's how much "Marvel Time" has passed between 1968 (his birth in Annual #6) and 1982 (#245).

"His take on the FF is so often mentioned as a series high point I feel that I need to read them at some point."

Definitely. Here's what I suggest. I'm nearing the end of the John Byrne Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1. why don't you buy the second volume and read along with me? And Rob? You already have volume two, don't you? What's your excuse? :) 

A quick check shows the second volume to be tough to find especially at a price I'd be willing to pay. I do have some Byrne FF's that I picked up as back issues that I can pull out. When you get started on the second volume maybe I will make a trip to my LCS and see about additional back issues.

Irregardless, I enjoy reading your synopsis' (synopsii ?)

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Definitely. Here's what I suggest. I'm nearing the end of the John Byrne Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1. why don't you buy the second volume and read along with me? And Rob? You already have volume two, don't you? What's your excuse? :) 

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