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.
I have a feeling that the name "Central City" was an inside joke. Not counting The Flash's Central City, before it was established that the FF is headquartered in New York City they were said to be in Central City. It's said on page one of their first issue.
By the way, I finally caught up with the discussion.
"I have a feeling that the name "Central City" was an inside joke... before it was established that the FF is headquartered in New York City they were said to be in Central City."
This Central City is that Central City; it's not an inside joke, it's continuity.
[The rocket took off from Central City (CA) and crash landed outside Ithaca (NY).]
"And she was his babysitter."
Yeah... wait. What?
The line in #293 about the possible consequence of sticking your arm into a field where time is running at a different speed may have been inspired by Larry Niven's story "ARM", where there's a plot point like that involving a small field of low inertia. It's in The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton.
You know what? I'll bet you're right. My roommate at the time was a reader of so-called "hard" science fiction, but not comic books so much (although I did get him to read American Flagg!). I was impressed by the science in #293 and started to describe that scene to him. As soon as I got to the part about She-Hulk's arm being stuck in the barrier, he said, "She should have got gangrene due to lack of blood flow to her arm." I was pretty impressed! I got the sense that he got that bit of info from a story (he may have even told me at the time and I've forgotten), but I know he was a big fan of Larry Niven.
John Byrne had had a life-long (or at least career-long) goal to write and draw Superman, and when he was given the chance he jumped at it. Unfortunately, because he was hired for DC's big, post-Crisis reboot, he had to leave FF an issue or two shy of the 25th anniversary issue, which ended up being plotted by Jim Shooter, scripted by Stan Lee, and drawn by a mish-mash of 14 different pencilers and inkers. The credits page included a statement which read: "From the vast pool of Marvel talent was drawn a handful of artists whose noble task it then became to commemorate 25 years of chronicling the exploits, the loves and the lives of that most venerable quartet, the Fantastic Four."
"From the vast pool of Marvel talent was drawn a handful of artists who were available," more like. In cases such as this, when a single story is drawn by multiple pairings of different artists, I usually observe that the comic would have been better if it had been drawn by any one of them. But in this case, they're not all Barry Windsor-Smith or Jerry Ordway inked by Joe Sinnott. Some teams are, at best, badly mismatched, such as Al Milgrom inked by Klaus Janson or John Buscema inked by Steve Leialoha; others are even worse.
I am at a loss to decide whether it is the story or the art which is worse. As I mentioned above, #296 was plotted by Shooter and scripted by Lee, and it illustrates the worst aspects of both. Stan Lee has a tendency to ignore his collaborators' suggestions. Sometimes this approach works ("The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull"), sometimes it does not (The Silver Surfer graphic novel, BWS's "As the world Spins Madly!"). Shooter, on the other hand, has a long history of sabotaging writer's projects (Tony Isabella's Ghost Rider as assistant editor, Byrne and Claremont's X-Men as editor-in-chief). It is clear from reading the story that neither of these men had a clue as to the story Byrne had been crafting for the previous five years (or, if they did, they ignored it). Byrne was responsible for more than 60 regular issues and annuals, and #296 is worse than all of them. I understand the circumstances, that Shooter and Lee may not have had time to adequately prepare, but I cannot help but think... "What If... John Byrne had been able to write and draw the 25th anniversary issue?" FF #296 was the worst such comic at the time, and remains so to this day.
Here's the plot: The Thing has made friends with the Mole Man, who wants to create an island nation of misfits using a process that would destroy the American West Coast. Mr. Fantastic tracks the thing to Monster Isle and convinces him to rejoin the team. That's it, but hopelessly padded to fill 64 pages.
A discussion of John Byrne's Fantastic Four has been on my "to do" list for nearly 20 years now, and it feels good to have finished it. Speaking of his run on Superman and Action Comics, all of Byrne's major (and some of his minor) work has been collected in omnibus format. Why not his Superman? An omnibus edition had been solicited for July 2020, but was taken off the schedule do to, y'know, COVID. (Now I owe Kelvin a quarter for the use of that phrase.) It's available in a series of trade paperbacks, and a series of smaller hardcovers is currently in the works, but what about that omnibus?
Jeff of Earth-J said:
As an old friend of ours used to say, "Some people will climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest seas just to find something to be offended by."
I feel like I heard that saying just a couple days ago ...
What can I say? I quote the true where (and when) I find it.
Reading through the first Byrne FF Omnibus at a pretty leisurely pace, and following along on this page very slowly. Which means I just got up to issue 241, the team-up with Black Panther to fight Gaius Tiberius Agustus Aggrippa, who fashioned himself to be a new Roman emperor. It's a neat story -- with some great art -- but oof: Gaius's casual racism. Sue calls him out on his bigotry, but I can't help wishing Byrne had avoided the issue altogether.
These issues are from before I started regularly reading Fantastic Four again. I was a causal newsstand reader around this time, and didn't start picking up the book regularly until around 260, and went back and filled in the collection retroactively. So this is my first time reading a lot of these stories in order, if at all. It's a little weird to see Frankie Raye accepted into the group so quickly, but Byrne (and comics in general back then) knew the value of moving the subplots along.