Sometimes when doing these read pile entries, I forget that originally I used to only review books that I liked!
Yep, back in the day before there was this massive entertainment empire known as GotS, I used to just write comic book entries on comic books from my past that made me smile and I wanted others to know about. It’s not like these days when I often find myself halfway through a comic book series I hoped was going to great only to find out it really wasn’t, and I’m forced to write some article denouncing it for the entire world to see.
Boy, I really do hate that. It’s soul sucking to write negative reviews of anything. However, at the same time, if I invested my hard earned free time into reading a piece of comic book art with the sole purpose of deciding whether it was worth sharing with others or not, then by God, if those 10 people that normally read these entries don’t demand some sort of journalistic integrity from me then why am I doing this. It’s definitely not for the non existent dollars I’m rolling in.
Regardless, I decided on today’s blog to go back to my roots as it were and write about some comics that I really do love. Comics that even nearly 30 years after they were written still fill me with so much joy that I find myself revisiting them time after time. And today’s just happens to be among my top 10 favorite stories from probably one of my top ten favorite comics with the Fantastic Four. In fact, I betcha most comic book fans of my age or older remember these issues fondly as well as they did generate a good deal of buzz when they hit the spinner racks.
So without further ado, here comes the 1990 3 part mini arc which dared to completely recast the entire roster of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. I’m talking about “The New Fantastic Four” written by comic book legend Walt Simonson with art by the equally legendary Art Adams.
10 Cent Synopsis:
A shapeshifting Skrull revolutionary named De’Lila who happens to be a pretty powerful empath/telepath in addition to being a shape-changer has come to Earth in search of robotic dreadnought type war machine, all the while being hunted by a Skrull task force hellbent on bringing her in.
Unaware of its whereabouts, she makes a beeline to the headquarters of the Fantastic Four, one set of Earthlings nearly every single Skrull is more than a little aware of. Using her unique skills she overpowers the FF taking them captive, while at the same time putting out the call to some of Earth’s other most famous superheroes in Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider.
Pretending to Sue Richards, she tells the newly formed “Marvel Team Up” that the original FF has perished and orders them to hunt down, which eventually leads them to the base of the Mole Man on Monster Island. Consequently this is also the same place the Skrull task force ended up. De’Lila meanwhile revives Mr. Fantastic and makes him somewhat of her accomplice through the use of her mind control powers as they too search for the among the caverns far below Monster Island.
Ultimately though, the real FF comes to their senses and joins “The New Fantastic Four” as they have to overcome not only De’Lila, but her Skrull pursuers, as well the legions of Moloids and other giant Kajiu style creatures under the Mole Man’s control.
Well, obviously given what I said in the intro, I am a huge fan of this story arc!
For 10 year old Andy Larson, seeing other superheroes step into the roles of one of the most iconic teams the Marvel Universe had to offer was great just by itself. However, when those heroes happen to be some of Marvel’s most popular flagship characters such as Spidey, Hulk, and Wolverine, then it really becomes a cash grabbing super event of epic proportions. I will say, I thought it then and I still think it now, that the inclusion of Ghost Rider on the team, was somewhat of an odd choice, and would have rather seen some other super popular female super hero fill the Invisible Woman role, but overall I guess it still works.
I mean the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider was the sexy new hero on the block in 1990, so it’s very similar to the way they book wrestling stables with putting the new rookie you want to get over with the fans with all the established stars to help give him the rub. It does work too, as Ghost Rider does get some pretty nifty little scenes such as burrowing through solid rock with his hellfire chain or giving the patented penitence stare to the Skrull evil do’ers.
What’s also nice is that Walt Simonson almost plugs these other superheroes into the previously established roles of the FF as if they always were on the team. Spidey becomes the ever reasonable mega brain ala Reed Richards, Hulk is the working man no nonsense Thing stand-in (using Gray Hulk in this role works remarkably well), and Wolverine becomes somewhat of a Human Torch in that at least he has that playful sibling rivalry with the Hulk which hearkens back to Grimm/Johnny Storm. I’ll admit that one is kind of a stretch given really Ghost Rider is bringing the flames to this new FF, but given Rider isn’t written with much personality at all, I feel okay pairing Logan up with Torch.
Plus what was super cool about this arc was the fact that you finally got to see Spider-man on an actual team! Now modern day comic book fans might view this as not a big deal, but for those of us growing up at this time this book was first published, this was a huge deal. Spider-man was a solo act. He didn’t join teams. Sure, he had hundreds of “team-ups” ever year with pretty much ever hero under the sun, but it wasn’t until the early 90s that he was even a reserve member of the Avengers, let alone on the main squad which didn’t happen until Bendis in the 2000s. So as a result, to think of Spidey as a part of a real team other than the Amazing Friends which only was seen in cartoons, was enough to make anyone grab this book and read it cover to cover.
But just in case that wasn’t enough, then just to put it over the top and give you a book you had to pick up, it was penciled by pretty much who I consider the foundation on which Image was built: Art Adams.
I say this because at least to me, there wouldn’t have been an Image if Todd Macfarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefield, Erik Larsen, you name it, hadn’t had Art Adams as their inspiration as to the way that they wanted to draw comic books. I mean sure if you want to get technical, Art Adams was really influenced by Walt Simonson and Michael Golden (especially his work on Micronauts), but it was that heavily detailed, uniquely stylized, pouches everywhere type penciling that only Art Adams could do that really made all the rest of those Image guys go “ga ga” about, and ultimately it’s that style that would dominate books for nearly a decade.
But despite all those that came after him, for my money there’s still nothing better than an Art Adams drawn book, and unfortunately, there’s not a ton out there, so it makes the ones we got infinitely more precious. And with this one we get a chance to see him drawn so many of the iconic characters that make up the Marvel Universe all within the stretch of 3 books. We get his Spidey, his FF, his Hulk, his supremely incredible Wolverine, all of which I would have killed to have seen complete runs with those characters featuring that insanely great artwork. But on top of that, you get his Mole Man, his Skrulls, his Ghost Rider, and more giant monsters than you can shake a stick at.
It’s just phenomenal work. I can’t gush enough about it.
In writing this article I was reminded that this was not the only story in which Spider-Man joins the Fantastic Four that I’ve loved over the years. In fact, ever since they first hinted at the idea in Amazing Spider-Man #1 when old web head tries to get a job working for the group when he’s just a messed up teenager in desperate need of cash, there’s always been a very strong relationship between Spidey and the FF, which I find fascinating.
It’s no wonder that Spidey eventually becomes best friends with Human Torch, and often in other spin off material, he’s seen as being somewhat of a scientific apprentice of sorts to Reed Richards (a fact they would adapt for the MCU into being Tony Stark instead).
In fact, there are so many really great stories in which Spidey teaming up with the Fantastic Four, I probably could have written a whole article just on that. However, I’ll stick to a single solo story for this section, which I would highly recommend fans go pick up after they are done reading the New Fantastic Four arc I’m covering today. That book is courtesy of the very first issue of Marvel’s “What If…?” series originally written by the magnificent Roy Thomas in which Spidey joins the FF as a permanent member after the exchange in ASM #1 goes a little differently than what we know of in the 616.
This little gem of a story really does set the stage for what we would expect from really good “What If” stories for years to come in that one simple change will snowball in unexpected ways creating a tidal wave of different consequences. For example, not to give the entire story away, but by the end of the book the Fantastic Five is back to being just the Fantastic Four, and Sue Storm is an Atlantian. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how that all happens, but I encourage you to read it yourself as the ride is better than my little spoiler blurb gives it justice.
In addition, if you end up liking this particular story, the same narrative universe is continued in another “What If” story several issues later in issue #21 “What if The Invisible Girl married the Sub-mariner”.
Ah…so there’s me putting the pieces together for you. Sorry about that folks.
Regardless, I’m also aware of a third “What If” story in this narrative universe from the second volume of the comic released in the mid 90s. That would be issue #35 “What if…The Fantastic Five Fought Doctor Doom & Annihilus!”.
That one is kind of weird because it’s part of an overarching 4 part story arc called “Time Quake” and there’s some of that bleeding into the story, but still it’s another pretty decent yarn that all stemmed from a simple fan favorite question being answered in a different way than what the original comic book had portrayed.
I don’t think I can say much more about this book than what I’ve already said above.
If you happen to be one of those folks that’s been living under a rock for the past 30 years, you owe it to yourself to pick up these issues today and devour them. It’s an fantastically fun little romp around the Marvel Universe that the FF helped usher in featuring some of the best characters this publishing house has to offer.
Plus it’s currently out in trade via a Marvel Epic Collection that also contains a good chunk of Walt Simonson’s run on the Fantastic Four which is pretty terrific in it’s own right.
Plus where else are you going to get a book all about Reed Richards getting some strange off of a Skrull chick that definitely has the hots for him. Yeah, I guess that’s another reason why Reed Richards is one of Marvel’s biggest douche bags, but hey Sue has smooched a lot worse on Namor over the years, so maybe it was time for old Stretcho to sow his wild oats a bit. 😉