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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Suspended Animation Review - Essential Fantastic Four Volumne 1

Essential Fantastic Four Volume 1, published by Marvel Comics, 544 pages, $16.99.

Marvel Masterworks, or Marvel Essentials? Whichever a person chooses to consume the first 20 issues (and Annual #1) of The Fantastic Four is, for all intents and purposes, inconsequential. That is, unless you judge a great comics experience by whether or not the strip is in color. If so, you will be depriving yourself of some of the great works of the medium.

This volume is a reminder and an example of the innovation that aided the explosion and eventual dominance of Marvel Comics in the ‘60’s.
Here’s what readers will NOT find within these pages: The well-known, large, bombastic style which was Kirby in his artistic prime. His work here is not refined or polished. This is the raw, elemental Kirby. This is the Kirby of the Atlas monster mags, and while only similar to the technique which came later, this early approach had its own distinctive and entertaining appearance.

Also missing is the verbose, yet enjoyable narration that was the trademark of Stan Lee for the better part of the Silver Age of comics.

What readers WILL find is a team which, while impressive, had not yet become the unique family of the superhero world. The characters themselves were still one-dimensional, with Reed (Mr. Fantastic) being cold and analytical, Sue (The Invisible Girl) as the flighty, emotional female, Johnny (The Human Torch) representing the head-strong teen, and Ben (The Thing) embodying the resentful man trapped in a monster’s body. And, though Alicia Masters, Ben’s love-interest, was introduced within those issues, he still tended to epitomize the roiling volcano about to blow.

Fans will also see important first encounters with such key characters as the Mole Man, Dr. Doom, the Submariner, the Hulk, and the Watcher.

Long-time fans, as well as neophytes, have every reason to seek out this great beginning to one of the most-loved and longest-running strips in comic book history. That’s why it’s highly recommended for everyone.

Mark Allen