It’s not every day you read a collection and think, “This is what started it all,” but here we are reading Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom. This was prime time in Marvel Comics history, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby told groundbreaking stories that involved Namor, Doctor Doom, and the ever-loving, first ever superhero family. Marvel recently released the epic collection and we had the chance to review.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Lee and Kirby set the standard for out-of-this-world imaginative adventure and launched the Marvel Universe in the pages of Fantastic Four. Now, with all the MU superhero players in place, it’s time for the FF to run the gauntlet. The Thing throws down with the Hulk in a battle so huge it takes the combined might of the FF and the Avengers to stop it! The Sub-Mariner makes a play for Sue Storm! The FF tangle with the X-Men! Nick Fury drops by in the story that set the table for “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”! And even Doctor Strange makes an ever-so-astral appearance!
Why does this book matter?
This collection really does have it all, from the fun in-fighting/rivalry between Johnny Storm and Thing, to the love triangle between Sue Storm, Namor, and Mr. Fantastic. It’s everything that made this family dysfunctionally fun, but also proof they love and respect each other. On top of that, it also contains stories involving the X-Men, reveals backstories for Namor and Dr. Doom, and contains many exploits between the Fantastic Four and some of their most famous rivals. This collects Fantastic Four #19 to #32 as well as two of the classic annual issues.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Ugh, these two.
This collection is high quality that’ll last in your library for ages. The color and paper quality is high and will stand up against multiple read-throughs. Though a softcover, the cover is actually thick and will protect the pages underneath from minor spills too.
It’s a joy to read old school comics like this because it shows how far comics have come, but also how tastes and people were different. Sue Storm, for instance, is written in a way that could easily be described as chauvinistic. She is prone to sobbing, cares very much about her dresses, and is easily swayed by the macho Namor. Clearly, this book was written for teen boys and is unmistakably sexist, but that’s just how it was at the time. Take a scene where Johnny Storm is on vacation and sees a cute girl on a cruise ship; he practically leers at her like a stalker only to be dissuaded by a monster floating in the ocean. It’s fun to see panels like this and think how it would come off today and more likely than not folks would lose their minds. It was a different time in the 1960’s and you can see it throughout this collection.
The collection is also just downright fun. Characters are overly dramatic, Jack Kirby’s pencils are dynamic to the point of popping off the page, and the characters fight and solve problems in a charming sort of way. In one portion of the book, Thing and Hulk (who at the time could talk) go at it for many pages. You get the impression comics were all about spectacle and it shows. At the same time, Lee never lost sight of imbuing these characters with concerns, worries and human emotion. One of the reasons this book works so well is because of the characters act like a family. Sure it’s over the top and melodramatic, but it’s entertaining for it.
The lineup of villains in this book is also impressive and covers a lot of ground. Namor and Moleman both get two stories–and of course, Doctor Doom shows up too–but more obscure villains like Hatemonger and Diablo make appearances too. Clearly, Stan Lee deserves all the credit in the world for developing so many alien and outlandish villains who always seem to capture a different corner of the weird or the diabolical.
In a few sections of this book, there are also fun splash pages describing each villain so as to remind readers how fantastic they all are. There’s also a great short story explaining why Spider-Man never joined the Fantastic Four as well as a really cool explanation of each character in a Q and A format and a fantastic full page spread of the Fantastic Four building and all the rooms inside. The back matter also includes some penciled pages of Kirby’s work before they added color, some unused black and white covers, and Marvel Masterwork painted covers.
Um, Sue, they’re just clothes.
It can’t be perfect can it?
If you’re at all interested in this you’re not going to be bothered by the old school nature of these stories, but it’s certainly worth noting these comics read a lot differently they comics today. Sue’s characterization is definitely going to offend some, but if you’re willing to be okay with how different the world was 50 years ago you should be fine with these stories. The melodramatic nature of the stories can also be a burden at times and you’ll certainly roll your eyes during select portions. Thing and Human Torch’s everlasting fighting/bickering can certainly get old over time too.
Is It Good?
Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The Master Plan of Doctor Doom is an excellent collection that has it all and it’s delivered in full color with some fun extras too. If you’re in need of a snapshot of how awesome this team was–and how cool their villains were–this is the book for your collection. It’s also very readable running at 448 pages, but slim enough to read comfortably (especially compared to the Fantastic Four Omnibus which I own!).