The Fantastic Four. Few other names in comics bring up so many memories or opinions. In 1998, this family of heroes returned to Earth after Reed and Sue’s son, Franklin, saved them from complete annihilation by shifting them all to a Counter-Earth while the rest of the Marvel Universe thought them dead. This graphic novel, compounding issues #1-15 as well as Iron Man Annual #14, drops the first family of the Marvel Universe back into the proverbial fire with new foes and old ready to take on Mister Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch, and The Thing.
With every new beginning comes an homage to what has come before. This volume features Mole Man as its first villain; then a potentially unethical archaeological dig in Paris brings forth some new villains, The Ruined, poised for domination. In typical heroic fashion, Johnny Storm flirts with a shocking number of women and Ben Grimm gets thrown into Notre Dame Cathedral before using the glass pyramid at The Louvre as an offensive weapon.
Also included in this shotgun series are encounters with villains Red Ghost, Trapster, Ronan the Accuser, the Frightful Four, Terminus, Technet, Her, and Crucible. On top of all of those foes, Captain Britain gets involved in the matter of Franklin Reed and his immense power and potential. Having Iron Man appear in Thing-busting armor and a poker game with Doctor Strange and Wolverine are just icing on the cake.
While some of the names involved in this series, including writers Chris Claremont and Scott Lobdell, as well as artists Alan Davis and Salvador Larocca might bring back fond memories for comics fans of a certain generation, I’m not sure the book holds up as well as many of us would like. Twenty years on from publication, much of the art feels overpacked or forced into a particular style that lent itself to the age more than the characters. With multiple villains in either ridiculous armor (I’m looking at you Ronan and Terminus) or boobed-up to the point of incredulity, this volume feels like 500 pages of The Nineties distilled down and splashed over every page. Besides the art, the stories are rushed, cramming multiple B-plots into each issue, jamming every page full of enough of Reed Richards’ overwrought technobabble to raise even the massive eyebrows of The Thing. Those eyebrows. Eyebrow ridges? Outcroppings? Whatever they’re called, they are unreal.
Between the family bickering, the constant threat of destruction of their New York skyscraper (whether from villains or Reed’s own constant hubris), the alienation of Ben Grimm at every turn, the pre-#metoo ministrations of Johnny Storm, the inexplicable nature of Poochie, I mean, Franklin, or the somehow constant love and support Sue gives this motley crew of misfits, I wonder what we comics fans see in them, let alone what they see in each other. For all of its fun battles and brilliant 90s color, this volume is a tough slog in 2019. Agree or disagree, let me know in the comments. I’m sure that by this point, at least a few readers will be ready to join The Thing in yelling “It’s Clobberin’ Time!”