Markley’s Fevered Brain: Fantastic Four (Stories)

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

Fantastic Four by Slott & Pichelli

Fantastic Four by Slott & Pichelli


Marvel recently announced the worst kept secret in comics: The Fantastic Four are returning this summer by writer Dan Slott and artist Sara Pichelli. I for one am very excited. I have loved Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man, almost all ten years of it. (I did not care for the whole Spider-Verse story.) And I love Pichelli’s art. I do not think she has done anything I have not enjoyed. So since we will soon have the pleasure of once again reading Marvel’s “Greatest Comic Magazine” as it was called for so long, I thought I would take time to look at what I consider the four greatest periods of the Fantastic Four. This is not four single issues, but four periods by specific creators whose runs I consider some of, if not the best, in the history of the comic. I am sure none of these choices will surprise Marvel fans, even though I know there are a number who would have made different choices.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection Vol. 1

Fantastic Four Epic Collection Vol. 1


It is hard to pick Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s best collaboration, but I think there is little argument that their run on the Fantastic Four set the tone and helped establish more about the Marvel Universe than almost anything else. Their run on the FF is a landmark in comic book storytelling. They did a little over a 100 issues together and I break the run down into three parts. There are the early years, the first thirty or so issues which were good, and you can see Lee and Kirby finding their way. You had great moments like the Mole Man and the Thing/Hulk confrontations, the origin of Dr. Doom, and the classic re-introduction of the Sub-Mariner (as well as the first Annual where Subby attacks New York), and they went a long way to establish the family dynamics and friendships that would make the book. The second phase was roughly #40 through #70 where they were on fire. In these issues they introduced the Black Panther, Galactus, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, Frightful Four, and so much more. Almost every issue is a milestone in the Marvel Universe. Then there is their final arc that ran from the issue #70 through issue #104. These issues are good reads and are still fun, but as they went on into the 90,s they seemed to have lost the spark they had in the middle period. Do not get me wrong, these are still great reads, but they do not have the excitement that the middle run had. I think there isn’t a bad Lee/Kirby collaboration out there. Some are not great, but all are worth reading. But I would argue there is not a better period of comics than the run Stan and Jack had in their middle section of the FF; this is the stuff of legend! Fortunately you can read these early issues in two very cool Epic Collections, collecting the first 32 issues and the first two annuals. (I am hopeful with the return of the monthly book they will do more Epic Collections of the early material). The first 200+ (long past Lee/Kirby) are available in Masterworks, which are pricy, but there are also ten paperback versions which reprint their entire run through issues #104 and the Lost Issue. (This was a special issue that Stan and Jack started but never finished till years later, and even then it was not a truly “finished” book). But some of these volumes are becoming hard to get. In any format these stories are worth tracking down.

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1


John Byrne’s run on the Fantastic Four ran from issue #232-295. (There are also a number of other titles that Byrne also did that tied into the FF, or are about the FF, that are included in the two Fantastic Four Omnibus for those interested in getting the full Byrne experience). First off, let me say Byrne’s run on the Fantastic Four, which he wrote and drew, is the spiritual son of what Lee and Kirby had done. He builds on what they had done with an obvious love and respect for the characters and their history. He was not afraid to mix things up a bit, like adding She-Hulk to the team, and he used almost every villain Lee ever came up with, from Doctor Doom to Annihilus to the Mole Man and so many more. There is a great mix of drama and whimsy in these stories that perfectly captures the best of what made the Fantastic Four such a great book. Every issue is both original and a tribute to what came before him, a difficult task to pull off that Byrne did effortlessly. I would rate Byrne’s entire run with the middle (and the best period) of the Lee and Kirby run. All of Byrne’s run, including all of the side stories and non-Fantastic Four stories that tied into Byrne’s his FF run, are collected in two massive (both well over a 1000 pages each) omnibus. Well worth tracking down. A great read for any comic fan!

Fantastic Four by Waid and Wieringo Ultimate Collection Vol. 3

Fantastic Four by Waid and Wieringo Ultimate Collection Vol. 3


While I think there is little question Byrne’s run on the FF was the son of Lee and Kirby’s run, Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s run was the grandson. Waid and Wieringo not only captured the fun and sense of wonder that the previous two series had, but they were able to rise to a level where it became a must read; hen you finished an issue, you could not wait for the next. I originally read these books as they came out and it drove me insane waiting for the next chapter. I recently reread them in a very nice series of trade collections called the Fantastic Four by Waid and Wieringo Ultimate Collection (logical, eh?). There are four volumes collecting Fantastic Four #60-524. (I know the numbering does not make sense but when they got to what would have been #500 they jumped from #70 to #500 and continued on.) So with all four volumes you will get the complete work of Waid and Wieringo on the Fantastic Four, but you will not get 500 + comics. (But close to 80 issues). As you would expect, here you get all the major villains in the FF canon, such as Doctor Doom (who plays a major role throughout their run), Galactus and his new herald (a fellow named the Human Torch), and many more. Part of what I enjoyed so much about these stories is Waid does not write the book about heroes; he writes about people. So you get the Fantastic Four with all the fights and antics but the real story being told is about the family and it is, at times, very moving. It is also filled with humor and drama along with action which makes their whole run so entertaining. It captures the charm of the original creations and they are able to build on what has been done before and make it even better. Four great books that make for hours of reading.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Vol. 6

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Vol. 6


Jonathan Hickman is a writer who I sometimes love and sometimes I do not care for. He is a very good writer but his stories tend to be so complicated (which is not a bad thing), it is often near impossible to tell what is going on unless you read all of the books together in a collection. Most of the time, it is then amazing. His run on the Fantastic Four was more understandable than a lot of his work, and it was fairly mainstream by his standards, and it was not a particularly long run, but it was influential as it introduced the concept of the Future Foundation and went on to define Valeria and Franklin as major players of in the Marvel Universe. Much of what Hickman did has resonated throughout the Marvel Universe to this day. He also wrote the story where the Human Torch was killed, only to come back later in the run. This is unlike Lee/Kirby’s or Byrne’s run as it is as far from Lee and Kirby’s original vision as you can imagine, but it is also very original and worth reading. It is collected into a number of trades and an omnibus. I should also note that Hickman wrote the Marvel event Secret Wars which I would argue is less of a Marvel event as a Fantastic Four story, and it lead to the end of the Fantastic Four as a comic a few years ago. It should also be noted that Hickman wrote a number of stories that flesh out and tie into his Fantastic Four run, including Dark Reign and FF, or Future Foundation, which was predominately about Valeria and Franklin and other youngsters setting up the future. These are my least favorite of the four FF periods, but it is without question an important piece of Fantastic Four history.

This wraps it up for this blog. What was your favorite period in Marvel’s Greatest Comic history? These or some other period? I would love to hear your thoughts and I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. All of the words written here, and the thoughts included, are mine and in no way reflect the opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. Until next time…

Thank you.

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  1. Argo Plummer Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your choices! Before I read your article, I tried to come up with what I would choose, and it was the exact four choices you made. Being born in 1971, I missed Lee / Kirby the first time around, but the reprints in Marvel’s Greatest Comics introduced me to the greatness of their work. I still treasure those reprints as they were my introduction to the FF. However, I fell in love with the FF during the Byrne run (still my favorite). I was so happy to see you include the Waid / Weiringo run as I think that has been criminally overlooked. And I echo your sentiments about Hickman’s run and his writing in general. Great article and here’s hoping we can add Slott / Pichelli to our list of FF great periods!!!