Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Essential Fantastic Four Volume 7 by Gerry Conway, et al.

Three out of Four ain’t bad
Essential Fantastic Four Volume 7
reprints issues #138 to 159 of the Fantastic Four comic book. These issues originally ran with cover dates of September 1973 to June 1975. In addition, this paperback volume of black and white reprints includes Giant-Size Fantastic Four numbers 2, 3, and 4, a one-shot comic called Giant-Size Super-Stars #1, and a crossover issue of the Avengers (#127). Most of the issues in this volume were written by Gerry Conway, one of the better storytellers in Marvel’s bullpen in the ‘70s. The art is drawn mostly by Rich Buckler but with a few issues by the brothers Buscema, John and Sal. None of these artists is quite up to Jack Kirby standards, but they all make a conscious and valiant effort to emulate Kirby’s bombastic, futuristic style, which is appropriate to the Fantastic Four. In doing so, Buckler and company deliver the classic style of Marvel art one expects from this era.

The cover of each issue of the Fantastic Four bore the tagline “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” and they weren’t just whistling Dixie. Fantastic Four had two big strengths going for it. The first was its interesting characters and the unusual family dynamic between them. The second was the fact that the FF were the most sci-fi of Marvel’s superheroes and therefore hosted the most fantastical and innovative stories. The pulp-fiction scope of the Fantastic Four’s world was so broad that no genre or strange occurrence felt out of place. Aliens, time travel, alternate universes, mythical beings, magical wizards, lost civilizations, giant bug-eyed monsters, war stories, soap opera romance—just about everything was fair game in the Fantastic Four, and it all works. I think there’s even a bit of Western in these issues. This run of stories from the 1970s is not the title’s greatest hits by any means, but these comics are still exceptionally entertaining because they are built on the solid foundation created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby: Doctor Doom, the Inhumans, the Negative Zone, Namor, the Watcher, the Silver Surfer, the Frightful Four—with material like that to work with, it’s hard to go wrong.

One disappointing aspect of this period in the FF’s career is that Susan Richards, the Invisible Woman, is almost entirely absent from these issues. She and Reed Richards are separated, and Medusa of the Inhumans is filling her spot on the team. Even after Sue and Reed reconcile, she’s still hardly around, only showing up for an occasional brief cameo. Medusa may have amazing hair, but she’s not a character with much personality. The writers don’t give her a whole lot to do anyway, and the stories concentrate almost exclusively on the three men in the team. Marvel may have broken some ground by introducing many female superheroes into their universe, but in the 1970s they were still a long way from feminism.

Nevertheless, there is much for fans of classic Marvel to enjoy in Essential Fantastic Four Volume 7. Deeming these issues “Essential” may be a stretch, but the stories and art are well above average Marvel fare of the period, and this trip down memory lane is a whole lot of fun.  
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