Books of Doom – I’ve spent a lot of this article gushing about Dr. Doom, but that’s only because he’s about as core to the FF as any of the family members. Over the years the vengeful monarch has escalated his blood feud with Reed Richards to make him the greatest threat in all the Marvel world. Doom has even been the big bad of both Secret Wars. For a villain as important as this one, it’s about time that he got a definitive modern origin such as Books of Doom.
This is basically Batman Begins for Victor Von Doom. It’s a grounded take on his childhood and rise to power, and it never tries to rewrite history, instead embracing all the strange elements of his past. Superstar writer Ed Brubaker’s retelling features Doom’s boyhood as a shunned gypsy, his competitive battles with Reed in college, Victor’s journey to the secret monks that taught him the mystic arts and built his armor, all the way to his ascendance to Latveria’s throne. By the end you’ll understand Dr. Doom as never before, thanks to a humanizing origin that still keeps him as the FF’s most fearsome enemy.
Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s Heroic Age – After the darkness and distrust of the Civil War years in Marvel, the Heroic Age (briefly) made it a world of colorful comic adventures full of hope. Just about every Marvel book got rebooted, including the Fantastic Four and its companion book FF. Overseen by the creative mind of Matt Fraction and the impressive artistic duo of Mike Allred and Mark Bagley, this concurrent tale of two fantastic foursomes is one of the most interesting experiments the team ever experienced.
On the FF side of the tale, I really enjoy Scott Lang’s characterization as the grieving reluctant leader/teacher, and I love anything that gives She-Hulk a chance to shine. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four’s family vacation/secret search for a cure allows for some interesting exploits, but my favorite bits involve Reed, Sue, and their kids, Franklin and Valeria. They’re more humanized than ever when dealing with the realities of parenting, plus Susan and Reed’s relationship is handled so well. I’ve grown bored of seeing the Richards merely portrayed as an absent minded professor and his frustrated wife, so this more balanced look at the give and take of their marriage is a welcome change of pace.
Spider-Man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid – The Human Torch hasn’t been talked about much so far, and that’s mainly because the vapid pretty boy often isn’t given a whole hell of a lot to do. He’s just the annoying little brother who’s usually chasing after ladies or pranking The Thing. He’s also the FF member closest to Spider-Man, and the pair’s rivalry/friendship has been going strong since just about the start of the Marvel Universe. Torch is at his best with Spider-Man, and this celebration of their decades of one upmanship is a great examination of the character.
The five issue series follows Spidey and Torch from their earliest meetings with Dr. Doom, to a sitcom-ish adventure of them trading jobs for a day, to a battle against shapeshifting apes that ends with a Hostess Fruit Pies commercial. It’s an astoundingly joyful look back at Spidey and Johnny’s long and twisting lives, and it still has time for some pathos as they discuss the dark times that came along the way. The rest of the FF gets some great moments in the book too, including a moment of Spidey referring to Thing as Uncle Ben, as well as Parker and Reed Richards getting all sciencey together, which honestly should’ve happened a long time ago. One of my all-time favorites.
The Thing: Idol of Millions – I’m With Stupid is written by Dan Slott, who famously penned Superior Spider-Man and other great Parker tales, but the man has an incredible understanding of Marvel’s first family. Not only are the FF’s many appearances in his Amazing Spidey books a testament to his understanding of the characters, but so is Slott’s all too short-lived Thing. All of eight issues long, this is perhaps the greatest spotlight the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing has ever received.
The series has Ben Grimm adjusting to a new life of extreme wealth (a then-recent development, just go with it), but he’s still going on tons of fun exploits without the FF in tow. The intentionally retro series sees Thing team with Iron Man, Hercules, Spider-Man, and more like this were his ’70s series Marvel Two-In-One, only he’s also dealing with a new girlfriend, being the best uncle he can be, and even briefly adopting Inhuman dog beast Lockjaw for a pet. It’s the kind of old school Marvel fun that you don’t get too often, and it isn’t too surprising the series ended just as Civil War began. You’d be hard-pressed to find a fuller portrait of what makes The Thing one of my favorite heroes than this collection.
Solve Everything – So, I’ll be little honest here. Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Fantastic Four may be one of the most celebrated in recent history, but I have a real love/hate relationship with it. Sometimes the characterization isn’t there, other times the storytelliing is far too rushed and hard to follow. That said, few writers have leaned into the science fiction aspects of the FF better than Hickman, and that’s when his run, dubbed by fans as “Solve Everything” really works.
Reed Richards is coming off a string of disappointments that his impossibly high I.Q. couldn’t defend against. Not only did his work in Civil War tear his family apart, but he failed to foresee a Skrull invasion that nearly killed the FF and the rest of Earth. Hickman’s run sees him choose to put his brain to good use and try to solve every problem there is using not only his intelligence, but bringing together a collective of some of the smartest minds in the Marvel U for the Future Foundation. Reed is usually seen explaining sciencey stuff to others, but he’s never sounded as smart and forward-looking as he does when written by Hickman. The rest of the family doesn’t do as well under Hickman’s guidance, but it’s still a fun ride while it lasts.
World’s Greatest – Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch were coming off a long run on The Ultimates, a cinematic blockbuster of a series that changed the way Marvel told stories and inspired more aspects of Marvel’s current films than anyone realizes. What do they do for an encore? The pair take on the Fantastic Four to make them Marvel’s premiere team once again, telling stories with a huge scope and even bigger concepts.
Mark Millar said he took inspiration from Stan Lee saying that anything can happen in a Fantastic Four comic, and Millar and Hitch did their damnedest to keep that spirit alive. This book saw the family battle Cthulhu, witness the construction of a second Earth, battle alternate future versions of the Defenders, see the capture of Dr. Doom, and face the man who trained Doom, who turns out to possibly be the greatest challenge they ever face. All that while still finding the time for Thing, Torch, Reed, and Sue to have tons of personal drama to deal with in between universes collapsing.
So, if you’re of the mind that the Fantastic Four is just a boring collection of weirdos left over from the Kennedy administration and the space race, hopefully these books will change your mind. Also, if you happen to know an executive who works for 20th Century Fox, could you maybe pass this list to them? Based on the mess of a reboot they released, I think they could do with reading this as well.