Whether you saw the film or just heard how bad it is, these comics are sure to improve your opinion of Marvel’s first family…
There’s no two ways about it – the new Fantastic Four film is a colossal failure. And I feel I need to tell people this because I’m assuming I’m one of ten people that actually paid money to see it. It’s confusing, lifeless, muddled, and left me thinking, “Who was this for?” Not for FF fans, certainly, but the uninformed public is given no reason to like the forgettable heroes either. It’s too slight for adults, but far too dark and sterile for kids. Who in the hell was the intended audience.
The Fantastic Four is the type of boring, mistake-ridden flop that requires years of dissection to discover what went wrong with it. Did an inexperienced director create a flawed vision? Did the studio mess up the plot lm by making massive changes to create a discordant tale that pleases no one? Was the talented cast squandered by boneheaded producers? Did audiences just feel claustrophobic because the heroes pretty much never go outside and there are maybe 10 actors with lines? Where are Ben Grimm’s pants? Why does recalling anything about this movie make me immediately sleepy?
Among all those question is one answer I simply can’t agree with: Are the Fantastic Four too uninteresting to deserve a film? As the characters responsible for starting the Marvel Age of Comics in 1961, Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch, and The Thing will always be historically important enough to deserve a chance at Hollywood. But if people think they’re characters without any actual good stories to their name, you are 400% wrong.
For decade after the decade, the Fantastic Four have appeared in some of the best Marvel tales of all time. No matter the era, the FF have stories filled with excitement, pathos, action, humor, and universe shattering stakes, all while keeping the foursome grounded. They’re distinct in so many ways from folks like Spider-Man, X-Men, or The Avengers that trying to force them into that mold will never work, and if you were to read their best stories, you’d realize that.
And so, as I try to put that godawful movie in my rearview and remember the times when FF truly had the ‘World’s Greatest Comic,” I’d like to show all of you why I love this close knit group so very much. These stories are from all over the team’s history, and I’ve linked to the best places to grab them on Amazon should you finally feel like catching up with the cosmic-ray-bathed team of heroes.Now, onward, true believers!
The first 60-ish issues – There’s no denying the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee issues that started it all back in the 1960s are a little hokey and dated, as both creators are figuring out the Silver Age of comics one issue at a time. But when you look back at the books now, you can appreciate how groundbreaking they were for the time, with Kirby redefining comic book art for generations to come, as Lee’s hyperactive plotting made sure the soap opera never ended. And it’s such an unpredictable run.
Sometimes Namor will buy a movie studio for an elaborate plot to kidnap Sue, others Dr. Doom will send the FF back in time to rob Blackbeard the Pirate, And then, without warning, a silver-coated Messiah will show up to warn you that God will be here soon to eat the freaking world, just as Torch is about to start college. It’s pure, unrestrained creativity that’s hard not to love no matter how cornball or sexist the books from the age of Mad Men can get. Basically every single run on the Fantastic Four that followed is some way a reaction to these original books, so it’s not a bad idea to get to know them now.
Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four Classics – How did I first get to know the Fantastic Four? Through Spider-Man comics, due to the heroes sharing a strong bond that has been there since virtually the start. From the very first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, the FF has been hanging out with the webhead for generations, in some of the characters’ best stories. And many of them appear in this book.
Not only is there the aforementioned first meeting in Amazing, the Classics book also includes an old fashioned team-up against the Frightful Four, plus an underrated adventure drawn by Frank Miller. There’s even one of my all-time campy favorites, a flashback showing Spidey on a date with Susan, which gets interrupted by a jealous Namor. There are better books featuring Spider-Man on this list, but this one gives you a great feel for their history.
The Trial of Galactus – To be honest, there are dozens and dozens of issues from John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four worth checking out. After a so-so series of creators, Byrne recaptured the anything goes spirit of Lee and Kirby, making the FF more prominent than ever in the Marvel Universe. If you’re as rich as the ruler of Latveria, simply buy the two massive omnibuses of his entire ’80s run. But if you’re looking for the cream of the crop, this is the collection to get.
This slightly out of print collection follows the cosmic god’s desperate attempt to devour Earth one last time, and the FF lead an army of Marvel’s greatest heroes to defeat the behemoth. From there, we get a close look at an average day of Dr. Doom, solidifying the self righteous tyrant as Marvel’s greatest villain. Then you’ve got a city-destroying brawl between the FF, Doom, and Terrax, which then leads to Reed Richards being tried for crimes against the universe. This collection hits on all the FF’s best qualities in just a handful of issues, and is the best Bronze Age book the characters ever appeared in.
Unthinkable – After years of creative ups and downs, Mark Waid finally steadied the Fantastic Four’s ship alongside the late (and very much missed) Mike Wieringo. The pair’s early 2000s run, with assists from talented artists like Howard Porter, made the team feel current and human again while still recognizing their legacy. They even made the usually staid Reed more interesting, by giving him the secret regret of having failed his family via the accident that first gave them their powers.Of that entire run, Unthinkable is the apex, and it’s one of Dr. Doom’s greatest schemes.
It begins with a sad tale of Victor Von Doom realizing that if he wants to beat Richards, he needs magic more than science, and when the plan unfurls, the team is brought lower than they ever have been. Doom tears the family apart – almost literally – and the battle to pull themselves back together shows what makes the FF the heroes AND family unit we love them as. The fallout of this is almost as good, so if you enjoy Unthinkable, stick with Waid and Ringo’s run all the way to the end.