Fantastic Four 356-400
By Tom Defalco and Paul Ryan
Save the Drama for Your Mama…or the FF
Wow, there is an awful lot going on over the course of these 44 issues, I completely understand why it was referred to as the “soap opera” era of the fab foursome. Right from the start they begin teasing that something was wrong with Alicia Storm the wife of the Human Torch (and former love of Ben Grimm before he went off to be a space cowboy following Secret Wars).she was an alien the whole time! They get the real Alicia back and you’re left with Johnny Storm still loving her, while she’s still in love with Ben (she spent the entire time in stasis), who is dating Sharon the former female Thing. All of this happens in the first two issues of the run, and they just keep going from there.
The team starts doubtung Reed because he’s to wrapped up in his science, then he (along with Doom who turns out to be his brother?) dies and is temporarily replaced by Scott Lang aka Ant-Man. Sue embraces the malevolent entity known as Malice going full on 90’s with both her aggression and chosen attire. Johnny becomes a fugitive after his returning pregnant alien wife, alongside some other nefarious characters, cause him to burn down Empire State University. The Thing is torn between Alicia and Sharon (who’s working with Dr. Doom), proceeds to get his rocky face horribly scarred by Wolverine and starts wearing a mask for protection. I’m not sure if I have the “ink” to really break down the time-travelling grandpa who kidnaps an increasingly volatile Franklin Richards and returns him moments later as the teenage Psi-lord. So much drama and so much 90’s mentality is on display throughout the run, but bear with me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The First Family
Two things really stand out about this run, which to my mind, shows that they GET what they entire foundation of the Fantastic Four has been built on. First and foremost, they are a family. Other teams, the X-Men for example, touch upon this aspect as well but it truly shines through with this group in a way that gives it a more resonant feel to the dynamic. They have as many (if not more) issues as all of the rest do, but the connective tissue it all hangs from is just that little bit stronger. Regardless of the situation, they ALWAYS have each others back regardless of if it’s personal drama or one of their cosmic adventures. Which brings me to my second point.
The Fantastic Four are where Marvel’s cosmic side sprang up from. Reed’s insatiable pushing on the boundaries of the universe is the driving force behind their stories, and it leads them to space and other dimensions to face aliens and demigods. I’m personally of the opinion that they are explorers first, superheroes second, and they consistently strengthen that train of thought by constantly mixing new aliens, planets and entire universes in with their terrestrial struggles. The roots planted by Lee and Kirby (which we’ll get to 98 entries from now) are still very much in effect and on display.
I’ve truly enjoyed diving back into this era in the FF’s history, particularly since the two issues I had growing up (358 Lyja is uncovered as a Skrull and 381 the “deaths” of Reed and Doom) were rather pivotal issues and it’s gratifying to revisit them within the greater context of the lore. That said, there are some chapters that suffer from the fracturing of the four and it kind of loses its identity as it treads water while waiting to bring it all back together. Maybe if the opening half had been less chaotic it wouldn’t have stood out quite so much, and you also have to consider that this was four years worth of stories so you’re bound to hit some rough patches. However, we do get a rollicking crescendo in issue #400 which ends the tale of the war between the Celestials and the Watchers that nicely works in call backs to the entire FF mythos. It leaves us with Doom’s 12 yr old heir Kristoff joining the team which can’t end well. I’ll admit that i wish I could spare the time to read the final dozen or so issues that remain in the series before Onslaught reorganizes the universe, but I have way too much in my plate to indulge in the whim. Maybe it should go on my next bucket list for another day, but first, I have 99 more runs to read.
Our next stop will be Imperium by Joshua Dysart #1-16. I have no reference for this series having not been exposed to it. Should be interesting. This I’m getting from a friend but I believe it’s available via Comixology Unlimited. But thats next time, until then feel free to share your thoughts on the Fantastic Four with us by:
Posting them in the comments section below
On Twitter: @comic_panel
On Instagram: The_Comic_Panel