Fantastic Four #1 – Reviews Of Old Comics
With the newest Fantastic Four movie being given horrible reviews on its opening weekend, it seemed like the time to review another reboot of the Fantastic Four. In 1996, the crash of the comic book industry started, with sales for that year dropping by about a third. Marvel, making an effort to capitalize on the popularity of comics bought it’s own distributor and took four of its flagship books, all of which had done horribly in sales compared to the speculator-fueled frenzy in its X-Men titles and handed over creative control to Image founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Within three months of this reboot of those titles, called Heroes Reborn, Marvel would file for bankruptcy.
Jim Lee was given control over two titles, Iron Man and Fantastic Four. While Iron Man was handled primarily by Scott Lobdell and Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee personally rebooted Fantastic Four. How was it? To be honest, I’ve never read it, despite it being in my digital collection for about ten years. Let’s take a look at Heroes Reborn Fantastic Four and see if it handled rebooting the Fantastic Four any better than the films have.
Ben Grimm is a test pilot for Reed Richards new experimental space project and has visions of being involved in a horrible accident on the flight. He is just the test pilot, not cleared for the actual mission. Reed’s ship is being launched soon to study a space anomaly approaching the solar system. The project is being funded by the Storm Foundation. Reed’s girlfriend Susan Storm, and her brother Johnny are largely coordinating the funding, and coming out to pick up a piece of the spacecraft for Johnny to display at his casinos.
Just as Susan gets of the phone with Ben Grimm, Federal Agent Wyatt Wingfoot enters and tells her that because of the anomaly fluctuating, the government will take over the project, replacing Reed Richards and the crew with their own men. She protests, but to no avail. When they arrive, Reed likewise protests, but cannot sway Agent Wingfoot who has him and Ben Grimm detained. Once alone, Wingfoot has the Storms taken away and reveals to the readers that he is not working for the government, but for Victor Von Doom.
Johnny and Sue escape and free Reed and Ben, who have a plan to stop the hijacked launch by chasing it with the prototype, which is not shielded as well. Cosmic energy readings spike as they approach the anomoly and see something emerge. When the hijacked ship launches a nuclear missle at the anomaly, the radiation from both the nukes and the anomaly flood the prototype, sending it crashing back to Earth, on an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle.
Johnny is the first to emerge, completely aflame, extinguishing himself in the ocean near the shore. He comes across Reed, whose body has been stretched to amazing lengths. With consciousness, Reed can retract his limbs and Johnny can control his ignition, but they have been mutated by the radiation. Ben Grimm finds himself turning into a rocky, orange creature while Sue finds that the prototype’s Quantum Drive is damaged and could explode. She finds Ben, transformed into a Thing, only to captured by monsters. Reed and Johnny are chased by similar creatures coming upon the captured Ben and Susan. In defeating the monsters that threaten them, Ben discovers he has amazing strength, and Susan discovers that she can become invisible.Afterwards, it’s discovered that their captor is the Mole Man!
A lot of what this issue does is simply update the Fantastic Four’s origin. Initially, they were just trying to get into space. Here, they are trying to get farther, faster than anyone has before and study a space anomaly. Instead of stealing a ship to complete the mission before it’s shut down, they’re stopping what they think is a nefarious government takeover of the project. Like almost every film adaptation, Doctor Doom is tied into their origin. I personally think that this is a mistake, as it makes the world very, very small. Having Reed and Doom with some connection in their past does the same thing, but broadens the world a little by making Doom’s motives multi-layered and not as single-minded. The nefarious and interfering government is a trope overused in Jim Lee’s Wildstorm comics, one which he took over to DC with the New 52. Here, it’s used as a red herring to hide a nefarious foreign government interfering.
The artwork on Heroes Reborn Fantastic Four is classic Jim Lee, but hardly at his peak. We have suits that show toned physiques, almost as if Jim Lee hadn’t realized how suits hang. You will be hard pressed to find anyone that does not look like they spend every spare moment in a gym. Reed begins with a slender frame but it transforms into a classic heroic build once the suspense builds. There are numerous instances where Susan is drawn to feature her boobs and butt, with the most egregious pose being where she discovers the Thing. I won’t re-post it here, as a simple google search will show it. The artwork is the best example of the 90’s style, with all of its flaws. However, Jim Lee was still able to get storytelling across, and this still seems like a Marvel comic instead of a Wildstorm comic masquerading as one.
Of note in the back of the issue is three “Time Slip” entries from a short-lived Marvel magazine called Marvel Vision. Time Slip’s took the original concepts from the dawn of the Marvel Universe and gave them to current, very innovative artists to re-design. Shared here are Guy Davis’s Iron Man, John Paul Leon’s Doctor Doom, and John K. Snyder III’s Nick Fury. They’re very good and expect me to cover the Time Slip’s in another article.
This issue has been collected in Heroes Reborn Fantastic Four (ISBN: 0785123369). If you want to find the individual issue, you should be able to find it for just a few dollars, and maybe in dollar bins. This was the beginning of the crash, and while it was the best selling comic for the month it was released, a lot of comics from this time period have lost their demand.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: The Recommended Reading links to pages on Amazon where you can buy those books and support Needless Essentials through their Associates program.)
FINAL RATING: 6.0 (out of a possible 10) Just slightly above average, with a reboot seeming unnecessary in how little it diverges from the original material. Where it does, it uses hackneyed tropes that are tired and make the world small.