Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Mark Waid and artist Mike Wieringo come out swinging with the hopes of reintroducing the FF to a new generation of readers in vol. 3 #60 legacy 489. In doing so, they ushered in the third great era for the series.
Fantastic Four was the hottest thing around in the 60s, and it got hugely popular again during John Byrne’s time on the title, thanks to Byrne’s cinematic storytelling. Since then, however, the series floundered throughout the late 80s, the 90s, and the early 2000s. Steve Englehart, Walt Simonson, Tom DeFalco, Jim Lee, Chris Claremont, and Carlos Pacheco all had some good moments on the series, but Fantastic Four was considered dowdy and old-fashioned compared to the likes of X-Men, Batman, and everything happening in the indie comics scene. This issue was Marvel proudly announcing that the Fantastic Four are BACK.
Gimmie a gimmick: To further promote Fantastic Four as the next big thing, Marvel lowered the price of this issue to only 9 cents! That’s 1 cent lower than the original Fantastic Four #1. It worked, as EVERYONE bought this thing. If you collect comics, there’s probably one in your long boxes right now.
We begin in a shadowy boardroom where mysterious figures are discussing the FF’s origin story. The lights come up to reveal that these aren’t villains but a marketing firm, and the FF are their new clients. The Fantastic Four’s licensing deals are decreasing, as are their public appearances and interview opportunities. A young executive named Shertzer is assigned to meet the FF in person to come up with ideas.
Cut to Shertzer aboard an FF vehicle, sitting between Ben and Johnny as they bicker. After a page of comedy shtick, it’s revealed that they on board an interdimensional transport, in pursuit of a giant creature called a Datavore. Reed explains that info gained from the creature could help him bioengineer a self-sustaining dimensional probe that could convert ingested matter into fuel. Reed collects the data while his teammates fight off an insect horde, all while Shertzer watches. Everyone returns to Earth. Shertzer is introduced to Franklin, and the others wonder why Reed is so concerned with the FF’s celebrity status when he hadn’t been in the past. Meanwhile, one of the insects from the other dimension hitched a ride on their ship and now lurks around the Baxter Building.
Later, Shertzer joins Sue and Johnny outside the building as they do repairs following an unseen attack from the Mad Thinker. They talk about Johnny’s recent breakup with a girlfriend named Jennifer. Sue says Johnny should think more about his future, and she has an offer for him. But he flies off before she can continue.
The next day, Shertzer is there when the FF respond to a science lab where gravity has gone haywire. The team rescues visitors who end flying into the sky uncontrollably, while also getting gravity back to normal. It’s revealed that these scientists are a think-tank called “Cause Cerebral.” Reed was once a member but the group recently kcicked him out. The others suspect this is why Reed hired Shertzer’s firm, and they give him a big speech about it’s not about Reed’s ego. Shertzer concludes that while all four are adventurers at heart, it’s the other three’s adventuring that gives Reed the room he needs for his explorations and inventions.
The day after that, Shertzer joins Ben, Sue, and baby Valeria out shopping, when they come across some street performers doing a rap about the Thing. He dislikes it at first, but then comes around and buys one of their CDs. Sue points out that while a lot of people fear Ben as a monster, he does have his fans. After that, Reed and Sue visit a museum where Sue asks him about Shertzer. Reed says it’s important that the FF be in the public eye.
Shertzer reports to his bosses, saying that an edgy and modern reboot is not what the FF need. He argues that they are not superheroes, but astronauts and explorers. They stop evildoers along the way, but that’s not the job. He tells his bosses to focus on the FF as people, not as costumes. That night, when Reed is alone with Valeria, he lets Valeria in on the secret. He had been asked to join the Cause Cerebral, but turned them down to spend more time with his family. He says that the costumes and the colorful names are so the public won’t fear his teammates but instead adore them. He says that by turning his friends into celebrities, maybe he can someday be forgiven for taking their normal lives away. Then Ben and Johnny burst through saying there’s a problem with a time machine and now Davy Crockett needs the FF’s help. Sue says, “There’s always something new to deal with, isn’t there?” Reeds ends the issue with “I certainly hope so.”
Unstable molecule: I don’t know that we can back and reread Fantastic Four #1 and interpret Reed’s regrets and fears for his teammates’ futures in the half a page where the choose their codenames. I daresay that these regrets developed over time, especially during the team’s rocky first few adventures.
Fade out: There’s a lot of talk in this issue of how Reed and Sue have a “system” worked out, where she knows when to let him be oblivious and lost in his own head, and when it’s time to snap him out of it.
Clobberin’ time: Ben says the Hulk will be jealous to learn Ben has his own rap song. Hope Ben never learns about the 1969 smash hit “Nobody Loves the Hulk.”
Flame on: Johnny has recently broken up with his girlfriend, an actress named Jennifer (suspected but not confirmed to be Jennifer Garner). This means his romance with Namorita has ended. I continued to find it fascinating that their relationship went on for a couple of years, with most of it happening off panel. That includes their breakup, because the Marvel Wiki lists this issue as the official end of their relationship.
Fantastic fifth wheel: We’re told that Valeria is in daycare on the moon. This suggests that Crystal and/or Medusa have taken up babysitting duties again.
Four and a half: Reed brings Franklin a gift from the Datavore’s universe – a “macro-atom.” Could this be setting up Franklin a budding young scientist?
Our gal Val: Reed’s confession alone with Valeria includes this often-memed panel of him making a funny face.
Commercial break: Sing along!
Trivia time: There’s a lot of only-in-one-issue stuff here. Shertzer never appears again after this, and neither does the Datavore creature. The reference to the Mad Thinker’s attack is never followed up on, and there’s a reference to a monster called the Mandlebot that the FF once fought but will never be mentioned again. The Cause Cerebral has no Marvel Wiki entry, so it’s a safe bet they’re not coming back, either.
This issue states that the FF’s original rocketship crashed in California, whereas other comics said it crashed in upstate New York. I suspect this is a reference to the FF’s early adventures taking place in Central City, eventually revealed to be located in California.
Yes, Davy Crockett is a canonical Marvel character, having appeared in a handful of Marvel Western comics. He later appeared in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Celestial Madonna event, with a lot of time-travel and historical events were depicted in one issue.
Fantastic or frightful? Was this really the perfect issue to attract new readers and bring back lapsed readers? Who can tell? More importantly, it’s the exact comic the creators set out to make, with Waid’s emphasis on character-based stories, and Wieringo’s desire for comics to be light and colorful instead of dark and gritty. Now that everyone’s been reintroduced, we get to have some real fun.
Next: Big business.
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