Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fantastic Four: Extended Family (comics)

Writers: Numerous, including Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dwayne McDuffie and more
Artists: Numerous
Collects: Fantastic Four #1, 81, 132, 168, 265, 307, 347, 384, 544, Fantasic Four (1998) #42

Here we are with another theme collection. This one was brought about by the events of Johnathan Hickmans run on the property, where a plot twist leaves the team one short and in need of a replacement. So naturally, a collection of other times heroes filled in on the team is in order.

I generally like these sort of collections. You'll recall The Black Casebook went over well with me, while Strange Deaths of Batman was also a decent time. They tend to have their problems though. This one is no exception; and in this case, it kind of hampers the enjoyment.

So, there's no real story to this volume. Each issue is part of a different era doing its own thing. But reading this, it quickly becomes rather obvious that the Fantastic Four do have quite the "extended family". Members over the years have included Crystal of the Inhumans, She-Hulk, one of the Ms. Marvels, Luke Cage, an Ant-Man or two and various others. Fitting, really, since this is the team that helped give birth to the Marvel Universe as a whole. They should have connections from all over the place.

Of course, many of them vary in quality, but on the whole the issues within are at least decent. The writing is usually serviceable to good, with the same to be said of the art. Though if either of the two suffers more than the other, it's the art. You can tell right off when you've reached the issues from the early nineties. The art takes the predicted nose dive; and Invisible Woman tarts it up in your typical impractical sleazy 90's costume, this time with the four of her costume cut out to show her skin and cleavage because of course. The art picks back up again with the last issue collected, but man some of these are rough.

The problem, then, is that there are some odd choices. That's part and parcel for these kind of things - not everyones favorites will be collected and some deserving issues will be passed over for iffier ones - but this volume trends odder than usual. For example, why, exactly, is Fantastic Four #1 included? It's the first of the series, but it doesn't fit the MO of the book. It's the formation of the classic team; it has nothing to do with "other members". So, while more Jack Kirby art is never a bad thing, it's an odd choice to include over another issue.

More pressing is the volumes tendency to show us the formation of a team, but not any real adventures. Fine early on - the more compressed nature of old comics allows for an adventure to be packed in with this - but later it starts to become a problem. She-Hulk, Ant-Man and others show up to help Johnny when others are missing, but we never get to see the assembled team in action?

Then there's the well known "New Fantastic Four" story with Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Hulk and Spidey. We get the first issue, of which the majority consists of the old team being taken out, with the new team only forming and getting the gist of the problem at the very end. We never see them do anything. Perhaps an issue a bit further in where we see them do something would have been more appropriate? Just a thought.

So in this way, the volume doesn't give is the full picture of the advertised adventures of alternate teams. Not exactly something in their favor. The volume really needed a few issues from later in a couple of the teams tenure. Hell, if they insisted on the first issue of the "New Fantastic Four", they could have included the second in place of reprinting the very first issue.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

This collection could have used a bit more attention to its contents and for that the score is hurt. It's not a terrible collection, just a bit more flawed than some of it's contemporaries for obvious reasons. Worth a look if you can borrow it from a library or friend, but not really worth buying.

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