Introduction: Why The Fantastic Four?   2 comments

I have been reading comic books for as long as I can remember. They are the first thing I remember reading as a small child and they are what I read most often to this day. One of the things I love most about comic books is the wide array of genre’s within the art form. Virtually any type of story has been translated to the comic form at one time or another. However, as much as I enjoy reading a spy thriller, or a historical crime novel, or a slice of life drama, it is super heroes that I always return to.

There’s just something about the super hero genre that appeals to me. I love the larger than life personas and the creative character designs. The struggle of good vs evil is one that never seems to get old. The elaborate plans of the villains and the heroes solutions to the problems are always a lot of fun. Mostly, super hero stories are the ultimate form of escapism.

All you have to do is turn on the news for five minutes to realize we live in troubled times. The real life evil in the world is far scarier than any plot ever devised by a super villain. All too often, the bad guys get away with their crimes, too. In the world of super heroes, however, when somebody preys on the weak, there are people in the world who notice, people with the power to make a difference. People with the power to fight evil and even defeat it. It’s a fun world o escape to and feel reassured for a little while.

I have had the idea for a long time to do a blog where I read an entire run of a comic book and comment on each issue, one by one. I felt it would be a great challenge, as well as an interesting one to document as I did it in the form of a blog. There were many choices for which title to use for this endeavor. Preacher is my favorite story ever written. Sandman is a modern day classic and the closest comic books have ever  come to being taken seriously as literature. However, both of those series were very short, just 66 and 75 issues respectively. For this challenge, I wanted something much longer, something with decades of history. I had entertained the thought of using Cerebus as my topic, but changed my mind. While the 300 issues chronicling the adventures of Dave Sim’s Aardvark would have made a fascinating conversation piece, I felt the story would eventually fall to the background as the controversial nature of Sim’s beliefs would become more and more the focus of the blog. I didn’t want that kind of overtone to my experience. I wanted something that would be, at its heart, done for the fun of it.

I knew that the title I picked would have to be a super hero story. While most of my favorite individual stories are not super hero stories, super heroes do still remain my favorite genre and the one I read most. I couldn’t just pick any super hero book, however. I needed one that was important. I needed one that was influential and important in shaping the way comics are made today. I needed The Fantastic Four.

As of this writing, The Fantastic Four is almost an after thought in the comic book world. While Spider-Man, the X-men and Batman are all still wildly popular, The FF is seen as something of a nostalgia book. The characters and their stories are looked at as being old fashioned and unhip. While long-time favorites like Superman, Iron Man and even Captain America are being reinterpreted and reimagined for a more modern era, the Fantastic Four remain largely unchanged. It is rare that anyone tries to make real change to the core ideas behind the book. As a result, the Fantastic Four is seen as something of a throwback title, something published more for the legacy of the book than any real demand to read further adventures of Marvel’s First Family.

I find this to be somewhat of a puzzling position for the book to be in. The Fantastic Four is one of the single most important titles in the history of comic books. In my opinion, only Action Comics was more important in the creation of the core principles and potential of what super hero comic books could be. Fantastic Four wasn’t just the first Marvel comic, for many years, it was also the best Marvel comic. Fantastic Four was the comic book for readers who wanted to be on the cutting edge. it was the book with the most outlandish ideas, the most current characters, the most relevant stories. It was the most mature comic book, the one that made it OK for college kids to enjoy funny books as much as little kids. Fantastic Four was the book where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were making history, with Kirby’s timeless character designs, Lee’s groundbreaking emotional depth and pathos, and artwork by Kirby so influential, it is still being used as inspiration 50 years later.

The Fantastic Four was the comic book that all other comic books wanted to be. it had terrific characters, conflict, drama, insane creative concepts, top notch artwork, and unforgettable stories. Fantastic Four breathed new life into a stale genre, bringing super hero comics to a new level and ushering in the Marvel Age of Comics.

Fantastic Four was so groundbreaking, so successful, so beloved, that Stan Lee, in one of his usual acts of hyperbole, actually printed the book for many years with the tag line “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” right on the cover above the title. This time, Lee wasn’t exaggerating. FF really was the world’s greatest comic for a long, long time.

Gradually, that started to change. Fantastic Four went from being the coolest comic around to an also ran. Many comics books were more highly held in the public opinion than FF. Spider-Man replaced the FF as Marvel’s flagship character. the X-Men were much hotter sellers. The Avengers had more big time adventures. Even the Defenders had more of the in-fighting and arguing amongst team mates that had made Fantastic Four so unique in it’s early years.

Every so often, a creator or creative team would take over on Fantastic Four and remind hardcore fans why “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” was still printed on the cover each month. The most famous of these instances was John Byrne’s now legendary run on the title. Byrne left his mark on the FF like no creator since Lee and Kirby first introduced the world to the FF. Walt Simonson had a run on the book that is remembered very fondly. Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo had a run on the book that was much loved by those of us who read it. Currently, Jonathan Hickman is attempting to revamp and update the title, giving it the most drastic overhaul it has ever received in it’s 50 years being published.

In honor of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” I will be doing “The World’s Greatest Blog.” It is a celebration of The Fantastic Four as I embark on my journey into the rich history of this great comic book. I have given myself the challenge of reading every single issue of the Fantastic Four and commenting on each one. I think this will be a very educational trip through comics history as I make my way through 50 years of a single comic book. Along the way, I expect to see a lot of groundbreaking, influential work, a lot of great characters and classic stories, and a whole lot of fun. I love the Fantastic Four. I always have. I believe I always will. I’m hoping this experiment not only strengthens that love, but spreads it to new readers who wonder why the Fantastic Four is still being published after 5 decades.

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Posted April 15, 2011 by John V. Ferrigno in Fantastic Four

2 responses to “Introduction: Why The Fantastic Four?

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  1. I am looking forward to seeing how this unfolds. I think it’s an interesting challenge, and am excited to see where you take it. Especially since you’ve told me snippets here and there of certain issues. It’ll be interesting to read about them all.

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