Wednesday, August 15, 2012

History In A Heavyweight

Reading Vol. 2 of the Fantastic Four Omnibus is like being educated in comic books all over again. Before your eyes, you get to see how both writing and art progressed over the years. When I first got my copy, and it was like paging through comics history. It was clear that Fantastic Four began strictly for kids--but over time, it transformed into a book that appealed to both kids and adults alike. Wouldn't boy bands love to have that going for them.

I hadn't yet read some of the earliest FF stories like "Death of a Hero!", "Side-by-Side With Sub-Mariner!", "A House Divided!", or "The Frightful Four!" Some of them have embarrassing moments, like when Paste-Pot Pete (who has no super-strength) snags a passing Air Force jet with his paste gun--or when the Thing, who has bounced off buildings, sprains his toe when he kicks a piece of equipment out of frustration. The stories seemed more suited to newspaper comic strips. But as time went on, those kinds of gaffes faded as well. The issues grew up, as we grew up with them.

It's hard to say which of the Lee/Kirby creative team was the most responsible for that. It's well documented that FF issues and stories were produced in a very structured way: Kirby would draw the art for the issue, in effect visually creating the entire story; and then Lee would take those pages and add the dialogue to them. Having the Omnibus in front of you makes clear that Kirby's artwork evolved significantly. Panels became much more detailed, helped in no small degree by other inkers coming on board. Chic Stone had to be my least favorite inker, in that respect. Panels were finished with minimal effort, and characters' faces had minimal--well, character. (To see a good example of Stone's technique over Kirby's work, you can check out the Inhumans segment of Amazing Adventures #1.)

There's also a marked difference between Stone's last issue for Fantastic Four (FF #38) and the next issue's stand-in inker of Frank Ray (actually Frank Giacoia)--it's astounding. When Vince Colletta is added to the team with "The Battle of the Baxter Building!", there was some improvement; but I would say that Colletta simply closed some of the gaps in Stone's work, to where the panels were more interesting. Joe Sinnott's first work in "The Gentleman's Name Is Gorgon!" adds a more polished look, and took Kirby (for the most part) to the remainder of his run on the book.

If you do decide to pick up the Omnibus, keep in mind that even though it comprises issues of comic books, it's literally not light reading--this puppy is over 6 pounds! But for those of you curious about comic books, or just the Fantastic Four in particular, I very highly recommend it. It is an amazing representation of comic book history.

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