Monday, June 12, 2017

The End Is Fourever!

As our fellow comics aficionado snell has pointed out in his own blog, there was a time--before Marvel sought to wash its collective hands of the Fantastic Four--when the company raved about its "first family," and the thought of one day photoshopping the team out of promotional material would have been absurd to even consider.

But that was then, and this is now--when Marvel's premiere team has failed to catch on with motion picture audiences and thus has become an embarrassment to be kicked to the curb not only on the big screen, but also on the comics racks, as if Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Storm, and Johnny Storm never existed. Yet they did indeed exist, on so many levels--not only making their own history, but ushering in countless characters and concepts that survive to this day and are now thriving in comics as well as on those vaunted cinema screens.

It's easy to remember just how much mileage the FF racked up in comics over the years, though it's dizzying to recall how their own title was put through the wringer of rebooting and renumbering. I'd finally had it with the FF with issue #582, during writer Jonathan Hickman's run--which I almost regret in hindsight, because Hickman was doing some interesting things in the book; yet it's a moot point, since it was just six issues before the title would reboot for a third time, with both the FF as well as what they'd originally brought into comics becoming nearly unrecognizable.

As nearly as I can tell, their main title breaks down like this:

  • Issues 1-416, 1961-1996--snuffed out at the end like several other titles, with the coming of Onslaught.
  • Issues 1-13, 1996-1997--the first renumbering of the book, to accommodate the Heroes Reborn storyline.
  • Issues 1-588, 1998-2011--back to "themselves," in what appears to be a reboot of the entire series. Forty-two issues in, around mid-2001, the book transitions back to its previous numbering, placing it at #471.*
  • Issues 1-23, 2011-2012--the book's masthead now reads "FF," doubling for "Future Foundation," and the numbering gets a little complicated mid-stream. And that brings us to:
  • Issues 600-611, 2012, and yet another new series. The new Fantastic Four title--continuing its original numbering--begins in the middle of Future Foundation's run (following issue 11):

Both titles, however, would come to an end in December, 2012, with the new 2012 Fantastic Four title having a run of only 12 issues.

  • Issues 1-16, 2013-2014--a second "FF" series, with the real FF going on cosmic vacation (a pretense while Reed researches a cure for radiation sickness) while Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and someone named Darla Deering in a Thing suit act as replacements.
  • Issues 1-16, 2013-2014--another reboot. And one month after that series ends:
  • Issues 1-14 (which include Issues 642-645), 2014-2015--another reboot, returning to the original numbering in just a little over a year's time and which takes into account the prior reboot's issues.**

*In the interim, the first two Fantastic Four films--Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer premiere, in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
**The third FF film, stylized as Fant4stic, premieres in August, 2015--two months after the comic folds for good.

Does anyone have any Dramamine?

If you take a look at FF #645, a whopper at 63 pages--concluding a story appropriately billed as "The End Is Fourever" on the covers of the book's final (again, appropriately) four issues--you'll find it packed with sentimentality throughout, supplemented by a number of shorter tales by Karl Kesel, Louise Simonson, Tom DeFalco, and Jeff Parker. And with plenty of notice to readers counting down to the last issue, there's also a two-page letters page of well-wishers, with responses by "Willie Lumpkin." And as an added treat, six pages of favorite covers picked by the cream of creative talent from days of yore, along with their comments--Roy Thomas, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, Walt Simonson, Gerry Conway, Joe Sinnott, Stan Lee, John Romita Sr., Mark Millar, Paul Ryan, and others. Ralph Macchio certainly disagreed with my assessment of the cover to issue #37:

Well. To each his own, sir!

The issue had a cover price of $5.99 (my retail translator makes that out to be six dollars, no matter how you slice it), which may have been worth it if you were a reader who was willing to believe that Marvel was actually closing the door on the FF for good, instead of concocting another sales gimmick. And speaking of covers, the last four issues added the nice touch of alternating between the newest title style and three classic mastheads.

It seems doubtful that Marvel would want to take another crack at a Fantastic Four book, particularly with its lucrative cinema and small-screen ventures doing so nicely. The fact that the franchise hasn't caught fire at the box office for Fox is either an indication that audiences don't really care that much about the FF concept, or that no one has a clue as to how to present them in a motion picture, something that became all too evident in the frequent turnover of their comics. The last pages of their final story, after they've weathered their latest crisis, seem to take a more optimistic tone with their ability to bounce back--but this time really feels like goodbye, in all respects.

To take us out, it seems fitting to cycle through the team's eight #1 issues, from beginning to end--capped by Senior Editor Mark Paniccia's farewell note. I haven't been inside a comics shop in years, so I've no idea if a new Fantastic Four mag is once again on the racks and making a pitch to potential buyers; but I have the feeling that Roberta, the team's cordial robot receptionist, may still be fielding inquiries from the curious.

- 1961 -

- 1996 and 1998 -

- 2011 and 2012 -

- 2013 -

- 2014 -



Anonymous said...

There is no current incarnation of Fantastic Four but Ben Grimm is now a member of the Guardians Of The Galaxy.

The Prowler said...

During my very early years, I remember watching The Fantastic Four/Thor cartoons. When I started buying comics, it was all Spider-Man. Eventually, as my budget increased, I picked up Thor and Fantastic Four.

The Byrne run became my definitive Fantastic Four, both with the Thing and She-Hulk.

I own all 13 issues of the Heroes Reborn run (for all four titles) but haven't read any. I picked back up with the Heroes Return run.

On my own note, recently finished scanning my Marvel's Greatest Comics. Reprint wise, I'm spotty from 34 to 69, then from 70 to 100, I'm missing 90 & 99.

The King is dead, long live The King...

(Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town
She had a reputation as a girl who'd been around
Down Main Street after midnight with a brand new pack of cigs
A fresh one hangin' from her lips and a beer between her legs
She'd ride down to the river and meet with all her friends
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Sonny was a loner he was older than the rest
He was going into the Navy but he couldn't pass the test
So he hung around town he sold a little pot
The law caught wind of Sonny and one day he got caught
But he was back in business when they set him free again
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Sonny's playin' 8-ball at the joint where Sherry works
When some drunken outta towner put his hand up Sherry's skirt
Sonny took his pool cue laid the drunk out on the floor
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar and walked on out the door
She's runnin' right behind him reachin' for his hand
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They jumped into his pickup Sonny jammed her down in gear
Sonny looked at Sherry and said lets get on outta here
The stars were high above them and the moon was in the east
The sun was settin' on them when they reached Miami Beach
They got a hotel by the water and a quart of Bombay gin
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They soon ran out of money but Sonny knew a man
Who knew some Cuban refugees that delt in contraband
Sonny met the Cubans in a house just off the route
With a briefcase full of money and a pistol in his boot
The cards were on the table when the law came bustin' in
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

The Cubans grabbed the goodies and Sonny grabbed the Jack
He broke a bathroom window and climbed on out the back
Sherry drove the pickup through the alley on the side
Where a lawman tackled Sonny and was reading him his rights
She stepped into the alley with a single shot .410
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They left the lawman lyin' and they made their getaway
They got back to the motel just before the break of day
Sonny gave her all the money and he blew her a little kiss
If they ask you how this happened say I forced you into this
She watched him as his taillights disappeared around the bend
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Its Main Street after midnight just like it was before
21 months later at the local grocery store
Sherry buys a paper and a cold 6-pack of beer
The headlines read that Sonny is goin' to the chair
She pulls back onto Main Street in her new Mercedes Benz
The road goes on forever and the party never ends).

Anonymous said...

So their attitude is, if a comic is not an advertisement for a blockbuster movie or a cable T.V. show or something on Netflix, why go to the expense of publishing it?
Maybe Marvel is dead, except for that one purpose.


Comicsfan said...

Colin, I suppose I should no longer be surprised at where the members of the FF migrate to. Reed and Sue become Avengers; the Torch joins up with Fantastic Force (to say nothing of his stint as herald of Galactus); while the Thing has been part of a number of Avengers lineups. I'm surprised none of them found their way into the Defenders at some point.

Prowler, Keen's final line to each verse is certainly appropropriate for the FF's "road," no doubt about it. If Fantastic Four had been an ongoing TV series instead of a comic, that would have made a nice song for the final rolling credits.

M.P., in the FF's case, I think it possibly could have been a matter of the difficulty involved with a Fantastic Four film coexisting with the FF comic, and vice versa, assuming the original members are retained in the film installments. While a comic can somehow freeze its characters in time and still have the Richards carting around two pre-teen children even in 2014, the same thing wouldn't be possible with a successful film franchise that has a new film appearing every two years. As with the Bond film, aging actors can be replaced so that the franchise continues; but Reed and Sue could never start a family, since the kids would have to be accounted for in one film after the next. Since Marvel's business focus is probably on television and cinema, perhaps the decision was made to simply discontinue the comic on a high note. (Of course, that was two months before the 2015 film tanked, which means any concerns about a successful film franchise were rendered moot.)

Unknown said...

the only thing worse than a Jim Lee Reed Richards is an Mike Allred 'anything' for any mainstream character.