MARVEL MASTERWORKS: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 4 (Marvel, 2010; Softcover)
Collects Fantastic Four Nos. 31-40 and Fantastic Four Annual No. 2 (cover dates October, 1964- July, 1965).
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Jack Kirby (penciler) with inkers Chic Stone, Frankie Ray (39), and Vince Colletta (40).
The historical significance of Silver Age Marvel can never be stated enough. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and a few others revolutionized the comic book world. They ushered in true character development, conflicted heroes, and, dare I say it, “realism” in a completely unrealistic world. I prefer the term believability to realism because there is nothing realistic about this stuff. Stan Lee puts enough pseudo-science and five dollar words into his scripts to make me buy the whole enchilada hook, line, and sinker.
These issues are not the cream of the crop, at least in terms of Lee and Kirby's collaboration on the title. They are excellent, but there isn't anything as groundbreaking as what was coming up within the next year on the title. Annual 2 features another rematch with Doctor Doom. No one draws Doom as good as Kirby did. No one. Anyone who thinks that they can outdo Kirby's Doom is fooling only themselves. Issue 31 features another rematch, this one being in the form of the Mole Man. Issue 32 features the Invincible Man who is in reality (50 year old S P O I L E R!!) the Super Skrull, one of my favorite villains.
Issue 33 features some new blood in the form of Attuma, who would go on to be a major player. Issue 35 introduces Dragon Man, a robotic research construct brought to life by Diablo. Kirby's Diablo is also incredible, although John Byrne did a highly respectable take on the character during his run on this title.
Issue 36 features the introduction of another personal favorite, the Frightful Four. The original incarnation included the Wizard (billed here as the Wingless Wizard), the Sandman, Paste-Pot Pete (who would be renamed the Trapster in issue 38), and Medusa (later of the Inhumans, billed here as Madame Medusa). The FF would have a rematch with them in issue 38. Issue 37 features the Fantastic Four attacking the Skrulls home world in a tale that is silly. The Skrulls as we know them now are a savage, warrior race without a shred of the nobility shown here.
Issues 39 and 40 round out the book in a two-parter where Daredevil assists a temporarily powerless Fantastic Four against Doctor Doom. I'll say it again: Kirby's Doom rules.
Stan Lee was in churn mode here, with a few grammatical errors making it to the finished product. I dunno, you might be able to blame it on letterer Sam Rosen. This group of issues is excellent but is not as groundbreaking as the earlier issues, or the ones coming up. The Silver Surfer, Galactus, and the Black Panther await us in Volumes 5 and 6.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.
The OCD zone- God bless Marvel for letting Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 2 fall out of print. It featured complete restoration over the existing Masterworks. It also went out of print quickly. I bought the Kirby variant the day it came out in 2007. The book was marred by insanely tight glued mousetrap binding, to the point where I never wanted to touch it again. Marvel issued reprints of Vols. 5 and 6 of the Masterworks with sewn binding, and this 2010 softcover printing of Volume 4, all featuring the same superior restoration. I dumped my Omnibus on eBay for some serious cash and used that money to buy this softcover and the 2007 back-to-press Masterworks of 5 and 6 with the same superior restoration. I also pocketed a nice chunk of change which I used to buy more books. Thanks again, Marvel and eBay!
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5. Consider this the Blu-Ray version of these comic books. All of these softcover Marvel Masterworks feature the finest linework and color restoration available. If you are new to the scene and are confused by the various printings with their assorted drawbacks and inconsistencies, I would strongly urge you to buy Omnibus hardcovers or these affordable trade paperbacks.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. See above comment.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. I love love love the paper used in these softcover Masterworks. It is a dull matte finish coated stock and is a medium weight. It feels nice but makes the book not too bulky. I like to call this paper grade Goldilocks weight because it is just right.
Binding rating: 4.25 out of 5. These books are wider than standard trade paperbacks, replicating the width of the original Silver Age publications. The glued binding is solid, and the binding, cardstock cover, and paper grade all have a sufficient combination of flex that allow this book to lay flat in the palm of your hand like a giant periodical. OCD heaven.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. Beautiful, thick, wax-like coating makes me a happy OCD camper and will ensure more durability with repeated handling on your bookshelf.