MARVEL MASTERWORKS: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 17 (Marvel, First Printing, 2015; Hardcover)
Collects Fantastic Four #176-191 (cover dates November, 1976- February, 1978)
Writers: Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Archie Goodwin, and Marv Wolfman
Artists: George Perez, Sal Buscema, and Ron Wilson with Inking by Joe Sinnott, Dave Hunt, and Tony DeZuniga
Many of these issues were collected in the Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Perez trades, which I dumped years ago in anticipation of the Masterworks line reaching this era. Things start out strong with four Roy Thomas-penned issues. Roy brings back the Impossible Man, who had not been seen in years. From there he goes into the return of the Frightful Four, who hold auditions for their new fourth member in the FF's headquarters, the Baxter Building. Their new fourth member is The Brute, who is really (!!!SPOILER!!!) Reed Richards of Counter-Earth. Evil Reed Richards hitched a ride to this Earth unbeknownst to the FF in the issues collected in the previous volume. Counter-Earth Reed Richards/ The Brute ends up tricking the team, sending the real Mister Fantastic into The Negative Zone.
I really enjoyed this scene from issue 178, where the Frightful Four were holding the then cash strapped city of New York for ransom. The mayor reached for out for financial help from the soon-to-be president Jimmy Carter, the then-current president Gerald Ford, and the at the time eliminated presidential candidate and future president, actor turned politician Ronald Reagan. This issue was on the stands in October of 1976, and Roy Thomas was all Nostradamus, with Carter predicting his election the following week.
#180 was a reprint of #101, and only the cover is presented here. Marvel did this a handful of times during the '70s. Jim Shooter rectified deadline problems like these in the '80s by commissioning inventory issues which were whipped out in lieu of reprints if the current creative team missed their deadline. #181 is near and dear to my heart, as it was a quarter box find circa 1983 and served as my introduction to Annihilus. Agatha Harkness also returns as a supporting cast member in that issue.
Things develop with Agatha Harkness, coming to a head in #185. The Fantastic Four are led to New Salem, a town hidden in the Colorado Rockies which was not on any map. Oh, the days before Google Earth, when things like hidden towns were a possibility. The witches of New Salem kidnapped Agatha Harkness to try her for her “crime” of venturing into the outside world. There is lots of great faux occult goodness, including animated gargoyle stone statues and even a group of super-powered witches called Salem's Seven, the type of adversaries considered too silly for so-called sophisticated 21st century readers.
#187 and 188 are a two-parter where the FF take on Klaw and the Molecule Man. The Fantastic Four break up at the end of that issue. #189 is another reprint fill-in issue. Only the cover is included here. #190 is a waste of time, a recap issue slapped together to fill in what has happened so far. I remember enjoying those back in the pre-Internet days. This issue features some of Sal Buscema's most phoned in work. #191 cements the end of the Fantastic Four, with all four members going their own way at the end of the issue.
This is of course not the end of the team or the title. Modern day advance solicits would have sucked all of the life out of this storyline, but fans back in 1977 had no real way of knowing what was coming next. While I enjoy the online fan community I sometimes miss the more solitary nature of this hobby, at least in terms of spoilers and advance solicitations.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Marvel Masterworks are my poison of choice. For Masterworks of this book's vintage, rest assured that this is the definitive Blu-Ray edition of this material. No line bleed or off register printing. No mouldering pulp paper. The art and the colors look like the artists intended and are not hampered by primitive four color printing processes.
Linework and Color restoration: Think of the post-2007 Masterworks as definitive Blu-Ray editions, with painstakingly restored linework and a color palette that is 100% faithful to the source material. Those who claim that the colors are too bright or miss the “artistic choice” of benday dots are nuts.
Paper stock: Thick coated semi-glossy coated stock that has that sweet, sweet smell that all Chinese manufactured books have. I theorize that this delectable aroma is caused by the toxic stew of broken asbestos tiles, lead paint chips, heavy metal industrial waste, and mercury from recalled thermometers combined with the blood, sweat, and tears of the Chinese children working the sweatshop printing presses. The frosting on this delicious cake scent is the paper which is likely sourced from virgin Amazon rainforests.
Binding: Rounded book casing and Smyth sewn binding allow this book to lay completely flat in one hand as Godzilla intended.
Dustjacket and Hardback cover notes: Spot varnish on the dustjacket, faux leather grain casewrap with dye foil stamping.