MARVEL MASTERWORKS: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 15 (Marvel, First Printing, 2013; Hardcover)
Collects Fantastic Four #151-163 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3, 4 (cover dates October, 1974- October, 1975)
Writers: Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Roy Thomas, and Chris Claremont
Artists: Pencilers- Rich Buckler, John Buscema (#160 and GSFF #4); Inkers- Joe Sinnott, Jim Mooney, and Chic Stone
Oh man! This book starts out with Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3, which I got as a .50 back issue in the summer of 1985. I read that comic a dozen or more times that summer and can still recite parts of it. It brought a smile to my face to see it hold up as an adult, although it sort of ruined the Metallica song The Four Horseman for me because Metallica screwed up the names of them.
The 1970s were equal parts insanity and fun. See issues 151-153, a nonsensical mess where a world ruled by men brings their champion, Mahkizmo, to fight the most powerful woman from the world ruled by women, Thundra. Only in the 1970s did any of the faux science, alternate worlds, and battle of the sexes stuff make the least bit of sense. In 2015 it is good, silly fun that probably offends someone somewhere.
Issue 154 was one of those Oh crap, we really don't know how to run a company and get the comics out on time, slap this reprint and reframe it as a flashback story issues. It reprints a Human Torch story from the 1960s, although only the new pages are included here. It is assumed that you already own Marvel Masterworks: Human Torch Vol. 2 and can refer to it to read it. I don't, so I can't. Major disappointment, Marvel!
Then we get one of those silly Roy Thomas and Len Wein stories where Doctor Doom tricks the Silver Surfer into battling the Fantastic Four by holding his beloved Shalla Bal hostage...only it turns out to not be her...only it is revealed that it is really her, as it is all a trick by Mephisto, who does not reveal himself to anyone. His deception is unknown to all, making his inclusion at the end of this story pointless and confusing.
Then we get another it-could-only-happen-in-the-'70s stories, where three Earths are going to collide into one another so that Arkon can start three nuclear wars and use the energy from the nuclear bombs exploding to save his world. Klaatu and the Inhumans are along for the ride in this arc...an arc that shows the Thing battling a galactic goalie named Gaard for the fate of the Earth. Silly, silly stuff, but fun and entertaining nonetheless.
We are introduced to Madrox, the Multiple Man in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4, a character who would go on to great popularity down the road. Here he is shown with power well beyond what he demonstrates later on, and there is almost certainly some convoluted explanation somewhere along the way explaining why this is not a mistake.
Rich Buckler handles the bulk of the pencils, and he and inker Joe Sinnott do their best to maintain the Marvel House style of the day, in this case the flavor of Jack Kirby's run. Nowadays every artist wants to put their “stamp” on their “IP”. I kind of dig these old school guys who served the story rather than themselves.
Things are all set back to normal by the end of the book, with Medusa returning to the Great Refuge with the Inhumans and the Invisible Girl resuming her role as a member of the FF. A great writer can take the toys, twist and mutilate and then put them back together right before leaving the sandbox so that others may play with them in the same condition that they found them in, which is the complete opposite of crybaby “star” writers found in comics today. Marvel Now? Please. Give me Marvel Then!
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 have obviously never seen an original color guide from this era.
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.