I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
When I became a dedicated reader of superhero comic books, the characters I loved first and most were the Fantastic Four. The founding family of Marvel Comics were well past the hyper-imaginative peaks provided by original creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but the title was still infused with a sense of wonder and a vivid interplay of strongly drawn characters. Everything that made Marvel different in the first place, that vaulted it past all their competitors, could be found in the unique dynamics of their various stories. Marvel first distinguished itself from other comic book publishers by bringing the intimate and personal to wildly, well, fantastical adventures. That quality was always at its most potent in Fantastic Four‘s insertion of typical family affection and squabbling into great cosmic bustle.
One of the first storylines that fully illustrated that aspect of the team’s appeal was published the year before I started collecting in earnest. I got my hands of the first few issues in one of the three-packs of comics bundled into flimsy plastic bags that often sold at drug stores, a cheap way for the publishers to get rid of backstock that was, at the time anyway, otherwise utterly useless. Written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by John Byrne (in his downtime from X-Men, then just starting to build in popularity), the story found the quintessential quartet deep in the reaches of space, trying to save Earth from a towering figure of vast power called Sphinx. They still had a little time for some handy cross-promotion.
The flying bucket of bolts was based on the Human Torch substitute used in the 1978 Fantastic Four cartoon series, a detail directly acknowledged in the story itself, with Johnny Storm, the Human Torch himself, explaining that he was written out of the animated program because he was out of town when the contracts were signed. H.E.R.B.I.E. was just a side note in the story (albeit a side note that had his own mini-saga underway) which largely brought in a lot of the most venerable characters and tropes from the Fantastic Four’s years of star-hopping adventures, including Galactus, the shape-shifting Skrulls, and the Watcher. Additionally, there was no shortage of random space critters buzzing around to test our heroes.
I didn’t yet understand the storied history of these characters when I first read the comics, but the vastness of possibility that they represented were enough to rev up my youthful mind. There was beauty and majesty in every passage of the story, always joined by a real sense of risk. Even as young as I was, I understood that the Earth wouldn’t be destroyed and the heroes would live to fight another day, but there were genuine stakes and a sense of suspense as to how situations would be resolved. And there were also really cool spaceships.
As to how dilemmas would be resolved, there were again multiple elements at play. The Fantastic Four recruited their old godlike adversary Galactus to help do battle against the Sphinx, a pact which required the heroes to recruit a new herald for the interstellar titan. That led directly to the introduction of Terrax the Tamer, who would up battling the Fantastic Four as Galactus faced down Sphinx. Further, there was the threat that a victorious Galactus would himself turn against the foursome’s home planet, meaning team leader Reed Richards had to find a way to thwart the Big G.
All the while, three-quarters of the Fantastic Four were rapidly aging due to a blast they sustained from some Skrull technology. Only when they were essentially on their deathbeds did a retrofit of Skrull weaponry retrieve them from geriatric collapse. Indeed, the reverse aging actually shaved a few years off.
At the time, that “younger…than ever” result was a sly attempt by the creators to help adjust for the fact that it had been eighteen years since the characters debuted, and the Marvel method of applying a greater reality to the stories meant they were starting to seem a little old. Of course, with another thirty-plus years of mileage and the characters’ ages now effectively locked in place forever thanks to the mandated steadiness of franchise fiction, that stab at manufacturing added youth now seems a bit quaint. There’s actually probably a lot about the stories that now seems quaint. Back then, though, it was pure multi-colored magic to me.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema