I was happily saving money by not buying any regular monthly comics after DC’s Nu52 debuted. (I still expected to buy some trades of course…I’m not naïve enough to think there’s any universe that would keep me from following Grant Morrison’s Bat-insanity, or buying a Paul Cornell written Etrigan.)
Then I accidentally started collecting Fantastic Four.
This is highly odd as I have never been a big fan of the Fantastic Four.
I need to qualify that last statement, as normally when I say something along those lines, I’m completely full of crap.
I have a short box full of his comics, almost as many team ups, and a shelf half full of action figures of his foes.
Don’t really follow the Flash?
Not counting the four Showcase volumes, the short box would have exploded long before last spring if the frequent team ups with Green Lantern weren’t in the GL long boxes.
Even ignoring the myriad Avengers stories he leads that I own, he’s still best friends with two of my favorite Marvel heroes, Iron Man and Hawkeye. I’m pretty well acquainted with Steve Rogers, his recent replacement James “Bucky” Barnes, his old replacement John Walker…and I even know a bit about Jeffrey Mace.
Heck, I’ve even said I wasn’t a big X-Men fan…while owning most of the first Volume of Excalibur, Morrison’s entire run, Whedon’s entire run, ten Essential X-men volumes and over a shelf of mutant action figures.
All There Was
The Fantastic Four is different, though. For years the entire sum of my Fantastic Four comics collection was the Dan Slott trades about the Thing and Torch, the collected “Trial of Galactus “ (which I didn’t like), and couple of issues dubbed “Secret Wars Three”. There may have been an Annual or two that were part of major crossovers, but I didn’t read the extra FF stories in them, therefore they don’t count.
This year, two events happened.
1) Mark Waid is one of my favorite writers, and his Fantastic Four run with Wieringo always sounded interesting. When the new set of collections of their work came out this year I bought them because I had a vacation coming up, and wanted a long run to read. I had managed to resist temptation to buy it on its three or four previous releases, but eventually, any comic can wear me down.
2) After I ordered the Waid books, but before I started reading them, Fantastic Four issue 600 hit the stands. I tend to buy anniversary comics in general; they have a lot of historical extra stuff, and usually mark the end of the storyline. Plus I had purchased the Spider-man issue after the Human Torch died that acted as a call back to the Dan Slott series mentioned above, and I wanted to see Johnny come back.
Well, the storyline didn’t end in 600, it sort of peaked and continued on full bore, and I continued to follow it. First I was only buying Fantastic Four, but I soon added FF as well. Very quickly, not only was I reading current issues, but through various online sources and comic store sales, managed to fill in the entirety of Hickman’s run.
How did I go from zero to FF-Geek in such a short period of time?
Basically Hickman’s run (and Waid’s as well) replaced all the items that I was missing from DC that were my favorite parts of reading comic books.
Married superheroes provide stories that add some variety to the typical tales. Single heroes either fall under:
A) “I want her to love me for my secret identity not my super powers” situation, which featured in Superman comics for years
B) “I’m a studly hero with many frequent hook ups” situation, exemplified by Hal Jordan
C) “I’m a studly superhero, but my responsibilities to society destroy my love life” situation, with Spider-man as its poster child.
Married hero tales have romance, and a depth of “team up” that the single hero story lacks.
Here are some of my favorite married couples from comics:
Lois Lane and Clark Kent, Barry and Iris Allen – Retconned younger to before they’re dating.
Wally and Linda West – Retconned out of existence.
All the JSA old married couples – Retconned younger out of marriage, and out the the universe.
Ralph and Sue Dibny – One dead—both dead – both undead- both retconned out of existence.
Peter and Mary Jane Parker – Sold marriage to the devil. (Hey Kids! Comics!)
Hawkeye and Mockingbird – Split up-one dead – both dead- one back- both back but one replaced by an alien-both restored –dating - split up again.
Hank and Janet Pym – Almost reconciled, then... um… there was a bunch of weird stuff, and now she’s dead and he spends time with a robot based on her. (Hey Kids! More Comics!)
I think Reed and Sue may be the last happily wedded couple left from my comic reading career.
(Arthur and Mera are back together but considering how quickly Aquaman solo titles get cancelled and /or revamped I’m betting she’ll once again be dead/missing/evil/insane/just a friend/a fish or a combination thereof before long.)
Not only are they happily still together, but the Richards’ have kids which are integral to the stories. At this phase of my life, superhero parents are much more identifiable than swinging singles. (Although even back then I wasn’t a “swinging single,” more of a “sitting and reading comics single,” which may explain why I was single such a long time.)
Their family is also quite extended, which leads to…
During the period I bought the most DC comics, there were four tiers of heroes:
1) The JSA: the old guard and elder statesmen.
2) The JLA: The current heavy hitters and front line of the super hero crowd.
3) The Titans: The next generation -grown up sidekicks evolving into new roles, but with more experience than many newer “mainstream” heroes.
4) Young Justice: The kid heroes, the future of the community.
Those groups got more streamlined as time passed, with the merging of the youngest two, and the JSA featuring more and more replacements. Finally, with the Nu52 reboot, pretty much everyone is twenty-five years old, and most of the Teen Titans weren’t sidekicks.
Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF feature the Fantastic Four as the main heroes, which are technically split into two tiers, as Ben and Johnny often take the battling sibling role compared to Reed and Sue as the parents. Added into the classic mix are the up and coming variously powered children of the Future Foundation as the next generation. There’s also Nathanial Richards pausing his time travelling adventures to act as an elder statesman, and, of course, grandfather.
Nathanial is only one element of:
I loved the Multiple Earths of the old DCU. No matter how they tried to get rid of them or seal them off, they - and the ability to pop between them - would keep coming back.
All universes combined in Crisis on Infinte Earths?
Here comes Hypertime.
Hypertime doesn’t exist?
Here’s 52 Earths to bounce through in Countdown.
Plus, in the good old days, travelling through time was like crossing the street.
Flash, Green Lantern and Superman could do it under their own power…even Batman could do it through a combination of hypnosis and his essential Bat-Groovyness.
Add in the Elsewords ideas and it was a party of alternates.
I know Marvel has time travel and alternate universes too, but over ninety-five percent of them are Dark Futures for Mutants – providing a nearly endless stream of members of the Summers family to come back to the present to make things more depressing and angsty.
DC’s universes felt more fun…or crazy anyway (Gender Swaps, Twisted History, and the inspired lunacy of Earth-Haney spring to mind.)
Hickman’s run focused on a gang of Reed Richardses pulled from a pile of "What Iffy" type realities and the time travelling adventures of his dad and children. Pile on top of that some interdimensional invasions, uber powered star spanning battles and space giants from the formation of the universe, and you’ve got yourself a Four Colored Pile of Awesome, my friend.
Speaking of awesome, two plot threads I had been reading met up explosively in these pages.
I also accidentally became a fan of the Inhumans over the years. Through following House of M and Son of M , based on my previous West Coast Avengers affiliation, I got into the saga (and of course buying older adventures to fill in the spaces) of these genetically engineered super powered space royals. (There’s a phrase you only get in comic books.)
I had no idea the tale that had wandered through many independent and crossover connected miniseries was coming to a head in the pages of Hickman’s titles until I filled them all in and saw Black Bolt bursting off the cover of FF issue six. This was a pleasant surprise as
A) There was no indication in the previous part of the story it would continue in FF.
B) Black Bolt was dead. (He got better…yay comics!)
Not only did the Inhumans come impressively home to roost, but they did it by way of a battle with the returned Kree Supreme Intelligence, who’s story I’ve followed “live” since Operation Galactic Storm up through Maximum Security and beyond.
There is another character I’ve been following from even well before 1992’s e nineteen part space war cross over. I honestly think one reason I could never get into the Fantastic Four previously came from rooting for the wrong side.
Doctor Doom is not only my favorite Marvel Villain, but one of my favorite Marvel characters. He is a major inspiration for another Lord who wields both science and magic while contained in terrifying looking, injury covering armor - Darth Vader (Who’s awesomeness captured me at an early age). He’s also got that Vlad Tepes vibe going for him, allowing one to see, from a certain point of view, how the countrymen he rules over would worship him as leader and protector. I eagerly followed his battles with Iron Man, the Avengers, Thor, Daredevil and just about anyone else. Maybe because Reed and company were the only ones who could thoroughly defeat him, I avoided those confrontations.
There’s something highly compelling about a villain so classy he’d kill a henchman and let an enemy escape to protect his art collection (Fantastic Four #87) – yet so arrogant he’d burn a priceless Renoir because, “It displeased me.” (Iron Man #249)
Doom is complex and complicated enough to have the version of ultimate evil, willing to sacrifice ANYTHING to destroy Reed and company in Waid’s run, and the version helping the Fantastic Four because Valeria explained to “Uncle Doom” how it would benefit him in Hickman’s run both be completely in character.
I’m not alone in being a fan of the Lord of Latveria. There have been multiple feuds between popular, established comic book writers who dismiss any appearance written by each other as “Doombots”, but none of them deny his power and charisma.
Besides one of the best baddies ever, there’s also a great sense of connectedness to both the history, and the current members of the Marvel Universe. A good deal of this stems from Reed being recognized as the smartest guy on the planet, and one who the other heroes all trust and expect to be able to come up with a plan to save the day. On the lighter side, there’s the Thing’s weekly poker game, popping up in more and more titles. In the Marvel Universe itself, these guys symbolize something important.
Fun and Hope:
Those are the key part of both of these runs. Even at the darkest times, there’s a major sense of both:
The fun that having powers could be
The hope of betterment that applying one’s gifts can bring the world
These items should be staples for the wish fulfillment fantasy that is superhero stories. Even Spider-Man, whose own adventures tend to end with various levels of depression, becomes the addition of a wisecracking, goofy uncle - with hidden layers of compassion and intelligence - when hanging with the Fantastic Four.
In October it sounds like “Marvel Now” will be their version of the Nu52. Unless there’s a really...um...Fantastic writer lined up, I’ll probably drop the title at the relaunch.
Maybe I’ll use some of that money to look into some older runs of the Richards family’s adventures…
I hear some guys named Stan and Jack may have had a pretty good run.