Fantastic Four: A Personal Recollection

Fantastic Four: The Secret Story

This is my second blog post on The Fantastic Four; in the first, I wrote about why the FF is my favorite comic. This time out, I’m tracing my history of reading FF comics, back to my early days of collecting comics in the 1980s. This post is written as an homage to “The Fantastic Four: A Personal Recollection” by John Byrne, which appeared in Fantaco’s Fantastic Four Chronicles in 1982.

I can’t remember the first Fantastic Four comic I ever read.

It was either issue #287 or #260. 287 seems somewhat more likely based on the timeline, as it came out in late 1985 (when I was well into reading comics thanks to G.I. Joe and The Transformers); 260 came out earlier (mid-1983), before I was really into comics full-bore, but then that might mean it was more likely to have been in a “blister pack” on the shelf at Toys “R” Us with other comics in 1985… either way, it’s 260 that stuck with me, because it has such an awesome fight scene between The Thing, the Human Torch and Tyros, plus appearances by Dr. Doom and The Sliver Surfer. Even Namor the Sub-Mariner shows up at the end! It was overload for my young senses, and I wanted more. (I’m certain the copy of #287 I have is the same, but I feel like I may have replaced #260 at some point—I remember that copy being really beat up.)

It was “The Secret Story” that really hooked me.

The thing that really cemented my love of the FF was a book called The Fantastic Four: The Secret Story of Marvel’s Cosmic Quartet, by David Kraft. Published in 1981 by something called Ideals Published Corp, I spotted this at the Erin Mills branch of the Mississauga Public Library in 1986 and checked out approximately 137 times over the next 2-3 years. It featured a reprint of the first half of issue #1 (the FF origin), the Inhumans story from #83 (these two stories representing my first exposure to Jack Kirby’s art) and the FF fighting evil doppelgängers of themselves from issue #203. #83, like #260, is an action-packed issue that I couldn’t get enough of. More importantly though, the book had text pieces on all the main characters, supporting characters and villains, so I was able to learn about the FF and their friends without reading 300 back issues. I recently snagged a copy of this book and it was quite the trip down memory lane!

My monthly collecting began with Ben Grimm’s “New” Fantastic Four.

The first new FF comic I bought fresh off the newsstand was issue #305 in mid-1987 (still have it!). This would have been at Smoker’s Corner in South Common Mall in Mississauga, the best place to buy comics in my ‘hood; issues #306-308 followed and then an actual comic shop, 1,000,000 Comix, opened up in the same mall. I continued reading The Fantastic Four  through the end of Volume 1 (#416), through the Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return era… until Volume 3 issue #19 (July 1999), when I gave up because I didn’t enjoy Chris Claremont’s writing on the book. I came back with the new writers (Jeph Loeb and Carlos Pacheco) at issue #35 (November 2000), and then stuck with the title through the end of Civil War (mid-2007) before I stopped reading monthly comics altogether. (The completionist in me is screaming to get those Claremont issues and fill that hole…!)

When did I first read the “real” FF?

It’s funny looking back on it, but those early FF issues I read never really featured the full team. Mr. Fantastic was missing in issue #260; the She-Hulk has replaced the Thing in #287; and in #305, Ben is putting together a new team, with Crystal and Ms. Marvel replacing the departing Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman, and that’s the team that I read for the next couple years. It was in back issues that I read the “classic” FF.

I became an early “Byrne victim”.

When it came to back issues, my main focus at first was filling in the gaps around issue #260—I wanted to know how that fight started, where Mr. Fantastic was, how the cliffhanger with Namor was resolved (it was years before I read that one, as it was an Alpha Flight crossover). I soon realized that John Byrne was the creative force behind those particular issues, and made it a point to seek out anything with his art in it. Meanwhile the first “vintage” FF back issue I ever bought was issue #106, from 1,000,000 Comix, for I think $2.75. I still have it of course. Other Silver Age FFs followed, and so began my quest to read every issue of FF ever published. There were only 350 or so at the time including annuals, so it seemed possible!

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Of course, with the advent of collected editions, reading every issue became much easier, and at this point, I have indeed read every issue of The Fantastic Four (volume 1). Collecting them all remains a challenge, of course, at least budget-wise; I’m still 28 issues away from having a complete run of originals… but more on that another time.

Five thoughts on Game 7: Nuggets 129, Raptors 111

Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets Nov 1

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors dropping a stinker in Denver against the Nuggets:

The Raptors were back at full strength for the first time since game 2

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka both returned from injury, and with Lucas Noguiera healthy as well, the Raptors had their full roster available. Jonas was rusty, and mostly invisible; Ibaka, naturally, came out gunning, and airballed his first three. It was on the defensive, end, though, that Ibaka was exposed—a common theme for the Raptors on this night. Ibaka allowed Paul Millsap to score 11 straight points and picked up a foul on a MIllsap three pointer (he gave him a four-point play in the 2nd quarter as well) within the first five minutes. The Nuggets hit their first 7 shots and jumped out to a 20-10 lead—and that led to the quick hook for JV and Serge; Pascal Siakam and Nogueira came in at the the 6:17 mark. It didn’t help, as the Nuggets extended the lead to 34-19 by the end of the quarter.

This Nuggets team is an odd mix, but they can score

The Nuggets don’t start a traditional point guard (heck, they don’t even really have one on the roster) or a traditional centre (and I’m not sure what position Nikola Jokic even is) but it’s a group that works extremely well together on offense. They’re very aggressive and they move the ball extremely well—not just in the amount of passes they make, but the ball really pops when they pass it, and they cut with purpose after making passes (as Jack Armstrong pointed out on the broadcast, the Raptors have seemed oddly vulnerable on give-and-go cuts this season, and the Nuggets exposed them. Which is stunning, since that’s a basic basketball play teach you in the third grade). Beyond that they get out on the break and aren’t afraid to bomb threes. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris may not be a traditional backcourt, but they can score.

The Raptors three-point shooting continues to be a major problem.

It’s not just the misses, it’s also the unwillingness to take them—and/or, the knowledge that they can’t make them. Case in point, in the second quarter, Kyle Lowry broke down his man on the right side of the floor; Nogueira flashed into the paint as the defense shifted and Lowry found him. As the defense rotated, Bebe turned and found DeMar DeRozan in the left corner wide open. (Bebe is a great passer; often, too willing a passer, but he sees the floor well.) But that’s not DeRozan’s shot. Instead, he drove… right into the defense… and settled for a midrange J that missed. At this point, the Raptors just aren’t threatening from deep, and teams will give the Raptors the three-point line until they prove they’re dangerous from out there. And we all know, that three-point shooting is the way the league is going; if you can’t shoot it, you won’t be able to keep up. Look no further to the Raptors’ two playoff exits vs. the Cavaliers the past two seasons to see what I mean. They finished 11-31 but most of those makes came in garbage time.

There are always nights like this…

Every team has them; some nights, nothing works, you fall behind early, and it just gets ugly from there. (I suspect a lot of teams have them in the altitude in Denver.) I don’t read too much into it, especially this early in the season; as long as there’s not a “hangover effect” in Utah on Friday night, as long as the errors we saw don’t turn into habits, then there’s nothing to panic about. (Well, except maybe the shooting.)

…so, you try to look for the bright spots.

Norman Powell had his second “just OK” offensive game in a row, which is a big step up after the five “oh God Norm what are you doing” games in a row he had. He finished 6-11 with three dunks, and led all starters with 14 points; of course, 4 of his 5 misses were 3-pointers. He also finished -26, a rarity for Norm. Alfonso McKinnie saw his first action of the season, and made the most of his garbage time minutes—he didn’t miss a shot. OG Anunoby had a couple lovely drives to the hoop, but needs to learn to finish strong. Delon Wright finally saw a couple threes drop… yep, that’s about all I’ve got.

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Let’s see how the Raptors fare in their final game of the road trip in Utah!

A requiem for Garbo: Five thoughts on Jorge Garbojosa

Jorge Garbojosa, Toronto Raptors

If you were watching the first game of the NBA season, you saw Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward go down with a horrific ankle injury. (If you weren’t watching, do not seek out the replay. You don’t want to see it.) As a Toronto Raptors fan, I was immediately taken back to 2007, when then-Raptors forward Jorge Garbojosa suffered the same injury, against the Celtics. I have a few thoughts on it:

1. 2006-2007 was a magical Raptors season.

That team might just be my favorite Raptors team ever. New GM Bryan Colangelo came in at the end of the previous season and managed to trade Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis, which essentially meant cap space, and Colangelo spent that cap space on a couple international players—Euroleague MVP Anthony Parker and Spanish forward Jorge Garbojosa—as well as Fred Jones, who he soon traded for Juan Dixon. He also drafted Andrea Bargnani and PJ Tucker, traded Charlie Villanueva for TJ Ford, traded Rafael Araujo for Kris Humphries, and traded Matt Bonner for Rasho Nesterovic. Chris Bosh, Morris Peterson, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon were the only relevant holdovers. It seemed like a mishmash of parts on paper, and no one expected the team to go anywhere—and after a 2-8 start it looked like another lost Raptors season. But then the team jelled, went 45-27 the rest of the way winning the division for the first time and returning to the playoffs after a five-year absence.

2. Jorge Garbojosa was a big part of the reason it worked.

He didn’t have a great jump shot, wasn’t a great athlete or jumper, wasn’t much of a ball handler or rebounder… but he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, especially on defense. He was just an incredibly smart, intuitive basketball player. You may not have wanted him taking the final shot in a close game, but you’d want him on the floor, because you could be confident that, no matter what happened, he’d make the right play. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28 minutes a night, and was named rookie of the month for December and eventually named to the all-rookie team.

3. But Garbojosa’s season was cut short in March of 2007.

The Raptors were in Boston, and were losing to the Celtics, trailing by nine with about 4.5 minutes left. Al Jefferson got the ball ahead on a breakaway, and went up to slam it home. Garbo went for the block. He fouled Jefferson, and ended up on the floor; I’ve never been sure if he landed on Jefferson’s foot or just fell awkwardly or slipped or what (and I can’t watch the replay). But, the end result was much like Hayward’s injury—his left foot was trapped beneath him and his entire body weight came down right on top of it. Like Hayward’s, his foot ended up pointing the wrong way.

4. I’ll always remember the screaming.

When Garbo went down, Jefferson turned to help him up, saw his foot, and immediately turned away—he couldn’t look. Around that time the pain must’ve hit Garbojosa, and he started screaming. “AAHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!” He was right under the hoop so the microphones under the rim picked it up clearly. “AAHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!” It was horrifying. The injury was eventually diagnosed as a fractured fibula, dislocated left ankle, and torn ligaments. He was done for the year, obviously; he came back the following season for a few games but was never the same, and was eventually cut.

5. The dream season ended too soon.

The Raptors made the playoffs as a top-3 seed without him (and Bargnani, who had his appendix removed) but lost to Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets in six games. You can’t help but wonder if the Raps would’ve won that series had Garbo been able to play. For one thing, the Raps came out nervous and anxious in game 1, and again in game 3 (first on the road); a veteran of the Euroleague and big-time international competition, Garbo wouldn’t have been bothered by any of that. The Raps got inconsistent play from Joey Graham at the SF spot through games 1-4 before going to Morris Peterson, but Garbo would’ve been the steady presence they needed there. He could’t physically keep up with Carter or Richard Jefferson, but I’m certain his basketball smarts and team defense would’ve made a big difference.

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Jorge Garbojosa’s time in Toronto ended acrimoniously; he wanted to play for Spain internationally, the Raptors wanted him to heal and rest. They bought out his contract so he could do what he wanted. He was named president of the Spanish basketball federation in 2016. But I’ll always wonder “what if” about that playoff series…!