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!
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.