Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The Name is Doom
When I was fourteen years old, it never occurred to me for a minute that there would be a time when Marvel Comics were not a significant part of my life. Quite bluntly, I was obsessed. Things levelled out a little when I discovered films, music, and girls, but I also discovered a wider range of comics. And although I walked away from new purchases in the early 1980s, disappointed and appalled at the quality and direction comics were going in, I rediscovered the Silver Age in the early ’90s, and focussed my attention on those again, albeit with a little less obsessive fanaticism but no less joy… Recently, with my original comics falling apart from decades of love and attention, I’ve been buying Epic Collections during lockdown, as my reviews betray, and I’m finally getting used to the absence of little dots and slipped colour plates…
It’s now fifty years since I originally toured the newsstands of my youth looking for new issues and hunting for back issues and driving the poor old guys who ran the shops to despair as I turned up every few days to twirl their squeaky magazine racks around for what were monthly publications (you never quite knew when a new batch were coming in, or what would be there). Every time I revisit them, I cannot believe how fresh and exciting these stories still are. This volume features just about the last of the classic Lee/Kirby issues of Fantastic Four, opening with the frantic, tense, urgent all-action four-parter with a brainwashed Ben Grimm attacking his friends courtesy of the Mad Thinker (what a great name), and ending with the Doctor Doom four-parter rather transparently inspired by the TV show The Prisoner.
In between lie a run of sci-fi storylines featuring Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and the Negative Zone that blow all other popular culture of the period out of the water. Nothing compares to this; Lee and Kirby set the bar for every attempt to match it or follow it. It is jaw-dropping stuff.
For all the world-threatening danger and deadly suspense, the comics are wonderfully light and joyful in spirit. Lee is clearly having a ball writing Reed and Ben, and Kirby is literally out of this world, a middle-aged man roaming the cosmos and not a mind-expanding narcotic in sight. Even at the most doom-laden moments of menace, there is an inspiring and indefatigable sense of adventure and hope, light at the end of the tunnel. Stan Lee couldn’t have written a depressing or negative comic if he’d been paid double to do it, they were exhilarating. That was the secret of Silver Age Marvel lost today.
No film or TV show could edit like Stan Lee could write in terms of generating and building speedy excitement, and no film or TV budget could match Jack Kirby’s talent and imagination for creating fantastic worlds and mad scientists. No character in any other medium spoke with the fast-flowing urgency, tension, or drama of Stan Lee’s dialogue. Even the best of James Bond, UNCLE, Irwin Allen, Gerry Anderson, or Star Trek could not create characters, worlds, or concepts to rival Lee and Kirby in the mere medium of comics, although they occasionally came close. Perhaps the journey through the human body in the otherwise slow and dull Fantastic Voyage, Marineville in Stingray, the Daleks, the pilot film assault on UNCLE headquarters, the intricacies of Tracy Island in Thunderbirds, the Time Tunnel complex and Flying Sub from Irwin Allen’s studio, and the attack on Blofeld’s volcano hideout in You Only Live Twice are able to reach out and falteringly fingertip-touch the hem of Kirby’s robes as he sat at his drawing board between 1965 and 1968. The covers alone are astonishing—just look at 69, 72, 74, 75 (that red and yellow!), and 77. Then look at the covers from other companies at the same time…
It couldn’t last, of course, nothing does. The boys had peaked, but there were still a few good issues to come after this book’s contents, including the Mole Man’s house, and the Star Trek inspired gangster planet yarn, but after that the series falls prey to Martin Goodman’s misguided single story issues policy that tainted 1970 and most of ’71, leading up to the devastatingly disappointing hundredth issue and Kirby’s departure, all due in the following book. For some bizarre reason, the next volume, which will still be worth getting for the aforementioned last few Lee/Kirby issues when it comes out in 2021, headlines the lame ‘war with Atlantis’ storyline from when Kirby was packing his bags rather than the four-part gangster storyline which was his last hurrah before burn-out, with covers like 91 and 93. Go figure. In the meantime, anyone who wants to discover, or re-discover, Silver Age Marvel, and the glory of the comic-strip medium, starts with the Fantastic Four.
purchased on Amazon.uk