Essential Fantastic Four, Vol. 2
by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (Marvel Comics, 1999)

Some transformations are entertaining to watch. Some are not. A loud, funny comedian (or comedienne) morphing into a loud, obnoxious politician or political commentator? Not fun. Jack Kirby in the early '60s developing his drawing style into one of the biggest, boldest and most daring the world of comic books and strips has ever seen? Like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory for the eyes. Add Stan Lee's increasingly enjoyable writing, combined with his illustrative alliterations, and you have the treasure that is Marvel's Essential Fantastic Four, Vol. 2.

As evidence of Lee and Kirby's superior storytelling abilities, I submit the following: 1) A two-issue tale teaming the F.F. with the Avengers and containing the greatest Thing/Hulk battle ever to see print. (That's not hyperbole, but it is opinion.) 2) A thought-provoking (for the '60s, anyway) foray into the subject of "class hatred, race hatred, religious hatred" as the Furious Foursome do battle with the Hate Monger. 3) An appealing account of the tension-filled love triangle involving the Submariner, Reed Richards and Sue Storm -- guest-starring Dr. Strange, no less. And that's just four issues out of 22!

On a character note, this tome sees the Fantastic Four "family" beginning to take shape, with Ben and Johnny's fights becoming less infused with loathing, and more playful, Sue taking a slightly more mothering role, and Reed, while still cold and authoritative, demonstrating deeper concern for Ben's plight as a misshapen man-monster.

Ben Grimm's personality also softens, even while his contentious relationship with the Yancy Street Gang becomes well-established. "Another letter from the Yancy Street Gang! They wanna know where I buy my ugly pills! Boy! If I ever get my hands on 'em....!"

Mingle all of the above with the Thing taking on a more "rocky" appearance, and you have classic Fantastic Four fare, which earns a recommendation of Essential Fantastic Four, Vol. 2 for all readers.

review by
Mark Allen

31 March 2012

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