Fantastic Four: Heroes Reborn
by Brandon Choi, Jim Lee
(Marvel, 2000)

When Marvel Comics decided to reboot the Fantastic Four, their self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Comic Magazine," they brought Wildstorm's Jim Lee, Brandon Choi and others in to do the job. Some folks doubted the the wisdom of messing with Marvel's flagship title, but creative voices within the company argued persuasively that the title and characters had become tired and old. It was time for a change.

But that change, said Lee -- who provided plotting as well as artwork for the reboot -- needed to remain true to the original tales crafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the Silver Age of comics. A tweaking for a modern audience was all that the project required.

It looks like they got the right folks for the job. Heroes Reborn gives us a Fantastic Four for the new millennium.

The oldstyle rocket ship has been upgraded to look like something a little more post-shuttle. The storyline has been rewritten enough to give the foursome a good reason for being in space in the first place; the old version was plausible so far as Reed Richards, the scientist, and Benjamin Grimm, the pilot, were concerned, but the inclusion of Richards' sweetheart Sue Storm and her kid brother Johnny never made much sense. Now, the Storms are heads of a wealthy scientific foundation -- Sue is the brains, while Johnny is more of a playboy, spending his time and money on casinos, cars and women -- providing the funding and drive for Richards' project.

The mission comes to a head when their work is seized by alleged government agents, and Richards, Grimm and the Storms are incarcerated. They escape and try to stop their missile-toting foes by pursuing them into space in an unshielded prototype craft. Then the cosmic radiation hits, and the foursome is transformed into the stretchable Mr. Fantastic, the monstrous Thing, the fiery Human Torch and the versatile Invisible Girl.

As promised by Jim Lee at the outset, the story is, by and large, the same. But the upgrades along the way make the package much more palatable to a modern audience, and Lee's artwork, enhanced by Scott Williams & Co. on inks and the Wildstorm team on colors, is a huge leap forward from the olden days. Even the team's look has been improved, although their appearances and uniforms are close enough to the original to seem familiar to older eyes.

Heroes Reborn covers the first six issues of the Fantastic Four reboot. Besides the team's revised origin, the collection includes their first confrontation with the villainous Mole Man, the sometimes hero Namor and Richards' arch-nemesis, Doctor Doom. It's not the best storytelling in the world -- it seemed a little rushed, like Lee and Choi were in a hurry to introduce as many elements as they could in their initial run -- but it does the job of reintroducing the major players in the FF's universe. To wit, they also rub elbows with Avengers such as Captain America and Thor, as well as the jungle king Black Panther and the space-faring Silver Surfer.

It might have been nice to see the four heroes adapting to their new powers; instead, they seem comfortable with their new forms and abilities from the get-go. That is probably the biggest fault in the book.

A lot of comic titles, from Marvel and DC alike, have been revamped without good cause, with questionable results in some cases. But here, Marvel's thinking was right on target: Fantastic Four needed an overhaul if it hoped to retain even a hint of its former "World's Greatest" title. Fortunately for Marvel and the superhero team, Lee and Choi pulled it off with better than average success.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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