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Retro Reviews: John Byrne's Fantastic Four

Written by Kyle Benning on Monday, August 26 2013 and posted in Reviews

Retro Reviews: John Byrne's Fantastic Four

A look at the John Byrne's seminal run on Fantastic Four.

Kyle Benning is an Outhouse Contributor

What can I say? The superheroes I was introduced to when I first began to read, and continued to read as I grew up, don’t seem to exist anymore, at least not the way I remember them. Sadly, it seems that DC and Marvel have taken something that once held so much magic, wonder, and innocence, and twisted them beyond recognition… at least for me.

I’m not saying that they don’t still have some enjoyable titles, or that all of their books and characters are blanketed by this generalization. I just find myself unable to read and enjoy a lot of the stories they are putting out right now. DC is the worst offender, but Marvel with their non-stop events aren’t innocent either by a long shot.

Marvel does have some great books right – cough, Daredevil, Thor, Hulk, cough – now that have been absolutely amazing, so if you are not, please check those out. However, a large number of the books produced by the Big Two right now, especially those featuring my favorite character Superman, just can’t grab me anymore. Sadly, due to the nature of the stories these two insist on telling, I don’t see them capturing a new generation of readers either.

Have I outgrown this genre? Have I outgrown Superheroes? The answer is a very Gigantic NO!!!

In an attempt to find something that I loved, I’ve been going back and re-reading (or reading for the first time) comic runs from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and I’ve been loving every minute of it! And I want to share these great runs with you! If you’ve also grown disenfranchised with much of the current Superhero comics, there are a lot of great story arcs yet to be discovered, from the past, and most of them are collected in trade for easy access.

Today I’m going to start my review and recommendation featuring the world’s greatest superhero magazine, The Fantastic Four and in particular John Byrne’s run on the title.
I was lucky enough to grow up a bit spoiled, as some of these issues were not only the first comics I ever read, but some of the very first THINGS I ever read. And lucky for me, they just so happened to be honestly some of the greatest Superhero Comics ever published. To give you a brief introduction to the run if you aren’t familiar with it, John Byrne’s first time tackling the members of the Fantastic Four came through some guest issues he did on the Marvel Two-In-One series starring the Thing. He quickly became a fan favorite, resulting in his first issue on the book being #209, where he was on pencil duties for Marv Wolfman scribed stories.

He stayed on as artist through issue #218 and then wrote issues #219-221. By this time, he was also becoming a budding writer as well. After some work on Captain America (you better believe I’ll be reviewing his work on Cap with Roger Stern at a later date), not to mention his historic run as artist on Uncanny X-Men (Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, to name just two story arcs), Marvel Team-Up, and the aforementioned Marvel Two-In-One series, he was scheduled to script Fantastic Four #232 and on for the foreseeable future, but with Bill Sienkiewicz on art duties. However something fell through with Sienkiewicz and Byrne took over both the writing and art duties on the book.

A little interlude here, you know how Jim Lee can’t stay on time as an artist for more than 4 consecutive issues? Byrne was writing and penciling AT LEAST 2 issues a month, for almost every month, from 1979 through 1992. Not to mention also during that time, occasionally writing as many as 4 books a month, and sometimes tackling art duties on 3 full issues! Oh, yeah and doing covers as well, Amazing or should I say, Fantastic!
Byrne stayed on the FF all the way until issue #294. During that time, we saw him take the characters back to the basics (in fact that was the title of issue #232) and put the characters in the same classic light that they were in when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first tackled Marvel’s First Family in the 1960s.

Byrne added so much depth to the characters, that it really brought the FF mythos into a whole new realm. His run added more dimension to the loveable blue-eyed Ben Grimm than anyone before or since, and he was really the first writer to take Susan Richards from the Invisible Girl, to the Invisible Woman, and made her into the cornerstone of the FF team.
He also turned Frankie Raye, a throwaway love of Johnny Storm, into Nova, introduced She-Hulk for the first time as a member of the team, brought Johnny truly into adulthood and gave Doctor Doom the greatest portrayal the character has ever had in his over 50 years of existence. Byrne managed to pack more story, character development, and action in a single issue of a comic than most current creative teams at the Big 2 do in an entire 6 issue story arc.

You would be amazed at how much of what you know about the Fantastic Four and what you have seen from this team in other media comes from this run of comics. I cannot emphasis enough how important this era of the Fantastic Four is and just how good it is as well.

The good news about this run is that it’s collected in a couple of different formats, and easy to get your hands on. Byrne’s first few issues are collected in the great story arc “In Search of Galactus,” which runs issues #204-214, where Byrne came on for art duties in the middle of the story arc. The rest of the series is collected in the Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne series of trade paperbacks, with volumes #0-9. You can also find many of these comics in fifty cent and dollar bins. Do yourself a favor and quit passing them over and start seriously picking them up.

I highly recommend you pick up at least volume 1 and give it a shot. I guarantee you’ll be hooked and craving more. But for those of you that are sure you’ll love the series, pick up the John Byrne Fantastic Four Omnibus hardcover for a great economical way to read this superb run. It’s worth every penny.

How much do I love these issues? In addition to having every single issue of the original comics, I also have the hardcover Omnibus. That’s how great this run is and as if on cue, Marvel is releasing the second volume later this year collecting the rest of the issues. Thank you, House of Ideas!

So, if you’re looking for that old magic current superhero comics are missing, you need to give this seminal run a shot.

Next Week….Post Crisis Justice League!

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