These monthly UK comics published by Panini reprint three issues of the Fantastic Four and cost £2.95 each. If you subscribe, the price per issue is £2.12, which means that each strip, a single US comic, costs just under 71p. If you like the Lee/Kirby era Fantastic Four and are intrigued by the more recent Jonathan Hickman run then subscribing should be a wise move. I didn’t think that the series would be cancelled mid sub, did I!
Four issues of FFA open up with Spider-Man/Fantastic Four by Christos Cage and Mario Alberti, a companion series to Spider-Man/X-Men. The story follows the characters encountering each other during memorable periods in FF history from the very beginning, although not the most memorable encounter of all from Amazing Spider-Man number one, to the modern day. I found the series a little underwhelming. The writing and art are perfectly okay but the narrative felt a bit too much like an exercise in continuity and not enough of a celebration of memorable phases from FF history.
Sitting at the centre of the comic and rushing to fill the gaps left by the other strips once they have gone, is Jonathan Hickman’s contemporary interpretation of the team. Hickman is clearly a strong, confidant and imaginative writer. This is the first time I’ve read anything long form by him and it seems clear that he is taking his time which is fine when you’re reading a bunch of issues together like I did here but must have been difficult with the originals every month. The art throughout, by Neil Edwards, Paul Neary and Steve Epting feels weighted with portents at times.
I have issues with more modern versions of the FF sometimes. The Thing doesn’t seem to be funny anymore, The Human Torch seems to have switched from adolescent brat to spoilt, shallow, yuppy brat while Marvel seem so determined to avoid portraying the Invisible Woman as a sexist stereo-type that she has become the most unfeasibly well adjusted character in comics which, in a group of men with personality quirks, might ironically be sexist. Hickman’s stories here feel like Fantastic Four: The End with the core team often being downplayed with other characters brought to the fore, such as Franklin, Valery and the Future Foundation. Because I know that The Human Torch is scheduled to die, the tone seems to be that there is a future for The Fantastic Four, it just doesn’t involve them.
Some stories are very affecting, such as the Thing’s week as Ben Grimm. The idea of knowing he was only going to spend a set period in human form from the start is great in its simplicity and execution. The strongest demonstration of Hickman’s skill as a writer comes with “Month of Morning”. This silent story drawn expressively and powerfully by Nick Dragata follows the surviving members of the group after the supposed death of The Human Torch. It’s a wise and confident writer who knows when to be quiet and let the artist do his thing. My decades of off and on familiarity with the characters shouldn’t distract from what Hickman achieves with these stories.
Of course, all of these modern strips are burdened by appearing alongside the original version by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at the rear of the comic. These comics, reprints of issues 74 to 78 from the 1960s, zing with humour, drama and character. Galactus is back and he’s bloody starving and because he’s promised not to eat Earth he wants his exiled herald the Silver Surfer to find him somewhere else to eat. Kirby’s work makes my heart open in these beautifully drawn tales of scale as the hunted hides between the atoms from the vast.
The default position of the Jack Kirby Fantastic Four is at least in the moment and even in the future, unlike this actual comic itself. Although it’s a shame to see it cancelled before the completion of Kirby’s run, everyone involved, whether directly or tenuously, should be happy that it’s lasted for as long as it has. Fantastic Four comics published in the UK have never lasted very long so a six year run is something to be proud of.