We're back again with the fourth part in this series. You can find the first three chapters here. We've got a lot of ground to cover so here we go!
Side Track: Onslaught
It's the mid-90's and the comic book boom is at an end. Marvel was facing financial troubles, and shitty titles were bleeding out the company. Unless the book started with the letter X or had Spider-Man in the title it just wasn't selling. Which is hardly a surprise, most of the comics in the 90s were awful garbage. Marvel frantically tried to make the Fantastic Four and the Avengers viable again. They decided that they were going to remove them from the Marvel Universe proper and plunk them in their own independent universe. This is where Onslaught came in. It was an X-Men related crossover event, but it brought in both the FF and the Avengers into the mix, having them sacrifice their lives to stop a powerful psychic entity named Onslaught. The only reason you should read this crossover is so you can make sense of what happened next.
Skip It: Fantastic Four Vol 2
Marvel rebooted the Fantastic Four, starting with a new issue #1. The art and scripting was done by Jim Lee for the first six issues before sourcing it out to other artists under the Wildstorm Entertainment wing.
It was an attempt to make the Fantastic Four more like the superheroes over at Image Comics. They succeeded, but not in the way they had hoped: It had the look of an Image book, and also the sloppy writing as well. If you ever wanted a Fantastic Four team that was as one dimensional as the paper it was printed on, this is the series to read.
What I find really disturbing about this series is the fact that this is a universe that was created by their son Franklin Richards. Everything that existed was dictated by this little boy.
That's pretty troubling when you consider how sexualized and adult everything was in the Heroes Reborn arc. When you consider everything that goes on you realize that Franklin might not be right in the head.
Most of these stories recycled old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stories. What makes this worse is the fact that Heroes Reborn quickly became a sinking ship and what was intended to be an ongoing thing was suddenly crunched into 13 issues. Also, if you think the Invisible Woman has had it rough when it comes to children before, what with the miscarriage and all, get ready for issue #11, when Sue tells Reed she's pregnant, only for the plot thread to be dropped as soon as Heroes Reborn ended. So did Franklin use his imagination to abort this baby or what?
Heroes Reborn came to a climax where the Fantastic Four and the Avengers teamed up to stop Galactus from destroying the Earth. This was a god awful mess because it was spread across all four Heroes Reborn titles and it involved time travel, but the plots to each story were incredibly different. Then there's the 13th issue of the run which was part of a storyline called World War III, wherein the Heroes Reborn universe was merged with the Wiildstorm Universe. Which was kind of an interesting concept, but the story was awful. Also unless your local comic book shop has an extensive back issue collection you'll probably never read it. That's because Wildstorm Entertainment was purchased by DC Comics, and reprints of that storyline are hard to come by.
Sidetrack: Heroes Reborn - The Return
Since Heroes Reborn was a trainwreck from start to finish, Marvel decided to put their heroes back in the main Marvel Universe. This naturally involves the heroes from both Earths crossing paths, remembering who they really are and everybody returning to their rightful Earth. In a nutshell, Franklin discovers his family is still alive in a pocket dimension (which is inside a ball!) that he created to save their lives when Onslaught was destroyed.
It's interesting to point out that all the heroes who protected this world decide to jump ship back to their proper home. Which I suppose they are entitled to do, but they have left a world full of super-villains.
That becomes the subject of a series of stories taking place in the Heroes Reborn universe where the place becomes a lawless shithole, but that's a subject for another time.
Needless to say, Heroes Reborn: The Return was a quick way for Marvel to fix the horrible editorial decisions of the past year and hopefully get back on the right track. That they did... Sorta...
Read It: Scott Lobdell & Alan Davis Run (Fantastic Four Vol 3 #1-3)
After the Heroes Reborn debacle, Marvel rebooted the Fantastic Four title again. The first three issues were fantastic., mostly thanks to the always beautiful artwork of Alan Davis. It brought the Fantastic Four back to basics again. It also introduced some interesting new villains, the mystical beings known as the Ruined, the strange other-dimensional being known as Iconoclast, and an interesting twist to the age-old "battle with Red Ghost and the Super-Apes" wherein the Red Ghost is the mindless primate and his apes are super-smart.
Sadly, Lobdell and Davis' run was short lived. With issue #4 the art duties went on to Salvadore Larocca, who isn't a slouch at the drawing table himself. This also started Chris Claremont's run at the title. You'd think that would be a good thing but...
Skim It: Chris Claremont's Run (Fantastic Four Vol 3 #4-32)
Whenever you mention Chris Claremont's name, people naturally remember him for breathing new life into the X-Men franchise in the 1970s. He worked on that title for sixteen years. However, this run of Fantastic Four was not great. Reading it, you'd think that Claremont was a one trick pony with all the derivative storylines that borrowed from his longtime X-Men run. Particularly with the Fantastic Four going to Genosha, dealing with Roma and the Captain Britain Corps, and other elements that the guy just can't seem to let go of.
Claremont also introduced Valeria von Doom, the daughter of Susan Richards and Doctor Doom in an alternate future. Which, if you read his X-Men run, it is incredibly derivative of his Rachel Summers storyline.
There's not a whole lot going on that is very interesting. I'd say the only storyline of note is the return of Doctor Doom, who comes back to Earth with a bunch of villains from the Heroes Reborn universe. This leads to a story where Reed Richards gets trapped in Doom's armor and has to pretend to be his greatest enemy.
Not only do the Fantastic Four have to keep Doom's generals in line, they also have to keep this a secret from all their friends. This leads to a number of clashes with the Avengers. Ultimately, Doom's armor begins warping Reed's mind leading to a final climax where the real Doom returns and Reed is freed from Doom's armor.
Claremont also wanted to create turbulence with Reed and Sue's marriage, by having the Sub-Mariner throwing himself at Sue, and Reed's old flame Alyssa Moy coming out of the woodwork. He also sends Franklin and Valeria off to a multiversal "school for the gifted" (seriously?).
At the tail end of Claremont's run is a weird two-parter written by John Francis Moore that features time travel, cowboys, the ghost of a street racing woman, and lizard aliens. It's got so much crammed into it, it's a bit too much to have all at once.
Claremont's last addition to the Fantastic Four mythos was a one-shot titled The Fantastic 4th Voyage of Sinbad, where the group meets Sinbad and fight a demon named Jihad.
Skim It: Carlos Pacheco's Run (Fantastic Four Vol 3 #35-54)
Taking over from Claremont was Carlos Pacheco, who almost captured the same "back to basics" feel that John Byrne pulled 20 years earlier. He even starts with a story about Diablo. There is an attempt to make the goofy alchemist even more menacing than ever before, and a backstory about an order of monks that have been trying to stamp out Diablo for hundreds of years. They're really terrible at their jobs.
This leads to plots where the Baxter Building is rebuilt and dropped in the sight of the old Four Freedoms Plaza. The Thing gets the ability to change back and forth between his Thing and human forms. The Fantastic Four also butt heads with the Gideon Trust, a corporation looking to purchase Reed's inventions in order to exploit the resources of the Negative Zone. This leads to a battle with Annihilus along with a group of pilgrims that have been trapped in the Negative Zone for centuries.
The lowest point of this run is the introduction of a villain called Abraxas. Abraxas is a cosmic level threat who destroys alternate universes and seeks to destroy the Fantastic Four's universe because Galactus is dead. This also cleaned up some of the loose threads that Claremont left dangling during his run. Galactus comes back, Franklin's powers come back and Valeria is erased and replaced with the previously stillborn daughter of Reed and Sue. Sue naturally is pregnant again and has to rely on Doctor Doom to help give birth to the baby.
Skip It: Domination Factor: Fantastic Four
A limited series where the Fantastic Four and the Avengers (who had their own Domination Factor limited series) go back to various points in their past to collect slices of a golden apple by an exiled Asgardian. It's the whole "hey this all ends up happening in an alternate universe and means dick all once its over". So really there's no point in reading it.
Skip It: Fantastic Four: Fireworks
This limited series is was part of a failed imprint called "Marvel Remix" and retells the story about the Human Torch and Crystal's first meeting and their subsequent relationship. It rehashes and modernizes Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original story. Nothing new to add here.
Well, that's it for this time around, we'll be back again soon! In our next part, we look at the early days before the Fantastic Four, A homage to the Lee/Kirby era, we've got Grant Morrison giving the Fantastic Four an incestuous subtext, also the Fantastic Four go to hell and back.