My first vintage Fantastic Four acquisition from Ken Hulsey's View Obscura Comics has arrived on this side of The Pond today.
Fantastic Four #183 caught my eye on the the site because of its dynamic, quartered, cover that promised "this one has it all" and reminded me of my beloved, and pivotal, Fantastic Four #17 (the comic that hooked me on superheroes) that shares a similar cover design.
Given that this was a comic printed in 1977, it truly felt as though no one else had read this particular issue. I was Indiana Jones, handling an untouched artifact.
And did the issue deliver on its proud cover boast?
It sure did.
Opening with Sue (the Invisible Woman... 'Girl' at the time) being flung out of a window of the Baxter Building by a creature called The Brute (in actual fact an aternate Reed Richards from a 'counter-Earth'), only to be saved by the alien Impossible Man, Tigra, and Thundra.
The alien gets bored and wanders off, leaving the women to head back into the Baxter Building - only to discover The Brute has turned the building's defences against them.
Meanwhile, our Reed Richards is trapped in the Negative Zone, with The Thing, The Human Torch, and a powerless Annihilus - with whom they strike up an uneasy alliance.
Annihilus has lost his Cosmic Control Rod to the Mad Thinker's Super-Android, which he salvaged after it was abandoned in the Zone by the FF.
The rod has transformed the android into a powerful, sentient, entity that follows a call from the Mad Thinker to return to the Baxter Building and help the deranged scientist steal all Richards' super-scientific gizmos.
Annihilus offers the heroes use of his spaceship, to escape the Negative Zone, in return for their liberating his Cosmic Control Rod from the android thief back in our reality.
There is simply so much going on in this one comic, in terms of character development and continuity, as well as breathless action, all steered masterfully by Bill Mantlo's script and the flowing art of Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott.
It really brings it home how much padding there is in a lot of mainstream comics these days, with narrative decompression being used as an excuse for panels puffed out with a half-dozen word balloons, and a general trend to "write for the trades".
Fantastic Four #183 is classic, old school, Marvel: high action, deep world building, pacing to make your head spin, extreme excitement, and powerful pathos.
The ending delivers a beautiful double-whammy with Reed standing firm on honouring his pledge to Annihilus, and the emotional decision by the 'alternate Reed', that prompts Sue to declare:
"Then similarities bridge worlds, my darling... for he did what would would have done had your positions been reversed."If only more superhero comics were written with such panache these days.
And, if only the 'first family of Marvel', the Fantastic Four, were back where they belong, on the shelves, having new cosmic adventures, doing mad science, exploring strange new worlds...
Two years without a Fantastic Four title is too long.