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Essential Fantastic Four - Volume 1 (v. 1) Paperback – June 18, 2008
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This legendary issue is included, along with the 19 issues of the title which followed it, and the 1st FF annual, in "Essential Fantastic Four vol. 1". Each issue is absolutely packed with some of the most innovative characters and writing ever seen in comics. Aside from the truly radical members of the FF (a superteam that bickers? This ain't the Justice League), readers are treated to the first appearances of the Sub-Mariner, the shapeshifting Skrulls, and Dr. Doom.
This is a top-drawer collection which every comics fan should own.
Of course, the characters that make each issue come to life are the Fantastic Four members themselves. Leading the pack is Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, who is esteemed as the most ingenious scientific mind on Earth and who possesses the ability to stretch his body over vast distances. Next in line is Ben Grimm, who comes to be known as the Thing, since his once natural, human body becomes, on the positive side, an entity that can lift heavy objects in a way comporable to the Hulk's feats, but on the negative side, has his flesh already transformed to a hideous, multilayered composition of rocks. Third is Sue Storm, who is known as the Invisible Girl and is the girlfriend (and would years down the road become the wife) of Mr. Fantastic; she possesses the power to turn invisible and in these early issues has not discovered or honed her abilities to project forcefields to protect her and her loved ones from various oncoming invaders and their weapons. And then there is Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch and brother of the Invisible Girl; he is the only member who can fly and who can turn his body into flame and project his elevated body heat to burn, melt and vaporize various objects, to say the least.
As a unit, the Fantastic Four are the most interconnected fighting team in the comic book universe. Their origins have a unifying commonality, and that is the exposure to high levels of cosmic radiation during a spaceflight that would give each member its own abilities. Collectively, they are regarded as one of the greatest superhero teams of all time, and since they were already a tightly knit unit on an interpersonal level before attaining their superpowers, the Fantastic Four arguably know one another's strengths and weaknesses at a level that not even the Justice League or The Avengers could equal.
Again, Doctor Doom is perhaps the greatest villain of all time, but he does not necessarily mop up the stage in regards to the characters posing difficult challenges for the Fantastic Four. Making their presences felt are The Mole Man, The Puppet Master, The Mad Thinker, and the emotionally complex hero/villain Namor, the SubMariner.
In all, the heroes and villains set up perplexing stages and situations that can stump many a brilliant mind. One side can, proverbially speaking, go in with the best chess moves and pieces in their arsenals and strategies only to find out that they have ended up at the poker table. The developments that ensue are enough to create discussions among those interested in game theory; it is apparent that even the renowned mathematician, John von Neumann, would have been pleased with these stories.
Along with the intellectual flashes of brilliance displayed among the characters are the scientific gadgets that, visualized almost half a century ago, are yet to be developed and that would seem impressive and advanced even by early twenty-first-century standards if their existence came to fruition.
All in all, this bound volume was created during the space race and the Cold War against Russia, and the first man had yet to land on the moon. It is quite apparent that people had a faith in technology that modernizing civilizations could improve living standards and make societies happier, as well as more progressive and peaceful. Indeed, one today now wonders where everything seems to have gone wrong with what apparently amounts to a RAM and ROM cesspool.
Rather than go into each issue and describe the pros and cons of each, I'll just sum it up briefly. This is the origin of the Fantastic Four in the 1960s, and as long as you excuse the many ridiculous aspects, it's really a fun ride. I've read a few different volume one origin stories from the Marvel universe and I'd honestly say that I probably enjoyed this one the most.
For the price tag, getting to see the original comics that helped make Earth-616 so amazing is easily worth not being in color, and I definitely plan on reading more.