Glow-In-The-Dark, Holofoil, Chromium and Die-Cut – Comics In The Nineties Weren’t All Bad – The New Fantastic Four

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2192850-1991mu2.newfantasticfourThe nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches.

For as many reasons as there are to speak in hushed tones when referring to comics in that rather fateful decade, there are many more reasons to shout at the sky in praise. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.

The cash grab that was The New Fantastic Four.

The Fantastic Four has always been one of Marvel’s flagship titles, a long time hit with fans, and a relatively good seller, but in 1990 they were far from Marvel’s best seller. At the time The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine were fan favorites, appearing everywhere, jumping from title to title, so it was no surprise that they would come together and form a team. It was surprising that they would form a new Fantastic Four however.

04-17-2007 05;01;49PMThe story, not that it’s all that important here, was that a Skrull named De’lila incapacitated the Fantastic Four, impersonating the Invisible Girl, and called upon these disparate heroes to bring their “killer” to justice. This was all a clever ruse by the Skrull, as she was actually using these heroes to steal a weapon from the Mole Man. She was eventually found out, and the heroes won the day.

It all started in FF #347, with a perfect cover, by interior artist the fantastic Arthur Adams, that told you exactly what to expect before you even opened the issue. All the pieces were there, surrounding the apparent corpses of the FF. As usual Adams’ style and flawless design sense grabbed my attention immediately. I had to have this book! It had many of my favorite characters of the time, drawn by one of my all time favorite artists.

For three wonderful issues Walter Simonson, Adams, Art Thibert, and Al Milgrom gave us a fun, fan-fiction style romp through the Marvelverse. They brilliantly gave the fans what they didn’t even realize they wanted, and it sold like crazy, with a gold ink second printing following very soon after the first issue sold out. It was just the shot in the arm the FF needed, as prior to this the book’s sales were flagging.

2322402-552654598_b058ffe216This was teenage me’s ultimate comic, featuring The Hulk in his popular at the time Mr. Fix-It persona, the character find of the 90s Danny Ketch Ghost Rider, everyone’s favorite mutant Wolverine, and Spider-Man riding the character high spun out (no pun intended) of his two insanely popular books. It was basically Marvel printing money.

The story wasn’t high literature by any means, but it didn’t need to be. All I wanted when I first read these issues was a frivolous, exciting story with my favorite characters kicking bad guy butt, and it delivered. They even threw in The Punisher in the last issue! I was in heaven. But it wasn’t just a cash grab as I stated earlier, it was also one of the last instances of Marvel poking fun at itself and the medium.

They understood and played off of the fact they were not only exploiting their characters, but the fans as well. The famous top of the cover “The world’s greatest comic magazine” tagline was supplanted with “The world’s goofiest comic magazine”, “The world’s most commercialest comic magazine”, and “The world’s most collectable comic magazine”. That Punisher cameo was introduced with this little cover blurb, “Featuring the world’s most exploitative cameo!” pointing out how obvious it was what Marvel was doing. Their tongue was bursting right through their cheek, and most of us kids reading didn’t get it, or didn’t care.

Fantastic-Four_349_Vol1961_Marvel__ComiClashAnd that art by Art Adams was pitch perfect. You could tell he was having a blast with each issue, firmly in his element drawing Skrulls, 50s sci-fi monsters, and the Mole Man and his minions. His Wolverine was MY Wolverine, the one I knew from his Classic X-Men covers years earlier. Next to the also awesome Dale Keown, Adams’ Mr. Fix-It was the best in the industry, menacing yet humorous, a monster in pin-stripes. His Spider-Man made me wish he had drawn more of him. He was gangly, impossibly flexible, and bounded from panel to panel in perfect Spidey fashion. Simonson knew exactly what Adams’ strengths were, and played them up admirably.

Sadly, this partnership only lasted those three issues, with the characters coming back together a few more times throughout the years by different creators. Those stories never quite captured the magic for me, and for a very brief time The Fantastic Four was my favorite book, something I never thought I would say.

This storyline was simply a joy to read, and I was excited every month for the next issue to appear on my local 7-11’s comic rack. This unlikely, yet obvious team-up was a gloriously fun read that gave comic fans exactly what they wanted, everything, and was one more reason it was awesome being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.

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