Wednesday, July 31, 2013

VIRGIN TERRITORY: The First Time I Read: Fantastic Four - Fantastic Four #277

This comic isn't just 'Virgin Territory'. Fantastic Four #277 is the one comic I can point to more than any other, that made me a comic fan. It has 'Moments In Cool', Thing, Mephisto, Dr Strange, and Dire Wraiths. Yet written and drawn by John Byrne (inks by Jerry Ordway), it didn't need any of them, it had me right from the cover.

While it also bares compositional similarities to Fantastic Four #1, it took me awhile to get it was a split scene image. Even now I think a half Mephisto, half Dire Wraith would be an awesome foe - power and brute strength!

Right from the first page, that 50/50 split continues. The top half of every page dedicated to The Thing's return from Marvel's Secret Wars. The lower tier features Dr Strange trailing evil's scent to the bodies of Reed, Sue and Franklin, whose souls are hostage in Mephisto's realm!

This issue was my first whack of Marvel not talking down to it's audiences. I had seen The Fantastic Four cartoon with H.E.R.B.I.E., in Secret Wars and in picture books (like the one I featured here), but in this, my first Fantastic Four comic Byrne was taking them to a whole new level. The Thing, having reevaluated his life off-planet goes to tell Alicia their relationship is over, only when he knocks on the door, a half-naked Johnny Storm answers! 'WTF' was born right here.

Two super-hero best mates and one had stolen the others girlfriend? My jaw was on the floor. While you could see how love had bloomed in his absence, you still had to feel sorry for Ben. Thing was my favourite Marvel character by a country mile, and Byrne made this issue even more emotive for him, by shading the hero's rock covered skin in a way you could almost make out the man inside.

As the Wraith World appears and triggers tremors across the city, She-Hulk hears of Thing's return, and fears her time as 'fill-in' is at an end. Then, thinking his luck might be changing, Benjamin J. Grimm stumbles across a damsel in distress, only she turns out to a Dire Wraith wanting to steal his body - the guy can't get a break!

Just as honest in telling Reed and Sue's story, the powerless couple's torture scenes at the hands of Mephisto, seemed like something out of A Nightmare on Elm Street! Empowered by the Wraith chaos on earth, Mephisto fully utilises the pain of his new 'toys' to his own satisfaction.

As a burst of light signals Dr Strange's arrival, Reed realises during the ensuing battle that the Lord of Hades is afraid of the imprisoned Franklin. My first 'meeting' with Sue's son and he's taking on the devil?! Actually, taking on is a bit of an over statement. Released, the battle is pretty one sided, free of the power inhibitors that lie within his body, there's not much Franklin's spirit can't do. Talk about epic.

The coolest panel of the issue below, shows even in hell Reed is still a bossy bastard. Years on, I still draw the hands of magicians, like J.B. draws Dr Strange's here.

While I have brought many an issue of The Fantastic Four prior to this since, this issue is still king. This is where it all began and the issue I re-read more often than it's pull-box companions (and if truth be told, I always stop to check and see if I can still do the Newtons Cookies maze advert as well).

By combining drama, the supernatural, super-heroics and heartfelt human feelings, John Byrne created the ultimate reason why regardless of who is writing Doom Patrol, Legion of Super-Heroes or the JLA, my favourite super-team will always be the one within 'The World's Greatest Comic Magazine'.

 What do you think? 

11 comments:

  1. Awesome, awesome issue to spotlight there Dan. I think the previous one with the cool ass white and black only cover is what started all of this, as some chick things the FF's powers are supernatural in origin, not scientific. So she tries to exorcise them, and winds up summoning Mephisto instead.

    Very few later works of Byrne still hold up today, but his FF is one of them.

    Thanks for sharing mate;)

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  2. continuing the ROM related theme i see. i've had this issue ever since it first came out back in the day it's a good tie-in to the climax of the Wraith War. i dunno if you noticed the full page ROM# 65 promo house ad in the back. as for the Thing and the Human Torch it will be Johnny who will experience some serious heart ache as they find out in a later issue that the "Alicia Masters" he and Ben are fighting over is actually a skrull. that would be the ultimate Jerry Springer episode. by the way there's more ROM related stuff today over at the Marvel 80s blog with the 1983 - Marvel Team-Up Poster posting.

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  3. Thanks guys! This is one of my all time favourite comics, so I'm glad it's going down well!

    Dale, I loved that issue too. I always wondered if the interfering neighbour who called the exorcist woman in was based on one of John's own :)

    I sure have Dave, it was actually ROM #65 that made me pick up this issue, as I wanted to know why the FF weren't in the big showdown over there. And even as a skrull Lyja Laserfist was still pretty hot.

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  4. yeah i'd tap that pointy eared green action.

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  5. You know, when I first found out Johnny and Alicia were together (without knowing it was Lyja) I was pissed). Sure, I thought Ben was being a selfish twit, staying on at the Secret Wars world, but Johnny should never have touched her. Bros code and all that. But this issue really had me warring with that emotion, mostly because Ben comes back ready to break off, and then gets all angry and rawr. Which I understand, but I kind of felt he'd relinquished the right to beat the crap out of Johnny at that point. At the same time I felt an overwhelming sadness for him. And yet, several issues later it was all reversed again when I discovered it was all a skrull plot! Duh duh duh. Seriously, I had a lot of emotional whiplash from this plotline. And that's without diving into the depths of hell. Excellent spotlight Dan.

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  6. Thanks Random! Seems this was a pretty popular issue right across the board. I was a Thing fan and in his corner the whole way. I thought Johnny was a punk for years, but now I've let go my grudge ;) I think an episode of Oprah helped.

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  7. As you know Dan, FF is my all-time favourite comic and in an era where it was considered old-hat, Byrne really did pull out all the stops in trying to make it a relevant book again.
    Id actually left school three months before this issue came out and was about to start university, so this issue marked a turning point for me, as it did the characters in this story. Reed and Sue moving to the 'burbs was a minor mistake Byrne made as he never followed thru with the initial premise after Mephisto came a' calling, but sod all that - the highlight was Ben coming back home to Earth, like an orange-plated sailor home on leave, and finding his FF 'brother' Johhny having done the nasty with his girl. A massive sea-change for these characters, and it set the store for the next seven years worth of antagonism between the two former friends, whose gentle feuding up to then had now taken on a new aesthetic, One also got the impression that She-Hulk would only be a temporary fill-in now Ol' Blue Eyes was back, what it served was to make one wonder what Byrne was doing each issue, as things became less certain for the team dynamics.
    Ben had come back determined to pick up where hed left off with Alicia, little remembering that they were 'on a break', and that the Human Torch is a dirty bastard given half a chance. What a way to fuck up a major friendship in the FF though, esp as Ben's adventures on Battleworld had led him to come to terms with being the Thing and become more comtemplative in his leadership role when Reed and Sue left after issue 300, leaving him in charge of a team with...the Torch and his new wife. Uh oh!
    I also felt having it all ret-conned into having Alicia being a Skrull in disguise was a major cop-out for this plot, as it effectively pushed the reset button - I liked Lyja but all the same bad move. The Ben/'Alicia'/Johnny triangle boosted all their characters' personalities big time only for all to be undone later.
    The only thing I disliked was the slightly poor artwork of Byrne's which wavered over time, but that's a small complaint - his run was magnifique'.

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  8. Yeah, I hear ya. I remember when Tom Defalco did that. I guess because they wanted to reset the whole Ben/Alicia love triangle thing again. What's even more messed up is that the Lyja character started to grow on all of us, and up until the fake baby plot. Since then she only showed up duing that Secret Invasion tie-in, and that one didn't really do her any favors. I though overall they made a good couple, and it forced Johnny to grow up a good bit. She should defintely be brought back. And really, looking at it from my perspective, dating/shacking up with a shape-shifter would be hot. As long she knew you loved her for her, she could probably be convinced to morph into any chick you want from whatever porn or issue of Maxim you have laying around the house. The possibilities man, the possibilities!
    That's all I'm saying.....

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  9. Thanks guys! What awesome comments. Karl, I know we're twins when it comes to lovin the Fantastic Four, so I thought you'd have some great perspective on this.

    You're right, it did shake all the characters up. One resulting cover I'll never forget is Ben in space floating away from his teammates, yelling he doesn't want to be saved. I really wanted Johnny to leave and She-Hulk to stay after this issue, but people who screw up rarely know when to give space or apoligise.

    Dale, I was in the Lyja grew on them camp, but this isdue actually made Alicia stand out to me a lot more. When she slaps Ben and he feels it emotionaly altjough not physicaly I was like finally she has some backbone. As for a shape changing partner having advantages sure! Until she gets angry you don't put the seat down and turns into a massive Dire Wraith its all gravy!

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  10. Ha ha, but until then, think of the possibilities!!! She or he could make you whistle "Waltzing Matilda" in no time at all! ha ha.

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  11. One of the discreet an dnever discussed things few people know about the FF is that after issue 329, Marvel editors effectively pushed the 're-set button' on the book, which began the whole Alicia being a Skrull called Lyja storyline which split readers.
    FF fan Chris Tolworthy [and a pal of mine] postulated that since 329, we effectively have had a 'proto FF' with no furtherance in characterization, hence Ben back to being miserable. Johhny being an immature jerk [after Byrne tried to have him grow up during his run] and Reed and Sue, whod left the group, now returned to take over, with Reed now portrayed as easily distracted and doddery.
    If you read the finale of Simonson's run, there is a distinct and very telling retro-characterization happening, as what happened directly before [Ben leading a team of Shary, Crystal and Johhny] was actually the FF moving into the next generation, theme-wise - then Marvel pushed the re-set button and everything since was reversed.
    Pity, really.

    And Lyja - I really liked her [apart from the 'Lazerfist' tag], and wish she would turn up again one day. The idea of one of the FFs original villains having one of their kind being actually married to one of the FF [at one time] is too good to miss. She cared deeply for Johnny in her own confused way but seemed also to cause no end of hassle for him at the same time [like most women, in fact!].
    I liked it when we all thought [assumed] Alicia actually fell for Johnny for real, but at the same time also dug Lyja and her ways also. You could say until she was revealed we had the best of both worlds!
    Hickman, when he wrote the comic, disliked Lyja so much he refused to even have her in the book at all, and was all set to have her killed off [offscreen] until he was told she was stuck in the Negative Zone during the FF segue of the Secret Invasion series, so didn't do anything with her.

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