Monday, June 25, 2007

Review: Fantastic Four Omnibus

Perfectly timed to coincide with the release of the Rise of the Silver Surfer movie, last week Marvel Comics published the second volume of the Fantastic Four Omnibus by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This 832 page hardback (yes, that's not a typo: eight hundred and thirty two pages in glorious full colour) reprints issues 31 to 60 of the Fantastic Four comic from the swingin' sixties, plus FF Annuals 2, 3 and 4 the covers to all these comics, original letters pages, a spoof strip from Not Brand Echh, covers to the sixties reprint FF title Marvel Collector's Item Classics, and more besides.

The 1960s were the most definitive times for Marvel Comics. It's the period when the "Marvel Age of Comics" began, when their major characters were created, and when stronger characterization was introduced into superhero comics (characterization which we now take for granted). The Fantastic Four in particular was the flagship for the company and evolved more than any other American comic in this period. The first 30 issues of the FF (which were collected in Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol.1) show the evolution of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's script and art, but it's the second 30 issues where the comic matures.

Issues 31 to 60 of FF was an incredibly fertile run for the title, introducing recurring characters such as The Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, The Black Panther. It's also the period where the comic became more cosmic (with the Galactus trilogy, and Kirby's use of photo-montages to depict alien worlds) and also where the comic focused on its humanity (the boyhood of Doctor Doom, the wedding of Reed and Sue, and the emotional journey of Ben Grimm in the story This Man, This Monster). The effect that these 30 issues had on comics are still in place today, and I would even say the influence they had on Hollywood and television is also often evident in today's SF films and tv shows. As Stan Lee used to say, if you only buy one book this month, this is the one to get, pilgrim!

Hold on though; isn't the reproduction in some of these classic reprints often a bit iffy, you may ask? True, some of the repro in the Marvel Masterworks hardbacks has been patchy; lost detail in fine line work, or muddy printing in other areas. Not this time! The artwork has been painstakingly remastered to try and capture every line in its original clarity, and has been recoloured to bring it closer to the original printing. (So no dodgy colour gradients that plagued past reprints.) With nice quality paper too, the Omnibus edition looks and feels like a labour of love. This goes some way to compensating for the hefty price tag: $99.99!?! That's a lot to ask, but when one breaks it down, it's not too bad, as the Masterworks cost $50 for 10 reprint comics, so twice the price for 30 comics, 3 annuals, and all the bonus features (plus the aforementioned quality reproduction) makes it sound like a bargain! (And for UK readers, it certainly is a bargain, as Amazon are currently offering it for a mere £42.90. Only three left, so order quickly!)

If ever there was one book which summed up the essence of Marvel Comics, this is it. If you're unfamiliar with Marvel Comics of the sixties and wondered what made them so great, this is the perfect place to find out. If you remember them as a kid, this volume will bring back nostalgic memories. A brilliant book.


Edmund Lau said...

I just got my copy of FF Omnibus Volume 2. This is the book that defined Marvel and so much of Pop Culture. Really amazing stuff from the fertile imaginations of Lee and Kirby.

Adam F. said...

Both volumes of the Fantastic Four Omnibus are Marvel canon. I can't wait to see what Mark Millar and Byan Hitch have in store.

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