Monday, May 2, 2011
Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne Volume 1, written and illustrated by John Byrne (1981; collected 2005): Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when pretty much every superhero comic book sold over 100,000 copies a month and stories didn't drag out over a year, or even years.
Byrne, artist and co-plotter for some of the X-Men's greatest 1970's and early 1980's storylines (most notably The Death of Phoenix and Days of Future Past) had by the early 1980's got tired of working with X-Men scribe Chris Claremont. So he eventually ended up taking over The Fantastic Four as both writer and penciller, his first extended stint as a writer on any series. He'd stay on the book for about five years in what most consider to this day to be the second-best FF run after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original 100+ issue stint.
Byrne has never had Stan Lee's oddball flair for combining melodrama with low-brow comedy -- the only real knock on his FF run is that it's mostly humourless. But he is one of the post-1970's superhero world's great synthesizers and extrapolators. He doesn't create a lot of new heroes and villains during his FF run, but he does make really good use of the ones he has (he even managed to make Wyatt Wingfoot interesting), and his version of The Thing, personality-wise, is the best the character's ever gotten in terms of the Thing's difficult mix of pathos and two-fisted directness.
This volume mainly consists of standalone stories (remember those, kids?) that, in total, resemble mid-period Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four comics in their mix of standalone stories with one-off villains and pivotal issues featuring major characters, the most enjoyable of the latter being the 20th anniversary issue battle with Dr. Doom and the exodus of the Inhumans from their Himalayan hiding place to a less air-polluted locale. These are comics that can profitably be read by both children and adults, something of a lost art in today's shrunken superhero comics marketplace. Highly recommended.