By John Byrne
To me, Byrne’s FF is *the* FF. As far as I can tell, almost the whole Byrne run have been published in Finland and it was in full swing when I got into comics. Byrne’s tales with the family-feel of the group combined with the cosmic adventures in space and alternate dimensions are still pretty much the yard stick that I use to measure superhero comics. I guess that’s why I don’t much care for the darker stories. (My other superhero reading in my teens was Claremont’s long run in the X-Men.) I think the first time I read about the FF was when they beat Galactus.
I have read some of the Lee and Kirby stories and they were published here in small black and white paperbacks a few years ago. However, I felt that they had aged badly especially with the blatant sexism aimed at Susan who was pretty much always in need of rescue. Byrne changed that.
This collection gathers the first Byrne issues from FF 232 to FF 240.
In the first story the villain Diablo sends four elementals to battle the FF. At the start of the story, we get a glimpse of the heroes’ ordinary lives: Sue getting a new hair style, Johnny on a date with Frankie Ray, Ben coming from the theater with Alicia, and Reed absorbed in his work. The elementals aren’t terribly hard to beat.
The next story stars Johnny. He gets a letter from an acquaintance who had been recently executed for murder. Even though the man had been a criminal most of his life, he swears that he didn’t do this crime and asks Johnny to investigate. How could he resist?
The next is a more cosmic two-part story. It starts with J. P. “Skip” Collins who lives an ordinary life. However, because he was subjected to an experiment during his days in the military, he has the ability to make everything he really wants to happen. He travels to New York and is there when a disaster hits Earth. The Fantastic Four do their best to help people and find out that the threat comes from space. They will, of course, confront those responsible.
The next story is also a two-parter. It starts with the surreal notion of the all the FF living as ordinary people in Liddleville. They have no idea that they have super powers. However, Johnny, Ben, and Sue are having nightmares about their flight to space and about the cosmic radiation. The town has another not-quite-ordinary resident, too: Philip Masters who is also known as the Puppetmaster.
In the next story Frankie Ray reveals her secret to Johnny. Also, a gang of thieves gives trouble to Reed and Sue because they have a strange member: a blue skinned woman who is three meters tall and able to tear apart a human’s mind just by looking at them. At the end, Reed tries to change Ben back to human. Unfortunately, it does change the Thing but not into a human.
The next issue starts with Reed desperately trying to find out what went wrong while Aunt Petunia visits Ben. However, she’s come to the Baxter Building to get help: people in her small, Arizonan town are apparently dying of fear. But can even the FF beat such strange adversaries?
In the last issue Quicksilver races to the Baxter Building looking for help; the Inhumans are plagued by a mysterious disease. Reed comes to the conclusion that even the Himalayans where their city Attila stands, is now too polluted for the Inhumans to live in. So, the city must be moved.
The last issue especially is a classic one with the Inhumans’ move and the birth of Quicksilver’s and Crystal’s daughter. It's a great start for Byrne's long run.
I really enjoy the family aspect of the FF. Ben as the irritable uncle, Johnny as the carefree youngster, Reed as the know-it-all scientist who has a tendency to put work before family, and Sue as the compassionate glue who keeps the rest together. They work together amazingly well.
The FF usually has some guest stars, as well. Frankie Ray is the guest in most of the trade and I definitely enjoy the Inhumans and the rest of the (supernatural) cast. The villains are also, of course, half of the fun. However, this trade didn’t really have the most impressive villains; Diablo and the Puppetmaster aren’t that great. Dr. Doom made a surprisingly short visit.
Overall: a good trade and the last story alone is worth getting it.