The second trade paperback volume in the MARVEL MASTERWORKS: FANTASTIC FOUR series reprints FF #11 – 20, along with the first FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL. It’s a mixed bag of stories, to be sure, opening with the introduction of the Impossible Man from FF #11. Stan comments in the introduction to the volume that this story is considered a failure, but I never felt like that. Yeah, it’s offbeat, but it’s pretty funny, too. Not much really happens in #12, which features the first meeting between the FF and the Incredible Hulk. (The next meeting in FF #25 and 26 is much better.) The story from #13 is notable because it features the first appearance of the Watcher, as well as the introduction of the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super-Apes. (Yes, super-apes. I thought this was pretty dumb even when I was a kid. The Watcher was cool, though.)
Some other characters pop up for the first time in these stories: the Mad Thinker in #15, the Super-Skrull in #18, and Rama-Tut, the Pharaoh from the Future (who I believe eventually turned out to be Dr. Doom, as did Kang the Conqueror) in #19. I don’t recall if the Yancy Street Gang had turned up prior to these issues, but they’re mentioned quite a bit and always welcome.
For me the highlights of this volume are the stories from FF #16 and #17, both of which feature Dr. Doom as the villain. In #16, the FF are shrunk down into a microverse (shades of Ray Cummings’ THE GIRL IN THE GOLDEN ATOM, among numerous other SF novels and stories) and get some help from Ant-Man, and in #17 they battle a series of traps set for them by Doom. Now, these stories may not actually be any better than the others from this time period, but they’re special to me because they were the first issues of FANTASTIC FOUR I ever read, indeed the first Marvel superhero comics I read, on that Christmas Day, 1963, at my aunt’s house in Brownwood. (I’ve written about that day before.) Reading them again really took me back to those times.
Also, the story from FF ANNUAL #1, which features Sub-Mariner finally locating his lost kingdom of Atlantis and declaring war on the surface world, is pretty good, and at 37 pages was a real epic in those days.
Still, this is all prelude. Starting a few months after these stories were first published, with the brutal Thing/Hulk battle in FF #25, FANTASTIC FOUR would start a three-and-a-half year run that for my money is the best sustained sequence in the history of comics. (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 – 33 comes close but can’t quite top the FF, at least for me.) If Marvel continues to come out with these Masterworks trade paperbacks, I’ll continue reading them and reliving those days. Highly recommended.