Bronze Age Beginnings

Sunday, 23 August 2015

An Annual Post

Thumbing through a pile of back issues, I decided to give these three Fantastic Four Annuals a re-read for possibly the first time in 35+ years, and it wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

First up, FF Annual #13, on sale in July 1978 (so spoilers for FF #200 that came out a month later in August 1978; yeah the Fantastic Four get back together as a team), written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema (inked by Joe Sinnott).

The Mole Man is up to no good, stealing statues, and kidnapping all the ugly and blind folk from the streets of New York. So it’s a no-brainer that Alicia Masters is on his hit-list (being both a sculptress and blind  - duh!), which means the newly reunited Fantastic Four get involved in his dastardly plot to give all those ugly and blind people a place to call home beneath the Earth’s surface. No matter that they’ll all be dimly lit; they’ll no longer be ostracised from an uncaring society and will have all these beautiful statues to look at. Can anyone else see (no pun intended) a problem with that?

Anyway, the Fantastic Four bust up on the Mole Man and his Moloids until Alica breaks up the fighting by pointing out that the Mole Man’s intentions were good (though probably misguided), and that many of those he kidnapped are more than happy to shuffle around in the near dark, bumping into statues and being reminded of their lack of good looks. So as a parting gift she sculpts a statue of the Mole Man in all his glory, he’s happy, and the Fantastic Four depart - along with a few of the kidnapped citizens that required some medical attention from falling over all those stolen statues just lying around. I made that last part up.

Despite being dumb, this was an enjoyable read. I especially liked how Mantlo portrayed the Fantastic Four’s interactions with other New Yorker’s while wandering around the city, and Sal Buscema, as far as I’m concerned, was THE Marvel Bronze Age artist. Reading this issue was like sliding my feet into an old pair of slippers - so comfortable.

Annual #14, on sale in October 1979, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez (inked by Pablo Marcos) was a perfect example of why you should never judge a book by its’ cover. Behind a rather dull Franklin Richards cover was an unexpected delight; not so much a Fantastic Four story, but a spotlight issue for Agatha Harkness. Who totally kicks ass.

The Fantastic Four (with Franklin) accompany Agatha on her yearly sojourn back to New Salem, so she can lead the New Salemnites (?) in their annual ritual to cleanse their magics. Obviously, Salem’s Seven and Nicholas Scratch get involved and it all goes to hell; but the Fantastic Four are almost incidental in their own book, as it is Agatha who takes the lead in sorting the whole mess out (with a little help from Franklin and his not so dormant cosmic powers).

This issue was thoroughly entertaining, helped not-just-a-little by  Perez’ dynamic pencils. Though I’ve never been a fan of Pablo Marcos’ inks, they were tolerable here.

Well worth reading.

Which is not something I can say for Annual #15, on sale in July 1980, written by Doug Moench and drawn by George Perez (inked by Chic Stone),  which was was quite frankly a bit of a mess.

I’m not even sure I can summarise the plot for this one; it involves Reed inventing some kind of teleporting machine by accident, some invading Skulls, and Captain Mar-Vell. And some time travel hilarity. Or not.

I never really enjoyed Moench’s time on Fantastic Four, and this issue pretty much cemented my feelings on that. However, there was a really nice back-up story (written by Moench and drawn by Tom Sutton) that shows Zorba failing to maintain his newly liberated Latveria, and the ultimate resurrection of Dr Doom. A lot of nice ideas here about newly democratised people not really feeling the love for their new status quo.

Unemployment, higher taxes, and lots of picketing; yeah, that’ll get you down. What you really need is a megalomaniacal terrorist in charge. Sorted.
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