I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
As I’ve mentioned before, I know exactly which comic book got me in trouble back in the day, entrenching me in a hobby and habit it would take me ages to fully shake (and you can go ahead and read “fully” as “sorta” in that sentence). Bought from the comic book section of the local grocery store (sadly, it wasn’t a spinner rack), Fantastic Four #222 set me on a path to have an array of longboxes stuffed with superhero adventures, all loving preserved in mylar bags to preserve their value. Why I grabbed it in the first place is beyond me. Certainly the somewhat scary cover was not the sort of thing I would have usually been attracted to, being a fairly squeamish kid. I have a vague recollection of thinking it was time for me to try a more “grown up” comic instead of all the Richie Rich and Dennis the Menace offerings I happily plowed through. After all, I was now ten years old! No more kiddie fare for me, thank you!
In my recollection, the transformation was immediate. I loved the comic and immediately started collecting as many superhero comics, especially those with the Marvel banner girdering the cover, as I could afford at fifty cents a pop. Loyal to my new first love, I was absolutely committed to the Fantastic four, regularly buying their main series, the concurrent reprint series and the spin-off team-up title featuring the quartet’s tectonically titanic member, the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing. I would quickly proclaim it my favorite to anyone unfortunate enough to broach the topic of comics with me, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized what an atypical stretch of the title I’d stumbled upon.
After something of a try-out a couple issues earlier, Fantastic Four #222 marked the beginning of writer Doug Moench and artist Bill Sienkiewicz as the new creative team. The two were simultaneously working on the Batman take-off Moon Knight, and brought some of the darker sensibility from that character over to Marvel’s first family. More specifically, they wrote Fantastic Four, a title that typically featured a family dynamic positioned within cosmic adventures, as basically a horror title.
It’s present in that first story I read, which centers on Franklin Richards, the young son of married Fantastic Four team members Reed and Sue Richards, in a dire situation that’s sort of the super-powered version of the dilemma that drives The Exorcist. While his mother uses her powers of invisibility to gain the advantage in a game of hide-and-seek around the team’s headquarters, she muses with convenient dark foreshadowing.
Four panels later, something traumatic happens.
Franklin unwittingly exposed himself to the reach of Nicholas Scratch, former leader of the villainous Salem’s Seven who was banished to the Dark Realm after his last misadventures. He attempts to use Franklin as a gateway back, tapping into the boy’s powers to attack his family members in the Fantastic Four. Eventually the team enlists the aid of witch Agatha Harkness, Franklin’s former nanny and Nicholas Scratch’s mother, to perform a mystic ceremony in an attempt to reach the boy.
Again, this wasn’t exactly typical story fodder for the residents of the Baxter Building. Matters were more properly aligned over in the reprint title, where they were dealing with behemoths from outer space and armored, Eastern European dictators. You know, normal superhero stuff.
Moench and Sienkiewicz trundled on, pitting the FF against spooky old gods with a fleet of all-terrain vehicles, a marauding, sword-wielding robot and a towering beast made of negative energy. Probably no other issue made it so clear that gruesome doings were afoot in the creative process than issue #227, with a story entitled “The Brain Parasites!” I mean, it involves the Fantastic Four dealing with these ugly critters:
The plot involves the leech-like creatures taking over people, causing them to regress into bestial form. How else were they going to get a chance to have the Thing tangle with a mammoth sea creature?
In retrospect, these issues might have been a little jarring to me had it not been my introduction to Fantastic Four. It’s markedly different from what came before it, enough so that the letters page was dotted with missives from fans wondering about the good old days. Indeed, I now wonder if the work of Moench and Sienkiewicz was instrumental in inspiring the acclaimed “back to the basics” run that immediately followed it. Now those were comics that I loved even more, but that’s for another entry, true believers.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne