Flashback Friday: Fantastic Four #289

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Fantastic Four #289

Written by John Byrne
Pencils by John Byrne
Inks by Al Gordon
Colours by Glynis Oliver
Letters by John Workman
Published by Marvel Comics (1986)

Once again we’re at the end of a series.  The Fantastic Four wrapped up this week with #645, an epic run that spanned decades and was one of the longest continually running books on the market.

The Fantastic Four have always been, for me anyway, the first super hero team that I followed semi-regularly. It was the family aspect of the book, the husband/wife and brother/best friend foursome always seemed to me the perfect team when I was younger. The strangest thing about it is, that even now, less than a week after I pulled this book out of a dollar bin at C2E2 in Chicago, I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

I can’t name one story arc that truly grabbed me when I was a kid, only vague impressions like, the Thing is spiky, or She-Hulk is a member now. Speaking of She-Hulk, she’s a member at this point in the run, Fantastic Four # 289. The story is titles “Rip Wide the Sky”, written by the ever-present John Byrne.

Typical of most FF books, this involves some kind of timey-wimey wibbly wobbly space travel stuff, and despite what the cover (drawn by Bryne as well) the Human Torch is not the last one standing at the end.

She-Hulk has only recently become a member of the FF, being recruited as the powerhouse of the team after the Thing quits. The team is touring the new Baxter Building. (Doctor Doom pulled the previous headquarters into space and Reed blew it up.) As the tour ends the most interesting thing in the comic happens. Basilisk, buried deep beneath the Earth by The Thing and Spider Man in Marvel Team-Up #47, breaks through the wall and escapes into the bowels of the new Baxter Building. As he reaches a window he is assassinated by Scourge.

The FF is then brought to space by Nick Fury to deal with a black hole that has opened up near Earth and is threatening the planet. (Just another day at the office.) Little do they know that the hole, caused by the destruction of the old Baxter Building, is also a blind for Blastaar, who plans on catching the FF as they come through. Who can defeat the FF? Certainly not a being that is more powerful but always running his mouth, as Blastaar is. They have him on the ropes, seize the cosmic rod that is around his neck, and throw it into an “atomic disintegrator” that Blastaar conveniently points them towards. Thanks a bunch Johnny Storm; you’ve just released the Annihilator, who was a prisoner of Blastaar’s until just now. End of issue.

Where does my dislike of FF comics come from? It’s these kinds of stories I think. It’s Reed Richards doing one thing in an issue, and finding out two issues later that he did the exact wrong thing and then has to go and fix it. It’s villains like Blastaar, who turns out to be a super powerful loudmouth and not much else. It’s having a great character like She-Hulk on your team and not utilizing that fresh face to make the comic more entertaining. They just slid the Thing out and put a green avatar in, right down to the quips with Johnny Storm. There was an opportunity to change the team dynamic, which didn’t happen. And I guess that’s my major problem with it. That despite years and years and hundreds of issues, the team hasn’t evolved that much from what it first was. It’s a book about a family with super powers, but that family doesn’t seem to have evolved the way other heroes have.

I don’t blame John Byrne for the book.  Most Marvel books at that time were struggling to find what could distinguish them.  Part of the problem may have been that the big 2 had several people working on several titles.  It’s hard to change the way you write, to help distinguish the title without switching voices.   Fantastic Four #289 was lost amidst a con last week and I plucked it from obscurity. I’d probably do it again because I’m a complete sucker for mid-80’s comics, but this one had me wishing that Scourge had made a longer and more brutal appearance.

I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of the FF, and despite this issue I’m glad.  This is one of the books that built Marvel, and the characters within are staples of the universe.  There is always room for the Fantastic Four.  Without them, who will fight Blastaar?

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