Friday, February 19, 2016

Fanfiction Friday: Fantastic Four and the Age of Apocalypse

Did he do it?  -Wolverine #90
Travel back in time to the year 1996. Marvel did the unthinkable. They canceled all their X-titles, even the best selling titles. Excalibur, Generation X, X-Force/Factor/Men (even Uncanny and Unlimited) were no more. Wolverine’s solo title was also cancelled, as was Cable’s. That's right, the time traveling mutant from the future, but born in the present (which is our past now) was also no longer in existence. The X-universe crystallized and shattered out of reality. This occurrence destroyed the known Marvel Universe, yet was only isolated to the mutant sector. All the other titles continued as normal and were unaffected by this mutant debacle.

Ad from Wizard magazine
However, this was not the end of mutantkind. There was a new beginning, a new age, an Age of Apocalypse. Quick recap: Legion (Professor X’s son) traveled back in time to kill Magneto, but killed Xavier instead. This triggered the rise of Apocalypse and he conquered the Earth. Mutants ruled and only few humans remained. There were no mightiest heroes, no sorcerer supremes, no fantastic heroes, no incredible Hulks, no captains, no Canadian heroes, no blind lawyers, and no humans with Inhuman qualities. All that remained was twisted, alternate versions of mutants.

Age of Apocalypse was a huge undertaking from a storytelling perspective and is considered one of the best crossovers in Marvel history. Four months later, everything was back to normal, for the most part. During this story I had many questions, especially about the Richards’ family and friends. This led me to ask the all important question…. "What if the Fantastic Four formed during the Age of Apocalypse?" What you are about to read answers that question as well as a few more that might have been floating around your mind. ( I actually submitted this story to the What If editor at the time, Bobbie Chase I think.)

“Come on, Reed. Hurry up before they come back.”
“Calm down, Johnny. Tinkerer and I are almost done. Tinkerer is your part ready?”
“Yes, Mr Richards, it is.” said Tinkerer.
“This should work.” said Reed.
“Well it better, cuz we gotta find Sue.” replied young Johnny Storm.
Click! The door opened.
“Come on let's go!” Johnny said eagerly.
“Slow down, boy. We don't want to be caught.” said Tinkerer.
Then all of a sudden the wall across from them explodes. Six individuals, calling themselves X-Flight burst in.
“There he is!” yelled their leader, Guardian.
“Reed Richards, come with us. We need your help.” said Maverick. “Hurry! Your questions will be answered later.”
“Wait! My friends must come with.” demanded Reed.
“No, I cannot go with you, Mr Richards. I am old and will only slow you down, but I'll help you with your escape.” explained Tinkerer as he pulled a weapon out that he had made.
“I'll go my friend.”
“Let's get outta here people, the Dark Riders are on their way!” commanded Guardian. “Timebomb, leave the Dark Riders a present.”
Young Timebomb creates one of her biggest bombs and tossed it in the middle of the building.
“Puck, clear the path!” The acrobatic Puck runs and dives into the mutant guards just like a cannonball. Clearing a path to escape.

X-Flight brings Reed Richards and Johnny Storm to the underground HQ, Department H. There Reed and Johnny were officially introduced to the members of X-Flight: the Canadian mystic Shaman, his adopted daughter the shapeshifting Snowbird, the dwarfish Puck, and two mutants, Maverick, a mystery in himself and Timebomb, who has the ability to create explosive energy, “timebombs”.
“Greetings, Dr. Richards. I am James Hudson, aka Guardian. This is my girlfriend, Heather McNeil and my close friend, Dr. Walter Langkowski.
“Why have you brought me here?” questioned  Reed.
“You see a couple months ago we received this transmission from our satellite.” James turns on the screen. On the screen appears a Watcher.
“Greetings people of Earth. I am Uatu, the watcher assigned to observe your solar system. Even though I have taken an oath never to interfere with other races, I decided I must. I have decided to leave and have hopes to be reassigned to another system. If I were you I would also leave. Unfortunately, there is little you can go, except to the blue area of your Moon. That is where I am now. Also here is the alien race known as the Inhumans. Fear not for the blue area has breathable air. Go see the Inhumans, for they should be able to help. I dare not say anymore. Farewell.”

“Whoa, a real life alien.” Johnny said excitingly.
“You see Dr. Richard, we are building a ship to fly to the moon to see the Inhumans and ever since we received this transmission we have searched for you, because we need your scientific knowledge to help us complete this ship. Once the ship is complete we will send up a crew of four to the moon.” explained James.
“He doesn't have time to work for your stupid ship. We have to go find my sister.” said Johnny.
“Cool it, hothead!” yelled Maverick.
“Leave him alone Mav. He's only worried about his sister.” Timebomb said sympathetically.
“Quit sticking up for the for the lousy human, Tabitha.” said Maverick.
“Both you knock it off.” exclaimed Puck.  “Well whatta ya say Richards?”
“I will help you, but you must also help me find my girlfriend Susan Storm and my friend Ben Grimm. Is that agreed?” said Reed.
“I will have X-Flight begin the search immediately.” said Guardian.
“How about it, Johnny?  That good enough for you. I'll try my hardest to find your sister.” said Tabitha.
“Ok, it's fine by me, Timebomb.” said Johnny.
“Please just call me Tabitha.”
So Reed helped James build a spaceship, while Johnny grew more attracted to Timebomb. And Timebomb grew more attracted to Johnny. Of course Maverick did not like this at all, for he also liked Timebomb.

Meanwhile back at the pens where Reed and Johnny escaped from, Apocalypse met with the Dark Riders.
“Bring the human forth, my Dark Riders.” demanded Apocalypse.
“Apocalypse, I'm so glad you've come sir. The ones that escaped were Reed Richards and Johnny Storm. Reed Richards is a genius and I feel you should search for him, or he will cause you some trouble.” said Tinkerer.
“How could a puny human trouble me?”
“You see sir, with his scientific knowledge, he could ruin you. He has the capability of creating a weapon that could destroy you.”
“That is very interesting, Tinkerer. How would you go about finding this Richards?”
“Find his girlfriend, Susan Storm, for that is who he will be looking for. Find her and you will find him.”
“What about that group of individuals that freed them?” said Apocalypse.
“I believe they were the infamous X-men.” answered Tinkerer.
“If they are X-men, they are new to me. Thank you, Tinkerer you have served me well. You are dismissed.”
“Thank you sir. I will never fail you.”
“I know. Too bad though. Lifeforce dispose of him.”
“Yes, highlord.” said Lifeforce.
“No, please, no! No!” screamed Tinkerer.
“Excellent. Now my Dark Riders, find me the human Susan Storm and find out about this new group of heroes. Now be gone!”

A few days later, back at Department H, the ship is almost complete. Johnny and Tabitha have grown closer and closer. X-Flight has been trying to contact Tony Stark, but with no luck.
“Almost complete, James.” said Reed.
“Good. When the ship is done, I would like you and Johnny to join Heather and Walter into space.” said James.
“Have you found Susan yet?” asked Reed.
“Not yet, but we think she might be with Tony Stark.”
“Will you find her before we return?”
“Will try our hardest to find them.” said James.
“Okay. Why won't you be joining us?”
“Because Apocalypse will be monitoring the sky and if he spots you he will attack and if he does X-Flight will be there to help you leave.” said James.
“I understand, but -”
“There, it's done!!” exclaimed Walter.
“I'll tell Heather and you go tell Johnny.” said James.
“Johnny! Johnny! The ship is done and they want us to be part of the crew. Oh! I'm sorry, I should have knocked.” Reed said as he walked in on Johnny and Tabitha kissin.
“No, Reed. It's okay, we were, uh,  just talking.”  explained Johnny.
“ I'd better go.” said Tabitha.
“See you, Tabitha. Now what did you say about the ship.”
“The ship is done and we're going to accompany Heather and Walter to the moon.” said Reed.
“Really, wow, we're actually going to the moon. When are we leaving? Have they located Sue yet?” said Johnny.
“We're leaving as soon as we get ready. Unfortunately they have not found her yet, but are still looking.
So the crew packed up their stuff and got ready for their flight.
“I wish you guys all the luck in the world and please come back alive.” said James.
“Don't worry, James, we will.  Just make sure Sue and Ben are here when we get back.” said Reed.
“Don't worry they’'ll be here.” said James.
The crew climbs aboard the ship, checks all the equipment.
“Are all systems ready?” asked Reed.
“Yes they are.” replied Walter.
“Let's get this baby moving!” exclaimed Johnny.
The ship takes off into the air. X-Flight stands by and watches them disappear into the sky.
“Alright people let's find Sue and Ben. Shaman and Maverick stay here in case anything goes wrong.” said James.
“Why do I have to stay behind?” said Maverick.
“I need you here, that's why.” said James.
Guardian, Snowbird, Timebomb, and Puck take off in their jet to go look for Tony Stark. Seconds after they leave Shaman gets a transmission from Tony Stark.

“Greetings X-Flight. I heard you were looking for me.” said Stark.
“Yes, Mr. Stark, the rest of X-Flight just took off to look for you.” said Shaman. “We wanted to know if you know Susan Storm.”
“Yes, I do. She’s here right now.”
Zap! The transmission just broke.
“What happened?” said Shaman.
“I'll tell you what happened.”  said Maverick, just before he shot him in the head. “There, that's the end of that. Now to summon the Dark Riders.” Maverick goes over to one of the many planes and takes off.
Meanwhile back in space.

“Hold on! We can't make it through the cosmic rays!” screamed Walter. “I have to take it down.”
“Just do it before we die!” screamed Heather.”
“We're going to die!” yelled Johnny.
“No, we are not! We just need to make it back to Earth.” Reed said with courage.
“We're about to re-enter the atmosphere. Hold on!” said Walter.
The ship crashes back on Earth somewhere in the western part of Canada.
“Is everyone okay?” asked Reed.
“I'm still alive, but I don't know if I'm okay.” said Heather.
“Quick, everyone out, control panels on fire!” yelled Walter.
The crew exit the ship and get as far away as they can.
“Reed, I don't feel so good. I feel like I'm changing.” said Heather.
“Oh my god! She's just disappearing!” yelled Johnny.
“What's happening to me?”
“She's visible again.” said Walter.
“Wow! I'm on fire and I can fly!” Johnny said enthusiastically
“Everyone, calm down.” Reed said.
“Calm down! Calm down! How can I calm down I look like this.” said Walter who had just turned into a rock-like monster. Then all the sudden Walter goes crazy and start throwing trees and attacks Reed. Reed stretches out of the way just like a rubber band and wraps his arms around Walter. Reed manages to the calm everyone down and tries to figure out has happened to them.
“Come on people. We have to get our act together and make our way back to Department H.” said Reed.
“How are we supposed to do that? We don't know where we are.” said Walter.
“Listen to me. With these powers, we can help destroy Apocalypse. We are as powerful as mutants. We must stay together and help mankind and mutantkind.” said Reed.
While everyone agrees to stay together, an important event is going on back at Department H.  X-Flight has just returned to Department H, to find the place trashed and Shaman's lifeless body lying on the ground. Snowbird was devastated to see her father’s body.  Of course Maverick was nowhere to be found.  Guardian believes Apocalypse has attacked and kidnapped Maverick. That is until Maverick and the Dark Riders burst in through a wall.
“Surprise flatscans!” Maverick said.
“Maverick, how could you?” Guardian asked.
“Easy.” Maverick makes the first move and shoots Guardian in the arm. The rest of the Dark Riders attack.
“Kill them all, except the mutant.” ordered Maverick.
A great battle starts. The Dark Riders are unmerciful and plan on destroying X-Flight. Puck is a true warrior and fights for his team. Unfortunately he is easily killed by Deadbolt and Gauntlet. Next to fall was Snowbird. No matter what she changed into, Reaper and Wildside still got her. Tusk manages to capture Timebomb and brings her to Maverick.
“Hello. Did you miss me?” said Maverick.
“How could you Maverick? How would you follow Apocalypse? Why did you do all this? asked Timebomb.
“He did it because he’s influenced by Apocalypse.” said Guardian who is losing a lot of blood from his wound.
“Shut up flatscan. Your days are done.” Maverick said and finished Guardian off with a shot to the head. “Hardrive, teleport us out.”
All there is left of the Department H is the bodies of X-Flight. If Reed, Heather, Johnny, and Walter ever make it back to the Department H, they all will be deeply devastated. And while one team was destroyed, another was forming.
“Reed’s right. Let's stay together form a team. I think we’d be a fantastic team. With me being a “human torch”, Heather with her invisibility powers, Walter with his great strength and Reed with those elastic powers.” said Johnny.
“Call me the Invisible Woman.”
“I'm calling myself the Human Torch.”
“And I call myself... Mister Fantastic.
“What about you Walter?” asked Invisible Woman.
“I'm not Walter anymore. Just call me the Thing.”

And so was born the Fantastic Four! And from that moment on, the world would never again be the same!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ten that made them Fantastic

The Fantastic Four couldn't do it alone. Through the years they required outside help to make them fantastic. Some they even met in real life. These are the people that brought their tales to the masses. Through stunning storytelling and emotional visuals, their adventures were brought to life on the page for all ages to enjoy. Here is a top 10 of those that made them fantastic.

1. John Byrne circa 1980
Doom gets the job done
He started it for me and brought memorable stories to the canon that others after him were able to build on. He helped Doom reclaim Latveria and also gave him a ward named Kristoff. He put Reed on trial for helping Galactus. He put Thing on his own in his own series, allowing She-Hulk to take his place on the team. He showed Johnny what it means to be a hero. He allowed Susan to grow as a woman. During this time, Reed and Sue also lost their second child (don't worry she comes back about 20 years later). Byrne’s run on the Fantastic Four is held in the highest regard and for some even surpasses Kirby and Lee.

2.  Kirby/Lee circa 1960s

They started it all and brought so much to the Marvel Universe. Everything has already been said, so I’ll just leave it at that.

3. Tom Defalco / Paul Ryan circa 1991-1996
"Doom is back," again
Tom and Paul make up a large part of my collection. They had a great handle on the family dynamic and portrayed this through a comic book story. Having such a lengthy run allowed them to bring much to the F4 canon. I don't think their run gets enough credit though and usually is not critically acclaimed. They took big chances with their tales and tugged at the hearts of the characters and readers. Some key highlights included turning Alicia into a skrull thus breaking up the Torch’s marriage, disfigured Thing even more thanks to Wolverine, caused marital tension between Reed and Sue, “killed” Reed and Doom, and introduced a teenage Franklin from the future who went on to lead the “seemed like a good idea at the time” Fantastic Force. They also created an uber super villain, named Hyperstorm (very 90’s), who was the son of Franklin Richards and Rachel Summers. This was also the time for gimmick covers galore: the first die-cut Marvel cover, embossed melting cover, numerous prismatic covers, a very nice Doom headshot (that became my tattoo). Defalco managed to stick around until the first series ending and was joined by Carlos Pacheco for the final two issues (ending was due to Onslaught/Heroes Reborn and poor sales).

4. Jonathan Hickman/Dale Eaglesham circa 2009-2012
Stay classy Valeria
Very in-depth storytelling and heavily plotted far in advance, but I was a little turned off by Eaglesham’s art. Hickman really had a control on the family dynamic and seemed to bring in aspects from Defalco’s run, like Nathaniel Richards and an older Franklin. One of the coolest moments of his run happened in the very first issue. We were introduced to the Council of Reeds, which was a council made up of Reeds from different realities and were led by three Reeds wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. There is one gripe I have with Hickman’s run and that had to do with the marketing of Human Torch’s death. It was an off panel implied death, and any like-minded reader knew it was not his end. When the news leaked/released, it seemed to take away from the very emotional scene showing Johnny’s sacrifice. There also seemed to be a lot of wheels turning throughout this run, which at times could get confusing.

5. Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo circa 2002-2004
The one word that best describes the run of Waid and Wieringo is ‘Unthinkable‘. They supped up Doom’s power and really brought focus to his mystical talents. Then the Unthinkable happened,  Ben died. Comics being what they are, the Thing couldn't stay dead for long. This brought a journey to the heavens above and a meeting with the ”creator” who bore an uncanny resemblance to the one true “King”. Doom was also taken off the board for a while and trapped in hell.  With Doom gone, the F4 defied international authority and took over Latveria all for the purpose of revealing the true atrocities that had been occurring there. Then just as things were settling down, Johnny went and became a temporary herald of Galactus. Overall a good run that made comic book reading fun.

6. Walter Simonson circa 1989-1991
Simonson introduced The New Fantastic Four: Spider-man, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Hulk (the gray one). The original four thought dead, so these popular characters came in to raise sales. My first subscription also started towards the end of this run. Simonson started his run with a bang with a three parter Acts of Vengeance crossover story. She-Thing was also still a big part of team. There were also a lot of time jumping stories involving the Time Variance Authority (where were they during Age of Ultron, 60’s X-men coming to the present, or any other time disrupting event/occurrence). Kang and Thor became regulars, the latter of which had a much hyped battle with Gladiator. Reed and Doom had an intriguing time battle where they kept time jumping within the span of a couple minutes.

7. Chris Claremont/Larroca circa 1998-2000

Freshly returned from Heroes Reborn, Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis brought the F4 back into the regular Marvel Universe, but by issue #4 Chris Claremont stepped in to assist Lobdell and soon became its regular writer alongside Salvador Larroca as the new artist. This new creative team lasted about 30 issues or so. Claremont is known for molding some of the most recognizable X-Men stories in the 80’s and early 90’s and it was now in his hands to do the same to the Fantastic Four. He also brought in elements from his Excalibur run. Things didn't quite work out for this, what some call lackluster moment for the Fantastic Four but some interesting concepts were created. Enter in Valeria Von Doom, daughter of the Invisible Woman and Dr. Doom (or was it Mr. Fantastic in Doom’s armor?). Of course she was from the future or some alternative timeline. She also took the name Marvel Girl, because why not. That was the highlight of Claremont’s run, and he was not able to wrap up the true origin of Valeria. That was left up to Jeph Loeb and Carlos Pacheco, who ended up turning her back into a fetus and put her back in Susan’s belly, ready to give birth. The joys of comics.

8. Roy Thomas/ Rich Buckler and John Buscema circa 1970s

I’m not too familiar with this run, but coming after Lee and Kirby's lengthy run was a lot of pressure. Thomas kept with what was known and focused stories on the Frightful Four and Inhumans. This in turn led to Medusa joining the team to replace Sue. Tension was building between Reed and Sue, which was fracturing the family dynamic. Sue was becoming more outspoken and finally got fed up with Reed so she left with Franklin. When she finally came back, it was the Thing's turn to be replaced. He had lost his powers so Power Man (Luke Cage) was hired for some extra muscle on the team. Human Torch also thought about quitting, so that seemed to be the trend. The seed was also planted for Byrne at this time to make Sue grow as a woman.

9. Dwayne McDuffie/ Paul Pelletier circa 2002

Well, the Wizard is not heartless.

A short run from McDuffie brought a big change to the team. Coming after Civil War, Reed and Sue took some time off, so another power couple was asked to take their place, Black Panther and Storm. This led to some adventures in space and a confrontation with Galactus. The Frightful Four also showed up and Sue had a heart to heart conversation with the Wizard. 

"That's okay Spidey, you just watch."
10. Roger Stern/ John Buscema circa mid 1980s

Stern had a short run following Byrne, but he had dabbled in just about every main character in the Marvel Universe (even a few for the Distinguished Competition). He is best known for his Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom story Triumph and Torment. Buscema on the other hand was a veteran artist for the FF and had originally took over drawing duties from Jack Kirby. A couple highlights from this combo include a wonderful fight between She-Hulk and Thing, and they also handled the Human Torch's marriage to Alicia Masters, as well as Thing's feelings towards that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

F4 Break Into Top 50

In Fantastic Four News:

Over at Comics Should Be Good @ Comic Book Resources, Brian Cronin recently finished up this year’s top 100 Marvel and DC characters, as voted by the fans. Each company got 50 characters for the list and over 1200 ballots were cast. As for the placement of the Fantastic Four members, here we go:

Ranked lowest was Invisible Woman, who came in at number 39. Next up, Mr. Fantastic fared a little better and was number 35. Almost cracking the top ten was The Thing, who was number 11!

Next year will be the year of
the Torch.
There you have it. The Fantastic Four Three make it into the top 50. Wait, what about Human Torch? He will be starring in 2 all-new, all-different uncanny series. Sorry Johnny, better luck next year.

Expanding to the rest of the F4 universe and including former members they did pretty good overall, Galactus 50, Sub-Mariner 43, Black Panther 22, Silver Surfer 21, She-Hulk came in at 18,  Storm 13, Hulk 8, Dr. Doom 5, Wolverine 3, Spider-Man 1.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Found Fantastic

My love affair with the Fantastic Four started ├Čn the late eighties. My brother had a subscription to this wonderful monthly series while I had a subscription to Heathcliff, the Garfield knockoff. At the time, Fantastic Four was written and drawn by John Byrne, whom I would put at the top of the list of Fantastic Four creators. I always felt a strong connection to Marvel's first family. They were a family of four and so was I.

1st die-cut cover!
My first introduction to Dr Doom was also quite memorable.  He sent the Baxter Building into space!  Later it was revealed that this Doom was actually the child, Kristoff, (spoiler!) and only had the early memories of Victor Von Doom, which included a previous (failed) plan to send the Baxter Building into space. I still remember the panel of She-Hulk holding up the tantrum throwing Doom.
The subscription I shared with my brother started to lapse around the time Ben came back to the team. He decided to stay on Battleworld for a bit, but eventually got tired of that. This was also the time when Johnny was getting married to Ben's main squeeze, Alicia Masters (or was it?). I remember picking up the issue of the wedding at a grocery store. Johnny and Ben made amends and Ben was the best man (after a nice fight with She-Hulk, who replaced him while he was gone).

This was about the last issue of Fantastic Four I would read for awhile. I don't really know why, but when I later revisited this era I realized it was not a memorable run. Reed and Sue left for a while, Ben became leader, Ms Marvel became a female Thing (not Carol Danvers or Kamala Kahn), Ben became a pumpkin spikey Thing, and there was some weird dream stuff. This section of F4 history was mostly scribed by Steve Englehart/Jonathan Harkness, who himself had some editorial conflicts towards the end of his run.

I returned just in time to see the return of Doom (again) who engaged with Reed in a time lapse battle.  A new subscription was started and it lasted up until Onslaught and Heroes Reborn. Then the long awaited Heroes Return happened so I started my subscription anew. This one lasted almost to the final end; sometime during Fraction's run.

The Fantastic Four just finished one more final arc by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk. I found it lackluster on its initial read, but I feel I should give it another chance. Maybe my bitterness clouded my mind since I knew it was ending. Now there is Secret Wars and Doom is god. After this, the four are no more. Johnny is hanging with Inhumans and Ben is soaring through the galaxy. Reed and Sue, with kids, have yet to be heard from.

This deeply saddens me. Marvel's first family is left out of the all-new all-different reboot, that is not a reboot.  I have many thoughts and memories of the Fantastic Four that I wish to share. I hope my words here will help others find the Fantastic.

Also through all this,  I sought out back issues. I dreamed of having a complete collection. So far the oldest issue I have is Fantastic Four #66. From the initial run, #1-416, I can proudly say I have 242 issues. From there, the numbering restarted, later returned, restarted again, and returned at the very end. So from Heroes Return, which I think would be issue #429 until before Robinson took over, I can claim ownership to those issues as well. I could count Heroes Reborn, but I'm missing issues 10-12. In all, there are 645 definitive issues (not counting annuals) and I have 461. I did acquire the 44 Years of Fantastic Four, so my digital collection is complete. At least I have that going for me.
Is it issue #50 or #479?
Nuff said, indeed.