The comic vending machine journey continues…
This week: FANTASTIC FOUR #60, October 2002, actual newsstand date: August 18, 2002
Now this is more like it! When I set out on this journey, I was hoping to expose myself and you, dear reader, to comics I had overlooked, comics I may have missed the first time around or comics I was always aware of but never read. And that’s where we find ourselves this week, with FANTASTIC FOUR #60.
World’s Greatest Comic Magazine
First off, this issue isn’t really #60. Due to the ever present re-numbering that comic companies employ, it’s actually issue #489, and it’s rated PG. You will find this in the upper left hand corner of the cover, under the “Marvel” heading, in a small block banner. Under the banner and the title of our magazine, is a circle that declares: “Only 9 Cents, World’s Cheapest Comic Magazine”, a play on the classic “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” banner that usually appears at the top of most FF books.
After some research (and getting over the fact that I paid almost double the amount for this comic), I confirmed that indeed, FF #60 was 9 cents. A normal sized, normal length comic. 9 cents? My curiosity piqued, I opened the magazine to discover for myself, the reason for the heavily discounted price.
As I stated in the opening of this article, one of my goals in this endeavor is to hopefully read comics I know of but have never read on a regular basis. The Fantastic Four title has, of course, been around for over sixty years and was ground zero for the birth of the Marvel Universe. They’ve starred in not only their own comic magazines, but numerous cartoons and feature films, not to mention the myriad of merchandise they’ve lent their names and images to. I’ve known about the Fantastic Four since I was a young child, yet I’ve only ever read an issue or two of their titles.
Relaunches and rebranding?
Imagine my surprise and delight then, when I started reading and realized that this was the first issue for the new creative team of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. The creators were using this opportunity to introduce new readers to the world of the FF, the characters, their relationships, and their place in the Marvel Universe. They say every comic is someone’s first comic, and this issue basically defines the concept of the FF for a new reader.
Waid begins the comic by retelling the origin of the FF but with a clever conceit: the origin is told by the head of a public relations firm—Mr. Shertzer—hired by Reed Richards himself to help improve the super team’s image. It seems the FF, who we are told ushered in the “Age of Marvels”, are beginning to grow stale and old to the public. It falls upon Mr. Shertzer (who argues that he only typically handles rock bands) to improve their “Q rating”.
Of course, Waid is going heavy on the meta overtones here as at the time, the FF were viewed as an “old” book, not on the cutting edge and not particularly popular with new comic readers. The use of the PR firm being hired by Mr. Fantastic is an imaginative way to launch us into the action alongside the FF, as Mr. Shertzer is used as an audience surrogate. He gets to meet the team, accompany them on adventures, and witness how they interact with each other and with the denizens of the greater Marvel Universe both ordinary and extraordinary.
But how’s the art Mike?
I am familiar with Mike Wieringo from his work on the Flash in the mid to late 90’s. His exaggerated, slightly cartoony style works with the more sci-fi elements encountered in this FF story. The weird creatures look appropriately WEIRD. I appreciate that there was no effort to needlessly change the look of the characters or alter their uniforms. This issue being, for all intents and purposes, a relaunch of the title. Waid does include a sly wink to that concept late in the story. Just one of many meta comments on the idea of the team rebranding and updating their image.
Everybody could probably use a little PR
The story, titled “Inside Out”, takes place during a week in the life of the Fantastic Four, as Mr. Shertzer, and we the reader, discover who the FF are, and essentially why they are. We get the requisite Johnny/Ben arguments, the Reed Richards over explanations and Sue Storm mothering them all, but I can’t help but admire how fresh and fun it all felt. As a comic nerd I already know the interpersonal workings of the Fantastic Four. So if you’re coming to the book as a seasoned reader, you’re going to want something that makes that all seem interesting and engaging—which Waid and Wieringo deliver.
The “week in the life” setup is a perfect way to craft little vignettes that offer insights into the personalities of each team member. Whether they’re traveling through another dimension, repairing their Baxter Building headquarters fifty stories up the exterior, saving lives or just shopping, it works.
The first family of Marvel…celebrities in their own right
The FF have always been celebrities in the Marvel Universe. Their identities, known to the population at large, provides for an interesting take on superhero and celebrity culture. Even more so in 2002 when this comic was first published and the superhero movie revolution hadn’t taken over the world yet. It’s another way to gain insight into these characters and provide a denouement to the story that made me appreciate one particular character on a whole new level.
If I’m being vague, I assure you it’s on purpose. You should read the story and experience the fun and surprises yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, so much so, that I plan on picking up the collection of the Waid/Wieringo run to see how they built upon this strong beginning. I’d urge anyone reading this, whether you have a passing interest in the FF or have read the Lee/Kirby run, the Byrne era or the George Perez issues, to seek out FANTASTIC FOUR #60. It will most likely cost you more than 9 cents, but I think you’ll get your money’s worth regardless. Excelsior!
Editor’s note: Mike you have sold me on checking out this particular volume of Fantastic Four. I’m very curious to see what he will pick up next. Stay tuned folks for more Comic Vending Machine: A Series!