The Credit Where it’s Due Department: Why no Byrne Variants?

A happy mail call today. I got my Alex Ross variants of the new Fantastic Four #1. These look great. Both honor one of the most iconic covers of all time; the first FF #1 from 1961. I’m not usually one to be enthused about variant covers, but I’m really happy to get these. It’s a fitting tribute to Lee and Kirby who created the team and set the standard for everything that came after that first book. It’s also nice to mark the occasion of the FF’s return to the Marvel Universe with something special. That’s a big deal to me and I think it’s a big deal to a lot of people.

But I seems to me that this variant nonsense has kind of gotten out of hand. There are literally something like forty different versions of this book. Many different artists, homages to many different eras. Lots of them look great. Many of them don’t. The anatomy in some of the artwork makes me cringe. They metaphorically raised Mike Weiringo from the dead so he could have his own variant.

Don’t get me wrong. Mike Weiringo deserves his own cover. More than almost anyone else whose artwork was featured. As I said, I’m not really one for variants, but I want one of those too.

But here’s the thing: in the last 57 years, there have been three really well regarded runs on the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. The first was Lee/Kirby. The third was Waid/Weiringo. The second? John Byrne. Byrne took over FF after a long run of inconsistent creative teams; the quality had been uneven and interest in the book had waned. Byrne almost singlehandedly reinvigorated the title as writer, artist and inker and returned the FF to both popularity and importance.

So why isn’t there a John Byrne variant of the new FF #1? Did Byrne refuse? Is there bad blood between Byrne and Marvel? Is he just too hard to work with or was this an intentional slight? I for one would like to know. Eschewing a Byrne variant is a strange and indefensible oversight. It’s especially strange given that the same thing happened with Action Comics #1000. A Byrne variant there would seem to be a no-brainer, especially with Schuster and Swan unavailable. Byrne’s impact on Superman was significant. But once again in a sea of uneven variants, Byrne gets overlooked. I wonder if he’ll even be asked back when NextMen gets revived. I think Byrne and his fans deserve better.

Carefully Reconstructed Nostalgia; All in Color for Forty Dimes

A Review of Fantastic Four #1 Facsimile Edition(2018),
by J. F. Kolacinski ©2018

I was excited yesterday to pick up a copy of the new facsimile edition of the original Fantastic Four #1. It was honestly amazing to hold this comic in my hands, to read and enjoy without having to worry about all the concerns that come with handling a 57-year old collectible.

IMG_3908It would be redundant to summarize the story here, but a couple of things are apparent as you read the book.

I’m far from the first to point this out, but the early influences of Marvel were far closer to the monster comic genre than to the distinguished competition’s superhero stories. This traces back to Marvel Comics #1; those initial appearances of the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner are starkly different from your run of the mill superhero story and this influence permeates FF #1 from Ben’s first appearance to Johnny’s destruction of the race car and to the design and feel of the Mole Man’s creatures.

Once you’re used to reading modern comics, revisiting this comic makes it easy to see how the industry has changed over the years.  When Marvel returned to this story to reimagine it for Ultimate Fantastic Four in 2004, it took 6 issues to cover the same ground as FF #1.  Six issues that were, to me, inherently less satisfying. There’s a lot to the argument that the industry no longer writes comics; it writes trades which get split into individual issues.  I think that’s part of the reason Individual comics are not as enjoyable as they once were.

As for the physical comic, there were a lot of nice features.

The cover is a sturdy piece of card stock.  I wish modern Marvels would get closer to that on a regular basis.

The cover art has been restored to the original, or at least more painstakingly reproduced.

Here’s a scan of the original cover:

IMG_3916

For years reproductions of the cover to FF #1 seemed to be variations of the cover to the Golden Record reprint from 1966.  This omitted the figure closest to the police officer and had a redrawn figure on the far right.  The signage is also absent from the buildings.  Here’s the new cover side-by-side with the Golden record reprint.

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That this is the source seems clear if we look at the cover reproduced on the first printing of the FF Marvel Masterworks.  This image is also recolored and omits the police officer.

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In addition to restoration of the cover, the original interior coloring has been restored or reproduced. Here’s a pair of original pages.

IMG_3917And here are the corresponding pages from the Marvel Masterworks reprint.

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This coloring is consistent with my recollection of reprints and retellings from the 70s and 80s.  The coloring from the facsimile edition matches the original closely.  It’s interesting to notice that even the ads are colored consistently with the original.

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IMG_3918It’s a much nicer effect.  The older reprints had more of a paint-by-numbers feel while the original coloring seems more careful and more nuanced.  It’s also an integral part of the artwork, underscoring certain dramatic moments.  Returning the original flight suits to the dark blue and white color scheme also gives some historical context to the so called “negative uniforms” that John Byrne introduced in issue 256.  This is all very well done, but it’s worth noting that the corrected cover and coloring dates at least as far back as the version of FF #1 that appeared on Marvel.com in 2009.

Despite the clear effort that was expended making this a genuine facsimile of FF #1 there are some distinct differences, both intentional and unavoidable.

The intentional:IMG_3920

  • The cover price is $3.99, carefully done to match the style of the original.
  • The cover date reads “Aug” rather than “Nov.”
  • A modern “Marvel” logo and UPC code appear on the lower right-hand side of the cover.
  • A collection of original essays follows the reproduction of the original back cover.This is nice addition; it gives the book some original content and is appropriate to the occasion,  namely the return of Marvel’s first family to the Marvel Universe proper.
  • A painted version of Kirby’s original artwork is used as the back cover.

IMG_3907The unavoidable:

  • It’s a modern book printed on modern presses; it is consequently slimmer than the original.
  • The paper is distinctly different from the original pulp paper. It isn’t glossy but it’s whiter than pulp paper was traditionally and this gives a different feel to the book.
  • The printing is also modern. This helps on the cover, I think.  The shading isn’t as dark as on the original which gives a nicer effect.  In the interior, the small dots of color that indicated color combinations on vintage books are undetectable.  On the original the colors are more muted and warmer.  On the new edition, the effect of the original coloring with the whiter paper and the brighter colors is ever-so-slightly harsh.

Still, it’s clear that the folks at Marvel put a good deal of effort into making this an experience that’s as close as it could be to reading an original Fantastic Four #1 from 1961.  For me that effort paid off.  If you’re interested in such a thing, I recommend that you pick up a copy.

Sources:

  • CoverBrowser.com
  • git corp.The Complete Fantastic Four (2005)
  • Fantastic Four #1 Facsimile Edition (2018)
  • Marvel Masterworks Volume 2 (11/1987)
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four issues 1-6 (2004)
  • Brown, M., “Unstable Fashion Sense Part 1: The History of the Fantastic Four’s Costumes in the Comics,” comicbook.com, (1/2015)