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The story has become familiar to comic book fans because it is not just about the birth of a comic book but of the entire Marvel universe. In 1961 comic book publisher Martin Goodman heard from his counterpart at DC Comics that they were enjoying success with a new superhero team, the Justice League of America. Goodman made his money in comics following trends, so he told Stan Lee to come up with a comic book about a team of superheroes. Lee's wife, Joan, suggested that for once her husband should put as much effort and creativity into a comic book as he did for all of the other writing jobs he was doing, and that maybe the time had come to write a comic book that he would actually enjoy reading. Lee worked with artist Jack Kirby to create "The Fantastic Four," consisting of Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), the Invisible Girl (Sue Storm), and the Thing (Ben Grimm). The rest, as they say, is Marvel history.

"Essential Fantastic Four, Volume 5" collects issues #84-110 of the self-proclaimed World's Greatest Comic Magazine," which brings us with issue #102 to the end of Kirby's legendary run on the series. He would come back to do some art for #108, along with both of his initial replacements, first John Romita (Sr.) on #103-106 and then John Buscema on #107-110. Filling "King" Kirby's artistic shoes is not an enviable job, as Romita full well knew having replaced Steve Ditko on "Spider-Man." I will just say that Romita draws the better women and Buscema the better men, and leave it to that, because it would take a while to get used to somebody else drawing these characters.

This collection begins as you would wish with another Doctor Doom multi-part story (#84-87). At this point Crystal, the Inhuman, has taken the Invisible Girl's place in the line up while Sue is taking care of baby Franklin, with help from Alicia Masters. Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. sends the FF to Latveria to check out what Doom is up to with his new robots. But the FF is captured and Doom makes them forget how to use their powers. Fortunately, Sue shows up to help. Next up is a Mole Man story arc (#88-89), where the Richards make the mistake of buying a futuristic home in the country, which turns out to be a trap. This leads to a Skrull kidnapping the Thing to be a gladiator on an alien world (#90-93).

We then have a return visit by the Frightful Four (#94), who have to deal with Franklin's new nanny, Agatha Harkness, and her cat Ebony (you know, there is something familiar about that cat...). We then have a Cold War story involving a man named Monocle (#95), the Mad Thinker and His Androids of Death (#96), the Monster from the Lost Lagoon (#97), and a timely story in which the FF makes sure the Moon walk goes okay in July of 1969 (#98). The Inhumans show up for #99, to set up issue #100 when the group have to deal with Kang the Conqueror, Doctor Doom, the Sentry, Dragon Man, Sub-Mariner, the Red Ghost, the Wingless Wizard, the Trapster, the Sandman, and almost, but not quite the Hulk. This might seem like overkill, but you have to understand who is really beyond all of these attacks.

Kirby sticks around for two more issues, an assault on the Baxter Building (#101), and a rematch with the Sub-Mariner (#102), that continues with Romita as Magneto shows up and takes both Sue and the Lady Dorma hostage, which leads Namor to team up with the FF (#103-04). Then Crystal collapses, which might be a break for the Thing to become Ben Grimm again, which makes the monster that shows up terribly inconvenient (#105-07). We then end this collection with the Mega-Man (#108), Annihilus in the Neutral Zone (#109-10). There is a nice ending point here when the Thing quits and Reed starts ranting he could become their enemy. Ah, the joys of comic book hyperbole.

Granted, the stories after Kirby leaves are not on the same level as the others, but in retrospect it seems clear Lee and Kirby were trying to show off before their fabled creative relationship came to an end. In the history of Marvel comics I cannot think of another writer and artist who worked together on over a hundred straight issues, let alone from the start of the book (Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan were getting close on "Tomb of Dracula"). I know that Dave Sim did 300 issues of "Cerebus," but that was his only comic book for most of that run and Lee was also writing several other titles and Kirby was also drawing "Thor" and "Captain America." The only possible complaint at the end is that while returning to Doctor Doom, the Mole Man and the Inhumans, then did not come up with anything significantly new to rival the likes of Galactus and the Silver Surfer. Still, Ben Grimm as a gladiator was a decent little mini-tragedy and the Doom story along is enough to justify rounding up. You might not proceed beyond this point, but you have to have the first five volumes of "Essential Fantastic Four" to have the complete Lee & Kirby run on the FF.
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on 6 October 2007
This collection covers the issues in which Lee and Kirby's legendary, epoch-making creative partnership on the Fantastic Four came to an end. The comics are still good, and Kirby's art remains amazing, but as the 100-issue mark approaches one can see the originality is starting to give way, as Lee and Kirby try to work out what they can possibly do with these four characters that they haven't done a dozen times already; so there's a certain sense of deja-vu as the Fantastic Four tangle with Dr Doom (again), thwart Mole Man's attempts to invade the suface (again), and travel through space to battle the Skrulls (again). It's not that any of these stories are particularly bad, more than Lee and Kirby had already done them all perfectly well at least once before, and there was no special need to do them again...

After Kirby's departure the sense of deflation is palpable. All the energy has gone. His successors do decent work on some uninspired stories, with Namor invading the land (again!), this time with the 'help' of Magneto; but it's nothing that Kirby hadn't already done, and done much better, back in the early 60s. As if to underline the point, the FF annual (of which only the cover is reprinted here) was a reprint of Lee and Kirby's original 'Namor invades New York' storyline, presented as if it were happening immediately after his latest attempt rather than years before. In context, it reads like an admission of defeat; as if there was nowhere left for the Fantastic Four to go but back.

Anyone who's read the first four collections should get this one too, just to see things through to their end; the stories are worth reading, even if they're mostly unspectacular. But I, for one, feel no motivation to pick up volume six. Don't bother following the Fantastic Four into the 70s; instead, follow Kirby to DC, and stare in wonder at the work he did there on The New Gods...
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This book contains the last of the hundred Stan Lee stories drawn by the late great Jack Kirby.

Starting with Dr. Doom capturing the FF on their way back from the Inhuman's refuge. Imprisoned in Latveria they are without their powers as they investigate killer robots, guest starring SHIELD.

Back home the Moleman returns and The Thing is more than a little annoyed when they set him free. Walking off he is captured by the Slaver (a Skrull) and taken to the Skrull galaxy to a planet where life is based on the US gangster era. There he is forced into Arena fights before he is able to turn the rest of the captives against the Skrulls as the rest of the FF arrive.

The Frightful Four make a brief return before Medusa, the Inhuman, turns on them to trap them. In this tale we first meet the nanny that Sue and Reed have chosen for Franklin, Agatha Harkness. Much more will be heard of her later in later stories. There's a few more quickies, Monocle tries to attack the United Nations. The Thinker and his androids pop in, then a nice tale involving a stranded alien amphibian.

It kicks back in properly with the FF facing a Kree Sentry bent on stopping man from landing on the Moon (it is 1969). Then the Inhumans return briefly as the Torch goes love crazy trying to win back Crystal.

The 100th issue sees the Puppet Master and the Thinker sending a host of androids against the FF who defeat them much too easily, it's just a way to get lots of guest appearances in for the centennial issue and once again shows why these two should never work together.

Then the Maggia appear getting control of the Baxter Buidling.

Jack's last issue is the start of the Sub-Mariner & Magneto team-up. Namor rescues Magneto who fools Namor into attacking New York before he realises that Magneto has double crossed him, John Romita Sr. takes over the artwork briefly here and also the first 2 parts of the Janus story.

The Janus tale is a product of Stan Lee's circular thinking, where does the story begin? Janus enters the Negative Zone allowing Annihilus a chance to re-appear as well as seeing the power of Franklin's nanny Agatha Harkness as she uses her witchcraft to help Reed escape from Annihilus. It is rounded off superbly during the Janus tale with Reed finding a way to partially cure Ben by allowing him to become the Thing at will. However, his mind is affected and he starts to turn on those closest to him including Alicia, it ends with him storming out of the Baxter Building and leaving the FF. Setting up a nice cliff-hanger.

A real bonus is a four page spread of photographs of the Marvel bullpen team from the late 1960's, Stan, Jack, Gene, Herb, the Buscema's etc. the whole team in glorious black&white.
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on 21 May 2010
this volume collects issues 84 to 110

84 the name is doom, 85 within this tortured land, 86 the victims, 87 the power and the pride. 4 part story, shield recruits the ff to infiltrate latveria and find out about doctor dooms new robots, but they are captured and brainwashed so they can,t use their powers

88 a house there was, 89 the madness of the mole man, 2 part story, reed and sue buy a futuristic house in the country, only to find its already occupied by the mole man

90 the skrull takes a slave, 91 the thing enslaved, 92 ben grimm, killer, 93 at the mercy of torgo, 4 part story, ben is kidnapped by skrulls and taken to be a slave on a planet resembling prohibition era america

94 the return of the frightful four, the frightful four return, but they don,t reckon on the mysterious powers of agatha harkness, reed and sues nanny

95 tomorrow, world war three, the man called monocle tries to sabotage a peace conference

96 the mad thinker and his androids of death, the mad thinker uses android duplicates of the ff to destroy them

97 the monster from the lost lagoon, while on vacation the ff investigate monster sightings for the navy

98 mystery on the moon, a kree sentry tries to sabotage the first moon landing

99 the torch goes wild, johnnys attempt to get crystel back brings him into conflict with the inhumans

100, the long journey home, the mad thinker and the puppet master use androids of the ffs foes to destroy them

101 bedlam in the baxter building, the maggia invade the baxter building

102 the strength of the submariner, 103 at war with atlantis, 104 our world enslaved, 3 part story, magneto blackmails namor into declaring war on humanity

105 the monster in the streets, 106 the monsters secret, 2 part story, the ff must battle a monster in the streets without ben, who is taking part in an experiment to make him human

107 and now the thing, 108 the monstrous mystery of the nega man, 109 death in the negative zone, 110 one from four leaves three, 4 part story, ben can finally change back and forth between ben and the thing, but the celebration is cut short, when janus the nega man enters the negative zone to gain more power, forcing the ff to follow him, and encounter annihilus once again
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