Editor's Note: Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure arrives in stores tomorrow, February 13.
"The Menace of the Mega-Men!"
I don't know the whole history of Jack Kirby's departure from Marvel in the late 1960s, but it apparently wasn't exactly a peaceful departure. His legendary run on Fantastic Four with Stan Lee ended abruptly, and what was originally going to be issue #102 was scrapped, with the next issue becoming the final issue of the run. But then the artwork for that issue was hastily repurposed a few months later in issue #108, which "just happened" to coincide with Kirby's New Gods #1 at DC Comics. The unused pages of art were cut up, reordered, and reconfigured to form a different story, with John Buscema and John Romita, Sr. filling in the gaps. But now, 38 years later, Marvel has tried to restore Kirby's original vision, with Stan Lee writing new dialogue and Ron Frenz doing his best to fill in any lost artwork with the help of Joe Sinnott, the original inker. It's an interesting project, but how well does it hold up with the rest of Lee and Kirby's work on the series?
Well, I haven't read the entirety of those 102 issues, but this one isn't exactly in the upper tier of those stories. Who knows how much effort Kirby was putting into his Marvel work at that time of his disputes with Stan Lee, but this certainly seems like a half-formed idea at best. The plot involves a bad guy by the name of Janus (named after the two-faced Roman god) who goes through the motions of the usual "steal money and menace the world" scheme. But his name kind of gives away the obvious plot twist: he’s actually an evil twin of an old scientist colleague of Reed Richards. Can the FF stop his rote evil plan?
But while the story is pretty rudimentary, Kirby still detailed it with his usual flair, filling panels with wreckage and energy bursts while the Thing and the Human Torch engage Janus in a couple of fights. And there's plenty of Kirby's cool technology and grotesque expressions on display; it's sure fun to look at, even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
The other odd thing about the story is Stan Lee's updated script. The lettering of the new dialogue really stands out (at least in the PDF preview that I read), so you can tell what was added recently and what was used in Fantastic Four #108. But even without the visual cues, it's easy to tell what's new when Lee is making hamhanded attempts at references to modern technology; he shoehorns in some awkward references to stuff like digital cameras and "D.S.L." He also fills captions with silly metatextual references like "Note: Rereading this page after all these years, I suddenly feel compelled to apologize for the lack of action" on a page where a fight scene occurs. As with most of Lee's latter-day writing, it shows that he's definitely not the writer he used to be.
But it's still an interesting read, especially with the included bonus materials. John Morrow, publisher of TwoMorrows Publishing and editor of The Jack Kirby Collector, provides some commentary on the history of the issue, along with pages showing Kirby's rough pencil art (including notes in the margins that show what Kirby was originally planning for the story's plot). And then the repurposed issue #108, so we can see how the artwork ended up being used (if you ask me, the altered version actually makes a better story). It's a fascinating document of what happened, and a really interesting look at some of the artistic results of Kirby's departure from the company. So while it's not the best Fantastic Four story, it's definitely worthwhile for Kirby fans. I'll take this over some lame "reimagining" of his classic works any day.
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