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How have I not heard more about this?
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under miscellany 25 Mar 2008 10:12 PM

  

I stopped in my local comic shop this weekend (the same expedition I discovered Transit Man on) and stumbled across something kind of cool: FANTASTIC FOUR: THE LOST ADVENTURE by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (with a little help from their Frenz). I vaguely remember hearing about this coming out but I couldn't swear by it, which is weird, because this should be a Big Deal. As the story goes, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of course produced 102 consecutive issues of FANTASTIC FOUR and something like six annuals. There was a 103rd story they'd begun in 1970, but never finished for reasons I don't completely understand, although I imagine it had to do with Kirby quitting Marvel for DC around the same time. A few months later, however, I guess Marvel wanted to piss in DC's Wheaties, so they ressurected the story in FF #108. The problem was, it was a completely bastardized, cut-and-paste job fashioned by Lee and John Buscema as a flashback to fit into then-continuity.

In this new one-shot, Lee and Joe Sinnott have reunited to complete the issue in a more faithful fashion, with journeyman Ron Frenz filling in the visual blanks. The issue also includes complete reproductions of Kirby's unlinked penciled pages, as well as notes and analysis by Kirby-expert John Morrow, and a complete reprint of the FF #108 version to compare and contrast.

I really liked this. The new version of the story (or, more importantly, Kirby's) is definitely better than the hacked out version in #108. Also, being able to compare and contrast Kirby's original roughs with the Lee/Buscema FF #108 version and this new version was kind of a fascinating peek into the Marvel Method, which has a certain Choose Your Own Adventure quality to it that clearly didn't serve the story well in #108's case.

There are things that bugged me about the new version, though. Stan Lee's work over the last 30 years reminds me a lot of Paul McCartney at his worst: there's this kind of palpable desperation to follow trends and be "hip" that undercuts his very real talent when he should just do what he does (that whole "Stan Lee Imagines DC" thing was the "Ebony & Ivory" of comics crossovers). Lee insists on dropping references in the new dialogue to things like Doonesbury and DSL lines, creating a weirdly anachronistic and thoroughly unnecessary effect considering that the packaging makes it abundantly clear you're reading what purports to be a faithful interpretation of Kirby's existing roughs from 1970. Now, if Lee had the Thing complaining about Feiffer's strip in the Voice having too many words, that would have been cool. 

Also, the cover design sucks (that's not the final cover above, although it would have been better), and the modern lettering is often poorly placed, generic and jarring. Where's Artie Simek when you need him? Plus, all of the old lettering from FF #108 was scanned as a halftone along with Kirby's art, while all of the brand-new lettering is printed as line art, which is kind of cool insofar as you can totally judge the old vs. new, but kind of bad as far as establishing any verisimilitude

That said, Kirby's original story is restored fairly well, as the copious background material proves, and it's a pretty fun Kirby yarn overall. I'll be damned if Sinnott isn't still Kirby's best inker. I would have preferred that Marvel hired someone other than Lee and Frenz to finish off the dialogue and missing pencils: Mark Evanier and Steve Rude would have been good, although Lee/Frenz acquitted themselves better than I would have imagined (and it's hard to argue giving Lee a shot at it). If you like Kirby, it's a really a must-have; it's kind of like the "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love" tracks that came with the Beatles Anthology. I guess that means Kirby is Lennon, Lee is Paul/George/Ringo, and Ron Frenz is the Jeff Lynne of the bunch. I'm not doing a very good job of recommending this comic, but I did like it.