Fantastic Four: World's Greatest
written by Mark Millar
illustrated by Bryan Hitch
The world was first introduced to the Fantastic Four in the pages of Fantastic Four #1, published by Marvel Comics in November 1961. Historically significant because it ushered in the “Marvel Age of Comics,” and deserving of its title as “The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!” because of its radical innovation and creative new take on superheroes, Fantastic Four has over the course of the past half century been written and drawn by some of the finest talents working within the field of graphic storytelling.
During their epic and groundbreaking run on the title, writer/editor Stan Lee and artist/coplotter Jack Kirby brought a kinetic creativity to Fantastic Four,introducing radical new ideas, concepts, and characters month in and month out. During the entire duration of their collaboration, which lasted from issue #1 to #102 (September 1970), Fantastic Four was without question Marvel’s most exciting and accessible monthly comic book. Lee and Kirby not only redefined the rules of the superhero genre, but they also created a new playing field altogether, and their Fantastic Four stories combined human drama with epics, big and cosmic. While easy to overlook now, their overall approach was extremely radical and risky at the time. And this is one of the reasons that Fantastic Four should probably be credited with being the original must-read title—under Lee and Kirby, Fantastic Four was a book that was fresh, contemporary, and now.Readers were really guaranteed only one thing in advance: Each issue promised excitement by way of the infinitely new.
The recently released Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest by writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch collects issues #554–561 of the Fantastic Four monthly comic book and is recommended for several reasons. For starters, there’s the all-star creative team. Over the course of the past decade, Millar has written many critically acclaimed titles, including The Authority, Superman: Red Son, and Wolverine: Enemy of the State.Bryan Hitch’s work has made him one of the most popular comic artists working today. This collection reprints the first two story arcs of their planned 16-issue run on Fantastic Four.
From the outset, it is clear that Millar and Hitch were striving to make their run definitive and memorable. That brings us to the second reason I recommend this book: Millar and Hitch succeed in giving the Fantastic Four back that proverbial wow factor. Embracing all that is classic about the FF concept, Millar and Hitch combine epic with interesting and new character development. I led off this review with an extensive historical discussion because Millar has cited the innovations of the classic Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and John Byrne’s remarkable run from the 1980s as central inspirations for what he hoped to achieve with Hitch on the title.
Inspired by the best-of-the-best Fantastic Four stories of the past and wanting to make their own lasting mark on the historic title, Millar and Hitch bring it with no small amount of creative spark. They succeed in making Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest an exhilarating, melodramatic, and incredibly fun read. Two complete story arcs—“World’s Greatest” and “Death of the Invisible Woman”—are reprinted here, and both can be enjoyed by mainstream and first-time Fantastic Four readers. This collection would actually be a wonderful introduction to the team. It includes standard and variant covers (by superstar artists like Arthur Suydam, Marc Silvestri, and Simone Bianchi) for each of the issues reprinted within the volume.
One of the first things you’ll notice upon opening the book, even at a glance, is Hitch’s beautiful artwork. Hitch reimagines the Fantastic Four in such a way that thoroughly contemporizes them while still retaining their instantly recognizable classic looks. He does for the visuals what Millar does for the characters and their world. Both the art and savvy writing project a discernable cool factor throughout. Many of Hitch’s images are alternatively gorgeous or awe-inspiring enough to compel one to stop reading for several moments to simply stare and take in the wondrous visuals. Proficient panel designs are combined with skillfully placed splash pages and brilliant double-page spreads, creating and actualizing a visual look that is simultaneously contemporary and classic.
Much happens here by way of story, plot, and character development. It is clear from the outset that Millar is a master at extremely tight plotting and deft, wonderful pacing. Multiple story threads are set in motion from the get-go. True to the spirit of the classic stories, creative and original science-fiction elements feature prominently into the stories throughout. These are on par with the best Fantastic Four stories of the past, and this is meant as a compliment of the highest order to this creative team. The NU-World, time travel elements, and some awe-inspiring plot twists involving well-known adversaries are cleverly introduced.
Millar provides a wonderful balance between action and character development. Love and romance abound in these stories, amidst all the action. Johnny becomes involved with someone who may not be whom she initially seems to be. Ben also connects with someone, finding what seems to be the beginning of friendship and a genuine, lasting romantic love. An old romantic interest of Reed’s emerges, and her character is made instantly interesting vis-à-vis clever dialogue and a wonderfully handled flashback scene. Reed and Sue’s anniversary dinner stands out as particularly brilliant. (Reed’s two anniversary gifts to Sue are wildly romantic and completely unforgettable.) This scene once again prompted me to momentarily stop reading simply because I wanted to bask in this moment of the story a little longer than usual.
Millar and Hitch have once again made the Fantastic Four synonymous with “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” The central narratives, multiple story threads, plotting, pacing, interesting characterization, innovative character development, and dialogue, along with the outstanding artwork, make this an all-star read that you seriously shouldn’t miss.