Friday, June 3, 2016

The Fantastic Englehart part 3 - Back to the Beginning

Fantastic Four Omnibus, Vol. 1
In 1987, Steve Englehart was given the unenviable assignment of restoring the Fantastic Four back to its former glory.  However, somehow he was supposed to do that by keeping things exactly as they were, as per Marvel's Illusion of Change doctrine.  While the writing was on the wall, The Fantastic One didn't take editorial interference lying down, as you'll soon see.

322 - Graviton comes to NYC and the short-handed Fantastic Four have their hands full.

Frustrated at interference by Marvel, Englehart picks up plot threads he intended for West Coast Avengers, with somewhat success.  Graviton proves to be a formidable foe for the Fantastic Three, with Aron the Watcher waiting in the wings.

Crystal's still in the upper corner but her return will unfortunately never happen.  I'd so like to pick Englehart's brain about such things.

323 -Mantis shows up in NYC looking for help finding her child.  Meanwhile, Johnny continues having trouble flaming off and Kang comes looking for Mantis.  Also, Aron the Watcher continues his long game.

Englehart attempts to salvage the Mantis-Kang plot he intended for West Coast Avengers.  So far, so good.  Sharon getting jealous at Ben for ogling Mantis was a nice touch.

Johnny's no longer pining after Crystal.  I'm wondering if Steve already saw the writing on the wall at this point.

324 - Necrodamus has Mantis and Kang and the Fantastic Three have to team up to stop him from killing her!

Kang and the Fantastic Four join forces, only to have Kang leave the Torch stranded millions of miles from earth once the threat of Necrodamus has passed.  Classic villainy.

One awesome thing: the sound effect for Kang's blast is TARDIS, which is, of course, Doctor Who's mode of conveyance.  Since the Fantastic Four is the Doctor Who of the Marvel universe and Kang is a time traveler, it was fitting.

325 - The Silver Surfer rescues Johnny and runs to Mantis' rescue.  The Surfer, Mantis, and the Fantastic Four weren't counting on Kang having allies in the Cotati and the Priests of Pama!

Cosmic ninjas attack!  I noticed SFX Englehart in the credits and I wonder how badly this story was mangled by the editors.  Have the Cotati ever been used since Englehart left?

The Mantis storyline concludes but you can tell it wasn't originally meant to be a Fantastic Four story since they were mostly peripheral players.

326 - Reed and Sue are back to help what's left of the Fantastic Four take on the new Frightful Four.

John Harkness supplies the words in this one.  I'm not surprised Englehart was pissed at having to bring back Reed and Sue since stagnation was why he was brought to the Fantastic Four in the first place.

The Wizard, Klaw, Hydroman, and Titanic make a formidable Frightful Four, at least.

327 - The Thing is human once again.  How can he function against the Frightful Four now?

Yeah, the FF is back to the standard lineup, more or less, only this time with a female Thing.  Aron and Dragon Man show up to complicate things just in time to set up the next issue.

I don't really have much else to say about this issue.  Things are just about back to status quo. Why wouldn't we want to go back to an endless parade of Lee and Kirby rehashes?

328 - The Fantastic Four and the now powerless Ben Grimm take on the Frightful Four and Dragon Man.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Reed and Sue's return, Ben Grimm kicked some serious ass on the Frightful Four as an unpowered human.

Englehart's revenge starts here as Aron the Watcher replaces the Fantastic Four with clones and has them acting like a bunch of dumb asses.

329 - The Fantastic Clones go after the Mole Man for the amusement of Aron the Watcher.

The behavior of the clones is actually pretty funny and their dialogue is all gleaned from Lee and Kirby issues.  You know the shit has hit the fan when the Mole Man thinks things are a little strange.

The entire clone storyline is a statement on the powers at be at Marvel continuously hitting the reset button and refusing to let the characters progress.  Hasn't Franklin Richards five or six for like 40 years?

330 - While the clone Fantastic Four runs wild, Kristoff and Doom go to war.

Doctor Doom, the Hulk, Dormammu, Master Pandemonium, Kang, the Absorbing Man, Hobgoblin, Attuma, and The Beetle go up against Kristoff, Mysterio, Annihilus, Electro, the Abomination, and Rhino.  The Fantastic Four don't get involved because it isn't time yet.

Too bad the war was only a dream.  I would have loved to see this story pan out for real.

331 - The Fantastic Four continues dreaming while the clones try to get people to pay a Fantasti-Tax.

Englehart continues to show us plots he would have used had he not had the rug yanked out from under him as dreams of the real Fantastic Four.  You have to wonder why Marvel didn't pull him off the book months earlier if they were going to shackle him anyway.

Imagine if they'd let him do his lineup against Ultron, though...

332 - Sue dreams that Crystal returns and they have quite a cat fight.

This glimpse into what might have been is the most heart-wrenching since it would have been awesome if Englehart had actually been allowed to do it.  Franklin Richards is revealed to have manipulated things to make Alicia and Johnny fall in love and get married.  At the end of the dream, Johnny is with Crystal and the human Ben Grimm is with Alicia.  This would have been way better than how they eventually did away with the marriage by having Alicia being a Skrull all along.

Fuck Marvel Editorial.  That is all.

333 - The Avengers battle the Fantastic Four clones and the genuine articles escape from suspended animation.

And we've at the end of Englehart's run and very nearly back to status quo.  John Harkness showing up at the end saying that a better man than him will be needed to sort out the mess is a good way to sum up a very promising run that was derailed by interference.

Not so Fantastic Conclusion: From the dream sequences, it looks like Englehart had planned the following for his run before it got derailed.
  1. Ben becoming human, creating a rift between him and Sharon
  2. A super villain war between Doom and Kristoff for Latveria
  3. Crystal returning
  4. Franklin Richards revealed as the manipulator behind Johnny getting with Alicia.  Crystal winds up with Johnny and Ben winds up with Alicia.  Since Ben became human, I wonder who Englehart meant to replace him with.
Doesn't that sound better than hitting the reset button to anyone else?  In my opinion, Marvel missed a golden opportunity to advance things.  Reed and Sue leaving to raise Franklin was a natural progression, giving things over to Johnny, Ben, Crystal, and Sharon.  Reed and Sue could have been relegated to the supporting cast easily enough.  If Marvel didn't want the Fantastic Four to ever change, they shouldn't have had Reed and Sue have a kid.

Fantastic Bonus Feature - The Fantastic One speaks!
Shortly after I finished this, I emailed Steve Englehart a few questions and he emailed me back!
Were the dream sequences in the latter part of your run storylines you originally intended to do?
Yes. Each multi-part idea boiled down to one issue.

Were you planning on replacing the human Ben Grimm with someone?
No. My whole run was based on the original FF idea, which was “We have no blueprint for this; we have to figure it out.” So Ben as a human would be just one more “now what” plotline.

What other storylines did you have planned?
I think I covered everything I had planned in those dream stories.

How early on in the run did you know you were screwed?
It comes right after the Ms Marvel-She-Hulk battle. That’s when they told me to stop with the creativity.

Did you pick Ms. Marvel as a member because you would have the most creative freedom with her?
No. I was intrigued by her backstory - beautiful super heroine damaged by rape - and thought that would be another “what now” plot line. I also thought that with Ben and Johnny, I didn’t need another man - and with Johnny hooking up with Crystal, who had an FF connection, Sharon’s lack of connection played to the “no blueprint” motif. Then, when I came up with the idea that she’d _like_ to hide away inside a Thing-body, and Ben would be appalled at that, I figured my instincts had served me pretty well.

Was Marvel always in the habit of jerking people around back then?
Oh, sometimes, but the deliberate decision to end creativity was a major change. To me, that was the end of the Marvel Age.

What are you up to these days?
I’m in the process of writing a long and complex epic - interspersed with traveling - and when I’m done I’ll see if I think it’s commercial, or just a fun ride for myself.

There you have it, True Believer!  Fascinating stuff.

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