I’ve been on a bit of Fantastic Four back issue kick, so here goes tackling Byrne’s exit from the title and what might have been…
Fantastic Four #293 was John Byrne’s final issue as writer/artist with Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway pinch hitting in issues #294-295. Fantastic Four #296 was the Fantastic Four’s 25th anniversary issue the pinnacle in the Marvel 25th anniversary celebrations.
I can only imagine the chaos that must have been going down in the Marvel Bullpen as Byrne left the title at such a critical time. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter plotted the story and pulled in Stan Lee to write the script. Shooter also pulled in most of the Marvel Bullpen at the time to get this issue out the door: Barry Windsor-Smith, Kerry Gammill, Ron Frenz, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Marc Silvestri, Jerry Ordway, Vince Colletta, Klaus Jason, Steve Leialoha, Joe Rubensein, Joe Sinnott, and Bob Wiacek
Interestingly, in the preface to the issue, Shooter states that he “was asked to write the plot for this, the Silver Anniversary issue of the Fantastic Four.” I can’t help but imagine Shooter in front of a mirror asking himself to write this issue…
As for what might have been… An interview in Comics Feature #44 (published in May 1986) with John Byrne apparently took place before his decision to leave the Fantastic Four.
"The whole thrust of FF 236, the 20th anniversary story, was to do a story that was more or less completely divorced from the regular book so that it could sort of stand on its own as a 'movie.'
"In the 25th anniversary issue I'm going to be doing essentially the same thing in that you'll be able to pick up on these guys even if you've never seen them before. But I also want to fill it up with all kinds of little, almost subliminal, fanish type stuff that people will recognize as being references to earlier stories."
"The basic premise is that Reed, Sue, Johnny and She-Hulk are out in
and they go out to the old rocket base in Central City. It's all grown over with weeds and looking pretty scraggy, the California Canaveral is these days. The first part of the issue, as it now stands, will be a retelling of Fantastic Four number one, as they tell their origin to She-Hulk -- their first battle with the Mole Man and all that." But things start happening as the world is assaulted by wide-ranging earthquakes, which Reed Richards pinpoints as having their source at way Cape . But Monster Island blew up at the end of FF 1 -- or did it? Monster Island
"So they go tripping off to
, or where it used to be, and discover that what is now there is basically a very large hole -- into which sea water has been pouring for years. It's been gushing down into the tunnels that the Mole Man appropriated from the Deviants and has managed, in many cases, to work its was quite a ways down into the vicinities of the center of the Earth. As a result, it's coming back as super-heated steam which is causing vast pressures to build up underneath the crust of the Earth -- which is what's causing all of these giant earthquakes, globally. Monster Island
"They are about to do what they can to undo this damage when... the Mole Man turns up. He's still there, still lurking around, and he's got all kinds of things happening involving that group of outcasts he put together.
"The Mole Man has discovered that the Valley of the Diamonds is not in fact a natural phenomenon. The diamonds are mystical, and he's discovered that if he melts down the diamonds he gets this glib which, if you immersed yourself in it, you are transformed into whatever you are in your heart of hearts.
“What follows is a story in which the FF try to avert final disaster for the world while the Mole Man is convinced that they're just there to make trouble for him again. But if that's not enough (remember this is a triple-issue filled with triple-threats and triple-promises), an important former member of the FF turns up there -- the Thing. Certain changes planned for the Thing, which have not yet been revealed but will have come to pass by late summer, will have driven him to
, convinced that it is the only place for a monster such as himself. There, the Thing comes face to face with what he is in his heart of hearts. Monster Island
“The Thing is reunited with the FF in this adventure, and at the end, "We get back to
for an anniversary party! It's kind of a separate story at the end of the issue which unveils the FF's new headquarters and has virtually the entire Marvel Universe guest-starring, including folks from Marvel." New York
Beyond the anniversary issues, Byrne looked forward to challenging the status quo:
"We will have to address the very serious questions of whether they will be the Fantastic Four or the Fantastic Five.”
Also mentioned in the interview were hints at possible wedding in issue 300 and the conclusion to Epic Illustrated’s The Last Galactus Story. Ah, what might have been…