Monday, June 11, 2012
1981 - Fantastic Four #232
Writer/Artist: John Byrne
Fantastic Four #232 was John Byrne’s first issue as both writer and artist and his run would last over five years on the title. Byrne had pencilled the book a few years earlier working with writers Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo. The Fantastic Four is more of a family than a super-hero team and no one understood that better than Byrne.
What made Byrne’s take on this title so memorable was how he handled the characters and their relationships. All team books tend to be formulaic, but what Byrne couldn’t succeed at doing with Alpha Flight, he was able to do with the Fantastic Four. He grew them from the archetypes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and changed them subtly, but meaningfully.
Take for example how Byrne drew the Thing. His version built on Kirby’s designs and actually improved upon them, changing it slightly but adding Byrne’s own mark. As I grew up in the 1980s, I’ve always seen Byrne’s Thing as the definite version. And similarly how Byrne changed their uniform colours or how he changed Sue’s name from the Invisible Girl to the Invisible Woman. And of course, it wasn’t simply a name change, but how she behaved and carried herself. Simple changes that were so powerful and effective, but didn’t change what the Fantastic Four meant and represented.
The plot was straightforward, with Diablo targetting the members of the Fantastic Four with his elemental monsters. Visually the comic was beautiful with Byrne flexing his artistic muscles and clearly having fun drawing Mr. Fantastic in a variety of elastic shapes and visually displaying how the Invisible Girl was so much more than a woman who can turn invisible. Reed as the shrewd and intelligent leader assessed the threat and pulled the team together to overcome Diablo’s machinations.
The inker credited as Bjorn Heyn is actually Byrne himself who playfully used an anagram.
From Amazing Heroes #1 (June 1981), Byrne said: “I tried to do a very primal FF story. I decided to do something that was not much more than a punch-’em-up, with elements of characterization thrown in for good measure.”
And the rest, as they say, is history…