I have a long and twisted history with Fantastic Four comics. I’ve collected the book off over the years, so did I start reading the title during the acclaimed John Byrne run? nope. Or perhaps during the highly underrated Walt Simonson stint? Nyet again.
Either one of those runs would have been a good place to start reading the book, but oh no. I decided to start reading The Fantastic Four during the Tom DeFalco & Paul Ryan years. More specifically, when DeFalco and Ryan gave Sue Richards her sexy 90’s costume. And to make matters worse, I stayed with the book for over a year!
My self-inflicted agony began in late 1992 with Fantastic Four #371. By this point the Alicia-Thing relationship was back on, Johnny Storm went back to college, and Reed was a bigger pain in the ass than usual. All of it was made worse by the corny dialogue Tom DeFalco used during his years on the book. It was as if DeFalco wanted one foot in the silver age, and the other foot in a grey area between the 80’s and 90’s. Whatever his intent was, it did not work.
However, with this issue, Tom DeFalco tried to go “grim & gritty” with a few subplots. But again it did not work. Among the many missteps the book took, the most famous one if probably putting the Invisible Woman in a costume that would make Vampirella blush. Whether this change was DeFalco’s idea or came down from editorial, I don’t know. Either way, the move backfired on all of them.
Anyway, in Fantastic Four #371 Reed and Ben learn that Alicia has been kidnapped by Aron the Watcher, and the two plan to launch a rescue mission with the assistance of Sharon Ventura and her generic new costume. But first Reed goes to check with the Invisible Woman, wondering why repairs on the roof of Four Freedoms Plaza haven’t been completed yet. Because obviously the roof is more important than their friend’s life.
Before Reed can question his wife though, he catches her trying on her horrible new costume that leaves her cleavage, thighs, stomach, and shoulders exposed. Sue informs Reed she designed it herself, but he barely notices. She is of course very upset that Reed would rather talk about the roof than check her out. I’m no relationship expert, but even in 1992 I thought she had a point.
Meanwhile, the Human Torch is walking around school thinking about what it means to be a super-hero in the 90s. We soon learn it’s because he feels out-of-place with some of the other heroes out there. Aww, muffin. But no worries, Tom DeFalco is on the case! And Tom’s answer to Johnny’s dilemma is to make him angrier, more naive, and basically more stupid.
But Jonny is still a ladies’ man, and so we see him approach a student named Bridget. Her last name in unimportant as she is immediately frozen by Paibok the Power Skrull, who has teamed up with Devos the Destroyer. The two villains are not alone however, for Paibok and Devos are joined by Johnny’s ex wife, Lyja. Yep, the Human Torch was married to s Skrull, but that a whole other story.
Like most readers, Johnny thought she was dead, and like the readers, wish she’d stayed that way. The issue ends with Lyja announcing that she is now Lyja the Lazerfist, and because he is outnumbered, the Human Torch goes supernova, and destroys the university around him.
I was reading this issue the other day, and it amazes me at how bad it is. The dialogue is stuck in the 1960’s, and the art doesn’t fare much better. With the exception of Lyja, all the women in this comic have the same face. Even the guys look similar, and I swear Franklin Richards could be Johnny’s kid. The weird thing is both Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan had done much better work than this. The two were talented guys, so my Guess is some editors told them what to do.
I stayed with Fantastic Four until issue #384 or so, witnessing even more bad stories. But if I remember correctly, DeFalco and Ryan stayed on the book until mid 1996. I’m not sure why I stuck around for as long as I did, but it’s definitely a unique era of the Fantastic Four.