Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5, published by Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc., 568 pages, $16.99.
The last four installments of Suspended Animation have dealt heavily with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s breathtaking 1960s run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. And, while the remarkable quality of the legendary duo’s work was monumentally maintained in the fifth volume, a subject which cannot escape inspection is the passing of the artistic baton, first to stand-in artist John Romita, then to the second ongoing penciler in the book’s history, the renowned John Buscema.
Romita had the unenviable task of picking up where Kirby’s celebrated work ended. Yet, it seems he made small effort to ape Kirby’s style. To my mind, that’s a positive thing. While many diehard Kirby fans, both then and now, might bemoan Romita making the characters his own during his four-issue stint, his work possessed an exclusive elegance, and he had long since proved his aptitude for high-voltage superhero action as the regular artist on The Amazing Spider-Man.
Many fans of great comics may have been perfectly satisfied with Romita at the artistic helm, but Marvel settled on John Buscema to carry the company’s First Family through the next few years. Buscema’s style, though perhaps not as graceful as Romita’s, had a more rugged appeal. An artist who it could be said produced some of the greatest action scenes in the industry, Buscema’s depiction of the conflict and combat that played such an enormous role in the series marked him as one of the few logical successors to Jack Kirby. Additionally, the sense of realism found in his work seemed to mark the Fantastic Four’s graduation into a new era when compared with Kirby’s more distorted, though no less action-ready, style.
Besides offering the work of three of the best artists comics has ever seen, readers will also find the entertaining return of Dr. Doom, the Moleman, the Skrulls, the Frightful Four, and the Submariner, and even a guest appearance by Richard Nixon!
Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5 is recommended for all readers. It can be obtained from online retailers and auctions, but try your local comics shop first, if you have one.