Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita Jr.(p), Scott Hanna(i), Morry Hollowell(c)
Well, Stan the Man has lost none of his touch. There's a lot of good to be found in The Last Fantastic Four Story. In fact, had the solution to one of the problems the FF faces been up to snuff, this book would have easily earned four bullets. Stan Lee pits the FF against two different threats: lack of funding and a big cosmic world-menacing entity that would have made Jack Kirby proud.
The FF has run out of money before. In fact, one of their early adventures involved Namor using the lure of making cash in Hollywood to woo Sue Storm into his arms. The first FF movie revisited the theme of the team being strapped for cash. In the film, Doom pays for Reed's experiments in cosmic radiation. When Reed breaks off from Doom, he's forced to return to the Baxter Building, not even remotely the ultramodern edifice known to comic book readers.
The Last Fantastic Four Story is set at a time when the FF are growing older. The kids need to go to college. Johnny and Ben are looking for financial security during their hopefully more peaceful years. These are real issues, and for the most part they're still employable, even within the science fiction world of the FF. Reed doesn't have a Green Lantern ring. He can't simply wish up a particle accelerator. It takes money to build gadgetry. That, their day to day living expenses, the sums meted out to those suffering property damage from the latest battle against Blastarr all eat into any savings the FF might possess.
At the same time the group discusses their personal and economical futures, aliens decide it's time to curtail the earth's evolution. They send an emissary to carry out the mission and warn the people of earth that the clock is ticking so it would be a very good idea to go shag that secretary you've been meaning to ask out, but were just too nervous to approach.
You may wish to argue that this is in fact the modus operandi of Galactus' herald, but it's not. The herald seeks out planets for Galactus to devour. Anything else the herald does is optional. The Surfer has a soft, noble heart and was more likely to suggest the earth's inhabitants get together for a group sing-a-long. Terrax the Tamer on the other hand would likely revel in the chaos and panic of whatever species he doomed. The purpose of the aliens differs from the purpose of Galactus. The earth will not be devoured and presumably reconstituted. The aliens intend to waste it, and as we learn through the story, The Adjudicator is in fact more powerful than Galactus.
With this set up, Stan Lee explores the Marvel Universe, a universe with such exceptions of Captain America and Namor he co-created. While this is The Last Fantastic Four Story, the FF are not the only heroes to be featured. Cameo appearances once again give the Marvel Universe the cohesion it once had before the Civil War. A frequent FF guest-hero makes a timely appearance, and others watch the proceedings unfold. Some attack The Adjudicator, but all is in vain.
The most striking thing about these heroes is that they all sound as themselves. Stan Lee's dialogue sticks to their core characterization, and there's no betrayal of that characterization for the sake of the plot. That alone raises The Last Fantastic Four Story head and shoulders above most of Marvel's books at the moment.
The villains, or if you prefer, the antagonists, also get a work out in The Last Fantastic Four Story. Stan Lee recognizes that the villains have a stake in the world. They forget their personal vendettas against the FF and humanity and try to take down The Adjudicator. Afterall, you cannot conquer the world if it's been annihilated.
Reed uses one of these cameos to catalyze the solution to the problem, and it is here where the story fails. I wouldn't call the answer a deus ex machina, for the nature of Reed's conclusion does fall within the realms of possibility. The problem is that there isn't any foreshadowing, and that's a shame because Stan Lee prefigures the arrival of The Adjudicator with suitably ominous signs. You expect the other heroes and villains to show up, and sure enough. There they are. If Stan Lee had just been more attentive to this one flaw, the book would have benefited tremendously.
One asset that cannot be disputed is John Romita Jr. Wow. Romita Jr. has found a way to consolidate the over the top language of Jack Kirby into his own work, and his highly evolved blocky style is even more suited for this title than The Amazing Spider-Man. His imagining of The Adjudicator is quite stunning, and kudos must also be given to Scott Hanna, whose inks really bring out the depth of the Thing's rocky hide and Morry Hollowell for adding special color effects that accentuate the Adjudicator's unfathomably alien nature.
You can accuse Stan Lee of a few charming clunkers in the dialogue:
"We're no more than harmless fleas to The Adjudicator."
That line comes from a particular florid-minded SWAT team member. However, the story, the plot, the behavior of the characters and the application of their powers all make sense. That's why The Last Fantastic Four Story is worth reading. Add these strengths to gorgeous, action-fueled artwork in a vein reminiscent to that of Jack Kirby's masterpieces, and you have a book that's well worth adding to your collection, especially if that collection revolves around the FF.
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