Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Romita Jr. (p), Scott Hanna (i), Morry Hollowell (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Hot on the heels of the recent Fantastic Four: The End miniseries comes a second "final" tale of the FF; this time written by one of its original co-creators, the inimitable Stan Lee. The book sees the team facing financial and personal insecurities at the same time as a new enemy threatens the entire planet, and the FF are called upon to save the day one last time.
John Romita Jr. is an artist that I've long considered the modern-day successor to Jack Kirby, and his presence here confirms that he's fit to follow in the shoes of the King himself in bringing the FF to life in collaboration with Stan Lee. The occasional visual misstep aside (the Watcher bears more resemblance to Wilson Fisk than he does Uatu), the book's artwork is uniformly strong, capturing the same epic sense of wonder and fantasy that characterised the FF's earliest appearances. The story features a plethora of Marvel Universe guest-stars, all of whom are impeccably rendered in their recognisable "classic" forms, and the new creations such as the Adjudicator are given a distinctive visual identity through Romita's inventive alien character designs. Scott Hanna's finishes makes the best of Romita's pencils, giving them a slickness and solidity that's sometimes lacking when the artist is paired with other inkers. Morry Hollowell's colouring is bright and bold enough to evoke the characters' Silver Age roots without coming off as flat or unsophisticated.
Unfortunately, the book's plot is overly simple and repetitive, and it's the kind of thing we've seen many times before: a new villain appears, everyone seems powerless to stop him, and the fate of the entire planet is threatened until Reed Richards finally pulls something out of his hat to save the day in a deus ex machina that only Stan Lee could pull off with a straight face (and it's not even as though the conclusion to the story really makes sense any way, when you start to think about it). Stan's bold style of storytelling is reminiscent of a simpler time, and although there's an undeniable charm to his bombastic statements and old-school larger-than-life language - I defy anyone not to smile when they read about "The deadly imperial destructo-jets of Dr. Doom!" These statements can't escape sometimes feeling cheesy, and often come off as redundant when coupled with Romita's crystal-clear storytelling. That said, there are a few moments which really do evoke the classic Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four stories (involving Namor, the Silver Surfer, Galactus and, of course, Dr. Doom) and there's a certain sentimentality in seeing one of the original creators of the FF get the chance to tell their final tale. However, it's not enough to make this a great story, and truth be told it's Romita's artwork which saves the book from feeling completely average, especially for such a high-profile production.
A fun bonus is Stan Lee's original treatment for the story, complete with notes from editor Tom Breevort. It's interesting to see how much of Breevort's input made it to the page, and how much freedom Romita is given to play about with the story to suit his artistic desires. It's the epitome of "Marvel style" scripting, and it gives readers some insight into just how fluid the distinction between writer, artist and editor can be in such a collaborative process, with all of them contributing to the story to some extent.
What did you think of this book?
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