Kirby, Jack and Stan Lee, et al. Maximum Fantastic Four (New York: Marvel Comics, 2011)
When the Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four #1 hit newsstands on 8 August 1961 (there were no comic-book shops then), no one could have predicted how the FF would become the foundation of the Marvel Universe which is now a media and merchandising powerhouse in bookstores, toy stores, movie theatres, and television studios.
The Fantastic Four was my entrée into comics fandom (see my review of Marvel Knights: FF, Vol. 1), an enthusiasm that has waxed and waned since my childhood infatuation with "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" kicked it off--albeit some years after FF #1.
This 8" x 12" coffee-table reprint of that seminal first issue is an unusual look at the FF's origins, blowing up the panels to full pages (including multi-page spreads and several foldouts). Besides the FF #1 story, this volume also includes essays by Walter Mosley (pp. 75-83) and Mark Evanier (pp. 170-182), an afterword by Mosley (pp. 231-234), and two pages of contributor biographies.
The coloring of this volume follows the original schema, though the effect on glossy paper is a bit garish and harsh. My main complaint, though, is with the page layouts--and the fault for his apparently lies with designer Paul Sahre. I was initially perturbed by choices such as breaking panels across the gutter (pp. 34-35), but far worse were the numerous times that he cropped Kirby's panels by bleeding them off the page (pp. 36-37), thereby losing Stan Lee's dialogue in the process. Some of these spreads (such as pp. 92-93, pp. 132-133, and the page 138 foldout) may be dramatically presented, but at too high a cost--losing the book's subject amid the spectacle. Kudos are due, however for the design of the book's cover: a 25" x 36" folded poster, with the FF #1 cover on one side and all of the interior pages on the other. My only problem with it might be the difficulty in finding a frame large enough to hang it on my wall.
Marc at With Great Power writes that "Maximum Fantastic Four is a truly amazing presentation of the series' first issue, one that fully lives up to its name:"
In the end, Maximum Fantastic Four is truly an affirmation of the genius of two creators at an artistic peak, one of the many peaks that each would experience throughout his long career in comics. And even more importantly, it's an affirmation of why we read comics - of that sense of exhilaration and wonder that draws us back again and again to the medium we love.
PW writes that, "Beautiful and contemplative, this book will be indispensable to fans of the modern superhero comic book." MadInkBeard praises the book's pacing by observing that "You can't flip through this book. You can't scan a page for the storyline and move on. You have to sit with it and look:"
If we take the time to really see the panels, the images, and the words and the way they interact, we can see new facets of a work, reinvigorating an old favorite or deepening our enjoyment of a new work. Comics are a time-consuming media to create; let's spend a little more time with them.
And Then I Read is more critical, pointing out the book's definition of exegesis ("Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text") and calling BS:
I guess you could call it an analysis of the history, to put a stretch on it. But the essay, reminiscence and text of the comic took all of 30 minutes out of my life, and I'd really like to have them back.
This one only gets 3 stars. If you just want the original comic book, and can't afford a collector's price, you can find it reproduced in Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1.
As a side note, Kirby would have been 98 years old today; please consider donating to Kirby4Heroes in his honor. There is a large show of Kirby's art entitled "Comic Book Apocalypse" at California State University Northridge through 10 October, and an interview with curator Charles (Hand of Fire) Hatfield at Comics Reporter.
One decision, made very early, was to delimit the show to late Kirby, starting around 1965 (a great time for Kirby at Marvel, and coincidentally my birth year). That would give us a chunk of Kirby's career that was well represented among collectors -- there's a lot of existing art -- plus familiar to me and to many fans, and tied to Hand of Fire. And that's something we could just about represent in our 3000 square-foot gallery. We knew we could not do justice to the whole half-century-plus span of Jack's career in one show; we had to define it more strictly.
In the end we did include some Kirby originals from the '40s and '50s, and a number of published comics from those days, so as to give everyone an overview of Kirby's career -- because it was important to me that newcomers understand what a comic book legend Jack was. Even if he had never touched a board again after 1960, he'd be one of the legendary comic book pioneers, and I wanted to get that across.
Here's the exhibition's promo image, which uses Kirby's art from the last page of Silver Surfer #18 (1970):
You can see this image (King-size, sans text) in photos of the exhibition on Charles Hatfield's website here: