By Marc Strom
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it—warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
About 10 years ago, while awkwardly traipsing through the pimple-infested halls of middle school, I discovered the 80's. For a period of time you couldn't get Styx out of my Discman, "Pretty in Pink" out of my VHS player, or 80's Marvel Comics out of my hands. And it was during this period I remembered some dude named John Byrne had a run on FANTASTIC FOUR that was supposed to be pretty decent.
So I went out and picked up what looked like a complete storyline from FANTASTIC FOUR #251-256 (note that these were the glorious days of the back issue, before Marvel started conveniently packaging all this stuff in trade paperbacks you could purchase anywhere). These six issues formed what to this day
remains one of my favorite FF tales, an epic story that sent Marvel's first family exploring through the Negative Zone while Annihilus held Alicia Masters and Franklin Richards captive in the Baxter Building.
And wow. I was hooked. Here was a guy who understood the FF. Byrne's stories oozed action and excitement, but at the same time he never lost sight of the fact that the Four were a family first, explorers second, and super heroes third. The first 30 issues in particular emphasized the accidental-super hero nature of the team. When they wound up fighting a baddie, it was usually the result of some experiment of Mr. Fantastic's gone wrong, or an encounter with some hostile ruler of an undiscovered land they'd stumbled upon.
Immediately after devouring those six issues, I went out and tracked down the rest of his run, every issue from #232 through #294. While Byrne had worked as an artist on FANTASTIC FOUR off-and-on for a while, he started writing the team's adventures with issue #232, a story that featured the foursome under attack from...Diablo. Not the most auspicious villain with which to begin a landmark run on the World's Greatest Comics Magazine, but you can't argue with the results. I dug it. Heck, I even dug Diablo's crazy costume when Byrne drew it, though I still to this day do not understand Diablo's reason for existing.
Even more impressive than his take on Diablo, though, was what Byrne managed to do with the FF's roster of classic villains. The likes of Dr. Doom and Galactus, who for years had been used as more or less generic villains, were once again turned into the menaces they could always be. And who can forget that full-
page splash in #243 that sees Earth's heroes wearing Galactus down to the point he falls. That's right, Galactus, devourer of planets, scourge of the universe, tall as the Chrysler building… falls.
Then, in issue #262, when Reed Richards stands trial for saving Galactus' life, the Watcher ultimately exonerates him by explaining that Galactus exists as a sort of universal gardener, pulling out the weeds so the healthy flowers can flourish. Making Galactus into a universal force of nature may seem obvious today, but that's only because Byrne thought of it then. Byrne even inserted himself into this issue as an "Assistant Editor's Month" gag (and isn't it high-time someone started a campaign to bring "Assistant Editor's Month" back?), and while some fans aren't very keen on that aspect of the story, I thought it was fun, reminiscent of
what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko would sometimes do in back-up strips or annuals.
And who else but John Byrne would have the audacity to replace the Thing, a member of the FF for two decades, with She-Hulk. She-Hulk
. Talk about out of left field. Yet he somehow managed to pull it off in spades, and four issues later it seemed as if Shulkie had always been a member of the team. What I always loved about her tenure with the team was the sense of freshness she brought to the book. While she made up for the group's lack of sheer brute force in the absence of the Thing, she also brought a new perspective. While trips to exotic locales like the Microverse had become almost rote to the rest of the group, Byrne was able to remind us of the wonder of what it was they were doing through She-Hulk's inexperienced eyes.
Byrne's run ended mid-story arc. Issue #293 was the last issue he both wrote and penciled, and only the plot of #294 is attributed to him (Roger Stern, whose AVENGERS run is a Make Mine Marvel in and of itself, finished off the arc). Whatever the circumstances of Byrne's departure, what we're left with is five-years worth of Fantastic greatness. And hey, now Marvel's got the whole thing out in eight FANTASTIC FOUR VISIONARIES: JOHN BYRNE trade paperbacks (though if you're like me and prefer holding the original issues in your hand, you can still find those around for quite a deal).