Saturday, July 3, 2010

One-Shot Showdown! Stan Lee Edition

It’s One-Shot Showdown! In which I compare the merits of two Fantastic Four related one-shots and render a verdict as to which one’s better. All decisions are final, written in stone, and utterly absolute…something around here has to be, right?

Today's Theme: Stan Lee+ Iconic Marvel Artist= $5 one-shot?

Today's Contenders-

2007's Last Fantastic Four Story
2008's Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure

Greetings True Believers! Today's match up has some truly excellent potential for comparative points to ponder. Both of the specials featured in this titanic tussle were penned by none other than the Fantastic Four's very own co-creator, Mr. Stan "the man" Lee! What's even more exciting is that the artists on these issues are both seminal masters in the mighty Marvel manner. Excelsior!!*

*(For those of you that don't speak Stan Lee's native tongue of "Stanish", that means both of these comics were written by Lee, and illustrated by artists who are synonymous with drawing Marvel heroes.) Without further ado... Fight!

The Last Fantastic Four Story

The Plot: "The Universal Tribunal", a collection of minds that communicate through thought alone, decide that Earth serves no purpose and decides to destroy it once and for all. The Tribunal sends its envoy, the indestructible behemoth known as the Adjudicator, to pronounce that the human race has one week left to live.

The entire Marvel race attacks the Adjudicator to no avail, and finally Reed Richards hatches a plot. He sends the Silver Surfer to find a race of unthinking creatures that could defeat the Tribunal. These Decimators attack the Tribunal, and then the Marvel heroes go and save the Tribunal from the Decimators. HUH??

Positives: + This story draws you in with an interesting premise: "What would Marvel heroes do if they knew they only had a week to live?" Lee BRIEFLY explores the relationship of Ben and Alicia, as well as Johnny coming to grips with the fact that his playboy lifestyle will leave him cold and lonely. And I had to laugh because there is no mention of Valeria whatsoever here.

+ John Romita JR. pencils this issue and is brilliantly inked by Scott Hanna and colored by Morry Hollowell. This is one comic where I actually noticed the colors, which are usually lost on me.

Negatives: - While the premise intrigues, the plot fails to deliver. This story reads like the Second Coming of Galactus, except this time he's invincible.

And watching every single Marvel hero try their power on the Adjudicator gets pointless after a few pages. It's like they think he's the sword in the stone, and each hero believes he/she is King Arthur. Look, if Dr. Strange couldn't beat the thing by the hoary hosts of Hogwarts (or whatever), I doubt Ben Grimm's fists could do anything.

-The price/ format seem a little puffed up. It's a prestige format $5 one-shot. Granted John Romita JR. is great, but a lot of the material seems like filler.

- The whole plot of Reed unleashing the Decimators on the race that condemned Earth seems out of character to begin with, and then to have the heroes save the day by saving the very race they endangered just boggles the mind.

Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure

The Plot: OK, promise you'll stick with me for a second. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four, and worked on the book for 102 consecutive issues(as well as 6 annuals!). That's a lot. They had material for issue 103, but Jack Kirby quit Marvel. Marvel took some of the stuff from this 103rd issue and eventually put it into Fantastic Four #108, in a hodge podge of cut and paste storytelling. What "The Lost Adventure" does is takes Kirby's old pages and notes, and with the help of some current artists, issue 103 is presented in a form closer to what it was supposed to be.

In the issue, Reed Richards recounts a tale of how the team fought a man named Janus, who also goes by the name "Mega-Man." Insert Dr. Light or Zero jokes here. Anyway, Mega-Man has a power vest that has virtually unlimited capabilities, and he uses it to rob a bank. In the bank, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm just happen to be making a deposit. Mega-Man wipes the floor with them and Johnny gets knocked out. Later, Reed figures that Janus is the Mega-Man, and when he goes to visit the guy at home in Kansas, he's surprised to see that his legs are all busted up. So he has Sue go and hide a spy camera in the guy's house, and they decide to watch him. In the end they figure out that Janus is two brothers, one handicapped version and one evil. Reed uses the Mega-Man's power to fix the guy's busted leg, and then condemns both Januses. One for being evil, and the busted legged one for not telling anyone about the evil guy.

Positives: + It's Jack Kirby on art. They didn't call him "King" for nothing.

+ The issue has the new version of issue 103, Jack's original pages, and a reprint of issue #108. You can see the way everything got all screwed up with the issue after Jack Kirby quit Marvel. It's the one time I've ever seen a relevant reprint that wasn't just filler!
Here's a page from the new version of 103-
Here's Kirby's original work for the sane page (notice the missing panel that Ron Frenz filled in above)-
Here's How Marvel originally used the same page, by cutting it up for Fantastic Four #108-

+ Stan Lee can write the Thing like no one else. I laughed out loud while reading some of his dialogue.
Negatives: - Thanks to this comic being a recreation of a deceased man's half erased notes, this plot gets jumbled. I know the creative team handled it with care, but the issue was still pretty convoluted.

-Stan writes some new things like "D.S.L. line" into this comic, making it feel a lot less representative of the time period it supposedly hearkens back to.

-Overall, I think this unpublished comic wasn't finished enough to warrant this type of presentation.

Winner: While I would not endorse either of these as possible purchases for readers out there, I can safely say that The Last Fantastic Four story is the winner here. With an interesting premise, a more current flavor, and some wonderfully illustrated images, "Last" at the very least held my attention until the end. While I would never disparage the "King", I wish Marvel would have respected him and fans a little more by leaving that particular adventure "lost."

So until Stan Lee and I team up on a comic, Excelsior and Vive le Fantastique!


  1. First off, I LOVED this line here Kello; "The Universal Tribunal", a collection of minds that communicate through thought alone, decide that Earth serves no purpose and decides to destroy it once and for all." because it just seemed SO random! It's like you have all of these bored aliens sitting around and they all just decide they hate the Earth and as such are going to suddenly destroy it with little forethought. Anyway, I still have the FF Roast and the Galactus story sitting in my online CB store shopping cart, and after checking out this review, I think it's safe to say that I won't be adding either one of these comics.

    Oh, and I TOTALLY agree with you about Stan Lee and the Thing's dialogue. NOBODY can write Ben Grimm like The Man himself.

  2. You nailed it, X-Man. That's why I included the scan of the tribunal, because they're just a bunch of beings on the other side of the universe sitting there judging us. It was like "geeez, what'd we do? Go pick on the Skrulls or something!!"

    Like the Simpsons once pointed out, Stan Lee's "mind is no longer in mint condition", but he's a legend for sure.