The Grand Design
Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design comics made me fall in love with Marvel’s mutants all over again when those books were coming out. It was Herculean, mind-blowing to see Piskor summarize entire decades of comics in two issue arcs in his series.
When Fantastic Four: Grand Design was announced— no exaggeration— I jumped out of my seat. I have a deep rooted admiration with the Fantastic Four. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's Fantastic Four was one of the two books that got me into comics. That FF run is a series I go back to and practically study on a regular basis. With the FF, Jack and Stan built an entire universe out of nothing.
In celebration of Tom Scioli’s Fantastic Four: Grand Design, I put together a list of Fantastic Four stories I love. They’re accessible to hardcore fans and those who want to get into Marvel’s First Family.
1) Fantastic Four (by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee)
The Holy Grail of Fantastic Four runs *had* to be on this list. There’s no way around it. Without the inhuman imaginative world building of Jack Kirby mixed with Stan Lee’s penchant for storytelling, the world of comics would be a different place.
Kirby and Lee made the FF a family instead of a team of stock superheroes. When they're not off saving the world, they’re dealing with relationships, bills, insecurities, etc. But when they’re off doing the hero thing… look out!
Sure, the dialogue gets corny and Kirby’s art technically isn't anatomically correct…That doesn't matter, though. These two creators were pushing boundaries by building worlds and telling big stories that are still relevant to this day.
(Even indie comics creators like Mike Mignola and Jeff Lemire take inspiration Kirby’s ideas in their books.)
If you can find the collected editions, I totally recommend you read Kirby and Lee’s run from start to finish. Seeing the evolution of their collaboration is really interesting. FF #31-60 specifically contains a nonstop period of pure imagination and groundbreaking ideas on paper. The first 30 issues are the foundation for the future of Marvel… but #31-60 are a gift to comics history. You’ll get the origin of Doctor Doom, Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s wedding, the first appearance of Black Panther, the Inhumans, the Galactus saga and a lot more.
Couldn’t recommend this run enough.
2) Fantastic Four (by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo)
What makes this run special is how Waid and Wieringo focus on the Fantastic Four as a family of explorers, not just superheroes. Emphasis on explorers. Double emphasis on family. Except… if you’re in the Richards family, your road-trips usually take you to other universes instead of Disney World.
Waid and Wieringo’s FF is a series by two creators in their prime. During this run, Doctor Doom got sent to Hell, The Thing died, the FF met God (the reveal is pretty great), Galactus became human for a day and the Human Torch became the CEO of the Fantastic Four. If you’re looking for a book with a lot of heart, big ideas and spectacular versatile art, Waid and Wieringo’s run is something you could look into. The whole thing is collected in an omnibus and trades.
Also—Wieringo draws the best Ben Grimm/The Thing since Kirby. The man was a true talent.
3) 1234 (by Grant Morrison and Jae Lee)
This dynamite creative team should say all you need to know. Morrison (with one of his rare Marvel works) and Lee tell a gruesome horror/adventure story of the FF being ripped apart only to get back together again. It’s dark, it’s weird, mature and… kind of sexy at times? (cough cough Namor)
Dr. Doom finds a way to divide and conquer the four in brutal and humiliating ways. It’s kind of the FF’s worst nightmare scenario. In the end, Doom's ego gets the best of him and the FF find a way to take him down. It’s a very smart and compact story told in four mind-bending issues.
Even when Morrison and Lee take the team in an offbeat direction, they still find a way to honor Jack and Stan’s original work.
4) Fantastic Four (by Hickman and various artists)
I feel like this one being on here was pretty obvious.
Before he re-engineered the entire world of X-Men, Hickman told some of the most intricate stories in superhero comics with the Fantastic Four. It’s crazy to think that he was telling one long story from Fantastic Four to Avengers and Secret Wars. (I really wanted to throw a “sow seeds for the future of Marvel…not the Krakoa kind” quip in there but I didn’t find it appropriate. Anyyyyway. Moving on.)
Honestly, my 10 second elevator pitch is that Hickman’s Fantastic Four is amazing, incredible, uncanny, fantastic. Really, it’s mind-blowing. Hickman sows the seeds (not the Krakoa kind—yeah, couldn’t help myself) of big ideas in the Marvel universe in this series. Underneath those ideas, it’s a beautiful and badass story.
Marvel’s First Family grows even larger with the Future Foundation, made up of young geniuses and Dr. Doom (not a typo), in the hopes of saving the world for future generations. Sue Storm becomes the ambassador to Atlantis. The Council of Reeds makes its debut. Reed’s time-traveling father joins the team. Franklin and Valeria Richards meet their future selves. Galactus becomes the herald of adult Franklin Richards. Johnny Storm dies and comes back as the king of the Negative Zone. Spider-Man joins the team. Dr. Doom becomes a god (again)…
There’s just so much to talk about. Giving you the quick version couldn’t do Hickman’s run justice. It’s a book that I’ve read and re-read for years. While it seems daunting at first, I really recommend it. Hickman's Fantastic Four is all about being part of something bigger, being part of a group where people have your back. It’s smart, heartwarming, full of risks and it’ll make you think. With Hickman, you’ll be in good hands.
Long Live the Four
Scioli, being a Kirby junkie, is the right man for the Grand Design job. I know it in my gut (and the art I’ve seen proves it). What I love about these Grand Design books is how they are celebrations of epic stories, characters and world-building. It’s exciting to be able to go back and relive X-Men and Fantastic Four through the eyes of passionate and talented creators. It’s proof that these stories are immortal but ever-changing.
Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1 comes out Oct. 30.
Fantastic Four by John Byrne —A worthy successor to Jack and Stan’s run. Plus it’s Byrne… can’t go wrong with him. This run has a lot of character development, She Hulk joins the team, there’s a major Galactus story and more. Highly recommend Byrne FF run. Wait, no… just read anything with Byrne’s name on it.
FF by Matt Fraction and Michael/Laura Allred— This is the perfect creative team for such a fun and short-lived series. Medusa, Ant-Man, She Hulk and Lady Thing are in charge of the Future Foundation kids. Hijinks and heartwarming storytelling ensure. Fraction and the Allreds made a book that’s loyal to the source material without even using the original four.