The Secret Story of Marvel's Cosmic Quartet

By | Thursday, December 12, 2019 2 comments
When I was first getting into comics, reprints were almost as hard to come by as original issues. I was, therefore, thrilled when I found our local library had a few then-recent Marvel reprint books, and TWO of the six of them focused on my favorite title: Fantastic Four.

The first book was the simply titled The Fantastic Four from Fireside Press in 1979. It reprinted issue #4, #48-50, and #86. The first and last stories were stand-alone tales with Sub-Mariner and Dr. Doom, the the middle three are of course the famed Galactus Trilogy. Issue #4 was the first issue where the team had costumes for the entire story, so that kind of makes sense and the others are generally considered some of the best Lee/Kirby FF stories in general, so those makes sense to include too.

The Fantastic Four: The Secret Story of Marvel's Cosmic Quartet
The other FF book our library had was The Fantastic Four: The Secret Story of Marvel's Cosmic Quartet. It was part of a line of four books from Ideals where each focused on a different hero; the others being Captain America, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. The FF book then reprints issues #1, #83, and #203. The first issue makes sense: it's the origin story of the team, after all. But the other two issues always struck me as odd choices. Issue #83 is the tail end of the Inhumans saga that had been running for several issues, and the Invisible Girl is largely absent, shown only in a quick aside while she's on maternity leave. So in addition to not featuring the core team, it also introduces readers to a huge cast and drops people into the middle of an entire society-wide class struggle on top of a political coup. Now, to be fair, Jack and Stan were pretty much at the top of their game here and it was originally written as a monthly issue, so everything a reader needs to follow along is there, but it never seemed to me like a good choice, relative to the hundreds of other stories that could've been chosen.

Reprinting #203 made a little more sense, in that it was at least a self-contained story. But, as much as I like Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard, this wasn't one of their better outings. There's relatively little characterization here, instead basically being a single battle that takes up most of the issue. Then it ends with something of a deus ex machina way of zapping the bad guys, and on the very last, we're introduced to the concept of mutants and Professor X is name-dropped. The last bit of dialogue does speak to the FF as a team of superheroes doing good because that's what heroes do, and kind of works... except the FF -- when they're written well -- aren't really superheroes. They don't fight bad guys in the same way Spider-Man or Captain America might. So the issue provides a decent amount of action, but it doesn't showcase the characters very well. I had originally thought this issue might've been included because it was the most recent, but it was actually two years old by the time the book was published.

At the time, I was still very grateful to have those issues to read, and that there wasn't any overlap between the two books. I know I specifically skipped over the reprinted issues in back issue bins for years while I was filling out my collection since I already had read them. But the Secret Story book always puzzled me as to why they selected the stories they did, #83 in particular. To this day, I can't think of how/why these were chosen out of everything that would've been available at the time.
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Matt K said...

Oh my god, I think I must have come across this in our elementary school library, it must have been more than 30 years ago. I remember years later encountering the issue #203 story on its own, and recognizing it from a random book I had once seen at the school library.

I half-suspect that Ideals line of books were marketed primarily to libraries. Most of the stories I've heard about people reading them were via a library and not as individual purchases.