Fantastic Four Unlimited #1
Issue(s): Fantastic Four Unlimited #1
It's difficult to see a justification for Fantastic Four Unlimited beyond Marvel general strategy of flooding the market. The other Unlimited books launched in 1993 are X-Men, Spider-Man, and Midnight Sons. I'd say that there were already too many Spider-Man books, but by looking at the sales numbers, there was arguably an appetite for more (if you count Midnight Sons as Ghost Rider). Fantastic Four sticks out as the title that didn't fit. Sales on FF weren't terrible, but they weren't in the ballpark of the other three, and there were certainly other books that could have sustained another series better. As it is, the FF and Midnight Sons books only last until 1995 while Spider-Man continues to 1998 and X-Men until 2003.
It's also worth looking at the creative team chosen for this book. If the idea was to try to get a different take on the FF, maybe expose them to an audience that was passing on their regular book but might try the new series, Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe weren't exactly fresh new faces. On the other hand, if you were looking for something even more nostalgic and "classic" than what Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan were already doing on the main title, you're going to be disappointed, because Trimpe is still doing the bad Rob Liefeld impression that we saw on his Guardians of the Galaxy issues and last year's annuals.
I don't know why Trimpe was drawing in this style. There have been accounts saying that he was told to by his editors, or that he felt that he had to in order to be competitive, or maybe he just wanted to. But it's worth noting that not every artist was trying to keep up with the Image crowd - Sal Buscema and Alex Saviuk and Paul Ryan and Ron Frenz all come to mind as artists working in a more classic style with success. But whatever the reason, it's what he's doing and it's awful.
Meanwhile, Roy Thomas is doing his usual over-written dialogue, like having the Thing interrupt his own thought bubble to ask us to "pardon the expression" after referring to the Invisible Woman's force field.
And he has Mr. Fantastic describe catching the Invisible Woman as "easy as Pi".
So it's the worst of all worlds.
The story is a generic Black Panther vs. Klaw rehash...
...with the Panther backed up by his "Panther Posse" (better than Kirby's "Black Musketeers", i guess).
At the end, Klaw is captured, but Mr. Fantastic says that he's "like an unholy echo, forever resounding". Klaw is going to be extradited for trial at the United Nations.
A back-up story with art by Dave Hoover and Charles Barnett takes place after the FF leave Wakanda. It shows the Black Panther discovering a book left to him by his grandfather, Chanda. The book reveals that Klaw's father is Colonel Fritz Klaue, a Nazi and occasional antagonist for Sgt. Fury and the Howlers. Klaue crashlanded in Wakanda, and is actually responsible for naming Vibranium.
He also built the first statue of the Panther God.
But Chanda didn't like Klaue's plans for his people, and he rebelled. We see him eating the heart shaped herbs for the first time...
...and killing a panther and wearing its skin.
Chanda drove Klaue away, and Klaue remained too busy with World War II to return, and he later Anglicized his name to Klaw.
Tying in Klaue with Klaw is the sort of thing that Roy Thomas does best. Saying that the Black Panther legacy only goes back two generations seemed a bit more iffy to me (and as Michael confirms in the comments, it seems to be in contradiction with information from Jack Kirby's Black Panther #1-7 and some other issues). Even if this information wasn't (seemingly?) incorrect, it's the sort of thing that ought to be left for an actual Black Panther series instead of sticking it in a back-up of a quarterly book.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: As discussed in the entry for Fantastic Four #371-375, the placement for this issue is just about impossible. The Invisible Woman is wearing (Trimpe's version of) her new costume, while the Thing's face appears to be unscarred, and yet both of those changes happened in the same storyline with no possibility for breaks. The way i see it, there are four possible solutions:
1. This takes pace before FF #371, and Sue's costume is an art error.
I don't like any of these options, but i especially don't like writing off such major discrepancies as art errors. So i'm going with option #4. As noted in the FF #371-375 considerations, that does require inserting a gap between FF #375-376 that probably wasn't intended.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Trimpe has been quoted as saying that the new style was his idea and that he was quite proud of the work. Granted he may just be taking the high road but it is worth noting that the fans and the artists often disagree about artwork.
Posted by: Mizark | September 7, 2016 8:12 PM
The backup story with Klaue is completely inconsistent with continuity. Black Panther 1-7 established that the Black Panthers have been around for centuries, that the first Black Panther was Bashenga and T'Challa's paternal grandfather was Azarri the Wise. And Cap's shield is part vibranium and he was using it in Sgt. Fury 13- if vibranium wasn't named until after Sgt. Fury 39, then what were they calling it all that time?
Posted by: Michael | September 7, 2016 8:57 PM
Incidentally, was this the first "Unlimited" series that came out?
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 7, 2016 9:17 PM
Fantastic Four Unlimited is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. Yes, Herb Trimpe's artwork features some *really* screwy anatomy. But at the same time I found his layouts & storytelling on FFU to be interesting & inventive. I also enjoyed Roy Thomas' writing on the series. It wasn't the best of his career, but it was fun. I ended up getting the first issue autographed by Trimpe a few years ago.
As far as the Back Panther back-up in this issue goes, to the best of my knowledge it has been completely ignored by all subsequent writers who have worked on the character. Either they weren't aware of it (certainly a possibility) or they chose to disregard it because it did not fit with previously-established continuity. Having said that, there have admittedly been a few different retcons to Wakanda's history over the years.
Regarding fnord's placement of this issue, yep, it was pretty well impossible to neatly fit FFU within the events of the monthly FF title. That always leaped out at me back when these books were coming out. DeFalco and Thomas really weren't coordinating well, or maybe editor Mike Rockwitz wasn't keeping as close an eye on things as he could have been.
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 7, 2016 9:51 PM
@Jon- yes, this was the first "Unlimited" series.
Posted by: Michael | September 7, 2016 10:01 PM
Oh, yes, here are a couple of items gleamed from Jim Amash's interview of Roy Thomas in Alter Ego #136.
Thomas scripted the main story in FFU #1, but it was actually plotted by Howard Mackie...
"Mike Rockwitz asked me to write the dialogue for the lead story in the first issue after it had already been drawn. I didn't know Howard Mackie, who plotted it, but he and Mike must've had some disagreement. Mike just said Howard had left the book and didn't want his name on the story."
Thomas and Amash then talk a bit about how Trimpe had altered his art style to look like Liefeld. Amash relates a discussion he had with Rockwitz at the time, after Rockwitz had shown him some of Trimpe's current artwork...
"I asked what happened [to Trimpe's art]. And Mike was quite proud of this. He said 'Well, I talked with Herb and I told him that if he wanted to stay in the business he needed to make his work look more contemporary. Since Image is hot he should look like that.' And Herb started doing his Liefeld-clone work, and Mike was real happy about that, I think. Not just because he got Herb to do what he wanted, but I think he was happy to have Herb working at the company. Especially after Herb's long career, which was close to 30 years at that point."
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 7, 2016 10:07 PM
The Unlimiteds were certainly oddballs. Infrequent, expensive books that seemed to make a point of being neither appealling nor readable. Verfy 1990s.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 7, 2016 11:58 PM
This issue also features a bizarre screw-up on the part of the colourist. Klaw's troops were wearing solid-sound armour, that gets destroyed by contact with Vibranium--which should have left the invaders in their underwear. The dialogue specifically refers to "nearly-naked intruders".
But the colourist ends up colouring the de-armoured troops green from the neck down, effectively putting them all in full-body tights...in direct contradiction to the script and the dialogue.
Posted by: Dermie | September 8, 2016 12:05 AM
Is there anything specifically in the script that says Chanda is the very first Black Panther? I mean I get that it's implied, but there doesn't seem to be anything preventing previous/other Black Panthers to have existed. I guess the problem is that Chanda is more likely to be his maternal grandfather than paternal and that would screw up the lineage.
Posted by: Mark Black | September 8, 2016 12:29 AM
The other issue is that Avengers 87 suggests T'Chaka built the Panther idol.
Posted by: Michael | September 8, 2016 8:01 AM
Oh, Herb - why, why, why?
I don't believe for a second he preferred to draw this way. The guy wrote expensively about how hard it was for Marvel's classic artists to get work around this time and this bastardization of his style was probably the only way he could get a paycheck at the time.
I remember flipping through his pile of original art at his con booth once and he had a ton of these and they were marked down drastically from the other stuff in the stack. I almost asked him about it, but decided against it.
Posted by: Bob | September 15, 2016 10:44 PM
I was never a fan of any of his art but I will not knock an old guy for trying to reinvent himself. I agree that his old art was better but the pressure to conform at that time was massive. The Image crew were everything.
Posted by: Grom | September 16, 2016 12:42 AM
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