#75 - Fantastic Four Visionaries - John Byrne

A master writer revitalizes a classic series.


After a childhood filled with reading any comic he could get his hands on, in 1970 John Byrne found himself enrolled at the Alberta College of Art and Design, and this was the start of one of the most successful comic book artist and plotter careers ever. Over his forty year career John Byrne has worked on every single superhero going, including successful runs on X-Men, Hellboy and Superman. In 1981 he directed his attention toward Fantastic Four, and his five year run on the comic turned it into one of the best graphic novels written.

Like so many in the top 100 list, you perhaps know the characters of the Fantastic Four from their big screen representations. There's Mister Fantastic (not his birth name) who can stretch his body better than Stretch Armstrong, Invisible Girl (my high school girlfriend), The Human Torch and the tragic The Thing. After a mishap when testing a new rocket ship in space, the four are bombarded by cosmic rays, and they are transformed into the Fantastic Four.

One reason the Fantastic Four is so great is that it dares to be different. Most of the time, guys and girls who get super powers feel like they have to hide them. Maybe they've seen ET and think the government will cut open anything they want to study, or maybe they're just paranoid. Either way, they hide their gifts and their hero status. Superman masquerades as Clark Kent, and Batman spends office hours as billionaire Bruce Wayne. Fantastic Four didn't go this way; instead, the heroes decided to out themselves as heroes, and enjoy the status it brings (the Human Torch makes very good use of this). As a consequence though, they become a target for any super villain with hate in his mind and time on his hands.

The Byrne run on Fantastic Four was a botox injection on a comic that had started to sag. He took over the series with a plan of how to revitalise it, and although he had his doubters, he pulled it off. Over five years, he made Fantastic Four great again, and in doing so he gained the graphic novel a new army of fans. Start reading it at volume one, and don't stop until you have read all five years worth.

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