Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Words & Pictures: John Byrne | Inks: Bjorn Heyn*
Letters: Jim Novak | Colors: Glynis Wein
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: The evil alchemist, Diablo, sends four elementals to take out the Fantastic Four separately. The Invisible Girl (Sue Richards), the Thing (Ben Grimm), and the Human Torch (Johnny Storm) are defeated, but Reed Richards, Mister Fantastic, escapes his assailant and rescues the Torch, who flies off in pursuit of the fire elemental which had attacked Reed. Reed is then plagued by the air elemental which had gone at the Torch, but he makes it to Sue and Ben and together the trio defeats the air, earth, and water elementals. Above Manhattan, Johnny takes out the fire elemental as well.

Reed realizes the elementals were Diablo’s work and enlists Doctor Strange, master of the mystic arts, to help track the villain down. The FF arrest Diablo and depart, leaving Strange to watch their exit.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: At the issue’s start, Sue is at a salon getting a new hairdo. She reveals two new uses for her powers, as well: keeping her uniform invisible under her street clothes and traveling on her invisible force fields, which she compares with Iceman’s ice slides in X-MEN.

Johnny meets with his ex-girlfriend, Frankie Raye, who for unknown reasons is afraid of fire. The purpose of their meeting is unclear, though Johnny states that he almost quit the FF for Frankie.

Ben is with his girlfriend, Alicia Masters, when he's attacked. When Reed posits that Diablo is behind the attacks, Ben says it's not possible because he saw Diablo die, though no issue is cited.

A footnote on the final page tells readers to catch Doctor Strange’s adventures in his own bi-monthly magazine.

Is It Clobberin' Time? It is, as Ben assaults the earth elemental.

My Thoughts: John Byrne doesn't try to start too big, which is probably for the best. We have a small story with a relatively obscure villain to lead things off, and it's all very straightforward: FF members fight elementals, don't fare so well, then trade opponents and win. The entire issue is basically a series of fight scenes, and our heroes don't even battle Diablo directly; simply swooping down in their Fantasticar on the final page and arresting him in what almost feels like an afterthought of an epilogue.

But what Byrne does very well here is set things up. This is around the time Jim Shooter was really hammering the “every issue is someone’s first” philosophy, and it appears Byrne took that mantra to heart. Though since this issue also happens to be Byrne’s first as well, I think he perhaps hits it a little harder than normal, which comes in handy for anyone who might come to the Byrne run fresh more than thirty years later. We get clear introductions of all the characters, good descriptions and visuals for their powers, and we even see their special stunts such as Sue’s force field and the Torch’s nova flame.

Other things I like in this one: Byrne plays up the FF’s celebrity, which is something I feel a lot of writers used to miss. When Sue goes to the salon, it's a big deal. She even makes a comment about appearing in the National Enquirer (though it's in reference to her uniform, and what might have happened if she'd shed her clothes without the FF costume underneath them). Ben sees a play with Alicia incognito to avoid his fans. And so on.

Not much else to say about it, though. Byrne starts with a straightforward action story, no real sub-plots or cliffhangers to be found other than the Frankie Raye bit. But it's a solid beginning to what will wind up as a sixty-plus issue stint.

* As I understand it, Byrne used a pseudonym (an anagram of his real name) for the inking credit this issue to appease Jim Shooter, who didn't want him inking himself -- even though he let Byrne do so here... or something. It's kind of odd.


  1. I don't know if it was how "official" at this point that the powers of FF correspond to the classical four elements, but at least now it really gets hammered in.

    Absolutely hilarious how Diablo's diabolic opening monologue gets interrupted by her extremely mundane land lady and we learn he's not in his sanctum sanctorum in some medieval Southern European castle after all.

    1. The bit with the landlady was pretty funny. It didn't really fit in with my write-up, but I appreciated it.

  2. Byrne will have Sue go through a bunch of hairstyles throughout the series.
    Frankie Raye would be Johnny's third major girlfriend, after Dorrie Evans became a housewife and Crystal married Pietro.
    It would be revealed that Doctor Strange, worried that Diablo was too dangerous a threat for the FF, magically spirited the villain away from the Fantasticar, transported and changed him- memory and appearance- into a custodian who ends up at Stark Enterprises. He spots some chemicals, subconsciously shows his skill, and after a talk with a psychiatrist to trigger his lost memory...well. He causes trouble for Iron Man (among them re-animating all his armors, including the 'nose' armor), until he defeats him and sends him back to the FF (in a Paul Smith-penned IRON MAN#159).

    1. I like most of the hairstyles Byrne gives Sue, except for that hideous mullet which somehow unfortunately appears to last the longest, based on a quick cover perusal. I think my favorite is just the plain long wavy hair she has circa the fight with Tyros around issue 260.

      I knew Diablo turned up during the Denny O'Neil IRON MAN run (issue 159 is in the EPIC COLLECTION volume reprinting the first chunk of his issues), but I was unaware of the circumstances. I wonder what the FF thought about Strange stealing Diablo right after he helped capture the guy?

      I know Diablo pops up in early ALPHA FLIGHT issues too; I wonder if he has any other appearances in between.

  3. Interesting that Byrne worked a Dr. Strange appearance into his first issue; I never gathered he had any strong opinions on the character, and it's not like the plot called out for a Strange appearance (then again, the pluggish footnote at the end suggests editorial may have shoe-horned in the appearance).

    Johnny seems to be suffering a bit from Jack Kirby-itis in those scenes with Frankie; he's never struck me as the kind of guy who would casually wear a suit coat just out and about.

    1. Part of it may be due to editorial direction, though it does seem odd to plug Strange in Byrne's first issue. Byrne does love his Ditko, though, so maybe he just wanted to draw him.

      But Byrne never shies away from guest stars in the early parts of his run. The Avengers are practically recurring characters for the next couple dozen issues.

      "Johnny seems to be suffering a bit from Jack Kirby-itis in those scenes with Frankie; he's never struck me as the kind of guy who would casually wear a suit coat just out and about."

      I don't know... Johnny's always a pretty stylish guy. Hard to say. Either way, I love that you can see the top of his FF uniform beneath his shirt when he first arrives. Byrne does that a lot with him throughout this run.

    2. Well, I'd agree that Johnny is stylish. I would just argue that what he's wearing here is less stylish and more fuddy-duddy.

      But maybe that's time/cultural bias showing, and that was indeed stylish for the time.

    3. Yeah, that's true. I don't know what hip youngsters were wearing around Manhattan in 1981. I'd assume leisure suits were still in fashion, which could be what Byrne was going for here, though it doesn't really come through. This just looks like your typical blazer/slacks combo.