Fantastic Four Anniversary Tribute #1 Review: A Meaningfully Muddled Tribute

The Fantastic Four are considered the First Family of Marvel, and for good reason; much of what we know and love about comic books wouldn't exist today without them. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby changed an entire industry with the debut of the Fantastic Four 60 years ago. To celebrate the anniversary, Marvel Comics assembled some of today's best and most notable artists to recreate Fantastic Four #1 and the beloved wedding of Reed and Sue from Fantastic Four Annual #3. It's a nice gesture, but the final product yields mixed results.

None of the art in the tribute is bad by any stretch, let's get that out of the way immediately. Then again, no one in their right mind would call Kirby's art bad, either. This quest of reimagining is about repurposing an existing product for new customers, making it more accessible while also giving some artists a chance to add their stamp onto the FF legacy. The whole thing reminds me a lot of Disney's mad dash to remake the old animated classics, though the absence of a billion dollars from the box office makes this comic feel a lot less heartless. It would feel a lot worse if this became an ongoing thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case. 

All of these artists truly care about not just the FF, but Kirby's original work. They clearly see this opportunity as more of a tribute than a remake. Unfortunately, only a few of the artists present—talented as they may be—are willing to think so far outside of the box as Kirby once did. Most of these pages simply feel like modern takes on '60s comic art. Every once in a while, though, a page will take a major left turn and deliver something totally different, matching nothing else in the entire book. It's on those pages where you really feel the spirit of Jack Kirby alive and thriving.

The majority of the really great and memorable pages in the tribute come from the back half of Fantastic Four #1, in which the team takes on the Mole Man. Luciano Vacchio, Simon Di Meo, Nic Klein, and Matthew Wilson are responsible for the best pages of the entire project, taking some big risks with their ideas on what the FF could look like. Stefano Caselli and Dono Sanchez-Almara also do a beautiful job of capturing Ben Grimm's transition into the Thing, which remains a cornerstone of even the most modern takes on the First Family.

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(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

The strangest part of this entire venture is that it only aims to replace one half of the creative team that brought the Fantastic Four to life. No matter whose art is on the page, these are still Stan Lee's words we're reading. He's a visionary, everyone can agree on that, but it's not a stretch to say that his writing has aged more poorly than Kirby's art. There's nothing problematic on these pages or anything like that, but it's still a way of speaking that has vanished over the years, and quite a few pages feel filled with far too many words. I'm really not sure there's another way to do this kind of tribute if you decide to also rewrite the words. It would just become yet another retelling of the story that strips every bit of what Kirby and Lee did. But after years of Kirby being the afterthought to Lee's superstardom, a tribute with only Kirby's work removed leaves a bit of an aftertaste in your mouth.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of artists that will never lose sight of Kirby's contributions and influence, and they make sure to celebrate him with their work in this tribute. This entire Fantastic Four venture isn't what I'd consider necessary, but it's perfectly harmless. If it opens any younger readers up to checking out more of Lee and Kirby's classic works we might even be able to count it as a win.

Published by Marvel Comics

On November 17, 2021

Original Story by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Art by Various

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Cover by Steve McNiven