Before The Fantastic Four
Before The Fantastic Four
Writers: Lama Hama (Ben Grimm and Logan), Peter David (Reed Richards) and Terry Kavanagh (The Storms)
Pencillers: Kaare Andrews (Ben Grimm and Logan), Duncan Fegredo (Reed Richards) and Charlie Adlard (The Storms)
Before The Fantastic Four was a series of three, three-issue mini series that were published with cover dates of July 2000 - February 2001. Depicting adventures of the group before they became the Fantastic Four, it does arguably detract in that it means The Fantastic Four is no longer the story of four relatively ordinary people involved in a freak accident, but a group of people who had already battled zombies and experienced mystical amulets.
Quite why the three titles were mooted now seems strange in an age where the main title can be cancelled for three years, but back in 2000 The Fantastic Four was on a respectable high. Written by Chris Claremont, the issues sent to the comic market while this series was out averaged 54,304 copies, and, if the book was no longer a bestseller, it was still averaging just over 16th place in the comics list each month.
Sadly, the same success didn't carry over to this series, with all three titles losing sales each issue, and the final figures averaging out at 32,968 for Ben Grimm (average 59th best-selling comic), 22,584 for Reed Richards (101) and just 16,547 for The Storms (131).
Ben Grimm and Logan would naturally be the best-selling of the series, and not, sadly, because Ben was in it. Logan (aka Wolverine) essentially took the "wild card" mantle away from Ben, and made him the softer "teddy bear" character he often is today. Despite the character of Ben Grimm being created thirteen years before Wolverine, Wolverine's been in almost exactly TWICE as many comics, over 13,000 to date compared to Ben's less than 7000. The Ben presented in these issues has a less engaging presence than usual, being more of a bullying jock than the sensitive guy we know.
Somewhat better, if more misguided, is The Storms. Drawn by Charlie Adlard (Eisner-nominated artist of The Walking Dead) and written by Terry Kavanagh (X-Man, Namor, Marvel Presents), it can be quite scary in parts, as an ancient amulet is sought after by Dracula and a series of zombies that are reminiscent of Hellraiser's Cenobites.
With multiple nods towards their future selves ("By turning invisible, sis. You might want to try it sometime.") and an encounter with an earlier version of Ghost Rider, it's something that muddles continuity and retcons the original Sue as a sassy fighter while Johnny is something of a sleaze. While both characterisations fit with the era the book was released in, it jars with their characters as originally presented in the 1960s.
The best of the titles was Reed Richards, written by Peter David and pencilled by Duncan Fegredo. Set against the backdrop of ancient Egypt with mystical amulets, it involves Reed and former girlfriend Alyssa Moy (introduced in the main title in 1998, and killed off in 2010) meeting Victor Von Doom before he becomes the full Doctor. The "shifting timeline" of the title is in evidence, as a pre-FF Doom is chided by one character that his dialogue is a bit too "Hammer films"... the first Hammer Horror movie was in 1957, some way after the original timeline when Reed and Doom were at college together. The meta elements of the title can work for and against it... Franklin telling Reed, accurately, that his entire flashback story sounds like Indiana Jones is fine, as is a Sherlock Holmes gag, but a Doctor Who reference stretches things too much. (No pun intended).
Ultimately, this is a case of "don't blame the water for being wet". A lot of people, myself included, may not see the point of these comics. But if pre-FF adventures is your thing, then "Before The Fantastic Four" is... okay.