Ironically enough, it was issue #4 when Stan Lee first emblazoned "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" across the front cover of "The Fantastic Four," and with the issues collected in "Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Volume 3" we are getting closer to the time when the hyperbole rang true. Here are issues #21-30 of "The Fantastic Four," when Stan "the Man" Lee was the writer, Jack "King" Kirby was the penciler, George Roussos and Chic Stone were doing the inking, and Art Simek and Sam Rosen took turns doing as letterer. Here is what you get with these ten stories:
#21 "The Hate-Monger" has the F.F. fighting each other until Nick Fury shows up for the first time in the "modern" Marvel time line and helps save the day (and you will never guess who the Hate-Monger really is). #22 "The Return of the Mole Man" brings back the first foe the F.F. ever faced as a team. #23 "The Master Plan of Doctor Doom" reminds us that a year cannot go bye without a visit from the bad doctor. #24 "The Infant Terrible" is one of those encounters with an alien baby who wrecks havoc. #25 is the first battle of the century of "The Hulk vs. The Thing." The fight is so big it is continued in #26 "The Avengers Take Over," where more superheroes assemble to help bring the Hulk to bay. #27 "The Search for Sub-Mariner" brings back Namor and also has a visit by Dr. Strange. The crossovers continue with #28 "We have to Fight the X-Men," because the Mad Thinker has the Puppet Master making them fight. #29 "It Started on Yancy Street" has Ben Grimm and his friends returning to the old neighborhood where they find a trap by the Red Ghost and his super apes. #30 finds "The Dreaded Diablo" released from a centuries old captivity to cause trouble with his chemical pellets.
There is nothing here that is a classic on the level of the Fantastic Four's encounters with Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and the Inhumans, but you do have the Thing and the Hulk going toe-to-toe for the first time (it ends up a draw, but keep in mind it ends up being the Hulk versus the F.F. and Avengers put together). The Dr. Doom issue is okay, but the fight with the X-Men is the best of the bunch. Part of the problem with this particular set of ten issues not quite making it to the 5 star level is that this stories are so crossover happy. It is hard for the F.F. to be fighting with each other when other Marvel superheroes are showing up and getting in the way. The two comedy efforts, with the infant terrible and the visit to Yancy Street, also keep this one from earning a higher ranking. Unlike the "Essential Fantastic Four" volumes, where you get twice as many stories for half the price, these "Marvel Masterworks" volumes are reprinted in color (which they are getting a better handle on with each of these efforts). The next two "Marvel Masterworks" volumes are going to be the ones with the greatest F.F. stories that would justify the additional expenditure to have in color.