With the Marvel Masterworks series getting serious about reprinting issues of "The Fantastic Four," which is "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" (by its own admission), the time has finally come to make an argument at what point in the run this was, for a time, most definitely true. "Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four, Volume 4" includes issues #31-40 (plus Annual #2) and I want to place in nomination issue #39, "A Blind Man Shall Lead Them" as the point where the F.F. entered 5 star territory for what would be pretty much the next two years of the comic.
Up to that point things are pretty much run of the mill: #31 "The Mad Menace ofthe Macabre Mole Man" brings pack the group's first villain and throws in the Avengers along with Sue and Johnny's father; #32 "Death of a Hero" has the Skrulls turning Dr. Franklin Storm into a living booby trap; #33 "Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner" has the F.F. helping Namor against the armies of Attuma; #34 "A House Divided" has the mysterious and very rich Mr. Gideon getting the F.F. to fight each other; #34 "Calamity on the Campus" introduces the Dragon Man, who is brought to life by Diablo on the campus of E.S.U. (where Charles Xavier's students and Peter Parker are also visiting); #36 "The Frightful Four" introduces the evil quartet of the Wizard, the Sandman, Medusa and Paste-Pot Pete (sorry, I never could buy that last one); #37 "Behold! A Distant Star" has a minor adventure as Reed and Sue try to get ready for their wedding rehersal; #38 "Defeated by the Frightful Four" actually comes true, as Paste-Pot Pete changes his name to the Trapster. The defeat is pretty significant because while Sue's force field shields the group from the blast of the Q-bomb, they all lose their powers.
The cover of "Fantastic Four" #39 shows Daredevil leading the F.F. down the street; the odd thing is that behind the Thing is Ben Grimm with a remote control device. Meanwhile, hovering over the city is Dr. Doctor. So, here we have our heroes at their weakest, facing their biggest threat. In "A Blind Man Shall Lead Them" Reed Richards comes up with ways of duplicating their powers, knowing that as soon as their enemies learn they are powerless they are going to be dead meat. Matt Murdock is summoned as their lawyer, but it is Daredevil who lends a hand. Then in #40 "The Battle of the Baxter Building" the F.F. attacks their own headquarters, which Dr. Doom has taken over. At the climax of the battle Reed uses a stimulator to force Ben to turn back into an enraged Thing, who, stripped of his humanity, breaks down Doom's force field and literally starts ripping his armor apart. It is one of the greatest scenes in the history of the F.F. and makes for a great payoff for this two-part story that made truly made this "The World's Greatest Comic Book."
Of course, the Thing quits the F.F. right after the fight and when Volume 5 comes out we will get to see the Frightful Four finally go down, meet Black Bolt and the Inhumans, and then get to the very pinnacle of the comic book with the arrival of Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer. All the while the art of Jack Kirby just continues to get better and better. Keep in mind that unlike "The Essential Fantastic Four" collections, which are reprinted in black & white, these "Marvel Masterworks" volumes reprint these eleven stories in color. Volume 4 grades out at a 4.5, but since only two of the ten stories are from this key period I will curve down. But there is no doubt that the next volume is a solid 5. Even the Watcher would agree.