Most TPBs are stripped down to the story and that's great if that's what you're after. This Fantastic Four issues #1 through #6 is no frills, all story except for a couple of things, a prologue and an epilogue. Leave it to Stan Lee to add these gems that are most often overlooked. Seriously, who reads the prologue to a comic book? Just get to the good stuff! Oh and Mr. Lee also had a nice cartoony picture of himself added to the back cover. Would you like some eggs with that ham?
Here's part of the prologue Stan Lee wrote for this Fantastic Four TPB published in 1977. “They were the first! There had never been a team of superheroes like the FANTASTIC FOUR! They broke all the rules, shattered all the previous notions of how the “good guys” are supposed to behave when fighting the “bad guys”, and- most important of all-they ushered us into the era of the “realistic fantasy” tale!”
What do you think? Did the Fantastic Four break all of the rules? When it comes to comic book characters should there even be rules to break? One thing that has remained endearing about this team is that they're a family and they fight like one. They were family/friends before they gained their super powers and they were together when they became superheroes. They discovered their powers together and if you think about it, it's really kind of a sweet story. Are comics supposed to be sweet?
Of course Stan breaks it down and explains what he means. “What were the rules they broke? Well, first of all, who ever heard of a superhero team where the members would frequently fight amongst themselves? Who ever heard of costumed do-gooders who didn't have secret identities, who had to worry about meeting the rent payments for their skyscraper headquarters, and who encountered almost as many defeats as victories in their offbeat careers?” He then goes on to attribute the Fantastic Four to being the first comic book series, in that the story continued from one issue to the next.
Here he names some of the great things about the Fantastic Four. They didn't have secret identities, which is nice. Isn't it hard enough trying to save the earth from evil villains? Who has time for a double life? When Ben Grimm turned into the Thing it made it kind of difficult to maintain that type of superhero. Superman may be able to put on a pair of glasses and fool Lois Lane but no amount of glasses, hat and trench coat could cover up Ben's not so secret identity. The fighting amongst themselves makes them more relatable. Who doesn't fight with their siblings? Who doesn't want to punch their co-worker in the face every once in awhile? As for the making rent issue, it's fairly clear that Fantastic Four wasn't strictly written for kids.
Stan Lee has much more to say about the Fantastic Four and what makes them so fantastic, but he pauses on Ben Grimm for a minute. “The ever-lovin' Thing is bad-tempered, ill-mannered, crude and not the most attractive guy you're apt to meet.” Yet he's the most popular member of the Four. Why is that? Let's look at similar characters like Rocket Raccoon and Deadpool. We LOVE them! What is it that makes us love these types of characters? Most likely it's their honesty. They say the things we wish we could say.
This TPB lists a “gallery of the Fantastic Four's Mightiest foes.” It's the villains they come up against in these first stories, so obviously they're the mightiest foes up to that point. Are they still the mightiest foes? Here's the list; “the merciless Mole Man, the Skrulls from outer space, the menace of the Miracle Man, the bizarre Sub-Mariner, the vengeance of Doctor Doom, and the Deadly Duo”. The Deadly Duo is actually labelled as the Diabolical Duo on the cover, either way it's the team up of Doctor Doom and Sub-Mariner. By today's standards are these foes still the worst of the worst? It's hard to top a villain like Doctor Doom.
Trade paperbacks may be stripped down to the essentials but they're still great. It's like DVR'ing your favourite show so you can skip the commercials. As for the added gems, the prologue and epilogue, in this particular book we could us a little more of that.