Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

23 January 2010

Fantastic Four, v. 3 (hardcover)

Collects: Fantastic Four #514-24 (2004-5)

Released: November 2005 (Marvel)

Format: 256 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785120117

What is this?: A pair of trade paperbacks — Disassembled and Rising Storm — showing the FF fighting villains and bad PR thrown together in one hardback.

The culprits: Writer Mark Waid and pencilers Mike Wieringo and Paco Medina

I swear I read Fantastic Four, v. 3 (hardcover), but looking through the book days later, not much is jogging the ol’ memory.

Something about Fantastic Four since John Byrne’s run makes all the major plot developments slide through the skull without making contact with more than a couple of synapses. Oh, there are plot developments that grab the attention briefly, but then they fade from the memory until they kill Sue again and you realize you haven’t thought much about what’s happening with Fantastic Four lately. (Or until Reed has an extended run as Mr. Fan-Fascist or the creative team brings back an extra kid or whatever shiny object grabs someone in editorial’s attention.) Other Marvel teams can have drastic roster changes, and the status quo can change for years at a time on titles like X-Men and Avengers. But the Fantastic Four are a family — a static, unchangeable family that won’t let anyone escape.

Fantastic Four, v. 3 cover -- minus the words Fantastic FourSo that’s what writer Mark Waid is up against here. Poor Waid, I would think; but that’s sort of his strong point. He’s steady. Give him a superhero setup, and he’ll give you a half dozen stories on it. Sometimes they’ll be great, like his Captain America and Flash runs. He’ll rarely have a dud run. The worst that will happen is that he’ll play with the company’s toys in a largely humdrum way, then put them back where he found them. And frankly, comics will always need a lot of those guys, even though they’re not in fashion now.

Waid plays with the standard tropes of the Fantastic Four in a couple of ways. In the first arc, “Dysfunctional” (#514-6), the team fights the Wizard and his new — new, I say! — Frightful Four. New lineups haven’t worked for the Wizard in the past, and they won’t work in the future. It’s not really a spoiler to say they don’t work here, especially since the Frightful Four meets their downfall the way they often do: betrayed by a woman. Wizard does the evil mastermind thing and throws away a loyal minion for no reason. A girl Johnny is interested in has surprise powers (like Frankie Raye!). It all feels done before, which isn’t surprising. Waid and co-writer for the arc Karl Kesel’s big, most original idea seems to be to position the Frightful Four as a kind of family, a dark reflection of the Fantastic Four, but that just feels forced, with family dynamics worse than the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

In “Fourtitude” (#517-9) and “Rising Storm” (#520-4), however, it gets better. Aliens show up to kill Sue, Johnny and Sue switch powers, and then Galactus shows up to use Johnny as a herald. A very crappy herald, but that’s not anyone’s fault. It’s actually kinda amusing, with general dimbulb Johnny trying to get a handle of Galactus, cosmic powers, and trying not to commit genocide. Waid even gets to work in Quasar, which is nice — it’s always pleasing to see a minor character used in an appropriate role, giving the Marvel Universe some coherency. It even leads to some interesting characterization for Sue and Johnny, although it’s the kind that can easily never be referenced again.

The pencils come from Paco Medina (“Dysfunctional”) and the late Mike Wieringo (“Rising Storm” and “Fourtitude”). I like Weiringo’s art; he certainly could draw some mean monsters and aliens, and his Galactus is sufficiently imposing, if conventional. His depictions of the alien incursion during “Rising Storm” is underwhelming, however; it looks more like someone built tall, fancy pilings than an alien ship wreaking havoc. I never really adjusted to Medina’s pencils, though; his faces and females seemed a little … geometrically off. The inking is strangely heavy at points in his last issue as well, giving it the look of bad reproductions in a few panels.

Still, there’s too much of a feeling of … inconsequentiality. These are relatively interesting stories — well, “Rising Storm” and “Fourtitude,” at least — but when the day is done, the toys are neatly back in their box, and the day’s fun is forgotten.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol (3 of 5)

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