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

31 January 2011

Fantastic Four: The Beginning of the End

Collects: Fantastic Four #525-6 and 551-3 (2005, 2008)

Released: April 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9780785125549

What is this?: Dr. Doom comes back from the future to tell Reed he’s screwed up the future; Diablo annoys the team with alchemy and dreams.

The culprits: Writers Dwayne McDuffie and Karl Kesel and artists Paul Pelletier and Tom Grummett

Fantastic Four: The Beginning of the End is a substantial improvement on Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four. Well, at least writer Dwayne McDuffie’s contribution to the TPB is.

Whereas New Fantastic Four is full of unneeded bombast and incessant events of cosmic import, McDuffie chooses a more quiet plot for the finale of his short run on Fantastic Four. Dr. Doom travels back in time to escape a Reed Richards-dominated future. Of course his objective is to avert that future, but are the things he’s saying about Reed true? Is he really a monster who loses sight of the human costs in his efforts to improve the world?

Fantastic Four: The Beginning of the End coverAt the time Beginning was written, that wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. After the nonsense of Civil War and the Superhuman Registration Act, Reed looked like a borderline Fascist (and we know how much regard Fascists generally have for borders) who believed he had all the answers. His arrogance had split the team, and The New Fantastic Four had only begun the healing. And of course, if a Doom from the future was looking for a time to prey upon the other members’ uncertainty, this was it. It’s a fantastic, intriguing idea for a story, and McDuffie exploits it to its fullest.

Unfortunately, there are a few flaws to the story. The story takes three issues for an argument with occasional punches, and it feels padded. The arrival of the Fantastic Four from the future, while a logical part of the story, puts the kibosh on the story before it has ended; when they arrive, you know all debate is truly finished. I also did not need more dickering about the nature of time travel. A recap would be fine, but I never need to hear that the generally held model of Marvel temporal mechanics is wrong or even more than mildly flawed.

None of these objections take away from my enjoyment of the story, though. That might have been influenced by my desire to believe Doom was correct and Reed was so incredibly wrong.

Writer Karl Kesel’s two-issue “Dream Fever” story from #525-6, which features Diablo as the villain, seems an odd fit here. It’s included, presumably, because they had extra room to fill at the end of McDuffie’s run and it had been collected nowhere else (it originally fit between Mark Waid’s three-year run, ending with #524, and J. Michael Straczynski’s year and a half, which lasted from #527 to Civil War). “It has to fit somewhere” and “We have extra space” makes sense if you’re collecting the issues, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It doesn’t fit with McDuffie’s work in tone or continuity; where “The Beginning of the End” is a story that can only take place after the events of Civil War, “Dream Fever” is set well before, with a cheerier team in a story that actually follows up on character development from the Waid run (which I suspect we’ll never hear about again).

“Dream Fever” is a fill-in story that never claims to be more than a fill-in story. It tries to get some mileage out of using dreams to reveal character elements that were rarely or never discussed, and to be fair, Kesel does have some success there. But using dreams in that manner is a frequent prop for real character development, and worse, saying that all the team’s dreams are nightmares, and that having other people’s nightmares rather than your own will kill you … it seems a bit silly. Again, it’s a fill-in two-parter, so wasting effort trying to convince the reader of something that could be glossed over wouldn’t be a wise use of space, but it took away from the peril of the story. Diablo as the villain … well, in this story, he seems more like an opportunist than a credible threat or someone with a strong plan.

What is unusual is that the two essentially randomly packaged together stories both have excellent art. I praised Paul Pelletier’s work from The New Fantastic Four, and his work on “Beginning of the End” is every bit as good. His depiction of Reed’s secret workroom, with notes and equations on every surface, is my favorite visual of the book. Pelletier also gets to design future versions of the team, the Black Panther, and Namor, and although I’m not exactly fond of the changes in facial hair and / or hair length school of aging, I did like his Ben Grimm. Tom Grummett gives the fill-in art for “Dream Fever” and does a likewise impressive job. Although there’s nothing as visually arresting in his work as what Pelletier is given, his artwork is clear and bright, with a good grasp of storytelling.

I find it strange that I would prefer this hodgepodge Fantastic Four book to one that McDuffie wrote by himself. Still, it’s true. I also find it interesting that a Dr. Doom / time travel story would feel less an assertion of self-importance than The New Fantastic Four, but again — true. In any event, it allows McDuffie to end his short run on a high note.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Half Fantastic Four symbol (3.5 of 5)

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