Comic Fodder

How Not to Write a Comic Book

There’s a movie called Plan Nine From Outer Space, by Ed Wood. Film students are required to watch it, so they can learn all the bad things that can be put into a movie, so they can see what NOT to do. Dwayne McDuffie has done us a similar service for comic books, in Fantastic Four 550.

Fantastic Four 550

by Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Pelletier

Creative teams are generally supposed to get better as they go on a title, but the opposite seems to be happening here. The Thing has turned into an utter moron, as he calls for everyone to get their “life support thingies on.” They are suits. They are life support suits. Or uniforms. McDuffie is terrible at dialogue. What’s worse is that he seems to know that Ben should be portrayed as the less-than-bright one in the group, but he does it in the most classless of ways when he puts words in Ben’s mouth.

Never fear, though, because the Black Panther and Reed cobble together an unearthly device in less than four panels that will eliminate this race that just attacked them, that they never heard of until last issue (or fifteen minutes ago, Marvel time). Boy, are they ever super-smart and fast! Jack Kirby and Stan Lee may have glossed over some details back in the day, but when Mr. Fantastic came up with an entire space ship to whisk the team to the Skrull home world or something, they at least had the decency to give the impression of the passing of time. Here, everything comes lickety-split.

Okay, here comes the retarded part. A huge cluster of Watchers has assembled to watch events unfold, as opposed to the normal one Watcher. One of the group of Watchers actually falls in (!?!?!?!!?) to the rupture in space-time. Considering every Watcher has cosmic powers that allow them to bend time/space, appear and disappear at will, fly, and so on, is this the dumping ground for retarded Watchers? That’s the only reason I can think of here. After all, it’s not as if they gathered there to watch an important event of the gravest danger… oh, wait, they did. So why did they post a Watcher right in the middle of the cosmic train wreck, while every other Watcher sat silently laughing, off to the side? Oh, and yes, apparently in space, where there is no real up or down, the Watcher “falls” in. My opinion of McDuffie is low enough at this point, but how does Tom Brevoort keep his job as editor anymore?

Are you ready for some more fun? Because the Black Panther tricks the Silver Surfer into showing up, and they have to actually argue with him to get him to help save the universe. That’s right, the same universe the Surfer himself lives in. He has to be persuaded to get off his board to do something about it. The Silver Surfer is one of the calmest, most noble characters in the Marvel Universe, and he stoops to having a pissing contest with the Panther. It’s like the entire creative team ran out of ideas and decided to create “dramatic tension” every two pages. Look, a Watcher died! Look, feel the tension between these two normally noble characters!

Then we get to the part where the artists is lazy. They break into an area of “physical reality” that even Reed has never seen. It’s all white space. No, I’m not kidding. Normally, if reality is too much for a human mind, the mind itself will either shut down, or will translate the images it sees with as much ability as it can, but here, in a “physical reality,” there is nothing physical at all. Way to make sense, guys.

Next, we are introduced to Doctor Strange, who, in addition to shoving Iron Man around in the Wolverine comic, crashing in New Avengers, and still separately “helping” out Spider-Man with his Aunt May problem AND “helping” out the Beast in Endangered Species, has also somehow been in this reality “for days,” fighting his way through the enemy that looks way too much like the Mindless Ones. All while the rest of the Fantastic Four comes flying through this “physical reality” on Sue’s field, Storm using her weather powers to fly on the currents, even though there is no evidence of weather, and Johnny has no problems igniting his flame in this place that is nothing but white space. Funny how this level of “physical reality” that is so above and beyond ours seems to let their powers work exactly like they do in regular reality, isn’t it?

Okay, we already saw a retarded Watcher. Want to see a retarded universe? Because Eternity itself created the little Mindless One rip-offs that are now killing him. That’s right, an all-knowing, all-powerful being that represents the universe itself has managed to create its own murderer, after one race did a few rips in space-time. Like Reed himself doesn’t do that kind of thing three times before he brushes his teeth in the morning:

“Hey, I developed a new pocket dimension to store all my nose hairs in, to study some profound implications on the universe, Susan!”

“That’s nice, dear,” Sue says. “Want some pancakes?”

But here, Eternity can’t stand the idea of someone creating a rip in space-time, so we have to forget about 45 years of Marvel history. Wait, it gets better! They anesthetize Eternity by putting Eternity’s consciousness into Storm!!!!

Here’s how they get there: Doctor Strange claims he needs something that can sever the fabric of space-time. Given the world Reed lives in, he can probably come up with three dozen possibilities on how to do it, and one more if he’s allowed to use some duct tape and a toaster. Instead, Uatu the Watcher shows up, and is the only Watcher not retarded enough to realize that if the Fantastic Four and company fail, he and all his bald brothers will be out of a collective job. So Uatu pops out of another “physical reality” into our own and grabs the hero Gravity, pointing out exactly how retarded it was that the previously-mentioned Watcher bit the dust, just standing there to “fall” into a rip in space-time. Why didn’t that Watcher teleport to Gravity? Because only Uatu can ever help, that must be a Marvel rule somewhere.

In the space of one panel, Gravity appears next to Reed Richards, who explains exactly what he needs to do without a hi, hello, or how do you do. Dr. Strange moves Eternity into Storm’s consciousness in one panel, with no explanation as to why Ororo wouldn’t be mental toast for the rest of her life. Want the really lazy aspect of this story? Gravity then is depicted cutting out the “damaged space-time” in one panel, and his narrative tells us, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” That’s right, true believers, a guy who has died and been brought back, who controls a fundamental force of the galaxy, does the hardest thing in his life, and the only space and artistic depiction we get of it is one triangular panel on a page. Frank Tieri spent more time over in Wolverine trying to portray the Punisher as pervert.

The artist got to spend about twelve pages drawing nothing in the way of background details. They had a Watcher die in the space of a couple panels, with no importance to the overall story, and in a way that makes no sense. His death was worse than Hawkeye’s. You have a massive number of Watchers who come to watch the previews, but stay away from the main event, except for Uatu. The entire issue plays out like some B-grade sci-fi movie that has to have a mandatory number of “beats” for the characters to overcome, except here they left most of the special effects out of the movie, leaving it all to your imagination.

Wait, wait, wait! Check this out, I almost forgot. When they get to the other part of reality, the Silver Surfer tells them, “You may exit your vehicle.” This, even though they can go faster inside their vehicle. The very next page, the Surfer speeds away from the rest of the group, leaving them dawdling outside their vehicle, like bugs on a windshield. He must have wanted to get there first…

Nothing about this comic makes sense anymore, and I hope McDuffie does not write the title ever again. The writing diminishes the characters, cheapens death, and makes everything unnecessarily complicated, while at the same time refusing to explain anything in a satisfactory way. It’s like he read a few issues of the Kirby/Lee run and tried to duplicate it, but without any common sense or perspective. This is your example of how to NOT write a comic book.

Too harsh? Am I just cranky today? Will no one come to the defense of the creative team? Or is there a worse comic that has come out this year that can challenge Fantastic Four #550 in the ranks of deplorability? Post below if you dare!

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I am not here to rescue this truly terribly written comic, I am here to commend your way too enjoyable commentary. To say 'right on', is so cliche.... and yet so apt; 'right on'.

-- Posted by: Juan Michael at November 11, 2007 12:45 AM

the is bullshit !!!!! i love that comic

-- Posted by: Anonymous at December 29, 2007 6:34 PM

the is bullshit !!!!! i love that comic

-- Posted by: Anonymous at December 29, 2007 6:34 PM