Comic Fodder

Marvel Comics Review Spotlight: Fantastic Four

For the second week in a row, I wanted to reinforce my new theme of focusing on an excellent comic book and spending more time to express exactly why it’s a little better than the average read. DC will also get the spotlight treatment, as well as some independent titles.

With all of the acclaim that the Fantastic Four title is getting, you might think that boosting it is unnecessary, but there are tons of people who have given up on comics entirely, or quit a particular title and haven’t found their way back to it with the creative team change. This is a special case, because I have already found myself concluding that this run will go down as one of the great runs since the days of Lee and Kirby themselves. Such high estimation needs a little more in-depth examination, yes?

Fantastic Four 575

by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham

The cover is cool, with Mole Man in the mouth of a monster, and Eaglesham’s art has quite the Kirby-homage to it, a nice bit of familiarity blended I with his own excellent style that makes this look like an instant classic. The creative team knows how to craft a grand image, as Mole Man’s entrance in this issue actually has him on the tongue of one of his subterranean monstrosities. Gross! But cool. The classic face boxes have returned to the cover too, and I like it. Eaglesham takes care to have a more obviously muscular Reed Richards strutting around, but the inks definitely have a Kirby influence.

The story gets a little too complicated for its own good, as we find that some Moloids have entered the abandoned city of the High Evolutionary, and have “devolved,” in a move that makes them look more human and have increased intelligence. Usually, evolution is the source of improved features, not devolution, but the explanation for how evolution works are so muddled and changing in the real world, it’s hard to bring anyone to task for writing it up in the comics as an almost magical explanation for however you want to plot to turn.

Along the way, we pass by the burial place of the Galactus from the future, giving us a bonus two-in-one: yet another grand image that has a cinematic feel, and an acknowledgement of continuity, that we are not wishing away the stories of the previous creative team. Hickman is proving quite adept at incorporating those events into his own story and building onto them. That ability is actually rare, with mastery shown only by Geoff Johns over at DC for the most part. Hickman’s preference for showing us classic characters like the Mole Man shows his own inner fan’s appreciation for what has gone before, while he still tries to craft a new story about him that readers have not already seen. It’s a delicate high-wire act, and one that a lot of other formats like TV and movies often don’t have to deal with (at least, not with such a fanatical following of readers nipping at their heels).

This issue has all the hallmarks of a great Fantastic Four story, many small things woven into a large masterpiece. We witness fantastic realms, we see the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman combining their powers when tunneling, we see the Thing undergo a transformation that brings an echo of his ever-present monster-like state. We see an entirely new city rise to the surface. Between the X-Men’s Utopia island and this new place, America might be running out of free space soon!

But wait, there’s more! The other juggling act a comic writer has to do well is handle the continuing saga, while keeping in mind that any comic might be the first comic for someone. This issue fares pretty well upon examination. Despite the heavy history of the team, Mole Man, and the High Evolutionary, the details given allow the reader to follow the story easily, and future-Galactus’ corpse still has its somber impact, even if you don’t know who he is. More so than most other comics this week, I would want to hand this issue to someone if we wanted to show off a good single-issue story.

As a bonus, the letters page is here, and it’s fun to read. Rather than bask in endless praise, as most tend to do, they print a couple of letters protesting Valerie’s use of the word ‘retard’ during her light-hearted teasing banter with Franklin. Without being smug or condescending about it, Jonathan Hickman points out that he is writing how he sees the character, as a highly intelligent, but still young emotionally. I found myself on his side of the argument, both as a writer and from my own experience. I can’t remember how many insults flew back and forth between my sister and I growing up. Now, we don’t do that as adults (I reserve that for my best friend, who calls me up and hurl insults at me before I can even say hello), but I’m sure the word ‘retard’ was used more than once when we were kids, and it still is today. In this column, I have also had a reader offended by the one time I used the word (out of more than a year’s worth of columns, and it being one word among 200,000 or so), and I respectfully disagreed then as well. But I have fond memories of perusing letters pages as a kid and finding both positive and negative comments, good ideas, and intelligent conversation, as well as a little controversy. It's good to see that grand tradition continued here.

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

See the first MCRS column here to read cool things about the Inhumans.