Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Fantastic Four #588 review

It's the final issue of the Fantastic Four and there's not a great deal to say. You'd think there would be, as this issue covers the month following the loss of the Human Torch in the Negative Zone. But writer Jonathan Hickman goes the gimmick route, presenting a silent story.

Want to hear how Susan Storm Richards reacts to the death of her brother, Johnny? Wondering what Reed could possibly say about his brother-in-law's demise? Interested in how Ben Grimm might see the loss of his best friend?

Forget it. While a couple of words written on a blackboard do elicit a chill, there's no speech until the final panel. We get the gist of how people are feeling: we see Sue fend off Reed's attempts to comfort her with a force field; we watch Reed approach the situation in typical fashion, via scientific investigation; and it's obvious Ben is filled with rage at his helplessness.

But dang it, this is a comic book. I want words to go with the pictures. Nick Dragotta, on pencils and inks and lending a marvellous Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott look to the characters, does a superb job of carrying the dramatic weight of 'A Month of Mourning'. He draws page after page of quietly powerful moments, and amps up the mood when action is called for.

As well as  the moments I've mentioned, Dragotta draws the return from the Negative Zone, with the Avengers arriving at the Baxter Building just too late. A Mini-Me Annihilus presenting Reed with 'evidence' of Johnny's death. A wake which reminds me of Reed and Sue's wedding by its splash gathering of heroes. A new leader for Latveria. Dr Doom keeping a respectful distance at Johnny's funeral. Spidey arriving to see Franklin. The resolve of the Future Foundation. Reed facing the utter failure of his Solve Everything programme. A final page appearance that has me yawning, 'Him again?' Lots of good stuff going on, there's no denying that.

But the art, coloured with more muted, softer tones than usual by the excellent Paul Mounts, can carry only so much meaning. There's one scene in which, puzzlingly, Don Blake and Bruce Banner try to present Ben with a smaller version of a memorial statue to Johnny. For some reason, Ben gets angry and we have a fight between the Thing, Thor and the Hulk. Maybe he's lashing out at two of the only people who can physically take it, but it would be good to be sure of these things - I'm guessing at this after closing the comic.

This is an important issue of the Fantastic Four, I want to know precisely what's going on in their world, not have to infer things from the art. Assume I'm a complete idiot - show and tell.

There's a second story in this issue, a short expanding on the Spidey-Franklin page from the lead. Spidey knows a thing or two about losing an uncle, but doesn't put it as crassly as that; he listens to Franklin, shares his experience, swaps secrets, offers advice ... and it's wonderful. Mark Brook's illustrations are impressively expressive, capturing Franklin's emotions, as well as those of Spider-Man - and given that he keeps his mask down for the most part, that's quite a feat. And Hickman, having turned the volume up, works with Brooks brilliantly.

I'd love Hickman to have brought this approach to the lead strip, applying it to the title characters of the book.

The issue closes with an advertorial on the coming FF title, which replaces Fantastic Four until it returns, likely in a year. Spidey signs up and everyone gets terrible costumes. It'll likely be a decent read, but may we have The World's Greatest Comic Magazine back soon please? Words and all.

7 comments:

  1. A prime example of why I'm finding it difficult to read comics these days. This all might have some impact if we didn't know for sure that Johnny will be back within a year or two at most.

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  2. Killing off a hero is the best they can do?
    By now, it seems like a cheap sales gimmick and not part of any plot.
    Maybe the entire Marvel Universe needs a reboot.
    I'll do my own. I've booted anything with Breevoort or Quesada's fingerprints on it.
    I hope they stay away from DC if they get fired from Marvel.

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  3. It's funny, Marvel tells us that the 'death' of Johnny Storm isn't a gimmick, it's part of a long story that Jonathan Hickman has been telling for ages. It's redefining the Fantastic Four (well yes, removing a member would rather have that effect).

    But of course we're going to view it as a gimmick, when they're squeezing every last cent of publicity out of the move, sticking issues in bags and the like.

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  4. Gimmick, gimmick, gimmick...every step of Hickmans run so far has been a misstep imo. My favourite comic is now an echo of itself, and this silent issue, the last of this series run, only serves to emphasise its now an event-run comic. This book deserved so much more than the silent treatment. No, actually come to think of it maybe it does. Killing off Johnny is an insult to loyal FF fans.

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  5. After Hickman's run ends I'd love to see someone come on the book and give us fast-moving, quick-pay-off, science fiction superheroics. Someone with one foot in Classic Marvel and one foot in Today. Karl Kesel might be the man ...

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  6. "Want to hear how Susan Storm Richards reacts to the death of her brother, Johnny? Wondering what Reed could possibly say about his brother-in-law's demise? Interested in how Ben Grimm might see the loss of his best friend?"

    Um... we got all that, and more.

    Actually, I couldn't agree less with you. Very few comic creators now how to tell a story just in pictures these days, but here it works, IMHO. Sure, I miss stuff like Crystal's and Wyatt Wingfoot's reactions... but kudos to Hickman, not making this issue too overstuffed and crowded, instead focusing on a smaller,but tighter story. This is an emotional epilogue, not an obituary. It works for me.

    Best Hickman issue so far. (Though the idea of the death itself seems ill-conceived at best.)

    This issue aside, I agree with Martin Gray. I want the FF to be SciFi superhero adventurers, discovering new civilizations and saving the world on a daily basis, mixed with ordinary family life. Less talking, less mourning, more action.

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  7. Thanks very much for the comments, it's great to hear from someone with a different reading experience.

    And feel free to call me Martin, or Mart.

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