Wednesday, 28 November 2012

FF #1 review

With the Fantastic Four planning an expedition to unknown worlds, Reed Richards wants to make sure the Earth isn't unprotected - even though the mysteries of time travel mean Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing are only going to be gone for four minutes. Plus, there are the trainee brainiacs of the Future Foundation to babysit. So Sue, Johnny, Ben and Reed himself each get to nominate someone for one of the slots.

Reed - who has lied to his family about the reasons for the trip - wants a big brain like himself, so approaches the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang. Sue wants a mother figure, and asks Medusa of the Inhumans. Ben wants someone as strong as himself, so goes to see She-Hulk. And Johnny wants his head examined.

Seriously. Writer Matt Fraction plays Johnny here less as the flighty playboy, more as a man-child with the brain of a potato. He wakes up in bed with new girlfriend Darla Deering, remembers a memo on his phone, sees that it says 'ask somebody about the thing' and quizzes Darla on her knowledge of Ben Grimm. Going by the cover, her vague awareness of Ben Grimm is gaining her a spot on the team as Ms Thing. Which makes no sense given that She-Hulk already has that slot covered.

On the one hand, the gig's only going to be for four minutes. On the other, well, in that case why cover the roles at all? Earth has a million heroes Reed and co could ask to watch out for the kids (I'm sure Jarvis and Squirrel Girl could set up a day nursery at Avengers Mansion) without an inexperienced young woman being put on the front lines.

I'm a little cranky, as Ant-Man, She-Hulk and Medusa have all served with the Fantastic Four previously and I know lots about them; it's Ms Thing I'm curious about. But while background is given on all of the vets, we learn nothing about Darla here beyond what we saw in this month's Fantastic Four #1 - she's dating Johnny and has pink hair.That's partly because so much room is given to the Future Foundation kids; on the one hand, that's great, as FF has always been their book. On the other, all the Marvel Now! advertising for this relaunch has focused on the substitute heroes, and it's them I'm interested in. (And with Franklin and Valeria Richards going off with their family, why are they hogging a spotlight page alongside the other FF sub-groups?)

Personally, I've had enough of the lot of them - if it's only going to be for four minutes, lock them in a cupboard with HERBIE.

Scott Lang's story picks up on the fact that he's mourning daughter Cassie, the young Avenger known as Stature. Reed reckons that being around the FF sprogs might do him, and them, some good. Scott isn't convinced. It doesn't help that Reed can't bring himself to actually confront the reality of Cassie's death, referring to it as 'all of that unpleasantness'. What a mealy-mouthed loser Reed is; even that daft euphemism 'passing' would be better, because it acknowledges that an actual person has gone. I really wish Marvel writers wouldn't go quite so far down the line of showing Reed as having lots of practical nous, but no emotional intelligence; it makes his relationship with Sue seem unbelievable. And while it's satisfying that we see Scott yell at Reed for his insensitivity, it's a shame Ant-Man is being built up at Mr Fantastic's expense.

Medusa and Sue's chat positions them as equals, queens even. It gives some insight into where both women are, while defining them solely in relation to their families. Hopefully Fraction will show other sides of the women in this book and Fantastic Four as time goes on.

Ben comes across as a bright guy in his talk with She-Hulk, aware that while Reed says they're going away for four minutes, it could be a lot longer. It's a pity, though, that someone's decision to give Ben a  BIG SHOUTY FONT implies constant anger. As for She-Hulk, she's calm, confident, the hero the FF needs.

The vignettes with the kids are illuminating and not without charm. The spotlight on Alex Power gives him his best moment in years. But I'd rather be spending time with the grown-ups.

In all, Fraction does a decent job of introducing most of the characters, and giving the book a reason to exist. He doesn't, though, give any idea of what type of adventures this new team will have, in an issue that, while cleverly structured, is all talky set-up.

The biggest draw for me was, no pun intended, the artwork of Mike and Laura Allred. The retro illustrations of Mike and poptastic colours of Laura make for wonderful eye candy. More importantly, Mike Allred is a first-rate visual storyteller, building pages that progress the plot while conveying character beyond what's in the dialogue. Check out, for example, the expression as Medusa thinks about Black Bolt (a husband up there with Reed in terms of sheer awfulness), while her hair cuts to the chase.
Or the pain on Scott's face as he considers Reed's offer and the little note of optimism after he's accepted. It's a virtuoso performance from the artist. The only thing I don't like is the random cleavage hole in Medusa's court wear - for goodness sake, it's just not regal! Happily, her upcoming FF costume affords a bit more dignity.

I understand that FF and Fantastic Four will be collected in the same volumes. Hopefully that won't mean a back and forth storyline because I'd like the option of just following one title. And with the Allreds on art and two of my favourite Marvel characters (Medusa and She Hulk) around, this book is the more likely winner.

16 comments:

  1. From my understanding, you only need the first arc of Fantastic Four to understand what'll be happening with FF, so the first 3 issues I'm guessing (that's what the trade at least says). That's all I'm buying as well.

    Anyhow, it was a decent enough issue, but was mostly just character introduction. Hopefully the next issue gets the ball rolling. I did like this issue more than Fantastic Four so there is that a bonus to this comic.

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    1. Thanks for the info, Info. I share your hopes!

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  2. This is the first Marvel comic I've bought in years, and I was very disappointed. After a few minutes of reading, I got to the end and thought "is that it?" I felt like I'd wasted 2 quid. I may as well have gone onto the street and given 2 quid to any random stranger.
    Comics need to provide more value for money, nuff said.

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    1. Hi, spandexcomic, I enjoyed this book more than you, but do think there's a 'wow' factor missing. Hopefully now that the set-up's done, the book can boldly go, and all that.

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    2. I think this a great book. I also feel that to be a fan of this title you have to accept Mike Allred and just know that all his creations are a little over the top and goofy. This title has a perfect team of Matt Fraction and the Allreds, really you can't go wrong with it. Maybe it started out slow, and honestly the 2nd issue jumped in with the action, and remember that this entire series takes place in a 4 minute time period.

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  3. Well, I like one thing about this set-up, the fact that Ant-Man is supposed to seek reprisal against Dr. Doom for his wanton murder of Stature in Avengers: The Children's Crusade, which I can only assume will restart the conflict between Doom and the Fantastic Four. They seriously need to work on Doom and restore his status as the FF's greatest threat. The last few years they've been portraying him as a victim and a tool, and they need to bring him back to the character he was created to be.

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    1. Hi Joe - when would you say the last great Dr Doom story was? Byrne era, maybe?

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    2. I'm a Byrne fan, and when he did Doom he did Doom good. But it was not always good, remember when he made Doom that kid?

      To be honest though (now, please don't laugh at me) I thought one of the best Doom stories was in the first Secret Wars. Not only does Doom rise about the petty fighting of the other villians on the heroes, but the man chooses to not play the Beyonder's game and then through sheer force of will and genius defeats a near omnipotent Being with his last gasp as he's literally being flayed alive. That scene of Doom reaching his shredded arm out to activiate the device in his armor and steal the Beyonder's powers is what Doom is all about (then of course they ruined it by having Doom lose his mind to such power).

      Ms. Thing? Good grief. I often wonder why don't they use the old android Human Torch to take Johnny's place when he is gone (I thought he should have been the choice when Johnny 'died.') You get your flaming member of the team, but with a whole different character and dynamic.

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    3. Excellent idea as regards the original Human Torch subbing for Subby - why on Earth has Marvel never tried this?

      You know, I never did make it through Secret Wars, bailing around #3 - I think I'd rather like to read that. Time for a Christmas list update!

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  4. I have zero interest in Fraction's writing (Hawkeye aside but that doesn't feel like it stars any version of Hawkeye ever seen before) but I would have picked up this series had Miss Thing been a gay male character...

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  5. Aw, drat! This has characters I like (Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa), gorgeous artwork by the Allreds, a story that sounds like it takes longer than 10 minutes to read, and it isn't one of the books with the inflated four dollar cover price? Why oh why didn't I buy this yesterday when I was at the comic shop?!? Definitely next time I see it, I'm going to get it. Thanks for the rundown. This sounds pretty cool.

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    1. Get back to that shop! I do hope you enjoy the book when you do read it, Ben.

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  6. It is good to see the return of Madam Medusa. When Medusa replaced Susan Storm as a member of the FF back in the Bronze Age, when Reed and Sue had separated, some fans thought lovely Medusa should have replaced Sue permanently!

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    1. They were good times, weren't they, John? I'd have been happy for Medusa to stay on and the team to become the Fantastic Five - I always figured the number was less important than the alliteration.

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