Friday, August 5, 2011

Streets Ahead: FF 50th Anniversary Variants

Hey all, Kello here to unveil yet another fantastic feature that is guaranteed to take the internet by storm! Every now and then I'll come across something FF-related (be it fan art, variant covers, apparel, action figures, etc.) that's so cool it could be deemed Streets Ahead. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "streets ahead" means these items somehow go above and beyond the normal standard of FF excellence. (And yes I totally ripped off the term from the blatantly hilarious TV show Community. See the end of the post for more details.)

Today's Streets Ahead item is the set of ever-expanding Fantastic Four 50th Anniversary covers Marvel has been sprinkling into their releases throughout the year. After all, if the calculator on my computer is correct, 2011-1961 = 50. Wow, the team looks great for their age! Well, except Reed. He looks about right. And Johnny, who looks a little dead. Tangents aside, check the covers, which highlight a sampling of some of the shared shenanigans of Marvel's First Family from the past 5 decades!

(X-men #16 Featuring the Byrne-era lineup.)

(X-Men Legacy# 245 Featuring the FF's most hated foes/ frenemies)

(X-Men #7 With a Rockwellesque homage to the original lineup )

(Fear Itself #1 Featuring everyone's favorite substitute lineup!!!)

(FF #1 Featuring the Frightful Four)

So there you go. Weren't those neat? I hope you enjoyed the inaugural (and probably final) edition of Streets Ahead.

And remember, "If you have to ask, you're streets behind."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fantastic Four # 331

Fantastic Four 331-“Good Dreams Part 2: The Menace of the Metal Man!”
Cover Date October 1989 Price $1.00 (Price Increase!)

Writer/ Artist-
John Harkness/ Rich Buckler
Cover Tagline: “It's a Dream! It's a Hoax! It's an Imaginary Story! And it's Also Ultron!"

Number of issues between the last box pull: 2 (thank goodness)

Hey FFans, so glad you could make it back! It's the dapper and dashing Kello here, delighting in my duty to disseminate Fantastic Four reviews which not only dazzle the masses, but defy expectations! Today we're looking at a comic that by it's own admission DOES NOT MATTER. Almost everything that occurs in the plot is imaginary, assuring it will be discarded once the arc is over. Doesn't that make you just want to dive right in?! Well, don't be dubious, I promise I'll do my best to make it a fun trip...

What Happened: We open on the Fake FF (who were created by the dread Watcher known as Aron in issue 328) as they beat up a magician.

No, the magician wasn't evil or anything, they just don't like how this "fraud" charges people money for such mundane illusions. The Fake FF goes so far as to show the audience how the performer does his tricks! Man, they're worse than that masked guy from "Magic's Biggest Secrets Revealed."

Reed, is that you?

Anywho, The Fake FF is up in arms because the audience is willing to pay money to see such hackneyed parlor tricks, when the FF have been dealing out real live powers for years without seeing any kick backs. To remedy this oversight, the Fake FF institute a "Fantasti-Tax." This means citizens must pay for the Fantastic Four's continued allegiance. The crowd is understandably indignant towards Reed's announcement. I mean who wants to pay for something they can get for free? (This paragraph sponsored by bit torrent comics)

Isn't this comic from 1989? Whatever happened to "No new taxes"?

After the pronouncement of the "Fantasti-tax", the scene shifts to Aron the Watcher's secret Canadian lair. Because any good villain knows that the Great White North is the best place to have a hidden cave of evil. While its been 2 issues since Aron captured the team, it's obvious I didn't miss anything. The real FF is still trapped in tubes, having fevered dreams of sweet nothings.

Each issue of this arc spotlights a different member of the real FF as they're conked out. This time around we get to peek into the dreams of Reed Richards. What does ol' Stretcho dream of anyway? My guess is he sees a life with no pesky family or friends to get in the way of him and his one true love- science!!!

It turns out his family is alive and well in his dreams, but Reed is even more of a super nerd than before. while the scenes between him and his family are dreadfully plain, there are a few things that stick out as completely awkward. First of all, Reed won't shut up about his new personal computer, the "Turino XL." Seriously, he's a bigger shill for the Turino than Jared is for Subway. The other thing that jumps out in an undeniably awkward manner is the way the rest of the team utters the phrase "Darn your socks."

Is "darn your socks" a euphemism? I'm kind of a prude,
but that doesn't even make sense!

As the team heads their separate ways in an attempt to avoid anymore of Reed's sales pitch, they're faced with some rather ominous occurrences. As Ben and Sharon ride the elevator, it gets jostled loose and begins to drop. Thankfully Sharon saves the day, and the two decide to hike back up the 50 stories to see what happened. While the two lovebirds make their ascent, Sue encounters something going down in the Robotics Lab of Four Freedoms. She calls Reed in and explains that she sensed an unusual force field in the room.

Reed investigates, and finds that his wife isn't just acting "hysterical" (like normal), but that the defenses have indeed been tampered with. Fearing for his family's safety, Reed calls his young son to come away from the Robotics Lab. In a twist of fate/ giant coincidence/ excuse-to-move-the-plot along Franklin's Scrabble game is knocked to the floor and Reed figures out the culprit behind all the weirdness in the building:
Duh. It was soooo obvious...right?

Ultron XI then reveals himself and his newest plan for world domination. It seems that he plans on using the electronics in the Turinos to infiltrate the homes in America.
Yep, that's the plot. Ultron wants to invade America using the rising demand for personal computers. Thankfully Sharon and Ben reenter the scene and the "She -Thing" puts an end to all this mischief. While the scene lasts about 9 pages too long (it clocks in at 12 altogether), Shary takes the opportunity to kick some serious robo-booty.

The issue ends with the real Reed slumbering peacefully like a baby genius, while the insidious Fake FF continue their endless quest to impose the "Fantasti-Tax." If you haven't noticed by now, the notion of the "Fantasti-Tax" entertains me to no end!

What I Thought: I have a love/hate relationship with these types of issues. The cover's admission that the entire story is a "hoax", as well as the reveal of Ultron as the surprise villain renders the interior story moot. If you're reading this, it means I willingly forfeited my precious God-given time in favor of something that is absolutely pointless. That's the bad part.

The good part? This issue's ample imperfections make it perfect fodder for a site like Four Freedoms. The entire plot revolving around the rise of PCs in the home nicely dates the story, something I always appreciate when chronicling back issues.

I still have to question Aron the Watcher's endgame. Aron's original intention for creating the Fake FF was out of some type of borderline admiration for the real team. Unless some other motivations were revealed in the 2 issues I missed, my question is now "Why would Aron want his Fake FF to start ripping off citizens?" I can't believe he needs the money, although I'm sure secret Canadian lairs don't come cheap. I mean his monthly "sleeping tube" costs alone must be astronomical! This was unclear to me, and hopefully the next few issues will shed some light on his fiendish reasoning.

And as always, we here at Four Freedoms try to be as fair and balanced as Fox News, so there were some parts of this issue worth mentioning. Rich Buckler handles art duties on this issue, and he does a great job of conveying a bombastic sense of action. The scenes with Shary "She-Thing" "The Body" Ventura going toe-to-toe with Ultron are rather brutal looking. It goes a long way in establishing some credibility for such an obviously lame hero as the female Thing. She now ranks slightly above the Lady Stilt-Man , but somehow still below X-23 in the pantheon of ridiculous female comic book counterparts. So in other words, she still has a long way to go.

And although he gets pwned worse than I do when I play Call of Duty, it's nice to see Ultron in an FF comic. I like when villains break away from the heroes they normally associate and mix it up a little. You know, even if continuity-wise it never really happened...

Well that's about it for me. The next issue promises to show us "Johnny's Dream." I've seen the future, and let me tell you, Johnny's dream is mostly about his sister. If that doesn't incite your curiosity enough to want to come back, well then I understand. But if you're like me and morbid curiosity always wins the day, I'll see you soon! Until I start charging a "Fantasti-Tax" for access to this site, Vive La Fantastique!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fantastic Four #328

Fantastic Four 328-“Bad Dream”
Cover Date July 1989 Price $.75

Writer/ Artist-
John Harkness/ Keith Pollard
Cover Tagline: “What can one man do?" "Ben Grimm vs. The Frightful Four"

Number of issues between the last box pull: 0

(UGH. After last issue's review it's quite evident I need to proofread both my posts and my comics more closely. It was pointed out to me that I repeatedly referred to the Wizard as the Psycho Man. I apologize on behalf of Four Freedoms for such gargantuan flubs. But instead of dwelling on my shortcomings, I'm going to follow the FF's example and soldier on in the face of adversity. Without further jibber jabber, let's dive back into "the box!")

What Happened: Picking up from last issue, the Frightful Four have finally bested the FF after years of failure. Though a majority of the Frightful Four (I think I'll call them Fright4 from now on) is stupefied by how this victory was achieved, it's revealed that the Wizard had enlisted the help of the Dragon Man and a Watcher named Aron.
That's right! THE Aron. Menace of the Marvel Universe, thorn in the side of--wait, who the heck is Aron!? Thankfully it's all answered for us...

Aron is a Watcher who idolizes the always intrusive Uatu. He was so enamored with the FF that he took the liberty of obtaining "tissue samples" of most of the members while they were on the moon during a previous adventure. The only hero whose tissue Aron missed was Johnny Storm's. So after teaming up with the Fright4, Aron helps himself to some of the hero's DNA. I'm not sure if explaining his motives made the necessity of his presence in this story any more clear...

Anyway, having obtained his sample, Aron turns to take leave of the Fright4. This angers the Wizard, who thought Aron was going to fall in line with the rest of his team and finally finish off the Fantastic Four. Aron tells the Wizard he could blink him out of existence if he wanted to, but the Fright4 try to beat up Aron and the Dragon Man anyway.
They lose the fight. Quickly.

Aron leaves, and the Fright4 ponder what to do with an unconscious FF. Personally, I would pull on Reed's arms like he was a Stretch Armstrong.

Time passes, and a concerned Ben Grimm arrives to investigate the site of the FF and Fright4's battle. Some cops at the crime scene tip Ben off that the Dragon Man was spotted during the melee, which gives Ben enough of a lea
d to head back to Four Freedoms Plaza.
Officer O'Malley says: "Move along, Nuthin to see"

While there, he and Alicia Masters contact the Jade temptress known as the She-Hulk, because she was one of the last heroes to tangle with the Dragon Man. She-Hulk tells Ben to go to 34th Street to look for the purple monster.

Ben and Alicia head down 34th Street and start asking the locals if they've seen a giant purple dragon recently. An old man points them to a spot where he may or may not have seen some thing at some point in time (yeah, he's about that helpful). As Ben and Alicia sleuth out the location of the FF in this random office building, something rather peculiar happens:

It would appear that Ben is hallucinating that he is talking to people. When Alicia tries to warn Ben he's acting weird, a shapeshifting monster attacks! Of course these turn out to be tricks Ben's mind is playing on him, which leads Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew to conclude someone doesn't want him snooping around. Using all his cunning, Ben stealthily creeps about looking for any other things out of the ordinary. Did I mention Ben's definition of "stealthily" involves smashing through a door in a maddened rampage?

In the perfect marriage of rage and coincidence (a.k.a bad writing), Ben just happens to smash the door to the Frightful Four's lair. The FF is being held captive in tubes, and Grimm decides to free them himself. He spends the next few pages getting the drop on the Fright4, freeing his friends, and generally kicking copious amounts of butt.
The sound effects alone are worth the price of admission.

Well that's it for this issue, right? Just another late 80's comic with an incoherent plot and references to Micheal Douglas movies. It seems pretty standard: good guys win, bad guys lose, and we can finally put all this Frightful Four nonsense behind us. EXCEPT as they're carting the baddies away, the FF and Frightful Four are suddenly whisked off to Aron's secret hideout.

The rogue Watcher reveals his master plan: a cloned team of the Fantastic Four! (And I die a little inside because it seems this story will NEVER end).

What I Thought: There's hardly any sense in dissecting the merit of this ridiculous plot, so I'm going to point out the few positive things I could find.

First of all, Keith Pollard's art is excellent as always. As far as I'm concerned, Marvel should have just printed his art without any dialogue, and this story would have made a lot more sense. Granted all the readers out there would have to fill-in-the-blanks, but I'm sure whatever we could dream up is more coherent and acceptable than the given explanations. Cool, I just slammed the plot and complimented the art in one fell swoop!

The other really neat thing about this issue is how it showcases the awesomeness that is Ben Grimm. Despite a lack of rocky skin and super strength, Grimm manages to maintain his superhero status in spades. Maybe it's because I just watched Die Hard, but Ben reminds me of a full-on early 90's action hero in this issue. Hunting down leads, jumping headlong into battle against nearly insurmountable odds, fighting his belt (see below), and saving his best girl are all in a day's work for this macho war machine. This issue should have been titled something along the lines of "Ben Grimm With A Vengeance."

So until Aron the Watcher becomes the most popular character in the Marvel Universe, vive la fantastique!

I don't care what you do in private, Grimm, but this is supposed to be a family friendly site!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fantastic Four #327

Fantastic Four 327-“Why?!!”
Cover Date Jun 1989 Price $.75

Writer/ Artist-
John Harkness (if that is your real name!)/ Keith Pollard
Cover Tagline: “The Thing-- No More!"

Number of issues between last box pull: 0

Hey FFans, long time no write! Actually at this point, it's probably just "FFan", and I may or may not be referring to myself. Anywho, it's your flagrantly farcical friend Kello here, back with another frenetic foray into the world of everyone's favorite family of adventurers!

...In other words, I'm gonna tell you about some old Fantastic Four comic. Yes, I've dipped back into the "box" for the follow up to March's Fantastic Four #326 review. What, you've forgotten that review already? Seriously, it was only 4 months ago...

What Happened
: Our story dives right in with a close-up shot of Ben Grimm shouting the most appropriate question one could ask regarding this comic- "WHY?!!" Surprised that he unexpectedly returned to his human form after being zapped by a ray at the end of last issue, Ben is now caught in the middle of a battle royal (with cheese) between the Frightful Four and the Fantastic Four.

This fierce fracas goes on for a significant amount of pages, and everyone gets a turn trying out some late 80's hero/villain banter:

After both sides get some good licks in, The Frightful Four retreat out the window and the FF decide not to give chase. Instead they hang back and admire Ben's transformation from big orange rocky looking guy in underwear to relatively big human looking guy in underwear. Of course, this leads to some dramatic tension, because a.) Without powers, Ben can no longer lead the FF, and b.) Pretty much the only commonality Ben has with his current girlfriend is that they're fugly rock monsters. It's ok though, both problems get resolved for the time being, as Ben hugs his "woman" and Reed plots to wrest control of the group.

Speaking of teams with tension, we're next treated to the Frightful Four's post-game pow-wow. Instead of focusing on the positives ("I really liked the way you threatened Franklin Richards, Klaw. You know how to pick on vulnerable people") , the ne'er do wells blame each other for the shared failure.

This gives Wizard pause, and he steals away for a page of "me time."

During a rather long-winded soliloquy, Wizard blurts out that going up against Reed and his entire family has taught him that Richards' reliance on his emotions is his biggest weakness. "The Wiz" asserts that he has the upper hand, because all the people he associates with are simply underlings whom he cares nothing for. Wizard then goes on to talk about hiring a mysterious new ally, and we see some not-so-subtle foreshadowing of a Giant Dragon flying outside the window. It almost looks like a "Dragon Man."

We jump back over to Four Freedoms, where Reed assumes control of the team once again, effectively ending the reign of terror that began in issue 307 (now THAT was a doozy!). He informs the team he has triangulated the whereabouts of the Frightful Four, and from there we have a rehash of the beginning of the issue. The FF take on the Frightful Four, trading equal numbers of blows and quips. The only difference with this new battle is how the FF abruptly pass out. 75% of the Frightful Four are baffled by this occurrence and look to the Wizard for the answer.

Wizzy reveals his new allies: Aron the Watcher, and Dragon Man! ...Yeah, that's the cliffhanger.
Rar! They're menacing.

What I thought: This issue was a little bit like a sporting event. The two teams beat on each other, took a half-time to regroup, and then beat on each other some more until one side emerged victorious. While I would liken Reed's half-time coaching style to the more level-headed Coach K, it's Wizard's Bobby Knight inspired hissy fit that wins the day. Realizing there's no friends in villainy (much like there's no crying in baseball), Wizard called in some clutch relief and went hard in the paint to bring this baby home. That's all she wrote folks for the sports references, by the way.

But in all honesty, this issue had very little substance, and even the slightly compelling question of "What to do with Ben now that he's just a man?" loses it's appeal quickly. Everyone knows he'll be the Thing again in no time, and seriously, does anyone want to see a dude make out with a rocky creature? I guess there's a bit of a double-standard, because I don't mind Alicia with Ben when he's in his rocky form.

Once again Keith Pollard's art is above average. In a story with a lot of action sequences, Pollard does a nice job of mixing up the heroes and villains to convey a real sense of people "throwing down." And his rendition of a Rhino made of pure sound was pretty neat too!

And finally, Reed retakes command of the Fantastic Four. While it was an inevitability that was coming for some 20 issues, Reed acts like such a presumptuous jerk when it comes to leading the FF that even I was a little put-off (I usually like Reed when he's a jerk). The transfer of power is done with such lack of finesse that you might as well throw away all the comics where Ben serves as leader. Hey you know what? That's not a bad idea....

So until I start dating a girl with rocky orange skin, vive la fantastique!

Jeez! It's called privacy, Reed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hell('s Kitchen) is for Heroes - Black Panther #515

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear! #515

Writer: David Liss

Artist: Francesco Francavilla

What Happens
: The actions picks up right where it left off last issue, with T'Challa standing atop a roof overlooking his seemingly dead friend Brian. Contemplating whether or not his secret identity as "the man without fear" has been compromised, our hero prioritizes and goes after the villain responsible for all the mayhem- Vlad the Impaler.

T'Challa and Vlad meet up on a darkened rooftop and exchange taunts, with the crazy superpowered Romanian going so far as to call our hero "Pussy-Cat Man" (and yes, I will be calling T'challa that for a while now). I mean, T'Challa has been looking for a new name, right? Anyway, they fight pretty evenly until Pussy-Cat Man shorts out Vlad's electrical powers. Vlad flees like a little girl, and Pussy-Cat Man is left to lick his wounds.

20 minutes later "Mr. Okonkwo" (T'Challa's civilian identity) hits the hospital in search of news about his injured friend Brian. The doctor comes out and informs Okonkwo that Brian is indeed worm food, and T'Challa slugs a soda machine. Yeah, that'll bring him back... As T'Challa leaves, Luke Cage shows up to rub salt in his wounds. T'Challa tells Cage to bugger off, and the two are left in the exact same position as last issue.

As Okonkwo heads back to his apartment, he is greeted by none other than his sexy neighbor Iris. Man, this lady can't take a hint! Our hero shoos the damsel away (and breaks my heart a little for still NOT having that affair), and gets down to business, creating his own weapon to use against Vlad. If this were an 80's movie, there would have been an awesome "makin stuff for the final battle" montage.
Skipping some of the more boring parts of the issue, we jump to a scene back at the hospital where T'challa had "kicked some can" earlier. It seems Vlad is there, chatting up the doctor that treated Brian. The two talk a bit, and we find out that Brian is indeed alive, and he's going to be used to get back at T'Challa.
The issue ends with Pussy-Cat Man using his freshly minted gadgets to get the drop on Vlad's guards. Storming Vlad's penthouse, Pussy- Cat Man is shocked to find Vlad's wife unconscious on the floor with no pulse. Wow, it would suck if Vlad walked in on those two. Well guess what happens in the issue's cliffhanger?
What I Thought: Cut and paste. That's all I can say at this point. The purpose and cast of the story is set, and the plot is moving at a snail's pace. Take for example Luke Cage showing up at the hospital. Did that scene even need to happen? It didn't do anything to further the idea that T'Challa has rejected outside help, I mean he already did that last issue. Also, Iris? I understand that she's a hood rat, but seriously, give it a rest for an issue or two.

I will give this issue points for its action scenes. The back-and-forth between Pussy-Cat Man and Vlad is one giant cliched comic book pissing match, but it's a lot of fun to actually see a villain cause trouble for a hero. In most of T'Challa's previous comics, he's so far ahead of his adversaries that there's no real struggle.

And last but not least, the art continues to be the strongest selling point to this series. Francisco Francavilla is pulling double duty on this book AND Detective Comics, so that explains a lot of the visual overlap that appears between the adventures of Pussy-Cat Man and a certain caped crusader.

I'm really hoping this series picks up in the next issue or two. I won't drop it unless it becomes unbearable, but I'm already a little bored of this new direction.

Score: I'll have to give this issue 2.5 hood rats out of 5.
Don't trust a ho, T'Challa.