Monday, November 23, 2009

4th Posting Celebration!

Can you believe its been 4 posts already? It seems like it was just last Saturday that I started this blog.... Anyway, in honor of all things "4", I would like to deviate from my usual long-winded and pointless reviews to present a short list of Fantastic Four comics that stick out in my mind. For one reason or another, these are the FF comics that serve as mile markers in my decade + love/hate relationship with Marvel's first family. Maybe by examining these issues we can find why I so often return to a book that I so often swear off of forever....

1.) Fantastic Four #413 (1996)- I have no clue what possessed me to buy this book back in the day. It was probably the end of 6th grade (Jun. '96), and the whole Onslaught epic had been announced. Marvel was going to take some of its most famous characters- the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America (and Thor too!), and totally redo them with a more modern flair. There was a huge sense of anticipation from the comics world, or at least from my 12 year old perspective, that this would be a make-or-break type of experiment.

But before this great experiment could take place, Marvel had to wrap up the current runs on all the books. The whole reason for the reinvention of these characters is that their continuity was out of control, and everything had either been written into a corner, or out into left field. Let's put it like this: At this point Iron Man had been de-aged to a teenager, Franklin Richards had been aged to a teenager, Wolverine had no nose and bone claws, and Susan Storm was well on her way to become grandmotherly. If ever someone needed to hit the reset button, the mid-nineties was the time.

Which brings us to issue #413 (1996). The Fantastic Four series was "ending" with #416, so longtime series writer Tom DeFalco had to quickly tie up the loose ends. I don't remember much about this issue, other than thinking the fact that Reed Richards' dad being a time traveler made total sense, and was incredibly lame. Also, and I think this is most why this issue will forever be stuck in my head, is that the most blatant, nonsensical retcons ever happens at the end of this comic. On the second to last page, Franklin Richards, who had been aged from a child to a teenager, is hit with a "time window" out of nowhere and suddenly becomes a kid again. The last page shows a child size Franklin in an adult space suit crying tears of joy for his mommy. As a 12 year old fanyboy, it was one of my first "what the heck?" retcon moments. It was like the first time I had the sense to pull back the curtain on the creative process of a comic and think, "there's no reason for this except to move the story into place for someone else." I kind of want to find that last page image again to prove to the world why this book needed to be rejuvenated. (Editor's note: X-Man graciously posted these 2 weird pages on his pics blog- Thanks, friend!)

2.) Fantastic Four #554 (2008)- This was one of my more recent attempts to enjoy the FF. I don't like Mark Millar's writing (or personality, not that I know the guy), and Bryan Hitch is a truly great penciller, but he's not enough to make me to buy something. Those are probably the reasons that I waited for about 3 months after this issue to come out to buy it. I remember the day, because my brother (who didn't like comics, but was just tagging along) had come with me to the comic store, and I really didn't have anything in mind to buy, so I felt like I was really wasting his time. I kind of just grabbed it on a whim (and because I had some idea that it was supposed to be a cool new direction), and was astonished to find I enjoyed the story enough to pick up the next issue. But then money woes came and I didn't buy any more issues.

I really thought Millar and Hitch were going to do something special with the book. After reading one of those Marvel promotional interviews in the back of one of my other comics, I kind of bought into the hype. All writers say they want to go back to the "Stan and Jack" mentality for these characters, and I thought maybe Millar could do it within the parameters of the actual Marvel Universe. But I didn't stick with book, and then all those delays happened, and I didn't care anymore. I finally got the trade of these stories, and I'm kind of glad I waited. The book was just sort of a letdown after awhile, and delays never help that.

3.) Fantastic Four #1 (1997)- As stated above, the FF comic was rebooted in 1996, as part of a great experiment to update the Marvel characters. Titled "Heroes Reborn", 4 Marvel titles were restarted in a universe that was separate from the regular marvel universe. Well, the experiment failed. The books were horrendous, fans were rightfully upset, and the heroes who were reborn quickly returned to the regular Marvel Universe. Fanboys put down their torches and shotguns, and peace returned to the land.

To further smooth relations with their fans, Marvel smartly put actual honest-to-goodness creators back on the big Marvel books. Kurt Busiek wrote the Avengers and Iron Man, Mark Waid went back to Captain America, and Scott Lobdell and artist Alan Davis came aboard for the Fantastic Four series (Thor even came back too!).

Although Scott and Alan only stayed on the book for 3 issues (ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? 3? Chalk it up to creative differences) , the excitement I had for this issue still remains today. I first read this comic on the campus of Michigan State University while waiting for my mom to get out of one of her Masters courses. I was in the lobby of one of the Halls feeling really out of place (since I was about 13 at the time), so I just buried my face in comics for like 2 hours.

There was just this feeling that with these creators aboard, the FF was going to be a real family oriented action-adventure book again, and not just some creative revamp for Jim Lee to play with (which is what Heroes Reborn was). The issue's opening scene has Ben test piloting a new invention for Reed, and then driving it into a snow bank and the Torch making fun of him. At the time, I loved it so much, and it was the best rendition of the Thing I had ever seen. I think Alan Davis is my favorite FF artist ever. Maybe even moreso than Kirby, which may be comic book "blasphemy."

However, years later, I bought the comic again for a dollar and I thought the story was kind of weak. But at the end of the issue, the FF saves France and the people yell "Vive La Fantastique!", which is the battlecry of this particular blog...a little bit of trivia for you, there.

4.) Essential Fantastic Four Volume 4 (published in 2005, purchased in 2006)- I had not bought a comic in about 7 years, due to the fact that I gave up on them during high school and a better part of college. I had moved to the campus of a university after attending a community college for a while, and I was looking for a hobby. I had been wondering whatever happened to all those old characters I used to read about, so I looked them up on google. After looking some stuff over on the ComicBookResources site, I brushed off the notion of reading comics again.

But as time went by, I started to look up more and more comics stuff online. I was intrigued, but disgusted by the price of comics. $3? Really? I told myself that they weren't worth it. And then one Friday night, I rode the bus to downtown Grand Rapids, and went to a quaint little bookstore (that was about 2 weeks from going under). It was there that I discovered the idea of a Marvel "Essential" volume- a collected edition with a lot of comics for a relatively small amount of money. The volume was $17 for about 20 issues, so I bought it, hoping that the Galactus story might be included somewhere. Well, I never did finish that volume (because old comics are really boring- I don't care what anyone says), but it did snowball me into buying NEW comics. So in a way, the FF brought me back to comics. I don't know if I should thank them or not, but that volume of comics has significantly directed my life for the past 4 years....

Wow, I'd never connected my purchase of that volume to my current state of existence, but it's true. Well, that's it for the personal stuff. I hope you have a clearer picture of why I would buy a box of 163 non sequential comic books featuring characters that I sometimes despise. Until next time, Vive la Fantastique!

1 comment:

  1. Great post Kello. First off, I just posted the last two pages of FF #413 over at my pic site, in case you still want to relive that particular piece of FF history. I can never ignore the wishes of a fellow member of the Legion. Anyway, reverting Franklin back to a little kid always bothered me because I thought he had more potential as a teenager. If nothing else, they should have just stuck him with the X-Men, that would have been a great fit.

    I didn't like Mark Millar's FF run at all, and his treatment of Dr. Doom(the greatest FF character of all!)still causes me to froth at the mouth(I should probably get that checked out by a doctor...).

    Huh, so you'd take Alan Davis over the King? Huh... For me, the best two artists to ever work on the FF would have to be of course King Jack Kirby, with Mike Wieringo being a close second(it was Mark Waid and Mike's run that got me back into the FF a few years back). To me, all of Alan's women look too much alike, I say this as someone who has read a plethora of his X-related books.

    I've got to totally agree with you about the Essential/Showcase trades. They're great in theory, but boy are they hard to get through!