Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Little Art Appreciation

I unfortunately have a Twitter account, which I use to make mostly random and unsolicited comments about comic books. Much like this blog, no one reads it but me, but I'm okay with that. I still think it's funny.

Anyway, one of the comic pros that I "follow" is Marcus To, the current artist (and briefly, the saving grace) of the DC Comics series Red Robin. Mr. To put up a link to his Deviant Art gallery, which featured an awesome slew of sketches, including one of the Flash and the one found below:

Since I've only seen To do DC characters, seeing the FF sketch was pretty cool. Check out To's site, and until I can draw like him, Vive le fantastique!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fantastic Four #282

Fantastic Four #282-"Inwards to Infinity!"
Cover Date: Sept. 1985 Price $.65 (Reaganomics are kicking in!)
Cover Tagline: "Inwards to Infinity!"
Writer/ Artist: John Byrne

We begin the issue with a splash page of Franklin running through a pile of rubble and yelling for his daddy. There's also a quote from Moby Dick included, but I didn't read it, because I hate when media uses literary quotes to try and "class up" whatever form of junk entertainment they're really presenting (see the TV show "Criminal Minds" for a weekly example). As Franklin runs through the rubble of what appears to be New York City, a bunch of planets appear in the sky and then some spaceships blow each other up. A giant Lizard/alien/dinosaur (Lizaliosaur- I made that up) thing appears and scares the youngest Richards.

The Lizaliosaur follows Frankie for a few more pages, and his cries for help go seemingly unaided. As Lizaliosaur closes in, some beams off energy hit its (gender neutral because it reproduces Asexually- copyright Kello) face, and steam envelopes it and Franklin is whisked away to safety by what appears to be a piece of rainbow. Franklin lands in a forest, and meets an ailing creature that can only be described as a mix of DC's Firestorm and a My Little Pony (a 15/85 ratio, respectively). This all sounds really masculine, doesn't it?

Franklin asks Ponystorm if it's okay, and it can't speak. All of a sudden, Franklin sees some shadowy figures standing on a ledge above them, and it turns out that it's Marvel's wascaly band of pint sized heroes known as the Power Pack. The Power Pack, for those of you who don't know, are a group of kids who decided to wear matching jammies and form a superteam. Franklin tells the PP that he's in trouble, and their leader tells them to grab his hand. But just as Franklin reaches out, the scene fades out in a blur of white.

We turn the page and find out it was all an elaborate dream. Frankie gets up to tell his parents, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, about the craziness. At this point the FF's headquarters were being repaired after getting blown up by Doctor Doom, so they were staying with the Avengers. Aww, "like a good neighbor", the Avengers are there. Franklin rides the elevator down to the lab, where he sees his dad feverishly working with the She-Hulk (those two spent a lot of time together in the lab. I wonder...NO! Put the thought of your head, Kello...). He's rebuilding something called a Reducto-Craft, which will allow the FF to chase down the Psycho Man.

Reed, She-hulk, and Johnny Storm discuss whether they should be chasing after the Psycho at all, given that the Beyonder has come to Earth. Did I mention this issue is a tie-in to Secret Wars II, the most unnecessary sequel since Speed 2? Sue Richards interjects that the FF better be going after the Psycho Man, because he has committed such heinous crimes against her. In an issue I didn't read, the Psycho Man went in and violated Sue's soul somehow, and she wants revenge.

Franklin busts in to tell his dad about the nightmare, and Sue yells at him to go back to bed. Obviously, she's acting in a manner which some people from the 1950's would call "hysterical." Reed defends Franklin, but then sends him with the Avenger's butler Jarvis to appease his angry wife (he really is smart, isn't he?). Even Johnny thinks Sue is acting weird, and he's as daft as they come...

Anyway, the Reducto-Craft is finally ready, and Reed tells Sue that following the Psycho Man will take top priority over the Beyonder, because other heroes like Alpha Flight are on the case. The team gets in the Reducto-Craft, which looks like a Landspeeder from Star Wars with a transparent bubble top. The FF get set, and the craft begins to stop Micro-verse! Reed begins to navigate through the sub-atomic particles, but the craft is inexplicably out of control, as if it's being pulled by some force. He lands the craft, the team gets out, and Johnny notices that the Microverse looks different from the last time they were all there. He flames on, and goes to investigate, and is captured by a giant pair of tongs. It turns out that the Psycho Man set up a trap for the team, and he captures them all and puts them in test tubes. The team thought he wouldn't be able to change shapes in the Microverse, but they were wrong....perhaps dead wrong.

Well, the series goes on for about 25 more years and 300 issues, so "dead wrong" is probably a little overdramatic.

What I thought- To be honest, I really liked this issue when I first read it. but upon further review, I realized that way too many pages are devoted to Franklin's nightmare. Seriously, there are 9 pages of him having this surreal dream, and then there is absolutely no resolution to it save for his mom yelling at him. Obviously, there is a lot of foreshadowing, and it's meant to set up a future storyline involving the Power Pack, but Byrne could have done in 5 pages or less.

As far as Sue's issues with the Psycho Man, it sounds like whatever went down was pretty intense. The best way I can describe what she describes is "soul rape." But Sue acting all vengeful and out of character is classic FF. I mean think about it, that's where we get like half the stories from, right? It's like "hey what's wrong with Johnny? He's acting like he's possessed by El Diablo", or "Reed's acting as weird as Doom...wait a minute, he IS Doom!" As I make my way through "the box", I'm trying to pick up on these trends in storylines. In the hands of less capable writers, they're quite obvious and forced. With Byrne it's at least passably entertaining.

Until Marvel apologizes for Secret Wars II, vive le fantastique!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fantastic Four #275

Fantastic Four #275-"The Naked Truth"
Cover Date: Feb 1985 Price $.60
Cover Quote: "Hey guys--what's big and green and has a staple in her navel?"
Writer/Artist -Johny Byrne

(Editor's note- this is pretty much a farce of a comic. Any unbelievable situations described by the reviewer are in fact true to the story, which is credited as Kevin Nowlan's idea.)

We begin this issue with a splash page of She-Hulk sunbathing on the top of the Baxter Building. While the Buxom beauty lies with a towel, jean shorts, and a smile, we cut to a sleazy photographer and his pilot friend circling the jade giantess in a helicopter. The chopper pulls in close, sending a large amount of wind the She -Hulk's way. Her towel goes flying, and the photog gets the money shot he hoped for. Wow, that's the craziest 2 pages ever in a FF comic. And they've seen some messed up stuff!

She-Hulk, feeling as if her privacy has been violated, retaliates by jumping on the chopper. As the pilot tries to shake his hanger-on, everyone's favorite Atlanta Brave single tear shedding Native American cliche Wyatt Wingfoot (who had rejected his role of Chief to live a life of adventure) emerges from the Baxter Building, scantily clad and looking for the She-Hulk. Apparently he was going to do some sunbathing himself, either that or her was doing a really excellent unarmored Peter Rasputin impression. Seeing the chopper situation, Wingfoot gets a small "Fantasti-speeder" (copyright me!) and gives chase.

In a really well-executed scene, the She-Hulk is thrown from the chopper and flies through a high rise office. Wyatt comes to her aid, and by the time they get their wits about them the copter is gone. The two head back to the Baxter Building and decide to fight this battle using not brawn, but the She-Hulk's superhuman ultra lawyer powers. Juris prudence away!!

The She Hulk calls the radio station that the copter belongs to (it was a Traffic Copter), asking if they could tell her where it touches down. The surprisingly forthright station manager gives her the name of the private airstrip, and advances the plot rather quickly for the 2 panels in which he appears. I don't know about you, but I usually have to make like 4 phone calls whenever I have errands to take care,of, and one of those calls ends up being with some guy in India who HAS to read from a script and pretend that he has no personality.

So Shulkie and Wyatt find the pilot, threaten him, and find out who bought the photos-a yet unnamed source. But from this scene we jump to Alicia Masters' apartment, where she is walking down the stairs with her Sinead O Connor haircut and no pants. Normally those two things could be excused by the fact that she's blind, but she appears to be doing the classic "walk of shame." Alicia is calling out for Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch, who is waiting with the "morning after" coffee at the bottom of the stairs. Alicia is the ex-girlfriend of the Thing, who is Johnny's best friend and teammate. The Thing at this point has not returned to the ranks of the FF because he's off having other adventures, and Johnny and Alicia have grown quite close in his absence.

Johnny tells Alicia he's sorry about last night feels like he took advantage of their friendship, she assures him that they're grown ups and they can do what and or who they want. Okay, she's more eloquent then that, but seeing these two together in this situation made me want to rip this issue to shreds. It was one of those moments where I felt like the Thing was really my friend, and I had to stand up for him...that's really dumb.

So back in the other sexually related plot thread, the She-Hulk is going to the place that bought her photos, but in her normal human form as Jennifer Walters. Wyatt accompanies Walters to serve as a bodyguard, and so he can score major brownie points. Walters, who resembles her cousin Bruce Banner quite a bit in her human form enters the offices of the tabloid known as "The Naked Truth" (a subsidiary of the Daily Bugle...ok, not really) , and asks for Mr. Vance.

Mr. Vance, who seems like a cross between Stan Lee and Larry Flynt, tells Walters that She-Hulk is a public figure and that she shouldn't have been sunbathing in public. Vance expounds upon the facts that the pictures are already printed, and that he already made a fortune, which he's keeping in a small safe in his office. Apparently the money went right to his head, because he couldn't resist telling that to his two guests. Jennifer Walters then turns into the She-Hulk, crumples the safe full of money into a ball, and hands it to Mr. Vance. Shulkie and Wyatt leave the office, knowing that at least they stopped the perv from getting his payment for the pics.

In the story's "epilog" (don't look at me, that's what it says), we are shown a scene 3 weeks later at the Baxter Building. A "business casual" Reed finds Sue and asks her is she's okay. Apparently something big happened, because Sue is looking in on her son Franklin and talking about the great distress they all just went through. I missed something I guess, but it has been a 6 issue gap between this issue and the last one I reviewed. Reed tells Sue that he's ready to go out and see "Little Shop of Horrors", and then sees that She-Hulk is depressed as well. He asks her what's up, and she tells them it's the past few days (What did I miss???), and that the magazine comes out. Just then, Johnny "worst friend ever" Storm flies in the window holding a copy of the mag.

Johnny shows She-Hulk the pictures, and to her delight, someone had color corrected her green skin to look more flesh colored, because they thought there was a defect in the original photo. Johnny tells She-Hulk that he needs the magazine back, because he has a pair of green tinted glasses in his room. The comic ends on the Torch flying to his room and the She-Hulk chasing him down. It's like something out a 80's sitcom. "Sit Ubu ,sit."

What I Thought: I saved my more sarcastic moments for this portion of the post, given the very ridiculous nature of the story to begin with. First of all, She-Hulk is green. Does she really need to tan her green skin? From the looks of it, Jennifer Walters is the one who needs a tan. And the end of the issue, with Johnny and his "green tinted glasses." Dude, it's a naked girl, shouldn't that be enough? I mean use a little imagination if the color is that big of an obstacle.

And Johnny and Alicia- look, I'm not a prude, and I'm not uninformed about Fantastic Four history. I know Johnny and Alicia have a big long relationship that turns into an even bigger storyline, but it was weird to see a Fantastic Four comic show "the morning after" for anyone but Reed and Sue. Even then, it's a really weird thought. It might just be me that feels that way, maybe I am a prude..... I am a prude.

Overall, this comic was fun. It was a good change of pace from the other stories. I think this is why Byrne was so great on this book, he put these characters in a lot of varied situations. I think what all writers/ artists strive for with the FF is the feeling like it's "family first", but the family could go anywhere, and most end up taking them to the Negative Zone ad nauseum. Despite it's soap opera elements, I can see that this issue never set out to take itself too seriously, so I won't even try to either. So until Johnny gets an imagination, vive le fantastique!

Good News/ Bad News

Hello True Believers!
I owe Stan Lee a nickel every time I write that, but it's totally worth it. I'll tell him to put it on my tab. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know about some things going on with the blog, now that I'm getting some more time to work on it. So would you like the good news or the bad news first? I always pick bad, so I know what's wrong right away.

Well, it's nothing too serious, just that the scanner part of my "all-in-one" printer recently broke, so I'd just like to apologize for the lack of visual content on the site. I feel as if it's negatively effected the aesthetic appeal of such an illustrious institution as Four Freedoms. Plus, pictures are pretty. That was the bad news. See, it wasn't so rough!

The good news is that I found a store on eBay that has a lot of the issues I'm missing from the much ballyhooed "box" for a dollar a piece, and flat rate shipping. They also have a bunch of FF minis and one-shots for a dollar an issue, which will do nicely for the other new features I'm planning. I'm so excited for those, but they require an active scanner. So I'm thinking I'll get the comics soon, and a new scanner down the road somewhere...who knows, maybe I'll just splurge and get one. I'm bad like that.

Until Next Time, Vive le Fantastique!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fantastic Four #269

Fantastic Four #269-"SKYFALL"
Cover Date Aug 1984 Price $.60
Cover Tagline: "Who is Terminus?"
Writer/ Artist: John Byrne

Story- We open the issue with a thoughtful Wyatt Wingfoot, who is the FF's longtime racistly stereotyped Native American compatriot. He's standing and surveying the open desert, thinking how he is a day away from taking over as the Chief of his tribe. Wyatt slightly laments this fact, because he has shared so many globetrotting adventures "off the reservation." (couldn't resist)

All of a sudden, our pondering guest star is surprised by a giant beam coming down from the sky, blasting the desert ground around him. Think of Wyatt as an ant, and the beam like a focused light from a giant magnifying glass, and you have the picture. Knowing that this big beam means trouble for his tribe, Wingfoot runs off to alert the proper authorities--you guessed it-- the Fantastic Four! After all, if you could call them, wouldn't you?

We jump to a lunch date between Johnny and some dirty skan--I mean young, fashionable lady named Shar. the two are catching up, because at this point in comics history the Fantastic Four had just returned from fighting a "Secret War" in space. While they're conversing, Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm's ex-girlfriend and blind friend of the FF walks by looking a bit lost. Johnny totally ditches Shar and proceeds to help Alicia cross the street, because she was looking for the museum. That's the punchline to the old joke "Why did the blind girl cross the road?" Anyway, Johnny approaches the whole thing with trepidation because Alicia's former lover, the aforementioned Benjamin Grimm, decided to stay in space and continue fighting the aforementioned "Secret War."

We cut to the Baxter Building, the home base of the Fantastic Four, where we find a contemplative Susan Storm. Wow, there really was a lot of contemplating going on back in the 80's, at least in comics. Sue is thinking about recently losing her 2nd child (in issue 267) due to her cosmically irradiated cells, and how sad it is that the doctor told her not to have any more kids. As she wallows in guilt, her young son Franklin busts in and asks where the heck Ben is, and if the family can go to their home in Connecticut. At this point in the comics, Sue and Reed had set up secret identities in a suburban neighborhood to try and give Franklin some sense of normalcy. You think Reed would have calculated that would be a waste of time ,given the FF's propensity for epic adventures, but alas Sue walks Franklin down to see his pops.

Reed is busy looking like an old man and putting together some new machine with the surprisingly hot She-Hulk, who is now a member of the team in the Thing's absence. As sickened as this reviewer is by people who go gaga over drawings of women in comics, he will admit that John Byrne's She-Hulk is proportionately ideal. As Reed and Shulkie continue to build the machine, Sue asks what it is, and Reed blows up like 3 pages of pseudo-science that I'm sure John Byrne thought was very clever.

Essentially the machine Reed's building pulls the kinetic energy from the sun and transfers it for use in other places, thereby giving the world a free source of energy. The only problem is that it's so much power that it makes the things it is stored in implode. It's those little kinks that make scientific discovery so much fun! As the friends are reveling in Reed's accomplishment, Wyatt calls up to tell Reed about the giant beam cutting through the land. And as any distinguished super hero would cry, Reed lets out a mighty "great scott!"

As Reed is on the phone with Wyatt, the giant destructive beam crosses next to Manhattan, and the president calls Reed and tells him to get on the case. Reed takes She-Hulk to accompany him to the desert where Wyatt initially saw the beam, and tells Sue to stay home. Sue gets quite upset, and uses her powers to trash Reed's lab. Remember kids, she's the most powerful member of the FF. Coupled with the fact that she is a woman, you don't want to make her mad.

Reed and She-Hulk head to the desert, and along the way they discuss how in her secret identity as a lawyer the She-Hulk actually encounters as many complexities as Reed does as a scientist. It's a funny thing to see how naive and innocent She-Hulk was when she first came out in comics, because now she's written as one of comics' more notorious harlots. As she and Reed fly towards the beam, he realizes that it is a search beam from a hundred light years away, which means whoever sent it was smart enough to calculate where the Earth would be in a hundred years. All of a sudden, a giant vessel of some sort descends from the great beam. Reed once again cements his old man status as he yells "great scott!" ...Shouldn't Perry White be suing him by now or something?

The beam stops, leaving a smoldering vessel on the ground. Reed and Shulkie go to investigate, and Wyatt meets up with them there. He introduces himself to She-Hulk and the romantic foreshadowing almost punches you in the face. Maybe this was the seeds of she-hulk's descent into promiscuity...

As they flirt, Reed looks over his data from tracking the beam's path across the United States. He notices the pattern, and uses his "Universal Translator" (which rivals the "Bat shark repelent" from the 1960's Batman movie as the most convenient tool EVER) to decipher that the beam actually wrote a message. The message, which is printed on a ticker tape not unlike a fortune cookie, reads "I claim this world- Terminus". As Reed looks on the back of the tape for his lucky numbers (not really!), She-Hulk asks the logical question of just who is Terminus? Well, much to no ones surprise, the once smoldering vessel that arrived with the beam stands up and reveals itself to be "Terminus...master of this planet!" She just had to go and ask, didn't she?

What I Thought- As a set up issue I liked it. You can tell this issue was resetting a few things after the Secret War mini-series had shaken up a few Marvel titles, and it's also got a lot of story beats that branch off in different directions. I've read a few of John Byrne's more current (90's) work, and it's not as tight as the storytelling in these old books. For such a prolific career, his FF work stands out to me as his defining moment. I mean, it has to be a tie with his work on "Superman- Man of Steel" from the mid 80's, but this just encompasses so much character history without reinventing it.

Despite my making fun of it, I liked the science sounding stuff in this issue. It's not often when you have to read a comic a few times just to make sure you know which kind of science it's talking about. Usually they don't even make it sound half way plausible now, as Iron Man can wear an invisible Internet on his body that can go in space and blow up tanks.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention She-Hulk's appearance in this issue. I once described the She-Hulk to my friend as that hot girl you know from a distance who seems really cool and interesting, but once you get to know her personally, she is so off-putting and repulsive you want to run in terror. I still feel that way about her, given that she was most recently written as an Ally McBeal rip-off, but it's nice to see her humble beginnings. Her personality almost seems "cute" in these FF issues, which is more fitting for someone who inadvertently gained super powers from a blood transfusion.

So overall, I really liked this issue. It's not as classic as a few of the others from the box that I've read so far, but I liked seeing Reed and She-Hulk just chilling. It would be nice to know how the rest of the story turns out, but the next review jumps forward in time. Oh well, such is the fate of he pulls from the box. Until next time, vive le Fantastique!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Don't Think This Counts...

I hate blogs posts that simply put up links to other sites, but there was a cool little interview over at Newsarama with current Fantastic Four writer Johnathan Hickman about the future of the FF as it relates to Marvel's new "Heroic Age." Apparently, issue number 579 will be a "done-in-one" story that lets new readers come onboard ans get right into the story. It appears the issue will also feature a sweet Reed Richards spotlight cover by Alan Davis.

I think the best thing about this article is that Hickman states that his FF run is really telling a 30 issue story, broken up into arcs. It will be gratifying to see that come to fruition. Go here for the article.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Feature: Staying Current

Hello, true believers! Upon my return to the blogosphere, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the red-headed stepchild that is Four Freedoms Plaza. I started this blog with the intention of motivating myself to finish my giant box of Fantastic Four comics. It was my goal to keep a sort of a running commentary of how the FF changed over the years, by looking at snapshots of the team and the creators that so often butchered them. Because 163 comics was quite a bit of reading, I thought it would suffice to simply go through the box an issue at a time.

But then something happened. I really started to enjoy reading about the Fantastic Four.

After finding how enjoyable the team truly is, I began to grab all the FF issues I could. I became somewhat of a "thrifty completist", given that I had almost all the issues to come out in the last 4 years.

So in the spirit of expanding the world of Four Freedoms, I am proud to unveil the first of my 3 (yes, 3! Although it would be more cliche to think of 4) new features....drum roll, please...Staying Current!

"Staying Current" posts will feature reviews of and thoughts on the most recent issue of Fantastic Four. Because my love affair with the "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" has been rekindled, and because the current creative team of Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham are really great, I'm pretty excited to talk about FF material that ISN'T from the 80's.

So without further tomfoolery, I 'd like to present to you with the most recent outing of the FF... Fantastic Four #575!

Fantastic Four #575 "Prime Elements 1: The Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary"
Cover Date March 2010 Price $3.99 (because I bought the newsstand version... total rip-off!)
Cover Tagline: "There is chaos in the Underworld..."
Writer/ Artist: Jonathan Hickman/ Dale Eaglesham

This issue begins with 3 of the Mole Man's lackeys crawling out of the sewer. Well, they must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque, because they are abruptly hit by a giant mack ten truck. The two functioning moloids pop the head off of their friend (yeah, "what the heck?"), and proceed to make their way to the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four.

Well, having the Mole Man's cronies in the lobby of their home alerts the FF to assemble and confront the creatures. In one of the oddest panels I've ever seen, the decapitated head of the moloid tells the FF to "clear the lobby." The floor shakes and the Mole Man makes his grand entrance riding the tongue of a giant monster (in a scene that harkens back to the classic cover of Fantastic Four #1). Old Moley tells the FF, that he needs his help to save the underworld, and we have ourselves a story arc....

Mole Man tells the FF the problem is that a leftover underground city which once belonged to Marvel baddie and (complete lame-o) High Evolutionary is causing great distress among his moloids, because the city has the power of superdevolving beings. As the moloids found the city, they began to devolve from mindless drones into something near-human (yeah, I'm not sure how it works either).

As Moley continues to explain, the increased level of intelligence that beings gain from the city is causing a rift between his Moloids and him, and the inhabitants of the city are planning to raise it above ground. This is a problem, because he likes to control the little monsters and their way of life. It's also a problem because the city lies on a fault line that will crack the Earth open if it comes up.

So the long and short of it is, the FF decide to go way underground to investigate the city. Along the way, they find the corpse of the Galactus engine from the Millar run of FF (always wondered what happened to that!), which Reed buried after that adventure. The FF pass a few new underground cities, including Lechuguilla (which has the distinction of having the worst fictional town name ever) and Meramec (a.k.a the Gungan city from Star Wars), finally reaching the gates of the High Evolutionary's base.

Everything is going crazy as the FF arrive, because the city is on the verge of collapse. The team gets ready to leave, but the Thing jumps ship to save some moloid kids who are being held prisoner. Apparently, they were kept as pets because they were born with normal intelligence. As Ben enters the city, his rocky cranium changes shape, and he becomes more ape-like. Yeah, this comic is as weird as it sounds.

The FF flee, shielded by Sue's force field. In what we call an old fashioned bait-and-switch, we the readers are led to believe the city was destroyed. In all actuality, the city is revealed to be raised up above ground. Ben's apeness goes away after an hour, and we learn from Reed Richards' files that the new city is now considered a potential threat to the United States.

What I thought: This is an anniversary issue, and as the beginning of the new arc from the incomparable team of Hickman/Eaglesham, there is real potential here. I will admit that the whole "devolving" thing is a bit confusing, because I would think that moloids are already devolved. I would also like to say that the press this issue received from Marvel was kind of misleading. At the beginning of 2010, there were a few pieces of FF spoiler art that showed both the Mole Man splash page and the Dead Galactus splash page. When they came out, they gave some grand impression that this issue didn't precisely deliver on. Not that the pages weren't cool, but in context to the story they were just cool treats for the casual reader. But fear not, much like this blog, it will hopefully get better as it goes.