Wednesday, December 29, 2010

One-Shot Showdown! Totally Biased Edition

It’s One-Shot Showdown! In which I compare the merits of two Fantastic Four related one-shots and render a verdict as to which one’s better. All decisions are final, written in stone, and utterly absolute…something around here has to be, right?

Today's Theme: Adventures with a cosmic powered family! (a.k.a. same old, same old)

Today's Contenders-

2009's Cosmic Size Fantastic 4


2006's Fantastic Four Special

Welcome true believers, fight fans, or curious online sojourners who found me by accident! Today we will witness what promises to be a showdown of epic disproportion! If you've ever read a one-shot showdown posting here at FF Plaza, you know I try my best to match the issues up by theme, and then offer a fair and balanced critique of each. However, one of the issues featured today is written by none other than Dwayne McDuffie, who is probably my all-time favorite FF writer. Didn't know you'd be getting a free Kello fun fact today, did you?

Mr. McDuffie was the writer on the main FF series in it's post-Civil War era all the way to the Mark Millar run, and his knack for strong characterization synced up perfectly with the exploits of the FF and it's cast of incredulous villains . Having that said, I'm willing to see if there's anything that the "Cosmic Size" issue can offer against my own incredible sense of bias for McDuffie's work. Without further jawin...Fight!

Cosmic Size Fantastic 4 by Cary Bates and Bing Cansino

The Plot
: Reed and Ben are picking up samples from a pocket dimension and Ben almost gets eaten by a "little shop of horrors" type plant. Saved by his rocky exterior, Ben and Reed head back home. After they get back to the Baxter Building, Reed reveals that the plant that tried to eat Ben left him with a contagious residue on his skin and the family will need to be quarantined for 48 hours. As the team waits out the time, they start acting increasingly hostile towards one another. It turns out the plants from the other dimension are affecting the adults of the team, and it's up to Val and Franklin to save the day.

Positives+ This comic is a true Fantastic Four comic, with all members getting equal face time. The plot point of the team being quarantined offers up a great way for our favorite family to interact.

+There are even some interesting "adult-themed" moments in this issue that you don't normally see in an FF comic. While it's not something I want to see in every FF comic, it sets this special apart ever so slightly.

Negatives- Although I like the team interacting, I feel like the "Unseen force turns everyone against each other" plot has been done to death.

-Val and Franklin save the day. I'm in the minority that actually likes the kids, but having them save the day is becoming a common occurrence (see the excellent FF: Dark Reign mini-series for a fun example).

- This was another one-shot with a useless reprint in the back (John Byrne's Fantastic Four #237), which puffed the price up to an undeserved $4.99! Although it did offer this moment....

It's better if I don't give the context.

Fantastic Four Special by Dwayne McDuffie and Casey Jones

The Plot: In a story called "My Dinner with DOOM", Reed is invited to dine with his long time rival, Dr. Doom, at the Latverian embassy. Dr. Doom has declared it to be a holiday in Latveria, in honor of his dead mother's forgiving spirit. As Doom shows Reed around the embassy, they walk through a doorway that teleports them to Latveria.

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, the heroes are on high alert, because Reed told them all Doom may be using the dinner as a reason to steal something Reed has been holding onto for 15 years. Since there was only 3 places to keep the item safe (Avengers Tower, The Baxter Building, and the Damage Control Headquarters), the rest of the FF is dispatched to these areas. Doombots attack the 3 sites, while Reed and Victor play a chess game they had begun 15 year before. As the heroes fight, we find out Reed has the item Doom was looking for all along, and he willfully gives it to him as a sign of friendship. Reed wins the chess game, as well as the moral victory.

Positives+ In the interest of space I won't gush too much, but McDuffie really knows how to write the FF. Heartfelt, humorous, and introspective, this $2.99 one-shot clearly defines the relationships between these characters so well that it's hard to believe it's a single plotline. We get great Sue/ Reed moments, Doom/Reed moments, Ben/Johnny moments, and even Torch/Spidey moments.

+ The plot was more about a battle of wits than a battle of fists, and it shines a great light onto the natures of Doom and Reed. In the end, both are humanized just a little more.

+ The art in this issue is wonderful. Casey Jones (T-M-N-T power!) provides a Kirby-esque style for the flashbacks and a Wieringo-like cartoonishness for the scenes in the present.

Negatives- Why didn't they call this issue "Fantastic Four: My Dinner with DOOM"? Anything's better than "Fantastic Four Special." How mundane.

-....I can't find anymore. I loved this issue.

The Winner: It was over before it started, if you haven't already picked up on that yet. The Fantastic Four Special is the hands-down "victor" of this battle. Not only a great Doom/Reed story, this issue is a prime example of what a one-shot can be. Dead-on characterization, connections to the overall Marvel Universe, and a plot that ties itself up by the issue's conclusion, I can't recommend the special highly enough. But then again, I'm pretty biased. So until I beat Doom at chess, vive la fantastique!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fantastic Four #320

Fantastic Four 320-“Pride Goeth...”
Cover Date Nov 1988 Price $.75
Writer/ Artist-Steve Englehart/ Keith Pollard
Cover Tagline: “The Shadow of Doom!"," The Thing vs. The Hulk"
Number of issues since last box pull: 13

(Editor's Note- Now that I have some free time over break, I'm going to try and get back on the horse. It has been quite some time since I've pulled from "the"box", but I think I'm ready. Let's forget issue 317 ever happened and enjoy the mindless action that is #320!)

What Happened: This issue begins as a continuation of a story from Hulk #349, a comic I admittedly neglected from my pull list (considering how I was 3 years old at the time it came out). A newly intelligent grey skinned (and tuxedoed) Hulk is lunging for Dr. Doom in retaliation for being dragged into the Las Vegas desert.

The jade gray giant is understandably miffed at being pulled away from all the penny slots and goes to fight with the leader of Latveria, only to be zapped by a power beam. The not-so-good doctor explains that the beam is a neural disruptor(tens years before M.I.B.!), and as the Hulk is physically incapacitated, Doom wishes simply to chat. Hulk no am understand.....

Doom explains to a less than interested grey Hulk that he recently took a journey to see the Beyonder, and while he was absent the protocols were enacted to call up his protege to run his kingdom of Latveria.

Doom hopes Hulk will go back to Latveria and help him regain the throne via brute strength (after all, Hulk smash), but the Hulk politely declines. Doom says thats okay, and then tells the Hulk that he didn't know turning gray made him into a scared little girl as well.Before Hulk can offer a rebuttal, Doom tells him he's not offended, because he has another strong man in mind to help carry out his plan. Namely, one Benjamin J. Grimm, a.ka the hero known as The Thing!
Intelligent or not, the Hulk always lets taunts roll off of him with all the class of a WWE wrestler. Rowdy Roddy Hulk tells Doom he can best the Thing six ways from Sunday, and citing the many other comics where the two have clashed. See, the old imbecilic Hulk never would have cited precedence! The stage is now set for the Hulk to attack the Thing, and Dr. Doom could not be more pleased. Come on Doom, we already have one "puppet master" in the FF universe, stop aping his gig!

The scene shifts over to NYC, with the "Fantastic" Four catching up about their latest escapade. It seems that over the past few issues the team had gone to meet with the Beyonder at the Crossroads of Infinity. The team decides it's time for some R&R by going for a ferry ride. Johnny, Alicia, and Ms. Marvel (who still looks like "Mrs. Thing" at this point) invite Ben Grimm along, but as team leader, he feels compelled to hang out at the base. The Thing ponders the role of leadership as he heads to the roof for some sunbathing, or to drop pennies, or to smush birds, or whatever (it's not really clear why he's taking the elevator straight to the roof).
(The editor's note tells us "Reed Richards, the original FF leader." Thanks, I was totally lost!)

Any way it's all good, because as Ben pauses the Hulk totally gets the jump on him. Oh, I see! The Thing headed to the roof so he could do his daily "move the plot along" exercises! As the Hulk gives the thing a nice big "Ba-Wham!", the caption pretty much lets us know the "substance" part of the issue is over--

The rest of the issue is pretty much Superman #75, without Jimmy Olsen or a polybag. Seriously, it's just like 12 pages of The Thing and The Hulk beating on each other.
Pollard and Marvel totally have a case against Dan Jurgens!

The Thing and Hulk duke it out, each noting that the other is stronger than they remembered. The Hulk keeps his newfound intelligence a secret, and the Thing's edgier form gives him what seems to be the inside track to victory. This is all well and good, until the very end of the issue, when a very special guest star shows up to provide an interesting cliffhanger.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your hero.....The Green Hulk!? Hmmm, I honestly didn't see that coming. Also, note the originality of the plot next issue. The She-Hulk (a female version of the Hulk) is going to fight Ms. Marvel (who looks like a female version of the Thing). If you don't know why that sounds familiar, hit "refresh" on your browser and read the review that comes up!

What I Thought: This comic delivers everything it says it will, but given the fact you can the glean the ENTIRE storyline from the cover, that's not saying much. Think Scott Pilgrim+Street Fighter+A Godzilla movie divided by the aforementioned Superman#75 and you've got the average intelligence of this issue. I say that honestly, but since this comic is from 1988, I'll cut it some slack. For an all-out action issue, the art certainly delivers some punishing looking blows. The Thing and Hulk go pound-for-pound, "spok"ing and "krak"ing their way through the city streets. The best sound effect by far was the Thing's knockout blow:"Ramp!" Outside of someone actually speaking the word, have you ever heard anything make that noise?

Will this issue go down in history as a highlight of the FF from the 80's? No. Will it go down as the best Hulk/Thing matchup? No. Does it provide a fun and action filled romp between two heavyweight favorites? Most Definitely. Like the many Wolverine/Sabretooth throwdowns in comic history, this issue provides another chapter in a rivalry that needs to be revisited every now and then. Nothing more, nothing less. So until The Hulk becomes The Million Dollar Hulk and The Thing becomes "Thing-Kind", vive la fantastique!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Teaser Fun!

If you keep up with spoilers online, you probably already know how much Marvel loves teaser images. Seriously, they post a new teaser image everyday! This past week, Marvel released an interesting FF-related teaser I thought I would pass along.....

Looks like Hickman and Epting are going to continue their stellar partnership even after the "3" arc is over. Of course, judging from the logo above, the "3" arc may never truly be over....

Friday, December 3, 2010

3 Freedoms Plaza?

As we head into the home stretch of the FF's "3" arc, the World's Greatest Comic Magazine seems to be pulling out all the stops. Just today, Marvel announced that issue #587 of Fantastic Four will be polybagged (how come no one in the 90's ever called it "ploybagging"? Seems more accurate), will NOT be sold on newsstands, and will NOT go into extra printings. A variant edition will come out the week after the initial issue's release, with a spoilerific cover (which I assume will show Johnny getting eaten by Galactus) by John Cassady.

Apparently Marvel's rationale for the "no overprint/ newsstand" policy is to drive up demand and keep the issue from being spoiled by the dreaded liberal media. Many of us can still recall comic events such as Captain America's death and Barry Allen's resurrection being first reported on by highly circulated news outlets such as USA Today.

While all of the items above rightfully blew my mind, the biggest part of today's announcements came in the form of the following quote from Marvel's press release: "This January Fantastic Four #587 marks the end of the Fantastic Four and the penultimate issue of Marvel’s longest running series. "

We all know that killing off a member of the FF is a giant publicity stunt, but Marvel is showing a real commitment to the idea of "3" being a complete game changer. And hey, you know what? I believe them now. In an era with 2 Captain Americas, A Bruce Wayne who publicly associates with Batman, A Spidey who sleeps around, and a thriving comic that gets away with having the same name as a restaurant chain ("Red Robin....Yum"), there is the distinct possibility that the Fantastic 3 are here to stay.
And while I am more curious than enraged by the future of the F3, I can't help but feel my blog is going to look seriously out of date. I mean, I don't want to change my banner! Oh well, They'll always be the FF to me. So until the title gets pared down to the "Fantastic One", vive la fantastique!