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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Staying Current Quickie! Fantastic Four #588

Fantastic Four #588-“Three ,Epilogue- A Month of Mourning”
Cover Date April 2011 Price $3.99

Writer/ Artist-
Jonathan Hickman/ Nick Dragotta
Cover Tagline: “Final Issue"

What Happened: I'm going to forgo the usual longwinded summary, because frankly, I didn't like this issue. I'll get to that in a second, but let me sum up what happens. This issue deals with the fallout of the death of Johnny Storm, but does so without the use of dialogue. Told in snapshots from a "month of mourning", we as readers are treated to a visual feast by artist Nick Dragotta.

As the month rolls along, we see Sue push Reed away, Reed threaten Annihilus with the Ultimate Nullifier, and the Thing throw down with Thor and Hulk all in the name of grief. Doom even appears in a few spots, having lost his position as ruler of Latveria to his successor Kristoff Vernard. We also find out that the kids of the Future Foundation have a new mission: "Kill Annihilus." And finally we're treated to a backup tale featuring the Amazing Spider-Man consoling young Franklin Richards with his own tales of loss. The cliffhanger of the issue? Nathaniel Richards, the time-hopping father of Mr. Fantastic, appears from a temporal vortex, and with him comes word balloons.

What I Thought: So why didn't I like this issue? Well, it's the words "Final Issue" that really get to me. When I think "final issue" of a series as iconic as Fantastic Four, I tend towards delusions of grandeur, as if somehow everything that could be said about these characters is stated with such climatic fashion that you can't help but feel a sense of closure. Instead, this "final issue" feels like nothing but a stop along the way. While the new Future Foundation series (which starts this month) spins directly out of the events of this issue, I fear for the longevity of the concept. I almost feel as if Marvel could have done a "Future Foundation" maxi-arc (that sounds so wrong) within the pages of the Fantastic Four title and all would be well.

But I shouldn't be surprised. The FF have been canceled and relaunched before, and they tend to even out in the long run. It's just this time the gimmick is hurting an otherwise great story (Hickman's epic) instead of inflating a mediocre money grab ("Heroes Reborn"). I've said it again and again that Hickman's bigger story is something to behold, and Marvel wants to market it in all the wrong ways. But then again, I'm buying all the issues, so maybe they're on to something.

And it's not to say this story was awful by any means. It was perfectly acceptable and at times downright heartfelt. The choice to use a completely visual bookend to the series is a rather interesting idea.
I hated the art upon first look, but I soon realized that Dragotta's Gene Colan-esque style is meant to be a homage of sorts to Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby. While I would have preferred Steve Epting completing the entire "3" arc, I can appreciate how Dragotta plays a vital role in the storytelling here. Heck, without the dialogue, the pressure is squarely on his shoulders.
As for the "future" (little pun there) , Hickman has promised a lot of the stories from Fantastic Four will be tying up in the relaunched title. Plots such as the Valeria/Doom deal, the war of the 4 cities, and Franklin's status in the MU are finally going to come to a head. Now if we can get some more Namor/ Sue moments, I may forget how I felt about this issue. So until "dead means dead" isn't an insanely laughable notion, vive la fantastique!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fantastic Four #326

Fantastic Four 326-“The Illusion”
Cover Date May 1989 Price $.75

Writer/ Artist-
John Harkness/ Keith Pollard
Cover Tagline: “The New EVIL F.F.- The Frightful Four!"

Number of issues since last box pull: 5

What Happened: Our story opens with a shot of Reed and Sue Richards walking arm-in-arm through a snowy landscape. Though the heroes are not a part of the active Fantastic Four team, they're both wearing their FF costumes and discussing the recent "Inferno business." This leads me to believe that they just got done taking part in an ill-conceived Marvel line wide event. As the two chat about how they enjoy staying with the Avengers, Reed expresses his need to do more with his time. Having a brilliant mind, Reed isn't content sitting around with his dolt of a wife and their young son Franklin, who honestly acts a bit childish for his father's tastes. Sue tells Reed that he can go run off and play mad scientist, but that he's not allowed to interfere with the current Fantastic Four's adventures. After all, Reed promised to butt out of Ben's affairs back in issue 317.

Reed rockets away in a shuttle, thinking about how Sue somehow treats him like a child, and how she can be such a big doody head. As stretcho contemplates his situation, he correctly ponders the fact that he's pretty dang old for a superhero, so using his brain is really his greatest asset to the world at large. In other words, he wants to run the FF again because he's smarter than Ben.

Arriving at Four Freedoms Plaza (not a shameless plug I swear), he finds he can't get in with his normal keycard. Questioning the malfunctioning security, Reed stretches his skin into the same shape as the key that would be necessary, and proceeds to pick the lock.

Apparently the "super genius" doesn't realize he could just do this everytime and therefore doesn't need to carry a key at all. Entering the building, Reed is shocked to find the security defenses he designed are trying to kill him. Let's watch:

As the threat dies down and our hero is stretched a mile long, the current Fantastic Four team enters the room. Ever the gracious host, Ben Grimm proceeds to mock Reed's deadly situation, calling his stretched-out best friend "spaghetti on speed." Reed replies that he believes that a
"certain current leader" of the Fantastic Four has not been properly maintaining the building, and that Ben's momma is so fat that she has her own zip code. Cut him some slack in the humor department, he's a really old scientist. The team and Reed head to the control room, and old man Richards is dismayed to find his security protocols have not been followed.

Reed's attention then turns to Johnny, who is more flaming than ever (please feel free to read into that sentence what you will). Johnny explains that during the "Inferno" he pushed his powers to the max, and he hasn't been able to "flame-off" since. Reed tells him he could take a look, and Johnny blows him off. Ben also tells him to leave, because he's got everything under control. Thankfully Ms. Marvel (still in rocky form) vouches for Reed and he invites himself to stay. Reed's not very subtle when it comes to wresting control back from loved ones.

As Reed so slyly usurps Ben's position, we jump over to the ever villainous Wizard, whose pontificating about ways to finally conquer his foes in the FF. Apparently Wizard feels that his time for victory has come because Reed Richards didn't design his defenses with computer viruses in mind.

As the Wizard walks through his layer, we as readers are introduced to the NEW and "improved"Frightful Four, consisting of Wizard, Hydro Man, Klaw, and Titania. As each of the villains flaunts his/her recent backstory in a deluge of exposition, Klaw reveals that the time is right to finally attack.

Jumping back to Four Freedoms, Sue and Franklin arrive and greet their family. Sue pulls Ben aside for a bit of "girl talk", and Reed prepares a machine that will de-flame Johnny. Now who's playing god, Reed? Anyway, it wouldn't be an 80's Fantastic Four comic with a completely insane head scratching moment, so we catch up with some of the Frightful Four as they enact their plan. Klaw uses a sound frequency to turn on all the machines at a nearby construction site while Titania pretends to be a street performer outside of Four Freedoms Plaza.
I'm not sure if this was essential to the Wizard's plan, or he just wanted to secretly laugh at Titania. Either way, the Frightful busts into Four Freedoms Plaza just as Johnny gets in the machine. The two teams duke it out, and the dialogue is simply outstanding:

The issue ends with Reed's machine getting blowed up real good, the Torch de-flamed, and most shockingly of all, Ben Grimm in his human form! Man I can't believe no one's ever used that plot before!

What I thought: I started writing this synopsis on February 5th. It is now March 3rd. That's how little interest I had in even approaching this issue. I couldn't even find the strength to make fun of it to my full abilities. I actually really like the Frightful Four as a concept, although I wish it was composed of more "heavy hitters." I think if Marvel could find a storyline that serviced more top-tier villains coming together, the idea of an evil Fantastic Four would be intriguing. Instead we get Hydro Man, who will inevitably be evaporated. All-time spoiler alert.

So in lieu of really tackling the storylines, I'll just ask one question: Why in the world did Klaw start all the engines of the machines at the construction site? Will this come into play next issue? Was this scene cut out from the story before print? How can that be the one major point of contention I have with this issue? UGH. Guys, this was brutal. Until Klaw remote starts my car for me on a cold morning, viva la fantastique!

Reed, asking the question we've all been wondering...