I’m really torn on this one, because I feel like I should be enjoying Fantastic Four a lot more these days. After what was, in my opinion, a debut issue that showed a fair bit of promise, Waid’s run has been pretty disappointing. Granted, the portion of his run in question is only two issues, so I suppose it’s possible that I’m simply expecting too much out of him. However, this issue is simply uneven, plagued by inconsistencies in the character elements and blessed by talent in the artistic department.
To put it simply, I’m not that fond of Waid’s rendition of Reed Richards. I’ll fully admit to having never read Fantastic Four for any appreciable length of time throughout my career as a comics fan (mostly because the book has been something just short of awful for most of that time), but Richards never struck me as the “absent-minded professor” type. And that’s exactly what Waid portrays him to be. This is a man who invented a device to defeat Galactus, a villain who was essentially a stand-in for God Himself, and we’re expected to believe that it wouldn’t have occurred to him to test his newborn daughter for superpowers, particularly in light of the fact that his other child has exhibited godlike metahuman abilities on multiple occasions (correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Franklin Richards responsible for the entire Heroes Reborn debacle?)? Something’s just not quite kosher here.
As well, my issues with Johnny’s ridiculously childish behavior continue and Waid even seems to acknowledge how odd it is for him to act this way, having Ben Grimm say something to the effect of Johnny being “the world’s oldest teenager.” If we’re all aware of how silly of a character he is, why does Waid persist in writing Johnny that way? Why not mature him? I’m not saying that The Human Torch should become the straight man of the group, as part of what makes his character interesting is the comic relief, but it’s a little hard to swallow that a character will have changed only marginally in over forty years of continuity. Though this is a Marvel book, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised.
To top it off, Waid continues to try just too damned hard to be funny. The not so subtly veiled sexual innuendo between Reed and Sue is amusing once, maybe twice, but she seems to do everything but rub on his leg and purr every time they’re in the same room. To boot, the attempts to write Reed reciprocating just come off as awkward (though that’s arguably appropriate). In the end, the entire idea just seems eerily reminiscent of those uncomfortable times when your parents would lose their damned minds and remind you, through comments to one another in your presence, that they do in fact have sex lives. Or maybe that was just my parents, I don’t know.
However, the book isn’t a complete washout. The art from Mike Wieringo is nothing short of impressive on several occasions, particularly the opening splash page and the several shots towards the end of the book when the arc’s villain is finally revealed. To be fair though, those villain panels probably have as much to do with the colorist (Paul Mounts) as they do Wieringo.
In the end, this issue isn’t so much as bad as it is just…not that good. It’s somewhere in the middle. You could do much, much worse than picking up Waid’s Fantastic Four, but it’s nowhere near as good as Marvel’s hype machine would have you believe (though I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised about that either).
At this point, it seems unlikely to me that, if you were at all interested in Morrison’s stab at writing Marvel’s flagship book, you wouldn’t already have this arc (extended though it may be) in some form or another, be it in the original issues or the two trade paperbacks that have been released so far. However, if you were part of the small minority of comics fans that have been mulling this book over and have not yet sampled it, let me be the first to say that this is an excellent format in which to read the book, particularly if you’re of the school of thought that says that collected editions are superior to individual issues (I’m on the fence on that issue, myself).
The oversized format is, however, not kind to the issues drawn by Igor Kordey. Much has been made (and justifiably so) about the general lack of quality inherent to any issue with Kordey at the artistic helm, so I’ll not spend much time on the subject. But it should be noted that a style that is generally, to be mild, fairly sloppy does not benefit from a translation from standard page to oversize. And interestingly enough, Frank Quitely’s already excellent work doesn’t look that much better in the larger format. It looks nice, to be sure, but it’s nowhere near as big of a difference as seeing Bryan Hitch’s deluxe version of The Authority in last month’s Absolute Authority hardcover.
To boot, this hardcover covers issues #114-126, plus the “Marvel-scope” Annual from this past year (which does benefit from the oversized book’s structure) and at $29.99 retail, it’s a good buy. Most of Marvel’s hardcovers so far have been $39.99 and have contained fewer issues. So again, if you don’t already have these issues or the trades, pick it up. Morrison mixed his Vertigo-style weirdness with standard X-Men superheroics in the proverbial blender and hit puree with this book. What comes out isn’t for everybody (and by “everybody,” I mean the die-hard X-Men fan who can’t stand to see any change in his favorite characters), but it’s the most interesting take on the X-Men since Claremont revamped the book all those many years ago. Check it out.
Incidentally, if Frank Quitely had done the majority of the issues in this collection, I’d have given it a higher rating. However, considering what could kindly be called artistic inconsistencies, I think it’s more than fair (probably generous) to give it:
Well, I must say, I expected a bit of more closure from the conclusion of this mini-series. Consider yourself warned for spoilers: it all ends happily, at least for Parker Robbins. It does not, however, end happily for almost anyone opposing Parker. And despite the fact that I found our protagonist to be charismatic and interesting, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed that he got away with it.
The simple fact here, one that cannot be changed, is that Parker murdered a police officer and got off scott-free. In the end, via a quick costume swap on Madame Rapier and manipulating the FBI agents ambition to his advantage, Parker is able to shift the blame from himself to Rapier, who is subsequently gunned down by the feds. But there are no repercussions for him from the death of the officer, aside from some requisite mumblings about guilt, and even those are pretty minimal.
Now, I’m not necessarily bucking for a Comics Code-type rule that states that a villain can never get away with a crime. Far from it, what I found interesting about this book to begin with was how unapologetically amoral Parker was initially. However, Vaughan saw fit to begin injecting his hero/anti-hero with a more human side in the latter issues of the mini and I think that lessened the impact of the story. Marvel billed this book originally as an unflinching look at the life of a supervillain. However, looking over it now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that all The Hood really was intended to be was a rather unconventional origin story for a new hero, as the implication is clear that The Hood will return.
I had a really hard time describing last month’s issue of One Plus One (and this month’s issue is no picnic, as it really is a book that you need to read to appreciate). It was a complete blast to read, compellingly written despite the fact that it was never entirely clear what exactly was happening in the issue. This issue begins to clear things up a bit, but does it in an entirely unexpected fashion: by ignoring the protagonists from last issue for about the first ten pages.
This issue starts off entirely off-kilter compared to last month, which was the sort of thing that one might expect from a Vertigo one-shot (a zombie and an angel having a drink together), by focusing on two entirely new characters, a gambler and his waitress girlfriend. Eddie is a compulsive gambler continually looking for the last big score that can let him out of the game, Celeste is the hard-working, long-suffering woman who lives with him. When Celeste finds out that she is, in fact, pregnant, Eddie bets more than he can afford to lose and finds his roll in the hands of the previous issue’s angelic protagonist.
In a way, One Plus One, at least this time, is a sort of twisted slice-of-life book. Shaffer’s lead characters for this issue are extremely believable, a pair of losers that nearly everyone can identify with (if for no other reason than having known people like them). David, the angel, remains mysterious, but it works. He’s very much akin to Mr. Graves from 100 Bullets, a shadowy benefactor that seems to appear to those who need him most, even if they are unaware of their need. The second issue’s story does not wrap up completely as the first issue’s did, but it ends on a note that will definitely bring readers back for the third. However, I do hope that the story concludes next issue, allowing Shaffer to move David on to something else in the final two issues of the mini.
Well, here it is. After all the talk and speculation, the first Jim Lee Batman (and let’s not kid ourselves here, Jeph Loeb’s involvement has little to nothing to do with the rather high sales of this issue) is on the shelf and can finally be judged for its own merits, rather than the rather dubious merits, or lack thereof, that the internet community has attributed to it. So, the question remains, does it live up to the hype? Yes and no.
In the past couple years, under the direction of Greg Rucka primarily, the Bat-line has undergone a bit of a renaissance, shifting from a more superhero-oriented style of storytelling to a renewed emphasis on the more cerebral aspects of the character. After all, it’s sort of sad that a book named Detective Comics should have little or no actual detective work in it for so long. That self-same surge of creativity was, to say the least, fairly well received by both the fan and critical communities. And despite the line’s continued reliance on semi-annual crossovers, the stories have basically been good (at least in Batman and Detective, the “core” books). Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s debut issue marks a distinctive step backwards from that more noir-influenced style of storytelling, focusing more on Batman eluding and fighting a newly-mutated Killer Croc rather than the Dark Knight busting up drug deals. This is not to say that Loeb’s story choice is a bad one, simply that it’s markedly different from what has passed for the norm amongst Bat-titles over the past several years.
To boot, Loeb’s run is promised to go on for at least 12 issues, supposedly one continuous story arc, at least tenuously connected from issue to issue. It seems hardly coincidental that the number of issues in Hush (the first story arc) should be roughly the same as those contained in his first Batman mini, the excellent The Long Halloween, and the lesser (though still enjoyable) follow-up, Dark Victory. If the standard of quality set by those stories is to be maintained throughout Hush, I for one will be more than pleased, as I loved The Long Halloween and enjoyed Dark Victory.
However, as stated above, Jim Lee’s art is the real selling point here for most new readers to the book. And after such a long sabbatical from the comics world, it’s nice to see that he hasn’t lost a step. In fact, I suppose he’s gained a step, as his artwork has improved considerably from the last work I saw from him. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention a fact previously pointed out by Johanna Carlson of Comics Worth Reading: to paraphrase, I hope you enjoy that shot of the bottom of Batman’s foot that graces the cover, because you’ll be seeing variations on that shot a ridiculous number of times throughout the course of the issue. Regardless, Lee absolutely shines on some panels and is never less than competent on the others. Scott McDaniel has recently been doing an excellent job conveying the sense of fluidity necessary to a Batman-related fight scene, but Lee simply outdoes him, giving me a nostalgic thrill on nearly every page (I was a huge Lee fan during the early 90s; sadly, they were my formative years of comics reading).
To summarize, if you were enjoying the more sleuth-based stories of recent months, this issue might not live up to its hype for you. However, if you’re like myself and enjoy those stories, but find yourself periodically wondering why you can’t see a bit more over-the-top supervillain fighting, this is a watershed moment in recent Batman history, as it looks like Loeb and Lee are really building towards some great issues in their run.
This week’s Optic Verve wraps up early with an explanation and an apology. Both the lateness and general lack of reviews are due to my having been sick for a goodly portion of the last half of this past week. I promise to do my best to make up for it this week.