Fantastic Four #1

fantasticfour1

Origin stories. By this point people are kind of sick of them and for good reason. When it comes to comic book movies, it appears that almost every movie has to have an origin story attached to it. Yeah that’s an over exaggeration but the fact is too many origin stories have been told the past twenty years for most folks to care about them anymore. They all follow a formula. If it’s done well you can forgive it, examples being Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Iron Man.

An origin story will make or break you. If you can’t snare in readers from the first story, they are not going to care what additional stories you have to tell. And why should they? If you’re characters are so boring in the first issue, what is going to bring them to issue two? That was the dilemma Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had with the Fantastic Four. Everyone knows the story by now. Stan was close to leaving comics for good. He told his wife his intentions and she challenged him to write a comic that he would want to read. The worst that would happened would be that he would be fired and since he didn’t want to stay employed there anyway, what was it going to hurt?

That challenge brought us The Fantastic Four. Comics to this point, while fun reads, thanks to the Comic Code, were to put it nicely simplistic. For proof, check out any of the great collections that DC Comics have put together for some of their long time characters and read their stories from the 40’s and 50’s. They’re stories that would not make good children’s books now. Just horrible, horrible stuff.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was a bit of a hard read by today’s standards. The story itself does not stand the test of time. But much like Love Me Do from The Beatles, you can see from the first page on the foundations of what was to come. The simple fact alone that the characters, while they had a deep seated respect for each other, didn’t really like each other in this issue, is great to see. Ben Grimm, from the start, is pissed off at Reed Richards for directly ignoring his warnings about going into space. And speaking of the space trip, if Reed Richards created the spaceship they used to get into space, why would the four have to sneak onto a military base in order to covertly go into space? You would think that if he built the ship, he could fly it into space whenever the hell he wanted.

I did not care for Sue Storm this issue. She wasn’t really given much to do apart from be invisible and challenge Ben Grimm’s manhood by calling him a commie for not wanting to go into space. They may have well just had her cluck like a chicken. They could have had her ask if he wanted to borrow one of her dresses because there was no way he was a man anymore. I get that this was the sixties and this time was NOT kind to women in fiction, especially comic books, but much like Amos and Andy or Bugs Bunny talking about getting Japs, you just cringe at how wrong they present her.

This is the absolute worst part about reading older comics because you can’t help but read the story through modern lenses. Me personally, I want the women in stories I read, or write (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48189), to be strong. Sure, they can be damsels in distress. As a guy, it is instinct to want to save someone that is weaker than you. But seeing characters presented as nothing more than eye candy simple due to the lack of male genitalia is just simply a waste. There was so much more they could have done with her that they ultimately did over time.

The art work was crude but again, in the realm of comic history it is important work. Using the music analogy I used earlier, this very much was crude compared to later work that he drew. But when your work influences an industry like Jack Kirby’s work did, my god, that is a legacy worth having. At the end of the day, while more average folks may know who Stan Lee is, even more people know of and are conditioned to the work of Jack Kirby and the legacy he has in comics. The man was a legend. Admittedly when it comes to art I am not the greatest critic. I know what I like and don’t like and can pretty much say a lot of words saying one or the other. Little details that happen in art will slip by me. It is something that I am working on and reading a comic book a day has definitely helped in that regard. So for a novice with art like myself, there are not enough words I can put together that will reflect the impact Jack Kirby has had on comics and pop culture as a whole.

Bottom Line:

While this comic can be hard to read in 2015, you can not deny the impact this issue had on comics. The fact that the heroes in the story acted like real people, arguing and all, brought much needed reality to stories that bordered on inane. While I cannot recommend this as a must read comic it would still be something I would say you should own. No, not the original comic that is hard to find originals of and cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. I’m talking about heading to Marvel’s website, Comixology, or wherever you buy your comics and buy yourself this issue. While someone may have come along over time and did something comparable to what Stan and Jack did, they were the flag bearers. They ushered in the Silver Age of comic books with this issue. The world would be a much different place if we didn’t have this issue.

Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1

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Call your Aunt Petunia and let her know it’s clobberin’ time because the Fantastic Four are about to join the Secret Invasion.

Summary:

http://marvel.com/comics/issue/21269/secret_invasion_fantastic_four_2008_1

The Good:

A few issues back we saw a quick scene at the Baxter Building where Sue Storm, or a Skrull appearing to be Sue Storm, goes into Reed Richard’s lab, destroys the control that keep a gate on the Negative Zone, and sits back as the Baxter Building is sucked into the Negative Zone. This issue goes into a little more detail as to what was going on. Think of it like what Robert Rodriguez did with Machete. They had the initial small trailer to that movie filmed and ended up making the movie around the trailer. Same concept here. The same scene from the earlier comic is still there but we get a little more understand of what brought them to that point and what happens afterwards.

We get a good sense of the family dynamic in this issue. We get The Thing and Johnny Storm doing the nagging friends bit toward each other which is great to see, which was sort of replicated in the Fantastic Four movie with Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis. (That movie was far from a cinema classic but I think it hit the points it needed to make and was a pretty decent film.) The characters seemed familiar with each other and their interactions with each other were natural. I appreciated how Johnny suspected Sue was not who she was from pretty much the start.

I really dug The Thing. While he didn’t say my favorite catch phrase this issue (I’m sure it’s coming!) the love he felt for Reed and Sue’s kids was felt by his actions. He did everything he could to keep the kids from having to face the fact that they were in real mortal danger. For a character that looks like The Thing to show the kind of tenderness is actually nice to see.

I liked the character designs in this issue. Very clean, you could get a real sense of their emotions as they dealt with some really messed up scenarios. The look on The Thing’s face alone when he discovers they’re in the Negative Zone is worth the comic alone.

The Bad:

They did a really bad job in trying to fool people into thinking that Sue had somehow escaped from the Skrull that had impersonated Reed Richards. To go from being held captive, to suddenly appearing on the other side of the country at the Baxter Building where she proceeds to bring them into the Negative Zone to giving that ridiculous like that Reed Richards, who had put numerous super villains into the Negative Zone as a prison of sorts would want his wife and children to be housed with them for their safety was ridiculous. Why it ended up taking Johnny Storm as long as it did for him to guess that the woman impersonating his sister was in fact not his sister made you simply want to toss a bucket of water on him and kick him in the nuts for his abject stupidity.

They were trying to go for something big with that reveal but it fell flatter than my pickup lines with women when I was single. Nowhere was there any sort of hint to the reader that Sue had somehow escaped her captivity. Nowhere. And if she were looking to protect her family, why would she walk by them without even acknowledging them? A mother that is certain of imminent danger to her kids will not casually stroll by them without even looking in their faces.

It’s the little things that kill me in comics sometimes. I get that twenty pages can be filled quite fast. They don’t have the luxury to tell a story in a traditional way like I did with my novel (Time to Play the Game, available here. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48189) in the sense that each issue has to have it’s own story. It has to feel like a stand alone story that entices people to want to know more about the world they dived into. Yet you still have to follow some of the basic tenants of storytelling. You can’t speed through an idea simply because you don’t have the space for it. If they wanted to create doubt in the reader’s mind that Sue Storm was in fact NOT kidnapped by the Skrulls they should have done more to hint that she may have escaped her ordeal. They did not do that so when the eventual reveal came that she was in fact a Skrull, you wanted to slap the writer in the face for taking as long as he did for stating the obvious.

While the character art was well done, once again I find myself looking at drawings of locations I don’t believe are real. “Hey dumbass,” you might be saying. “It’s a comic. Of course it’s not real!”

I’m not implying that I feel the locations need to feel like I can actually step onto the scene. In Star Wars, Mos Eisley is not real but the way it’s presented on the screen it felt real. You felt life in each nook and cranny of Mos Eisley. I should feel that in this issue as well especially when it comes to such a fantastical place like the Negative Zone. If the artist cannot make the locations appear real, it takes you out of the suspension of disbelief. You think “It’s a shitty set!” and zone out. Any threat or menace that they’re trying to create for these characters is immediately tossed out the window.

Bottom Line:

While I did not appreciate being treated like a moron when it came to the reveal that Sue Storm was a Skrull, this was not a horrible issue. The Thing really saved it with how he dealt with being Uncle Ben. It was a work of pure genius to take a tough guy who looks like a monster and make him into a lovable but gruff family man (Thanks Stan and Jack!) but the Fantastic Four are a great group of characters. I would love to see these characters given the love they deserve on television. I think a two hour film doesn’t give their dynamic justice. Some characters like Iron Man or Spider-Man you can breeze through the set up and get straight to the ass kicking. The Fantastic Four to me have always been about the dynamic between the characters and that is something I think the movies missed. (I refuse to watch the Josh Trank version. I’d rather watch the Roger Corman version.) Television would give writers more time to explore the dynamic between the characters and allow us to become more emotionally invested in them when they actually do face off against the bad guys. This story, despite its flaws, does a pretty good job in showing off what makes the Fantastic Four such an historic comic. I give the story a 5.

The art was not as horrible as I may have made it out to be. While the locations killed me for appearing to be so fake, I loved how real and emotional the characters were drawn, especially The Thing. I give the art a 6.

And now our Feature Presentation:

Secret Invasion #2

Secret_Invasion_Vol_1_2

The Secret Invasion continues as we dive into another issue of the Secret Invasion story via the Marvel Comics suggested reading order.

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Secret_Invasion_Vol_1_2

The Good:

We pick up where the last issue of Secret Invasion left off where the Avengers team encounters the Skrull invasion force that came off the ship looking like the heroes from our world. The tension is high as the creatures that come off the ship act as if they are the actual people they appear to be which makes for some uncomfortable encounters when Spider-Man encounters Spider-Man and Luke Cage encounters the 70’s version of Luke Cage.

Bendis did a great job sowing doubt as to whether everyone that came off that ship was a Skrull. Could it possibly be that some of the people are who they say they are? Things quickly devolve and the heroes start fighting. From there some characters are revealed to be Skrulls after they are killed. The impostor Spider-Man is killed as well as the impostor Hawkeye. We get a scene though where the real Hawkeye, now known as Ronin, encounters who they believe to be the Skrull version of Mockingbird, asks her a question that he feels only she would know the answer to, and when she answers the way he thinks she would, he decides that she is the real article. We as the reader though have to question whether that is the case. How much are the Skrull’s able to get from the minds of humans before they impersonate them? They have to be pretty convincing otherwise the invasion would fail rather quickly no matter how much they look like the people they hope to impersonate.

We quickly switch back to New York where the effects of the fake Sue Storm destroying the gate to the Negative Zone is quickly breaking apart the Baxter Building and more. A group called the Young Avengers witness everything and just as they decide that maybe they should do something, guess what appears in the sky? Skrull invasion ships! In a scene that I’m sure was on Joss Whedon’s mind when he was writing the script to the first Avengers film, the last image we see is an army of Skrulls as they descend upon New York. (In the movies and the Ultimate comic book line created my Brian Bendis, the aliens are referred to as the Chitauri. They are established as being a separate from the Skrulls simply because the Skrulls movie rights do not lie with Marvel but with 20th Century Fox I believe. Marvel has been making it a point of lessening the focus of characters they no longer have the movie rights to so they don’t give money away to other companies.)

Now this issue will not win comic of the century awards. It is a groundwork laying issue more than anything. The story really doesn’t advance any more than it did with the last issue I reviewed. However I think this issue did pretty good in establishing the levels of distrust the heroes are going to go through. The Skrulls have been quite thorough in their invasion plans. The impersonations of the humans is so complete that Wolverine for example cannot smell them where it had been established that he had been previously been able to do so. Just how deep the impersonation has gone is as yet unknown. The Mockingbird story that I mentioned above shows that right now we really cannot trust who may or may not be a Skrull. If Spider-Woman has been revealed to be the Skrull queen and yet still is able to get the confidence of everyone, who’s to say that Mockingbird is not a Skrull?

The artwork was pretty good this issue. The scope of the locations was well done. I really got the feeling that the action was taking please in a real location and not some Hollywood set. The characters were well done too. You really got the sense of the struggle they were going through in the issue. For example, the look on the faces of the Young Avengers of shock made you really get into what was going on. That is the sign of a good artist, someone who believes in the work he is creating and someone who is able to make simple drawings become actors of a sort in the story that is being created.

The Bad:

While I enjoyed the story, as noted not much really happens this issue and that is frustrating. I get that each issue I read is a chapter in a story and not every chapter can be as thrilling as the final chapter of a book because the job of any writer is to build to the climax of the story. But I wanted to feel like something was moving forward. It’s already been established that Skrulls are on Earth. We know that mistrust will happen among people that are friends. We don’t need to spend so long on establishing said mistrust. Bendis is almost beating the reader over the head with the fact that you can’t trust anything you see when all you really want him to do is get to the next part of the story. Maybe I’m approaching this too much like a traditional book. Maybe I need to be the one to adjust how I view the story. But I can’t see the logic in creating a long form story with no real coherence. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. For a story to succeed, you have to follow the formula of establishing what is going on, showing how the protagonist reacts, and how they resolve the issue at hand. While comics do have tons of backstory that can be referred to, treating a comic as if it were a day in the life of someone is just distracting. I want my stories to have a beginning, middle, and end. This so far has come across like I got a glimpse of a camera that was recording these people’s lives right in the middle of something that was happening to them. I know a little of what is going on but too much is assumed that the beginning so far of this particular story, the Secret Invasion of the Skrulls, has been kind of lost in the background.

Bottom Line:

This is not a bad issue. While not much really happens to advance the story apart from the last page, I think what it does well is lay more foundation for the fact that no one can be trusted. We as the reader should not assume anyone is who they say they are. Bendis has done a wonderful job in laying the groundwork for what we will encounter later in the story. In doing so, he is making the start of the story a little tedious. I give the story a 5.

The art work has been some of the best in this story so far. It really screams as an homage of the old Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby drawings in classic Marvel stories while still feeling very much based in modern times. This is well done and honestly it makes me want to look for more work from this artist Leinil Yu. I give the art an 8.