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.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #1

Ultimate_Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_1

The first comic series I dove into on the Marvel Unlimited app was Ultimate Spider-Man. What a wonderful world that was created in that series. In what was essentially a reboot of the franchise, they took the character we all know and love and essentially started over. They didn’t make any real changes to the characters themselves, they just imagined what the Peter Parker story would look like if he were first bitten by the radioactive spider in the year 2000. A modern take on the origin of Spider-Man.

But that wasn’t the only series that appeared in the Ultimate universe. They rebooted a couple other franchises as well, one being The Fantastic Four. Before this, I admittedly had never read a regular Fantastic Four comic. I was most definitely aware of them of course. You can’t be a fan of any Marvel Comics character without coming across them at least once. And come on, The Thing kicks ass. A tough talking rock man who beats people up all in the name of science? What more could a comic ask for?

Boobs.

So this issue introduces us to Reed Richards right at birth. From day one he has an inquisitive mind that causes him to see the world much differently than the way you or I see it. From there we see him as a young man being taunted by classmates. Who comes to the rescue but one Ben Grimm, star football player? It was wonderful to see the relationship between the two. I loved how they didn’t set it up where the two met for the first time. When we first see them together their relationship is already well formed. While Ben Grimm is very much Reed Richard’s guardian angel from the bullies at his school, we see that he also realizes that Reed is the far superior one among the two. In that sense, Ben Grimm is one hell of a smart man. He knows his weaknesses and is willing to follow the folks that can help him out. I also appreciated the single minded focus of Reed Richards. Not to give too much away but Reed ends up a changed person if you follow his path from this issue towards Secret Wars and beyond. It’s nice to see that from page one, issue one we see some of the seeds of what ends up making him the character he becomes.

The main focus in this story is the introduction to the N-Zone. The Negative Zone. Reed discovers it and with the help of some dismantled household appliances, he finds a way to send his toys into the zone. Once he makes this public at a school science fair, he is recruited to join a special school in the world famous Baxter Building. Heading the group is one Franklin Storm. He welcomes Reed and introduces him to his son and daughter, Johnny and Sue Storm. Then the shocker. The Negative Zone that Reed had discovered was also discovered by the folks at the Baxter Building. Even better, they have built a machine that allows them to see into the Negative Zone. Reed was the first to actually send something there. With the two working together, we have a great seed for further issues.

What was great about this issue over all, much like other titles in the Ultimate line, was that each issue is great at giving you a story that resolves in one particular issue but gives you a reason to read further, much like old movie serials. Each issue, while it may be a part of a bigger story, still has to function as its own individual story. You never know when a reader is going to hop on board and if you don’t find a way to walk the tightrope and please both the long time readers and readers that just start with any particular issue, you will end up alienating anyone looking to start on any series. The Ultimate line was great at the tightrope act.

The art was beautiful. It was a beautiful mix of traditional Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko style of work with the added depth you would expect from a modern story. Some of the best parts of the Ultimate line of comics has been the modern takes on the classic characters. The characters as we know them are represented well but have the modern take that makes their characters in these stories unique. What I mean is, the Fantastic Four in this story are not the characters we know and love from the main Marvel stories. They are very much their own unique selves.

The depth in the pictures is great as well. As I have complained about in the past, too often stories that are supposed to be grand in scope end up looking like they are taking place in a very small room. That is not the case here, even when the story is taking place at Reed Richards childhood home. You get a sense that everything that is happening is happening in a real world environment.

Bottom Line:

The Ultimate series from Marvel have all been wonderful additions to their line of comics. They have added some extra depth to characters we all that we knew and loved already. While I was disappointed that with the Secret Wars event and the All New, All Different Marvel that is out now would involve the ending of the Ultimate universe, the fact is these comics and characters are going nowhere. Whether it be the inclusion of the characters in the regular Marvel universe or simply going back and reading the old issues on Marvel Unlimited, these stories are great ways for fans to start from the beginning with characters that have been around for ages. Do yourself a favor and read these stories. The work that was done on bringing them to life in a way that pleased both old fans and new. I could imagine that when these comics first came out, long time Fantastic Four fans may have been skeptical as to why this needed to be done. The end result proves that what is old can be new again.

Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1

FF

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: