Sunday, May 22, 2005


Fantastic Four

Recently the local library got a couple of Fantastic Four collections. They're pretty random collections, but that didn't really bother me much. With the Fantastic Four movie coming out this summer I thought it might be a good time to see how good some of the supposedly best Fantastic Four comics were.

Fantastic Four Visionaries volume 4
Written and drawn by John Byrne (except for that issue of the Thing, he only wrote it)

John Byrne is currently kind of insane, and many fans believe that he's lost his touch and the work he's currently producing isn't that good. However the comics this trade collects came out in the early eighties, when Byrne was still supposed to be good.
The back of this volume says that John Byrne did the best Fantastic Four since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had worked on the title. Pretty high praise (though, admittedly I haven't read those early issues, despite meaning to pick up the first Essential collection). However overall I was pretty underwhelmed by the stories appearing in this volume.
Perhaps it's just because I was thrown in half way through stories meant that I wasn't really seeing any of the buildup that Byrne had created. Or perhaps it's just not as good as people say it is. I won't blame this all on Byrne or anything, I mean for one thing he had to deal with the Secret Wars crossover and had to spend a couple of issues dealing with setup and fallout from that.
Overall though I'm just not that impressed. Dr. Doom shows up at least, but it didn't really seem like Doom for some reason. I'm not sure why. I do think that when Doom starting protecting the Fantastic Four from the horror he had unleashed upon them because Reed Richards wasn't there to see them fail was... ridiculous, but also sort of in character.
One part that was completely ridiculous was during the trial of Reed Richards issue. The idea is pretty good, putting Reed Richards on trial for the crimes of Galactus because Richards saved Galactus's life, and for the most part it's okay. However why do all the aliens know who Odin is? Why do they care? Odin is, at best, some Earth god who didn't create the universe or anything (I mean they're discussing Galactus who came from the previous universe), and at worst just some shape shifting alien who landed on Earth. There really doesn't seem to be much reason for the Shi'ar empire to listen to him.
The art's okay, I didn't think it was that great or anything. I think it suffers from having been recoloured and put on good paper. The garish colours of old comics just don't work well on glossy paper.
If this is the best since Lee and Kirby there must have been some pretty terrible Fantastic Four stories published for years. I will give Byrne one thing though, he was able to work fast and competently. At the time this volume came out he was writing and drawing at least two books a month (Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight, which has one issue reprinted here), that's a lot of work to do every month.
Fantastic Four volume 5: Disassembled
Writers: Mark Waid and Karl Kesel
Artists: Paco Medina and Mike Wieringo

Meanwhile Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's run on Fantastic four has been said to be the best run on the book since John Byrne's. If only I had some of the Lee Kirby stuff to compare both runs too.
Anyway, this stuff is far more recent and ties in (vaguely) with the Avengers Disassembled storyline from last year. This volume contains two distinct stories and I think that I enjoyed both of them a lot more then Byrne's work on the title.
The first story is co-written by Waid and Kesel and drawn by Medina. It deals with the Frightful Four, as led by the Wingless Wizard. What an incredibly stupid name, the Wizard is fine, but the Wingless Wizard? Who thought that up? Anyway the appearance of the Frightful Four leads to one thing I thought was pretty amusing, the Trapster (aka. Paste Pot Pete) is the only character not a member of the Fantastic Four to show up in both of these volumes.
The Wizard is sort of similar to Dr. Doom in terms of motivations. "Reed Richards has wronged me horribly in some way and I must get my revenge on him, but I must do it in a way that is fair and equitable." They're both crazy. This time the Wizard has recruited Hydroman, the Trapster, Salamandra and their daughter (five? but I thought it was the Frightful _Four_? Well, it is...). The story's pretty good for the most part, though I thought that the powers of the Wizard's daughter were just stupid. It also left a horrible dangling plot thread which I hope has been cleaned up.
The second story once again deals with alien races trying to stop Galactus. The aliens have developed technology that makes planets invisible to Galactus, but they're afraid that Galactus will use the Invisible Woman's power to counteract their technology. Okay, that's fine, but there's probably tons of other people who have invisibility powers in the Marvel Universe (I can't name any right now, but I bet there are loads!). So just killing Sue Storm won't really solve your problems that easily.
This storyline has "a great sacrifice!" and a nice twist at the end that made me curious about what's going to happen next. I don't really know enough about heralds of Galactus (or Fantastic Four comics in general I guess), so it's got me curious.
The art doesn't do much for me. I'm not that fond of the styles that either Medina or Wieringo use, so the art, while competent, doesn't really capture the Fantastic Four to me. Wieringo draws awesome tiger headed people though (see Tellos).

Overall I'd probably read more of either Byrne's or Waid's runs on the Fantastic Four if the library got it. If I had to choose I'd go with Waid (I do want to find out what happens next at the end of this volume), but I didn't like it enough to want to pay money.


you have a really good library.

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