Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fantastic Four #1 Review

Last year was an incredibly tough year for Marvel's First Family. Their comic was cancelled. Their movie was God-awful. Their four main characters either died or were pushed to the side in the major Marvel event (well, I haven't read the latest issue, but I can't imagine the final battle being as hype as it was back with Secret Wars #4). What the heck happened to such a beloved franchise?

Was it the pretty bad film back from 2005, staring Chris Evans and Jessica Alba? Maybe the (what should have been, anyway) nail in the coffin with "Rise of the Silver Surfer"? They were featured prominently in Marvel's Civil War book in 2006, but their lineup saw a rotating cast for a while, including Black Panther and Spider-Man joining for a while. Low sales and not enough interest seems to be what has done this franchise in. With little success outside of comics, what other revenues could this franchise possibly seek out? Even two of the best writers in comics, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman, couldn't keep the franchise afloat for long, or at least not enough for Marvel to want to bring it back with everything else. 

It's just odd to me that, right now, we have titles for various smaller heroes like Hercules or Dino-Girl, but nothing for the Fantastic Four. If they're good, that's great. I'm simply mourning the loss of an iconic franchise, for the time being. The Fantastic Four can never truly die. 

So, in a temporary memoriam, let us honor this class review in #1 Month with the first appearance of the Fantastic Four, and see just what kind of early 60s shenanigans they could get into! 

The cover is somewhat misleading. The Fantastic Four do square off with a monster just like this one, but it is not in the middle of the city and Mr. Fantastic doesn't have random rope on him. Plus, they're in their FF uniforms. But, still, it's an exciting cover to say the least. It shows all of the heroes in action all performing their super abilities, and faced against a giant green monster coming up from the ground. And look, it may have even devoured the background behind it! 

(what a let down)

We truly open with police! And words in the sky! 

I want that gun. It looks like fun. 

So, wait...Reed has a smoke gun that shoots the words "The Fantastic Four" in MASSIVE letters into the sky to summon his allies? How? I understand sending up a signal, like a signal flare, but a signal smoke message? I always wonder in super hero comics why some genius scientists like Reed Richards or Tony Stark don't share most of their intel. Or at least some of the more practical things (admittedly, Stark is pretty good about that, but he's also an idiot most of the time). Something like this is incredibly useful, and yet I've never seen it used hence!

I also love how Reed remarks he hopes it'll be the last time he ever has to use the signal. Well, buddy, it sort of is, but it won't be the last time there's a need for it, that's for sure. What the police say is also confusing. Right now, sure, it makes sense. Summon the Fantastic Four because of an alien invasion. But, spoilers, there is no alien invasion. In fact, it's implied that the people the police are crying about are actually The Thing and the Human Torch, who are members of the Fantastic Four! So, in summoning them, Reed really puts them in danger. Good job, buddy.

"Society friend"? Can I have an anti-society friend, or maybe a laundry friend? 
And so, the roll call begins. While it is foreshadowed that this big meeting of the Fantastic Four was pre-destined, it's never stated when the meeting happens how they would be notified. Perhaps Reed was just testing it. However, I do have to admit that I like what they do with Susan here. For the time, this is probably the best they could get with invisibility, and it works pretty well. While the colors do leak onto her from other images, it's meant as a way to show her blending in. However, there are two major things you may notice that don't make much sense:

1) Her clothes become invisible as well. In the comics--and sequential films--she typically has to have her uniform on in order for those to not be seen, as the clothes are adapted to her abilities. Otherwise it doesn't make any sense why the cup she's holding doesn't become invisible. One could make the argument that she has such control over her powers that she is able to project her invisibility onto whatever she needs, so in this case her clothing, but it couldn't have been so long since the accident. 

2) Invisible Girl? Doesn't role off the tongue well at all. It would make sense for her to be Invisible Woman straight away so Marvel could have a proper rival to Wonder Woman at the time. There were no "Woman" icons at Marvel, and Invisible Girl just doesn't make sense. If she is as old as Reed, there's nothing about her to resemble a young woman. She doesn't even look that young in the panels. With Supergirl it makes some sense, as she is younger than Superman and does often act like a little girl sometimes (but she's still awesome). 

Susan manages to get away while freaking everyone out in the process, and we cut over to see what the Thing is up to. And he is...very different than how we're all used to it.

"I cannot delay" says the guy who should be talkin' wit a New York accent, you know?

Ack. I mean the dialogue makes sense given the situation, but it neither matches how I'm used to it nor what we'll see later. He'll start talking normal soon, I swear. For now, though, his intro scenes are fine. he manages to show off super strength twice while also giving us the sense that the police are not at all equipped to handle the situation. This scene also gives credence to the idea that the Thing is the alien everyong is crying about. 

Lighten up, in 54 years New York and Ultimate New York are going to headbutt, this isn't even a big deal. Even though that's ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the Thing being turned into a giant wall. 

Anyway, the cops are perplexed by the new developments. 

...what city?
Central City? What the? Ah, but you see, the Baxter Building would not be established until the third issue, becoming the team's permanent, and most famous, base of operations. So, for now, they're out in California. 

The Fantastic Four in California, what're the odds?

Feelin' the heat, Johnny? *proceeds to smash head into wall for stupid pun*

Our introduction to the Human Torch is the most exciting of the bunch as he's pursued by a nuclear missile. Okay...what? I actually find it stranger that they would just automatically decide to nuke the guy. Nobody wanted to nuke Namor in his first appearance, I think. Maybe it's because this isn't the original Human Torch. Then again, I'd love for them to try and nuke Wonder Man. 

Reed helps Johnny escape the nuke (seriously, a nuke?) and the Fantastic Four meet up as we are taken into flashback land, where we see how the group first decided to go on their infamous space exploration mission.

Ah, that's what Fan4stic was missing. Reed and Ben smoking cigars. Got it. 
We see Reed, who has an enormously large noggin, smoking his pipe like a baller as Ben berates him about the ship while Susan and Johnny look on, though Johnny looks more mad than anything else. Susan calls Ben a chicken, and Ben of course agrees. And suddenly, the inspiration for Marty McFly is born. 

Now, I won't bore you with the details of how the Fantastic Four get their powers. In space, space wave, weird science stuff. Bam. The book covers this quite well, though, showing the panic and slow evolution of each character as they mold into their respective forms, as well as the frustration and grief some of them place on Reed.

Ben's transformation eerily resembles Lex Luthor from Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Ew. 
Ben and Reed scuffle, both clearly showing off their powers while, once again, making me wonder just what the heck is going on with these people's clothes. Now Reed's clothing can grow just as long? Look with the Invisible Girl there was a subpar reason but here there isn't one. Reed's clothes would be shredded up at this point. Not only that, but when he stretches, his entire arm does not have to go with him. It could just be his forearm or hand or something. 

Also seeing Ben speak so eloquently while using a tree as a bat against Reed is a very strange sight. It's just odd that Reed, a scientist, would speak with a commoner dialect than Ben does. 

But, then again, apparently Reed and Ben are the only ones qualified for the mission. As shown before they leave, Susan and Johnny are only there for personal reasons: that Susan is engaged to Reed and that Johnny is going because Sue is his sister. What? Reed, as a scientist, should never have allowed them to leave--not that they have much clearance either but that merely adds excitement in a ridiculous way to the story. 

So, with their argument settled after Susan steps in, the group puts their differences aside, and knows they must used their powers for good! 

So they go fight giant monsters! 

Shut up, Reed, you're not funny. 
While it's still unclear, it is possible that the aliens the police in Central City were discussing are the ones the group comes across on the island, while on the prowl of our villain: the Mole Man. Though how the police would have information on a top-secret island in the middle of the ocean is beyond me. The group dispatches the first wave pretty easily, with Reed slamming the thing in the water with apparent super strength. No, seriously, something like that rivals Ben's own abilities. Their powers don't make sense now. 

Which is actually okay with me. I'm frustrated as a reader now, knowing what they are fully capable of, but keep in mind that this is the first ever appearance of these characters. The kids buying these comics back in '61 won't have any preconceived notions of their limits. Right now, Stan Lee is just giving them a fun super hero romp and that's perfectly fine. Does it create continuity flubs later on? Sure, but you could argue that those are just retcons of what's happening now.

Kind of a let down reveal, to be honest. Only gets the bottom corner of a page to himself, poor guy. 
Reed and Johnny fall into a hole and somehow fall into blue suits which make them indistinguishable for now (thanks a lot). They stumble upon a whole lotta money--er, I mean diamonds--before we meet the Mole Man. And, yeah, it is sort of a let down. He's the one behind the monsters on "Monster Isle" and this is all we get? No villain sitting on a throne perched way up, to symbolically show he is better and higher on the food chain than the heroes? Well, alright then.

"Haw haw" he says. What a phony laugh, mister. Shame. 
His backstory isn't too compelling either--though neither are the insults being thrown his way. I know people couldn't have really talked like this in 1961, but this is pushing it. Why not just call him "buster" and get it over with? 

I mean, the backstory is serviceable for how he acts and it all adds up, but it's just boring and overused and quite honestly, predictable.

What, did the Mole Man have access to Satan's demons or something? Sheesh. 
Returning from his flashback in which he stumbles across Monster Isle, the Fantastic Four immediately re-engage him and overcome him. We also get to see the extent of Johnny's powers as he absolutely floors most of the monsters in his way and caves a way out of the island for the group. It's a decent fight, but, again, most of the focus is on the Human Torch and showing that he may be the strongest of the group. He's pretty overpowered. 

And thus, the comic comes to a close as the Mole Man blows up Monster Isle, but leaves with a foreboding sense that the Mole Man may not yet be finished...though should he return, he'll have to contend with the mighty quartet, the First Family, the Fantastic Four! 

This comic was a pretty fun read. It's simple, showing the gathering, the origin, and the first battle of the Fantastic Four while giving away the personality traits of Reed, Sue, and Ben--Johnny comes off as rather bland, not as hot-headed as he'll evolve into. The Mole Man wasn't a very compelling villain but had a whole bevy of neat monsters for the group to fight. While there is that mystery of if the group came together because Reed knew about Monster Isle--invoking the question of how the police would know--or if it was because the police called in about the Thing--so why would Reed shoot the smoke message?--it's ultimately forgettable by the time the origin comes around. 

The best part of the issue is the origin, showing each of the characters getting their powers in a harrowing, completely illegal race into New York, where the Invisible Girl says, and I quote: "Unless [they] want the Commies to beat [them]!" 'Atta girl. 

Next week, #1 month continues as we look at the first issue of another group, one far more recent, far less famous, and far under the radar that they may just be one of the best super hero groups in recent memory. With a mad king on the loose with a alien technology, who better to call than an immortal warrior, a powerful psychic, and a ninja...otherwise known as Unity. 

See you then. 

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Twitter: @seanovan13
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