Sporadic Sequential
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The World's Gimmickiest Comic Magazine!

OK, let's try and get this reading diary going. First up, Marvel's Premiere Edition of Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four, which collects issues 544-550 of the monthly series. The seven issues collected deal with a temporary roster change, and the Black Panther and Storm replace Reed and Sue Richards, who are going on a second honeymoon to work on their marriage in light of events that transpired during Civil War. (I'm not sure exactly what those events were. According to Wikipedia's Civil War entry, Mister Fantastic was a primary architect of the pro-registration side, constructing the Negative Zone prison and cloning a murderous version of Thor; while the Invisible Woman was a member of the Secret Avengers, the anti-registration forces. So kind of like the marriage of James Carville and Mary Matalin, then?)

It's also a temporary roster change in terms of the creative line-up, as writer Dwayne McDuffie (along with artist Paul Pelletier) was only on the book for a short period in between J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Millar. Even given the temporary, impermanent nature of creative teams on corporate comics, the brief tenure results in a run that feels inconsequential. Which is a strange thing to say when the threats McDuffie throws against our heroes are so cosmic in scope. Not only do the new (and old) FF face off against Epoch, Galactus, and the Silver Surfer but they must also deal with the unraveling of the very universe. Perhaps it's because McDuffie attempts to cram too much in that nothing has much impact in the end. Things move at a ridiculously breakneck speed with heroes popping from one end of the galaxy to the next with little or no effort at all. (Remember when navigating the Watcher's home was a venture that threatened a hero's sanity or well-being? Here, retrieving vital information from the Watcher's infinte library just require the Thing to concentrate a little. And the less said about the Black Panther's ridiculous frog MacGuffin the better).

One casualty in the effort to cram everything in is characterization. Not only don't we get to see the new team members interact much (no sooner have Black Panther and Storm finished unpacking when they're leaving again) but the characterization we are given feels off somehow. Everyone's voice seems wrong and everyone's voice seems the same, which makes the dialogue seem indistinct and interchangeable. At two separate points the Thing utters the exact same threat to two different opponents and I couldn't tell if this was a production glitch or a purposeful stylistic choice.
"Youse guys ain't even worth the effort to come up with unique putdowns for!"

Another element that mars the book's characterization is everyone's penchant for unthinking violence. I know this is superhero comics and there has never been any conflict or conversation that couldn't be settled with clobbering, but on a team that includes the strategic genius Black Panther and the serene goddess Storm (who if I'm not mistaken used to chastise Wolverine for his tendency to attack unprovoked back when she led the team), it's disappointing to see our heroes so willing to throw the first blow. This is especially true when their opponent is a former friend as in the case of the Silver Surfer, but this is the post-Civil War era, so perhaps preemptive punching is par the course in the new world order.

The art in the book is serviceable but nothing terribly exciting. I've enjoyed Pelletier's work in other series (most memorably CrossGen's Negation) so I'm not sure why it's leaving me so nonplussed here. Perhaps part of the problem is the computer coloring: I found myself distracted by the efforts to model and shade characters (especially their faces) throughout the book. Looking at the sole extra in this hardcover, a single page sampling Pelletier's pencils for issue 550, I found his work much more subtle and striking in black and white. (Perhaps I've been conditioned or ruined by reading so much manga.) Still, things could have been worse: Cover artist Michael Turner could have provided interior art in addition to his atrocious covers.

Fun Feet Fact! Count the number of feet that Michael Turner drew on these seven covers!!

In short, The New Fantastic Four wasn't much fun, and that's a shame for a series that used to bill itself as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine," a tagline that literally no longer seems to fit in this age of endless crossovers and earth-shattering events.

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