For years now there’s been persistent rumors there’s been a ban/lower prioritization of the Fantastic Four and X-Men from Marvel due to their movie ownership at Fox. No actual evidence has been presented, just conspiratorial connect the dots that ignore the creation of new X-Men characters, the licensed material that does get released, and use of some of the Fantastic Four characters in the comics themselves. While it is clear “something” was up, exactly what isn’t beyond a “deemphasis.”
Part of the fuel to the fire was the discontinuation of the Marvel Legendary: Fantastic Four expansion by Upper Deck for their popular deck-building game.
As reported by ICv2, Upper Deck Senior Brand Manager Jason Brenner has said that the “company has been authorized to immediately go back to press on a new printing of the product, which will be available in six to eight weeks.”
The expansion was originally released in the fourth quarter of 2013 and went out of print due to a “licensor-controlled issue.” This out of print status has led the expansion to be covetted and the aftermarket price to incease over 10x. Originally retailing for $19.99, expansions are being sold for over $300.
Three out of the four of the Fantastic Four appeared in the first Dice Masters set, Avengers vs. X-Men by WizKids released in 2014. They haven’t appeared in the game since. The Thing was one of the releases for Knight Models’ Marvel Universe Miniature Game and was released last year.
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This month’s comics with “rough value.” New Warriors #1 – $5 Marvel Comics Presents #72 – $6 Detective Comics #18 – $3 Batman Blackgate Isle of Men #1 – $2 Batwing #16 – $2.50 Adventure Comics #397 – $4 Fantastic Four #248 – $3 Fantastic Four #249 – $2 Fantastic Four #250 – $4
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This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Six Comic Book Movies.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve written an entire column about some movies, but I’m doing something a little different this week and we’re having a brief overview of six comic book movies, although we’re not ruling out revisiting some of these movies in a longer column down the road.
A few things before we start; firstly, these comic book movies may have been well received when released, but may never have garnered as much attention as they deserved. Secondly, some of these movies I’m probably viewing with the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, and as I haven’t seen many of them in years be prepared for some potentially foolish claims. Thirdly, this isn’t a complete, or inclusive, list and it is completely subjective. Lastly, I am aware that at least two of these movies are borderline comic book movies, but this is my list and I’m including them anyway.
The Phantom (1996) This is probably one of the only comic book movie on this list with an actual spandex bodysuit in it, and Billy Zane does admirably well in the roll. I haven’t seen this movie since the 90’s, but not for lack of trying – it is very tough to track down for a reasonable price. The Phantom is a hugely enjoyable movie, so long as you take it for what it is (Guardians of the Galaxy, it is not), you can’t fail to not enjoy it. But do yourself a favour and skip the two part mini series released in 2010.
Batman Forever (1995) Joel Shumacker ruined the Batman movie franchise with Batman and Robin, that’s no lie, but before he did that he madeBatman Forever. I still enjoy this flick to this day. It echoes the Adam West TV show of the 1960’s, updating the camp foolishness of that time into a slightly more modern and darker time, bridging the gap expertly between Tim Burton’s films and the TV show. The movie stars because of its villains; Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face and Jim Carry’s excellent portrayal of the Riddler. No, the film isn’t the best batman movie out there, but it isn’t as bad as Shumacker’s other offering.
Watchmen (2009) Watchmen did have some success, there’s no denying that. But the true brilliance of the movie lies with the version that has the animated Black Freighter edited in to the live action movie. Although it clocks in at around four hours long, this version trumps the theatrical version significantly. If you haven’t, and you have the time, give the full version a try.
Solomon Kane (2009) Originally character created by Robert E Howard (if that name doesn’t ring a bell, you may recognize another of Howard’s creations: Conan) Solomon Kane originally appeared in 1928 in pulp magazine Weird Tales, but has since then starred in several comics through the 70’s and 80’s, and three miniseries published by Dynamite in the last ten years or so. Solomon Kane is probably one of the best films on this list; starring James Purefoy, the film (intended as the first of a trilogy, but it does stand alone) is a dark action adventure that perfectly encapsulates the characters pulp roots.
Fantastic Four (2005) Say what you want about the new Fantastic Four movie (and people have, and loudly, voiced opinions – even myself), the first one wasn’t horrible. It was actually quite good, all things considered. The main downfall of the movie lies in the conflict throughout. I was happy just watching the F4 simply be themselves and felt that the Dr. Doom final conflict was shoehorned in to a comedy movie because the superhero movie need A Big Final Conflict. The movie would have been far stronger had they used Doom to set up the second movie; have the first movie be more about the characters finding themselves and maybe foiling a more mundane threat to New York City. This isn’t a great movie, but it certainly isn’t as bad as the sequel.
The Crow: Salvation (2000) Sequels to the 1994 The Crow movie generally range from absolute tripe, to just a little bit above bad. The reason for this is that they all try to follow the same formula. Well, Salvation is no different, but something here clicks. As far as sequels to the original movie go this is the best of the bunch, but that’s ultimately not really saying much. Not the best Crow movie out there, but if you’re a fan of the first movie it’s worth a rent.
There we have it – six underrated comic book movies. Are there other comic book movies out there that are, for whatever reason, underrated and under-appreciated?
Because of that,expect a sequel to this Underrated at some point in the future. In the meantime, if you do get a chance to look for Solomon Kane do it;it’s probably one of the easier movies to track down (with it being on Netflix) and is well worth your time.
New York City is in flames due the hatred stoked by the Hate-Monger and his crew including the mysterious Malice (in bondage gear) and Psycho-Man, a concept and story you’d think was rather appropriate for this day and age. The issue is broken up with a few storylines including Daredevil leaping around attempting to stop a hate crime. Reed Richards and Johnny Storm are hold up at the Avengers Mansion attempting to figure out what’s going on and Johnny is more focused on a missing Alicia Masters.
All of that eventually leads to Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch and Daredevil battling Malice to eventually learn, it’s really Sue who has been brainwashed by the Hate-Monger who has brought out her anger towards her brother and Reed. A slap in the face later Sue is snapped out of it breaking down into tears.
Released in 1985 for a pocket breaking 65 cents, Fantastic Four #281 is a comic that can be read on its own but is best as part of the multi-issue story arc that’s going on at the time, which includes Secret Wars II.
Much of the issue is a set up for those final few pages featuring the confrontation with Malice. And lets focus on this incarnation of Sue Storm. There’s the skimpy bondage like out which you can catch some of on the cover. What’s missing is the leather mask featuring spikes an amazing top ten for questionable comic costumes of the time. There’s the motivation of Sue too which is chalked up to jealousy of everyone. And her being snapped out of it by a slap is icing on the cake of this particular issue as if Sue is “hysterical” and this will wake her. It just reeks of the trope of the hysterical woman and it’s almost comical if it weren’t so odd.
The oddity includes Daredevil’s segment which begins with his swinging around the city dealing with crime and protecting a woman who is being assaulted by two individuals. All of that leads to a rather infamous scene of the hero being punched by the woman who states:
Don’ touch me! I don’t want no jive honky touchin’ me!
This was 1985! Did anyone talk like that in 1985? I was all of six so don’t remember. Has anyone talked like that period!? It’s bad writing drawing upon a stereotype that today is humorous in how bad it is. And this was written by John Byrne who is considered a legend by many!
The art too is by Byrne with inks be the also legendary Jerry Ordway, colors by Glynis Oliver, and letters by John Workman. As I mentioned, Sue’s “Malice” personality is utterly hilarious in the design. Generally, everything is classic Byrne in its style and for those familiar with his work seeing the pages, it’s clear it’s him. None of it is absolutely amazing, but it’s classic for the time.
The issue is infamous for so many reasons, and what’s interesting is that the story and issue could easily be updated for today and be relevant in some ways. The idea of a person driving NYC to hate and tearing the city apart is a story that could easily fit in 2017 and with some tweaks, it’d be absolutely amazing. The parts that had me sighing are par for the time period with horrible costumes, moments that just don’t fly today, and a very different flow of the comic and dialogue compared to today.
It’s an interesting comic for the time showing off the good, the bad, and the just plain weird.
Story: John Byrne Art: John Byrne Inks: Jerry Ordway
Color: Glynis Oliver Letters: John Workman
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.75 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read
Before you start yelling at me for writing a column about why the worst reviewed Fantastic Four movie doesn’t entirely suck, I’m not saying the movie is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not. But it is unfairly shit on by so many of us, and that’s the whole point of Underrated. This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character.
The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are underrated in some way.
This week I wanted to talk about the much derided Fantastic Four movie from 2015. Or Fant4stic, as the stylized logo goes, which is how I’ll be referring to the movie from here on out. The flick was directed by Josh Trank and starred Micheal B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm and Tobey Kebbel as Victor Von Doom. The relatively unknown director Josh Trank had previously directed the cult hit Chronicle and one other movie that I’ve never seen before being handed the reigns to Marvel’s first family, but based on Chronicle there was hope that Fant4stic would be on par, with, or better than, the other superhero flicks of the year.
Obviously that wasn’t the case. But was the movie really as bad as we think it was?
Sure it was certainly disappointing when it came out, almost entirely failing to meet the vast expectations heaped upon on it – of course, I’m being facetious, because almost from the get go it seemed this movie was doomed to fail. From the way people turned their nose up when talking about the rumours swirling about choices made around Doom’s origin, at one point he was supposed to be a Russian hacker called Victor Von Domashev; the reprehensible reaction to the casting choice of Micheal B. Jordan as the Human Torch (yes, there were some who were more worried about the lack of perceived blood relation between the Storm siblings rather than the colour of their skin, but the sense that many – myself included – got was that the outcry was a bit more racially tinged); and the dreaded Studio Involvement toward the end of the filming and editing process.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the strife between the director and the studio (if you haven’t there’s a good account of it here), but when Trank tweeted his frank tweet about Fant4stic you could hear geekdom cry “I knew it! It’s so bad even the director hates it!” And Tobey Kebbel seemed to agree with Trank in an interview given last year, saying that “the honest truth is [Trank] did cut a great film that you’ll never see.That is a shame. A much darker version, and you’ll never see it.”
Kebbel goes on to say that much of the footage of Doom in the movie isn’t him, due to the amount of the film that was reshot “I played Doom in three points: Walking down a corridor, killing the doctor and getting into the time machine, and lying on the bench. They were the only times I played Doom. Everything else was some other guy, on some other day… doing some other thing. I was infuriated that he was allowed to limp like that!”
With all the vitriol surrounding the movie prior to it’s release there was realistically no hope for the movie (indeed it barely made enough money to cover the budget, let alone the marketing costs), and many people took a rather large shit on the movie because they felt that they had the right to do so – whether they’d actually watched the movie or not.
Almost a year after the movie came out, I sat down and watched it on Netflix for the first time. And you know what? It wasn’t anywhere near as terrible as I expected it to be.
Now I did go in with some pretty low expectations but, dare I say it, I actually enjoyed the movie; even though it seemed to do everything possible to prevent that from happening. Yes, there are moments that seem contrived only to move the plot from point A to B in the most straight forward manner, and there is a sense that there are two visions on display here due to the reshoots, but this isn’t as bad a movie as you’d expect based on the hatred and criticism that Fant4stic received upon it’s release.
While some of the acting is questionable, the performances of Jordan and Teller (and Bell’s vocal performance) are pretty solid. While we’ll never get to see the original version of the movie, the one we did get does have a visual punch that’s better than you’d think. As a slow burning action movie, this isn’t too bad.
Was this a great Fantastic Four movie? Hell no.. but it’s not as bad as you’d think, and if you look at it as a movie very loosely based on the Fantastic Four rather than an actual Fantastic Four movie, then it’s actually watchable.
I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts about each.
So far we’ve focused on the MC2 imprint, with articles on Spider-Girl #0 and #3, but this week we’re talking a break from that line’s retro take on Marvel‘s future to look at a comic from the same year that attempted a contemporary take on the past.
SHADOWS & LIGHT #2
…from April 1998, an issue of an anthology series whose lead story explores the Thing’s monstrosity and demonstrates it to be lesser than that of the British royal family.
Story and art by Lee Weeks.
In 2014, if you wanted to buy a lovely statue of Babs Tarr’s Batgirl then you were buying it in greyscale. By 2015 there was a coloured-in version, but that first item of merchandise for that notably colourful version of the character was notably devoid of colour. That seems weird. Even weirder is the reason why. It was a matter of prestige. They hadn’t run out of paint. This was an honour.
The Batman: Black and White brand still matters. Twenty years on and ‘Batman: Black and White’ still means something and can have an effect on properties as remote from it in terms of DC’s publishing history as the Babs Tarr Batgirl. Batman: Black and White, a four issue miniseries from 1996 which I’m not sure anyone actually reads any more, has punched well above its weight in terms of brand endurance.
A lot of the little oddments you find coming out from Marvel in the late nineties are the company’s rather blunt ‘answers’ to some sales or critical success that DC was enjoying. The DC of that period had many of both. Shadows and Light is Marvel’s answer to Batman: Black and White. Marvel’s own black and white, artist-led, four issue anthology. Shadows and Light is not a brand that has similarly endured. There will be no Shadows and Light statue of Spider-Gwen.
Shadows and Light is okay though. It’s not embarassing like Marvel’s attempt to do VERTIGO or interminable like Marvel’s attempt to do Kingdom Come. There’s some quality stuff in here. This second issue has got a nice little Jim Starlin thing with Doctor Strange, a Jill Thompson Spider-Man story, and Liam Sharp using Man-Thing to play about with the style of Bissette and Totleben’s Swamp Thing. It’s all fine. It’s only been forgotten because Batman: Black and White is an immediately exciting and focused concept while “Here’s some black and white stories about a random selection of Marvel characters” is not.
Our lead story is a Ben Grimm piece by Lee Weeks. To foster the sense that these are important works by important people then each story is introduced by an interview with its creator about its function and themes. In his, Weeks shares a couple of interesting thoughts about Ben. One is that “he’s the Detective Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) of the Marvel universe.” Park that for now, but remember it for later weeks. That’s going to come up again.
Because the other Ben theory that Weeks states here is the meat of this specific story. It’s the idea that people see Ben as a monster “mainly because that’s the way he views himself […] he’s mostly responsible for the way he’s perceived and should give people more of a chance to see him as a man.”
Ben is, most comics agree, a monster.
Ben has, most comics agree, a body that can be thought of as disfigured.
Those are more or less constants. What varies wildly is the relationship between Ben’s disfigurement and Ben’s monstrosity. In the Mark Waid run, for example, Ben’s a monster to Ben and to Ben alone; He sees himself as a monster while the world, regardless of his disfigurement, sees him as nothing of the sort. In the John Byrne run, on the other hand, Ben’s ongoing disfigurement is a consequence of his monstrosity; his own psychological flaws are what invariably revert him to his rocky form despite all of Reed’s successful cures.
So to get a handle on what’s happening in a Ben Grimm story the first thing to look at should probably always be how that story relates disfigurement and monstrosity. Lee Weeks’ take is that Ben views himself as a monster on account of his disfigurement, this causes him to act like a monster and that consequentially he’s viewed as a monster by others. That’s the mistake this story reckons Ben is making and it reckons it has a device with which to expose it.
What if, it asks, Ben didn’t know what sort of body he had, but that everyone around him did? How might he behave then? And how might he be perceived?
Understandably there’s a lot of work needed to create a situation in which somebody has no idea that they’re an orange giant made of rocks but that everyone around that person can see that truth plainly. How do you tell a story where somebody just doesn’t notice that they’re an orange giant made of rocks?
Naturally you start with amnesia and a blindfold. They don’t solve everything though. Take away a man’s sight and his memory and he’s still got many other means by which he may swiftly apprehend that he’s an orange giant made of rocks, should he indeed be such. The story being in black and white only helps hide the ‘orange’ part.
There’s a gesture at his sense of touch having been compromised too, but little to explain why, during the three days his spends in the community where this story is set, his suspicions about his physicality aren’t aroused by the people around him saying things like “He’s as big as five men!” and “He’s like a great warrior made of stone!” and other subtle clues.
The weirdest thing though is what we’re to understand about Ben’s sense of proprioception here. He spends the story mostly performing manual labour, so he’s obviously able to effectively co-ordinate his body. Yet a climactic moment is him remembering how many fingers he has and how large they are.
He remembers this in the process of saving a life. Chucking himself off the edge of a cliff to grab and save someone who’s falling off it. Ben remembers who he is and performs a heroic action. Hero Reborn? No. This is the moment when Ben becomes a monster.
While saving his friend’s life, all Ben can think about is that this is not what he wants to be or do. “I just wanted to be be pilot,” he complains, “Just wanted to fly.”
Having saved this guy’s life, Ben then tells him that he doesn’t see any value in him having done so. Then he throws a massive stompy temper tantrum, terrifying all around. Lee Weeks has told his story; The Ben that is seen as a monster is the Ben that acts like a monster because of how Ben feels about looking like a monster. My macro level view of the massively multi-authored, multi-decade continuity that is the Fantastic Four can’t sign off on that exactly, but we’ll hang onto it and compare it to other Ben Theories as we go along.
What I find more interesting, to be honest, is the question of what Ben wants. This is a Ben who receives no emotional reward from acts of heroism. He takes no pride in it and takes no joy from gratitude. There’s nothing in being a hero for Ben. Action is not his reward. What does he want?
And what does the industrialised world want from the idea of the cargo cult?
We kind of love it.
In Britain the right-wing press never misses the most tenuous opportunity to remind us that the Yaohnanen tribe of Vanuatu worship Prince Philip as a god.
Even though they sort of don’t really.
What’s happened sounds to be more like the Yaohnanen tribe got a whiff of Prince Philip’s importance via some obnoxious seventies display of imperialist majesty and made a reasonable association between the divine and the British Monarchy. The British Monarchy being an institution that was then literally claiming to own the Yaohnanen’s world. The tribe making that association was reasonable because not only only was the material history of why the British were co-owning Vanuatu with the French much more absurd than divine mandate, but because an association with the divine is the actual foundational justification of the existence of monarchs in the first place. The link between monarchs and the divine that the Yaohnanen had made was far weaker and less fanciful than the link asserted by Britain’s own constitution.
Right and Left:People behaving reasonably. Centre:Someone being a dick.
Despite the miniscule amount of self-awareness the British Establishment would need to apprehend the above, they never have. They probably don’t know how many fingers they’ve got either. So they’ve spend the last forty years egging the Yaohnanen on for the lulz and sending Karl Pilkington over to smirk at them. Karl fucking Pilkington.
We do this because we are deeply and depressingly flattered by the idea of indigenous peoples worshipping our detritus. Cannibal tribes bowing in obeisance to Radio Luxemborg appear in Will Hay’s smash hit 1936 comedy Windbag the Sailor and we’ve never got over the idea. Our response to the existence of cargo cults is to take it as evidence of our sophistication over peoples to whom even our trash is of value. Though I suppose it’s encouraging that we understand that Prince Philip is trash.
So here is a story where an amnesiac Ben Grimm crash lands on an isolated South Pacific island. It’s Lee Weeks’ solution to the problem of how to provide him with a community who can respond to his behaviour but who won’t mention that they’ve seen him on the telly. It can’t just do that though. The set up is to provide an economical solution to the problem of putting Ben in a social vacuum where there is also society, but it’s denied that economy by crash landing in a tradition of dodgy writing about South Pacific tribal peoples encountering things that have washed-up on their shores or fallen from their skies. The simplicity of a story about how Ben presents to others is complicated by its proximity to stories of how the Other processes the industrialised world’s bits and bobs.
The first move the story makes here is the sort of thing Carl Barks liked to do. Ben is not the first intercession into this tribal culture. That was ‘Kelmack’, who we later learn to be Lt. Kelly MacCormack, a WWII fighter pilot. Ben is interacting with a culture that has already been influenced by the choices of a previous visitor. Reading MacCormack’s diaries towards the end of the story, Ben notes that he “went primitive” but that doesn’t seem to have been quite what he did at all. Rather he seems to have exploited his technologies to set himself up as a king.
How the inhabitants of this story’s unnamed island are to understand Ben is in light of not just their beliefs but in light of prior colonial activity. Already this story is one up on press coverage of the Godly Prince Philip.
The islanders are named, distinguished, and have differing points of view.
Taree understands Ben to be a new king, as promised by Kellmack. Her logic is that there is obviously something special about someone who just walked away from an explosive spaceship crash. Nuntoo takes him to be a demon. Takar confines himself to the immediate material evidence and goes with “great warrior made of stone.” Pakai, and eventually the tribe as a whole, seem mostly convinced by Taree’s arguments and by Ben’s feats of strength and so they settle on “he’s a king.”
But what is the role of ‘king’ here? We don’t see Ben performing any role that looks either executive or ceremonial. We see him in two roles; Patient and construction worker. Regardless of what they think he is, how they mostly treat him is as someone who needs to recover from a spaceship crash. And regardless of this, how Ben mostly behaves is as a construction worker.
That’s not unusual for Ben. Along with ‘wrestler’ then it’s one of the two most frequent things for him to be when he’s not being a superhero. But what isn’t usual is the way that ‘construction worker’ and ‘king’ interact here. Everyone would like Ben to perhaps have some rest and have a go at recovering from his massive ordeal. But, as per Two-in-One Annual #7/Secret Wars: Siege #4, Ben is the man who won’t lie down. He’s up and about carrying heavy objects and building big useful things.
It’s this behaviour, that comics usually have Ben default to because it’s manual and coded as working-class, that here guarantees his kingly nature.
“It’s not possible!” says Nuntoo as Ben carries a big rock.
“It’s for a king!” says Taree.
“Our great king!” chants the crowd as Ben builds a bridge.
The islanders have taken external material and accorded it value, but that’s because they’re getting their big rocks moved and bridges built. They’ve done what every cargo cult does; taken something from outside and put it to a purpose for which they have a cultural use.
But what do the Fantastic Four want?
This story’s Fantastic Four is an oddly half-baked attempted at a modernised view of the Silver Age. It’s a generic version of the early team in which Sue has big hair and no discernible personality and everyone talks in a weird mixture of Stan Lee shtick and phrases that have no place in it. Johnny’s line “Cut the crap, big brain!” is my favourite example, but I’m also partial to Ben name dropping Timothy Leary like he’s forgotten which Sixties he’s from.
The situation that’s put Ben on the island is that NASA have come to him asking him to test pilot a rocketship for them. He accepts, the controls freeze up, and it explodes.
Johnny’s understanding of the situation is darker. He seems to think that Ben has purposefully killed herself. Not only is he certain that Ben’s dead, but he’s furious with Reed about it and furious with Reed for continuing to search for Ben.
“You should’ve been so concerned before NASA approached him. You saw him. He hadn’t been that down since he became the Thing.”
Everything’s interesting there. That Johnny’s teasing and provoking of Ben is a strategy to help keep the guy alive is a popular interpretation, but this really shows the sort of responsibility Johnny feels the FF have towards Ben. They are, Johnny here believes, his suicide watch. To let him go off and fly missions for NASA is to fail him because…look! This is what happens.
But what does Ben want? Ben wants to fly. That’s why he takes the NASA mission. That’s what he says he’d rather be doing than saving lives. That’s what he eventually does at the end of this story as he takes the controls of the Pogo Plane.
Reunited with his family, Ben is able to fly.
That’s what he wants and that’s what his family want for him; to create a space where he’s able to. Ben’s not a superhero. He’s part of the Fantastic Four, which is a structure built to allow its members to support each other in perusing their own weird ideas of happiness. And this is one of the foundations on which that structure’s built. Ben wants to fly. The earth loves the air.
Feeling the Pulse is a weekly issue by issue look at the follow-up series to Alias featuring Jessica Jones and a team of reporters at the Daily Bugle, who investigate and report on superhero related stories. In this installment of Feeling the Pulse, I will be covering The Pulse #10-11 (2005) written by Brian Michael Bendis with issue 10 pencilled by Michael Lark, inked by Stefano Gaudiano, and colored by Pete Pantazis and issue 11 drawn by Michael Gaydos with colors from Matt Hollingsworth.
In The Pulse #10, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano tie the comic into yet another Marvel “event” and instead of the relatively self-contained Secret War, it’s House of M, a comic which really kickstarted the decade plus Marvel tradition of having a summer event that ties into virtually their entire publishing line. To jog everyone’s memory (Thank goodness for recap pages!), Scarlet Witch lost control of her reality warping powers in the famous or infamous “Avengers Disassembled” arc (also written by Bendis) and killed the Avengers Hawkeye, Ant-Man (Scott Lang), and her ex-husband Vision. After this, she flees to her father Magneto while Professor X gathers the X-Men (from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run) and New Avengers to decide what to do with her and hopefully not killer. But this confrontation causes her powers to go into overdrive and create a whole new reality called House of M where mutants led by Magneto and his children rule the world, and humans are hated and feared. Wolverine and Layla Miller (A smart teenage mutant from Peter David’s X-Factor) remember the pre-House of M reality, and this leads to complications when Layla reminds the still living Hawkeye that he died in another reality.
And Hawkeye freaking out leads directly into The Pulse #10, which doesn’t feature Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, but focuses on Ben Urich, Kat Farrell, and the Daily Bugle, whose editor-in-chief is somehow Mystique. The issue opens with Kat Farrell investigating an explosion of a Stark Industries building, which Bishop, a bodyguard/PR guy for the House of Magnus, blames on a human using mutant growth hormone when Kat spots kinetic energy absorbing mutant Sebastian Shaw and members of SHIELD on the scene. Thinking she has a scoop, she brings it up at a newspaper meeting, but is deflected by her editor-in-chief, who is waiting for SHIELD to make a comment. Then, Kat gives Mystique a piece of her mind and has a heart to heart with Ben Urich about working within the system and occasionally breaking a big story. And while working late, the story happens as Hawkeye bursts in and starts to realize that there were two realities when a newspaper headline about his death turns to something about the House of Magnus memorial. And when he tries to show Kat Avengers Mansion, it turns out to be a memorial to mutants killed by Sentinels. Reality is flimsy, and it freaks him out. And in his freakout, he destroys the Sentinel memorial with exploding arrows, asks Kat to tell his story, and runs off. The issue kind of ends with a note to follow the rest of Hawkeye’s story in House of M proper. Sometimes event tie-ins can be really annoying.
The Pulse #11 takes us back to the friendly haunts of Earth-616 as well as reuniting Bendis with Alias artist Michael Gaydos and colorist Matt Hollingsworth for the final arc “Fear” before cancellation. And they give us an excellent character-driven story with a B-plot featuring a Z-list superhero and the Daily Bugle journalists that wouldn’t be out of place in Alias. Also, Gaydos just plain understands how Jessica Jones looks as a character and her reactions to things, like when she is scared, being sarcastic, or just being happy. The Pulse #11 focuses on her taking a trip to the Baxter Building, seeing how the superest of moms Sue Richards deals with having kids and superpowers, and then going to lunch with her and Carol Danvers. Their conversations are raw, honest, and kind of read like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but with superheroes. And while Jessica is lunching, Ben Urich is investigating an interesting case of a smelly, out of breath superhero, who looked like Daredevil in his original yellow costume , helping stop the robbery of a store way out of Hell’s Kitchen. Kat Farrell identifies him as D-Man, a wrestler turned superhero and former Avenger, thanks to his “Wolverine hat”, which is what cowls should be called from now on. And it turns out that he took more than just a bottle of water from the store. The Pulse #11 concludes with Janet Van Dyne working on redesigning Luke Cage’s costume because he’s now a New Avenger when Jessica’s water breaks.
In characterization and art, The Pulse #10 isn’t a bad read as Kat Farrell is the lead character for the first time in the series. Her tenacity and willingness to tell the truth, snap a cellphone pic, and break a story even in the face of a mutant, who has both telepathic and energy absorbing abilities are on full display this issue. It’s also a subtle inversion of her role in the main universe The Pulse series as Ben Urich is the one courting controversy, hiding Daredevil’s secret identity, and possibly taking down Nick Fury while Kat is more willing to play ball with editorial. In this issue, Ben is the one giving Kat a mini-lecture about picking battles and working with Mystique until they can really blow the whole Magnus regime open. Artists Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano with colorist Pete Pantazis even give us a glimpse at the writing process with a double page spread that cuts between the dusty Daily Bugle archives, and Kat desperately trying to churn out a story. Her computer has a slight glow in the dark building and will remind anyone of that burning feeling you get in your eyes when you’re trying to beat a deadline the night before.
However, the story of Kat Farrell intrepid journalist comes to a halt halfway through the issue and becomes the tale of Hawkeye Crossover Event Explainer Man. He doesn’t even let Kat get in a word edgewise, threatens her with his arrows, and blabbers on about what’s happened to him in the previous issues of House of M. There is a payoff to all the chatter, which isn’t bad to read as Bendis makes Clint a real salt of the Earth fellow as he quips about only reading the sports page of the newspaper, with the earlier mentioned destruction of the Sentinel memorial, but the issue just ends. There’s no reflection on Kat’s part just a silent scene as the police pull up. It’s like this House of M tie-in was supposed to be a two-parter with Kat writing the story in the second half and trying to get it past editorial, but it only ended up being one issue. It’s an example of what not to do with an event tie-in as Bendis and Lark set up story-worthy themes, like the difference between journalism and PR, and intriguing situations, like Mystique being interested in print media for some reason (She’s been a high school principal too so this isn’t her weirdest form of employment.), but fail to explore them and just explain the events of the main series.
But, if The Pulse #10 has you down, The Pulse #11 is the breath of freshest air. And one thing that surprised about me is the comedic timing of Michael Gaydos despite his rougher hewn style compared to say, this series’ original artist Mark Bagley. And it’s on display from the opening page where Jessica Jones can go right up to see the Fantastic Four in the Baxter Building after being escorted out by security back when she needed their help in Alias with the FF’s receptionist still having that creepy rictus. Next, there is his and Bendis’ riff on the fights between the Thing and Human Torch that seemed to happen during Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four. Gaydos’ realistic style shows the serious side of their battle as the Thing almost falls into a very pregnant Jessica Jones (who is saved by a last second force field from Sue Richards). But it ends being a great set-up for a line by Sue about Franklin and Valeria being more well-behaved than these grown men and superheroes in their twenties and thirties. And the comedy comes back in the final pages as Gaydos nails Luke’s painful reactions to the various superhero costumes that Janet Van Dyne is trying to interest him in as Carol and Jessica giggle in the background. It’s also a larger meta joke about Luke Cage not having an iconic costume since his days as the tiara wearing, yellow silk shirt sporting Power Man back in the 1970s and just wearing jeans and a t-shirt in Bendis’ New Avengers run. (Maybe Sanford Greene will change this in his Power Man and Iron Fist run.
The lunch with Jessica Jones, Carol Danvers, and Sue Richards is another showcase of Brian Michael Bendis’ ability to craft characters through dialogue and conversation. Gaydos’ faces are key too as he can do subtle really well, like Jessica spacing out when Sue gets a little bit too earnest about the Fantastic Four’s mission, and how her children “live a life without superficial judgment”. But most of their talk is dealing with the cold, harsh realities of motherhood, and Sue doesn’t sugarcoat things for Jessica saying that her superhero status could leave to villain attacks and kidnapping and that it’s super freaky to be entrusted to take care of another human life. But in the end it’s all worth it, and Jessica is actually pretty refreshed to see how “normal” the Richards kids are as Franklin adorably touches her pregnant stomach and gets scolded for saying “butt”. Bendis continues his tradition of writing mothers well (Aunt May in Ultimate Spider-Man comes to mind.) and gives Sue a warm voice as she loves her kids, but also can get exasperated by them. It’s unfortunate that the Fantastic Four and their family dynamic is one team he hasn’t been unable to write so far.
And because this is a comic about journalism and not just Jessica Jones, Bendis and Gaydos give us a pretty interesting journalism subplot about Ben Urich and Kat Farrell investigating the re-emergence of D-Man as a vigilante and thief. Gaydos and Hollingsworth initially sell that this is a Daredevil story by using plenty of shadows in the art as well as touch of red in the background as a gun goes off. But, then there’s a cut to D-Man ambling around the store with his gut hanging out and moving a little slower than the Man without Fear. The store owners that he save don’t paint the most flattering picture of him saying that he had a smell and took some jewelry. And thus begins Ben Urich’s investigation into superheroes, who don’t have the benefit of a well-paying job as a lawyer or the sponsorship of a billionaire philanthropist or bald guy.
The Pulse #10-11 features one example of how not to write a tie-in for a company-wide and one example of how to tell use superheroes to tell a story about a real life situation in this case, becoming a mother. It encapsulates the uneven nature of The Pulse as a series, which didn’t know if it wanted to tell Jessica Jones stories or and found a balance between both in the “Fear” arc just as it was being cancelled. At least, the art is consistent with Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, and Michael Gaydos finding a sweet spot between realism and cartooning with a side of natural facial expressions and the awkwardness of superhero costumes. (Honestly, only George Perez, Jack Kirby, and the animators of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can pull off the “Purple H” Hawkeye costume.)
Sundays are known for folks gathering around tables on television and pontificating about some of the hottest topics out there, offering their expertise. We bring that tradition to Graphic Policy as the team gathers to debate in our Sunday Roundtable.
On tap this week?
What run or comic series do you love and that you feel like nobody else read? What made you enjoy it?
Logan: I always felt like the only one reading the Bravest Warriors comics even though the cartoon is super popular, and Catbug is literally everywhere!
I loved the book b/c it featured a queer character in an all ages book, really expanded on the cartoon’s mythology (especially with Catbug’s backstory), had nice pop culture riffs on stuff like The Great Gatsby and Pacific Rim, and Ian McGinty‘s art is animation translated to the comics page.
Daphne: I loved Bravest Warriors! I’ve been catching up on the comics by buying the collections Comixology sells whenever they go on sale. I am a few volumes behind I think but it’s such a fun series.
Daphne: Bone, by Jeff Smith. I know it’s actually critically acclaimed and it did get Jeff a decent amount of press and attention, but it feels criminally underrated and forgotten to me. It’s this amazing mixture of high fantasy and Peanuts-style character interaction, with these really believable and real-feeling characters caught up in a fantasy war with rat creatures, dragons, a sentient locust swarm, undead, and ghosts. But it never loses sight of the heart of the story, which is the eight or nine characters we follow all through the plot. It was how I discovered comic books as a little girl and it is a really important and special series to me. I hate that so few people seem to have read it.
Javier: This is the kind of stuff I used to buy for my kids, but secretly was really for me. Scholastic reprinted these a few years back, and I bought my son the entire set.
Alex: Ha, most of the superhero stuff I love is, I feel underrated, but ‘ll start with C.O.W.L. It’s a series written by Kyle Higgins, set in the 60s (or so) where the city of Chicago’s unionized superhero outfit is about to go on strike as they try to negotiate a new contract with the mayor’s office. The problem? They’re so good at what they do that they’re not needed anymore…
This 11 issue series ignited my interest in exploring the concept of superheroing as a paid occupation, corruption, and the nature of power. It’s fantastic, and needs some love.
Brett: I started reading that one and stopped. I should definitely go back and see what I missed.
Paul: The New Warriors, the original run. I loved the original line up, and the new additions that came and went. It was so 90s and it was great. Young teen heroes, turned away by the established teams so they form up and show them how it’s done. And they had some great villains; Psionex, Mad Thinker (who actually helped these kids learn about themselves), Folding Circle, The Sphinx, Force of Nature…so many great stories. I think this is the only title were I bought every single issue, #1-#75 and annuals. I still pull the box out and read through the run. It really stuck with me and still is one of my favourite books (not including the unfortunate relaunches).
Alex: I enjoyed the most recent relaunch with Scarlet Spider, to be honest.
Paul: It started out pretty good..but I couldn’t stick with it after the talking dog and cat beings from Wundagore. There was potential though…I did enjoy Scarlet Spider and Hummingbird
Alex: Heh, I actually enjoyed those quite a bit. I’d read them all on Marvel Unlimited after plowing through some Moon Knight from the 2006 run, and they were a nicely pleasant change.
Paul: I’m glad someone enjoyed it smile emoticon
Alex: If you liked the way Scarlet Spider was written, you should check out the 25 odd issue run by the same writer. It’s fantastic
Paul: I would love to see the originals in a new run…older, wiser..like 3 ex Avengers (Justice, Firestar, Speedball), bring back Turbo, rescue Alex Power from the Future Foundation…boom, you got a book tongue emoticon
Alex: I’d be interested in that, and I never read the originals
Elana: I like the idea of villains helping young heroes understand themselves. Any idea roughly which issues that was?
Ryan: How about Alan Moore‘s totally under-appreciated run on WildC.A.T.S.? Even with all the quality creator-owned stuff coming out of Image these days, I still maintain that this is the best-written run of any Image title. It sold well, but like a lot of the stuff that came out at that time, people bought it, but never actually bothered to read it. That’s a real shame because while this won’t leap-frog V For Vendetta or From Hell or Watchmen (or Providence, his best series in decades) on anyone’s list of favorite Moore comics, it’s a thoroughly engaging, imaginative, stylish, and dare I say even modestly ambitious run of issues that are richly deserving of critical re-appraisal and a far more considered examination by anyone so inclined.
Brett: I think Joe Casey and Dustin Nguyen’s run in Wildcats 3.0 was even better. That’s a run that’s woefully overlooked and so ahead of its times. It had the team more as a corporation dealing with not just powered villains but the oil lobby.
Elana: Need to read both of those! There was a lot of creative work by top writers in the Wildstorm universe.
One of the comics I would include here as an overlooked great would be the Wildstorm summer special of 2001.
There’s Hawksmoore parkour, Zealot in a beautiful silent piece stealing apples, a hilarious bit with The Engineer’s dating woes that includes what HAD been the iconic Midnighter moment until his solo series.
I referenced it in my review of Midnighter. Apparently he wears his mask even when he’s hanging around their headquarters in an undershirt and underwear. And ironing clothes.
Elana:Grant Morrison and Jae Lee‘s “Fantastic Four” 1,2,3,4. I’ve only met one other person who’s read it. I LOVED his take on the characters. He seems to be the only person to ever care about Sue’s psychology. The art is really sexy when it needs to be (ie when Namor shows up to seduce Sue). His Alicia Masters is smart. Ben Grimm’s dialog about becoming the Thing makes me cry. The art is beautiful and moody and the book is a tightly put together package of “Oh, so this is how the fantastic four works” written for modern readers.
Alex: That sounds like it might be interesting. When did they come out?
Paul: Sounds very interesting
Elana: 2001-2002. It was in the Marvel Knights imprint. There was one issue dedicated to each member.
Alex: Interesting. I may try and find those issues if it’s only the four
Elana: Alex they are in a tiny trade paperback.
Alex: Awesome! I’m heading to the comic shop anyway later today so I’ll check for them
Ryan: I read it, but don’t remember it striking much of a cord. Guess I’ll have to dig out my back issues and give it another look —
Javier:Kirby‘s Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. I’m on a bender trying to get every issue. I’m short an odd 17 issues. I don’t really remember how I got into this character. I was 8 years old when this series ended, and I didn’t start collecting til I was 14; but I had a few beat up issues in my collection. Much later I looked to buy the collected TPB, but much too late; and it is now out of print and sells at a premium. I did the math; and looking for the originals will cost about the same as buying the collected trades. I know it’s suppose to be a rip-off of the Planet of the Apes, but Kirby’s art and writing still holds. The idea of a “Great Disaster” that not even Superman was able to prevent is classic. I can’t figure out why it was cancelled so early, since everything I read on it said sales were good; and to this day, back issues sell cheaply (when you can find them).
Ryan: One of Kirby’s very best series — shoot, we could do a whole roundtable discussion on under-appreciated Kirby titles, from OMAC to Captain Victory to Silver Star to Devil Dinosaur to Black Panther to 2001 to Machine Man to his 1970s Captain America run — all are crackling with more ideas per page than any ten entire comics are today.
Elana:Ryan: let’s do it! Also the success of Adventure Time is def a reflection of Kamandi’s brilliance as a story
Christopher: I would have to say the lesser known Neil Gaiman works, that the now defunct Tekno Comix published; Mr Hero: The Pneumatic Man, Teknophage, and Lady Justice. The story is good, albeit a bit strange but, it is Neil Gaiman after all. I have found a few issues of each, but finding them in sequential order is a frustrating challenge. In addition to that I would have to say, Alan Moore‘s Fashion Beads run. Another weird, strange yet, detailed and wonderful story. I would say Grant Morrision’s six issue, Batman RIP run. Great story, and art.
Brett: I didn’t know any of those Gaiman comics. I’ll need to check them out.
Elana: Do Peter David‘s decades on X-Factor count as overlooked? It’s an incredibly long run that doesn’t seem well examined. I grew up on it.
Brett: I grew up on that run, a favorite of mine too!
Well, that’s a lot of good suggestions folks. What do you readers think? Sound off in the comments below!
“Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.”
– Yeats, The Four Ages of Man.
“Have them fight God.”
– Lee to Kirby, apocryphal.
I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts about each.
Like many of you who’ll be reading this, and any of you who didn’t blink at that last sentence, I’ve a tendency to form abnormally strong attachments to the media in which I invest. Sometimes that’s worked out well for me, sometimes it’s worked out less so. You know how it goes.
Over the last few years I’ve noticed many of those attachments breaking. The UK version of Big Brother filled my heart and mind for fourteen summers and then it didn’t. Doctor Who was the central mythology of my life for over thirty years and then it wasn’t. There exists no critical/medical consensus on whether Big Brother and Doctor Who went a bit rubbish or whether this might have had something to do with me trying depression on for size, but that doesn’t matter too much. What matters is that they were gone.
They were gone and, surprisingly, that was fine. These weren’t bitter, acrimonious break-ups like we all had with Pretty Little Liars. They were just gone. Doctor Who and Big BrotherUK, these unmanageably massive and unfathomably strange texts that had occupied so much of my thought and my time for so long had just packed up and left in the night. I felt a bit melancholy about losing them but supposed I had no real regrets. I didn’t feel that I’d wasted thirty-one years on Doctor Who or fourteen years on BBUK. As I say, it wasn’t like with Pretty Little Liars.
But, as I stared out of the window listening to ‘Days’ by the Kinks and watching Doctor Who and Big Brother UK load their luggage into a taxi, I realised that perhaps I did have a regret. Perhaps it would have been nice if, instead of them just leaving, we could have talked things out properly first. Wound things up nicely. Worked out what we meant to each other. Consciously uncoupled.
So here I am now in the same situation with superheroes. Again, there’s no acrimony here. I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “Wait a minute! These are all fundamentally authoritarian power fantasies and any attempt to use them in progressive narratives will always be either disingenuous or naïve! Fiddlesticks!” No, no. None of that. Superheroes mean all sorts of different things and will continue to do so. I’m just done following the ongoing narratives and metanarrative of the superfolk as go about their cultural business. But this isn’t going to go like how it did with Doctor Who and BBUK. Superheroes and me are going to do this properly. We’re sitting down and having the talk.
That conversation is taking the form of the project presented to you here; Have Them Fight God. In which I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts about each.
Why the Fantastic Four? There are a couple of reasons. One of which is that, when I first started reading superhero comics with Secret Wars then the FF felt to me like the heart of the story and, when I stopped reading superhero comics thirty years later with Secret Wars then they were indisputably the heart. They’ve not always been the centre of my attention or my enthusiasm as I’ve gone along, sometimes they have but not always, but if the story of my investment in superheroes can be mapped onto any set of characters then it’s them. It’s only through these plucky Imaginauts that I’ve got any chance of understanding the journey I’ve been on, of getting the number of the genre that just hit me. The other reason is that there are too many Superman comics.
I’m worried that I haven’t made this sound much fun! Break-up metaphors! Depression mentions! You must think you’re in for a right load of gloomy old grumbles. Don’t worry. It won’t be that at all. It’ll be a hoot! This project might not be explanatory (I’m writing from a position of inquiry rather than expertise) and it won’t always be celebratory, but it will be relentlessly exploratory. Exploration’s fun, isn’t it? To anticipate and misquote a phrase that will become important as we go along; It’s a human adventure.
Best get on with it then. Every Fantastic Four comic. Four thoughts on each.
Today that means…
MARVEL SUPER HERO ISLAND ADVENTURES #1
…from April 1999, a comic which encourages visitors to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park to lend a helping hand in bringing about the utter destruction of the Fantastic Four.
Written by Michael Stewart. Inked by Richard Case. Coloured by Paul Mounts. We’ll get to the penciller in a minute.
By the start of 2009, Marvel Entertainment would be the world’s fourth largest licensor. For that very reason, it would end 2009 having been bought by the world’s first largest licensor. The real world monetary value of all the characters discussed in this project eventually comes to derive not from companies producing fictions about those characters but on companies selling licenses to other companies, granting them the right to make shoes, duvet covers, milkshakes and tins of spaghetti shapes. For some time Disney have made more money from selling licenses than they have from making films. That’s their model, and those are the sums that caused them to decide Marvel was worth $4 billion.
Ten years earlier, when this comic came out, Marvel was not worth $4bn. But it was two years out of bankruptcy, it was under in the control of Ike Perlmutter, and it already had Avi Arad pushing for the strategies that would one day bait the mouse.
So this little book, a tie-in to the deal that let Universal have a Marvel Island at their newly-opened ‘Islands of Adventure’ theme park, is a valuable artifact. Marvel’s final destiny was as a licensing company. This lets us have a look at what sort of brand they thought they were selling at the start of the process which took them there.
The most self-evident thing, when you first pick up the comic, is that this is a heritage brand. Over in publishing the Quesada/Jemas project to modernize the line has just begun. Kevin Smith’s Daredevil and Paul Jenkins’ Inhumans are under way. You wouldn’t know. That’s not yet anywhere to be seen on the face that Marvel is showing to the world outside the direct market. In 1999 the Quesada/Jemas Project is still an experiment rather than a direction. The Marvel Brand that has been sold to Universal is one that purports to be exciting because it is nostalgic.
Its cover assures us that the three exclusive stories within are “all told in the Mighty Marvel Manner.” What an amazing bit of copy. What a decision. What’ll speak to theme park goers in 1999? I know! One of Stan’s old cornball phrases! Imagine if “Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!” had been the tagline for the 2008 Iron Man film.
Actually, yes, imagine just that. Because that highlights perfectly the difference between the brand that Marvel sells now and the brand it was selling in 1999. Modern Marvel films assert that they’re worthy of your time because of a present and immediate relevance to our contemporary world.
Whenever tendrils of that strategy reach Alan Moore’s cave they drive him to such fury that he emerges to complain about our cultural fixation on characters from the sixties. In every interview he makes that point, and every time the comics-reading audience responds with something along the lines of, “Yeah, but mate – aren’t your comics all about characters from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and Enid Blyton’s Noddy Mythos?”
The comics-reading audience is missing what Moore finds so provocative. It’s the way our culture processes these sixties’ characters; a way that actively discourages us from thinking about the fact that they’re sixties characters. The modern Marvel brand does not invite us to retain a consciousness of these ideas being old ideas. It invites us to treat them as the Now and to thrill to them accordingly.
Now, I’m not saying that Alan Moore would have a grumble-free day out at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. I’m just saying that what’s happening in this comic is at an opposite extreme to one of his frequent complaints. Here we’re being invited to value this stuff precisely because it is the past. Because it’s part of American heritage and part of childhood.
The comic opens with an intro from Stan Lee. He uses the phrases ‘true believers’ and ‘rollicking readers’ and signs off with ‘Excelsior!’, all of which are exactly what’s wanted from him.
He also misleadingly implies that he’s had some editorial involvement in this comic. A lot of things change. A lot of things don’t.
There are three stories in this comic. One starring Doctor Doom, one starring Spider-Man, and one starring the Hulk. If we’re looking for answers to the question, “What do licensees want from the Fantastic Four?” then we’ve got a pretty big clue right there.
“What do licensees want from the Fantastic Four?”
That broadly seems to be the case today. Conversations about how Marvel no longer hold the film rights to the Fantastic Four turn very quickly into lists of other properties first introduced in FF comics that are therefore denied them. The great annoyance for a lot of people is not that Marvel’s First Family have no place in the most successful version of the Marvel Universe, but that the Fantastic Four can’t be asset stripped.
Sue, Johnny, Reed and Ben are not, in the licensing game, particularly important parts of the Fantastic Four package. We’ve seen the extremes of this over the last couple of years in behaviour from both Fox and Perlmutter. Fox have been perfectly happy to devalue the Fantastic Four as a brand precisely because they’ve no sincere interest in exploiting that brand; just in retaining a cluster of IP that Marvel wants. While Perlmutter’s been happy to stop licensing Fantastic Four merchandise altogether as a move in that game.
Sue, Johnny, Reed and Ben are in this comic though. Doom is what’s wanted, as branding for a ride called ‘Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall’, but the FF are present as motivation for him to have built such an attraction.
What does Doom want? To utterly destroy the Fantastic Four.
How will Doom get it? By building a theme park ride.
We’ll see plenty of stories from Doom’s perspective as Have Them Fight God trundles along, but what does it mean for this particular one to be a Doctor Doom story that features the Fantastic Four?
Not terribly much, to be honest. Because the figure the story’s really structured around is YOU. It’s an eight page build to the reveal of where you, the reader, fit into the story and what your role in events is to be.
We open with a page of Doom addressing some random civilians who he’s holding captive in order to harvest their fear and turn it into lasers or something. “Together,” he tells them, “we shall teach the Fantastic Four that they have nothing to fear but… Fear Itself!”
Then we get a couple of pages of a standard superhero punch-up, which Doom loses due to the apparently unforeseen circumstance of Johnny being able to shoot fire. Don’t worry, though. It was just a remotely controlled robot.
The real Doom is “elsewhere” (Universal Islands of Adventure) working on another machine to harvest the fear of pitiful fools. We end with the reveal that you, the reader, are fungible with a group from within this comic. You too can live the experience of playing a part in a story that’s certifiably told in the Mighty Marvel manner. You can step inside these very pages! You can enter this narrative directly! Not as a superhero or supervillain though, but never mind. For the price of a ticket to Universal Islands of Adventure YOU TOO can be a pitiful fool and assist in the final destruction of the Fantastic Four.
Hey…I tell you who drew this though. Only Mike Werringo! Only the sole definitive Fantastic Four artist of the Twenty-First Century! Why’s this issue not included in the Big Omnibus of his run, then? Probably because there’s no such Omnibus, now I think about it. That’s weird too.
It’d be cool if this was the first time he drew them, wouldn’t it? That’d be a fun take for me to go with, wouldn’t it? This century’s definitive vision of the Fantastic Four starts here in Marvel Super Hero Island Adventures! But, nah. Werringo had already drawn an issue of Heroes Reborn. Fucking Heroes Reborn.
Werringo hasn’t devised those character models for the FF yet though. He’s almost there with Ben. This Werringo agrees with his future self on the matter of Ben’s shoulders; that they should ideally be one big continuous curve and that the rest of his physiology should fit in with that. Other than that though, they all look a bit generic.
Visuals aside, it’s interesting to look at what constitutes a ‘generic’ Fantastic Four in 1999. What’s the default form in which they’re seen to exist when abstracted from continuity?
In terms of characterisation then it’s all what you might expect. Reed’s the one who apprehends the situation and gives the orders (”Let’s move, people!”). Sue’s doing feats of endurance and moments of innovation. She and Reed do little coupley affirmations in the middle of combat. Ben does the punching and the catchphrase. Johnny gets so incensed by the idea of torture that he attempts murder.
Wait. What was that last one again? That’s not generic.
The page in question is just trying to do two things; characterise Johnny as impassioned and get us to the reveal that we’ve been dealing with a Doombot. But how it plays out is like this –
Johnny makes a status move, castigating Doom for the banality of the weapons he’s deploying against them. “Come on, Doom. A fancy ray gun and purple dumbots – is that the best you can do? This is the Big Leagues, Buddy!” This is a great bit of trolling, as any version of Doom is going to be pissed off by the idea that the accursed Richards family occupy a station to which he is required to step up to.
Johnny switches to a position of principle, expressing outrage that Doom is torturing innocent people to power his fancy ray guys and informing him that it’s going to stop. “Right here! Right now!”
Johnny releases all his power at Doom in a firey inferno that both he and Reed clearly understand will kill him.
Nobody expresses any surprise at Johnny’s actions or castigates him for them. All that’s articulated is shock that this has failed to kill Doom. And all we can conclude is that, in the dark and gritty universe of Universal Islands of Adventure, the Fantastic Four routinely fight to the death.
There’s one more thing that’s worth pointing out about this FF, which is that they explicitly operate out of Four Freedoms Plaza. That’s a peculiar thing for this comic to specify as it’s neither their iconic home (The Baxter Building), their current home (Pier 4), or the building that Universal is hyping (Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall). It’s just the building that they lived in after the end of the Byrne run until the Thunderbolts blew it up. What’s it doing in this comic? I don’t know, but its presence does tell us two things. That Pier 4 was not expected to endure and that the return of the Baxter Building was not seen as inevitable.
Doom’s plan in this story raises many questions. The first is what exactly it’s trying to achieve. There are numerous references to the destruction of the Fantastic Four, so we know that that’s a goal, but at one point he also enthuses about the destruction of all others who resist his will and the commencement of his reign of terror, so I think we have to suppose he’s shooting for that too.
The next question is how these goals are advanced by building a theme park attraction which elevates people to 185 feet before suddenly but safely returning them to ground level in an experience that Rob and Jennifer of Baltimore describe as a “Major rush.”
Rob and Jennifer M. Baltimore ,FL
We know that this process of elevating people to 185 feet before suddenly but safely returning them to ground level allows Doom to harvest their fear and convert it to energy. It still seems quite a jump from there to the destruction of all who oppose your will. At best what Doom has here is a small power station. At worst what he has is a terribly inefficient one, as it’s hard to imagine that elevating people to 185 feet before suddenly but safely returning them to ground level and harvesting their fear isn’t a process that runs at a net energy loss.
There are no clues in the story as to how scaring theme park goers can possibly yield more energy than this method of doing so expends, but I suppose that Marvel mythology holds fear to be an extradimensional force. The Halls of Fear and the Nightmare Realm and so forth are all spaces which exist outside the physical universe. Presumably Doom isn’t drawing energy from his terrified punters, but through them, using their distress to siphon power from these metaphysical spaces.
The problem of what Doom is to do with this energy is solved on the last page with the introduction of the trans-thermal fusion dynamo, which it is to power. We’re given no indication as to what that is, or why Doom couldn’t just plug it in and run it off the mains like a normal person, but I’m sure it’s brilliant.
Actually, no… wait. Trans-thermal…fusion…dynamo… all that phrase can possibly mean is a generator. Doom has built his rubbish power station in order to fuel… a better power station. He’s a right nob sometimes. It’s no wonder that people have been dropping from his towers for seventeen years now and not only has he failed to conquer the world, he’s failed to even conquer the two adjacent Islands of Adventure (‘Toon Lagoon’ and ‘Port of Entry’). Though I like to imagine that he was getting close in 2010, only to be put in check when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter moved in opposite.
Nowadays, of course, it’s another quirky legacy of Marvel’s 90′s deals that Universal theme parks can have Marvel attractions while Disney theme parks, more or less, can not. Commentators on the theme park industry are watching all this very closely. There are eyes on every move Universal and Disney make. So there was a lively flurry of excitement last year when rumors started to circulate of secret construction work in the area behind Doom’s Fear Fall.
It’s both easy and appropriate to be cynical when talking about the business side of all this. But there’s something delightful about reading people speculating in all seriousness about mysterious secret buildings hidden behind Doctor Doom’s lair.