Recent Dorkiness

Cosmic Schmaltz: The Fantastic Four Returns

So after a slight delay, we’re back with… Something I couldn’t have written before yesterday anyway…

Fantastic Four 1
by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli 

 

So, yeah.

Yeah, this book.

About that…

I didn’t enjoy it.

It’s not… BAD, per se.

(Or it’s not AWFUL, anyway.)

I didn’t HATE it.

But I didn’t enjoy it.

I kind of thought I wouldn’t, honestly, after the preview they released a couple of weeks back. I gave the first page of that zero stars last week, in a half-serious display of disgust that I’ll attempt to leaven a bit this week. But the reason I hated that page is pretty much the reason I didn’t enjoy the first issue as a whole: schmaltz. Not sentimentality, understand. Sentimentality is something I can deal with, especially with characters I love as much as I love the Fantastic Four, in their big comeback issue after two years spent in the funnybook wasteland because their publisher didn’t own the movie rights. After that, a little sentimentality, a little celebration of the team and what makes them great, would have been welcome. But Dan Slott takes it too far.

That’s the whole opening page, which is a bit different from the preview. There was less commentary originally, and all of it came from Ben. Splitting it up between all four team members is better, but it’s still too cute for its own good. I’ve never liked that “Imaginauts” thing, for instance. Johnny does kind of crap on it, though, so it doesn’t bother me too much. It’s that “adventure of being a family” line that kills it. Even moved from Ben’s mouth to Sue’s, it still makes me wanna throw up a little. I mean, I get the intent. The book needs some kind of establishing shot, an anchor to introduce the team to whatever new readers might be picking it up for the first time, and the family aspect of the book is important. It should be touched on in any one-page summary of the team. But, DAMN. That’s pure schmaltz. You can talk honestly about the importance of family without getting cheesy about it.

But Slott goes for the cheese, over and over again, throughout this first issue. Like, just two pages after “the adventure of being a family,” we get the Thing, covered in kittens.

Now, that’s just pandering.

WARNING: FROM HERE ON OUT, THIS IS GONNA GET PRETTY SPOILERY.

You have been warned…

Later on, there’s this heartswelling moment:

Okay, now that’s bad. Old Hollywood melodrama bad. I know we’re in the post-ironic era, but good lord. That’s some of the most laughably over-noble dialogue I’ve ever seen. It’s drenched in so much cheese, in fact, that it smothers a genuinely touching moment on the previous page. It’s hammered home throughout the issue that Johnny Storm doesn’t believe that Reed and Sue are dead, despite all evidence to the contrary. But then he has a “crying to the heavens” moment, and he comes to accept that they’re gone.

Now, I like the irony of Johnny accepting the death of his family, only for the reader to immediately find out he’s wrong. I mean, we all KNEW he was wrong, because COMICS, but the next-page confirmation of it within the fiction itself is well-done. Except Slott then turns around and gives Reed a line so cheesy that it undermines the drama.

GUH.

Of course… Johnny’s moment of acceptance would also be a lot more affecting… if the same scene hadn’t just played out more effectively, and with better build-up, LESS THAN A MONTH AGO in the pages of Marvel Two-In-One.

Look. I’m hardly a stickler for continuity. I can deal with little inconsistencies over long periods of time. I’m not, for instance, going to complain about how Slott’s writing Alicia Masters as Ben’s ethereal angel, a personality type she’s slowly grown out of over the last 40 years. Hell, they haven’t even been dating for ages now. A little slippery continuity doesn’t bother me that much, though, so I’m willing to give him some space on that. But this thing with Johnny happened, as I said, LESS THAN A MONTH AGO, dealing with the EXACT SAME PLOT POINT, in a book I enjoyed a lot more than I did this one.

That just seems like sloppy editing. The left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing, in spite of how closely these two books are tied together. SOMEbody should have been ensuring that Johnny didn’t have the same epiphany twice, anyway. Much less twice in the space of a month.

At any rate.

I did say this issue isn’t all bad, and it’s not. There’s a back-up story about Dr. Doom re-taking Latveria that I’m… intrigued by. Something’s ruined his face again (maybe something in an upcoming issue of Marvel Two-In-One? Maybe not?), and he’s running around in nothing but a cloak and some kinda loin cloth with a rope for a belt…

…but he’s practically worshiped by his former subjects, which is an interesting thing to do. I guess the tyrant who cares about his people is better than the tyrant who’s just out to exploit them? Hmm. I’ll be curious to see where Slott goes with that, anyway. Though I do hope he gets Doom back in the armor sooner rather than later.

But getting back to the main story… I understand there’s been some griping that the team’s not reunited in this first issue, but I’m okay with that. Slott’s taking his time, making the return of Reed and Sue a storyline unto itself. He’s started the wheels turning, and given us some character drama that (while I didn’t care for the execution of it) demonstrates who Our Heroes are, and why it’s so important for the team to be reunited.

He also sets the stage for what’s coming next with a flashback sequence to an untold tale of the FF that introduces both (I think) the means for the team’s reunion, and the new villain he’s created for the book. I’m stretching a bit on that second part, and we don’t get a single real good look at her, but the design for this character from the flashback…

…seems kind of similar to the design for this character from Sara Pichelli’s production sketches:

It could just be down to both being designed by the same artist, of course. And it’s as much body type as anything else. But I don’t think I’m wrong to speculate on some connection. Especially considering that the flashback story ends with some quickly talked-over business about the possibility that Astronomica might have had some trouble finding her way back home after helping the FF get back to Earth. And considering that business about seeing with the heart (which is vomitous, by the way), and the fact that the new villain’s going to be called The Griever… I’m just sayin’, is all.

I liked some of the small touches, too. It’s always nice to see Wyatt Wingfoot, for instance, and he’s on-hand here. Likewise, the Yancy Street Gang pops up briefly, and that’s always fun. Then Slott demonstrates a nice understanding of Sue, positioning her as the soul of the team on that first page, but also reminding us in the flashback story that (in the Lee / Kirby days, at least) she can be a little conceited. And finally, we get a nice callback to the original Fantastic Four #1, in the form of the original FF signal flare:

Well, okay, it’s a little off-model.

But the idea’s the same: the team’s whole name spelled out in the sky, as opposed to the later, more streamlined version:

It was a nice tip of the hat to the original first issue, anyway, and a nice story clue for big FF dorks like myself that something was wrong. I immediately wondered who was using the original FF flare gun, and how they got it. And that turns out to be an actual plot point. Which is fun.

I also quite like the artwork of Sara Pichelli here. She has an appealing style, and she’s also good at body language and facial expression. Her characters really act, and that serves her well on a grounded, very human issue like this one. I have been a bit concerned with how she’ll handle the cosmic grandeur that is the other side of the FF equation, but I do like the hint of it we get here, in that Reed & Sue panel above (that looks a bit like Sentinel tech Reed’s tinkering with, doesn’t it?). So I’m sure future issues will give her a chance to demonstrate her cosmic chops on a grander scale.

I could quibble with a few of her storytelling choices, I suppose. Like, why are those tears flying off Johnny’s face like that on the epiphany page up above? It almost looks like a manga technique, but something’s off about it. It just looks weird. That’s a quibble, though, like I said, and overall her work on this issue is stellar. With one exception:

I don’t like her take on the Thing. She’s got the body shape mostly right, I think, but the face bugs me. It’s a little too long, I think, and the chin’s maybe a little too big? Or maybe it’s the way she makes the whole front of his face one big surface without any separate rocks? I dunno. It’s… something. She’s quite good at making him emote (which is no easy task), but he’s just a little too… human? I think? If that makes sense? I mean, clearly, it’s not a human face. But when he does emote, his face takes on a human quality that just doesn’t look right, to me.

Hmm. Maybe it’ll grow on me. But it’s gonna take some getting used to.

But as long as we’re talking about the Thing, I do want to take one more shot at Dan Slott. One of the big stories in this issue is that Ben decides to finally ask Alicia to marry him. This is sparked by two things: one is a growing realization that he needs a family, now that his FF family is no more. But also, it’s because Alicia says “we” instead of “I” when they’re talking about the damn cats (Seriously. Go back and look). Like it’s never occurred to him before that this woman… this ethereal angel… who has done little else but love him in spite of his monstrous appearance, his mood swings, and his nasty temper for over 50 years… Might want to be with him.

Dammit, Slott.

That’s not why Ben’s never asked Alicia to marry him. He’s not afraid that she doesn’t want him. He knows she does. But he thinks she deserves better than him, so he’s just biding his time against the day that she wises up and realizes it, too. It’s that kind of depressing, self-deprecating, and somehow also selfish thought process that makes Ben Grimm such a magnificent character. It’s also the ultimate tragedy of the Ben / Alicia relationship: he doesn’t think he’s good enough for her, and she’s too timid to let him know how wrong he is.

So while the cat-shopping thing is a nice (albeit, rather obvious) example of a writer using a cute throw-away moment to build something bigger down the line… and while that is literally textbook good writing… I don’t buy it. And if I don’t buy that, I also don’t buy this:

And that sucks the joy out of the moment for me.

Now, all that said…

I might be the toughest possible audience for the Fantastic Four. I know the book, I love the characters, and I have definite opinions on who they are and how they should be written. I do like to be surprised by creative teams who take the book in directions I’d never considered, and I have been proven wrong about certain runs before (see: Jonathan Hickman’s tenure, which I started out hating, and wound up loving). But it’s a tough book to get right, and I’m going to be hyper-critical of any take that doesn’t meet my very high standards for it. Something which I suspect I’ve amply proven today.

But if you don’t have that kind of history with the book, or if you like cheesy sentimentality and a light, breezy tone… You may really enjoy the Slott / Pichelli run. And even I’ll be giving it another issue or two, just to see if it grows to meet my expectations. For now, though, I’m gonna have to give it two grades.

For Me:

For General Audiences:

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About Mark Brett (482 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

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