Monday, March 09, 2009

Fantastic Four: World' Greatest

"It's such a fine line between clever and stupid" - Ian St. Hubbins (Michael McKean)

Mark Millar's been bugging me for a couple of years now. Not really his writing (which has been both good and bad of late), but his public persona, constantly schilling his stuff and explaining to anyone who will listen how rich he is and how much of genius he is. It's pretty much turned me off from picking up any of his latest stuff. However, I had a free trade coming from the shop this week, and with his latest collaboration with Brian Hitch hitting stands, I figured that I'd give it a whirl. Following their collaboration on The Ultimates, a book that I liked a lot though I felt it kind of fell apart towards the end of part two), Millar and Hitch signed on for 16 issues of Fantatic Four and this collects the first eight of them.

Overall, it's a fun little read, playing to their strengths with big action set-pieces and lots of big crazy-science ideas, but, as Sir St. Hubbins says above, in his quest to be really clever with his story, Millar falls onto the stupid side of the thin line. The overall conceit of the book is that the Earth is dying and the only way to save its population is to move them all to the under-construction Nu-Earth (no umlaut?). Of course, the construction is being led by Reed's ex-girlfriend Alyssa Moy (think Reed in Tomb Raider's body), who we're supposed to think is constantly tempting Reed with her feminine wiles, despite acting like a woman I can't see anyone standing for more than ten minutes. That's probably my biggest problem with the book is the characterizations. The only character that I really felt that Millar "nailed" was Reed, with his absent-minded-professor schitck. Ben just kind of stands around and makes wise-cracks, Sue's just there to be the loving wife and stand by Reed, and his Johnny is an irresponsible jackass. That characterization of Johny would have been fine five or six years ago, but during Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo's run* they actually grew him up a bit and it's a shame that no one is contiuing that, it just seems lazy, like he couldn't be bothered to draw any nuance but the broad strokes.

From there we get the patented Millar/Hitch big action scene featuring the entire Marvel U going up against Nu-Earth's out of control security (giant) robot. The arc wraps up with the FF being challenged by a team of refugee superheroes from Earth's apocalyptic future (which adds up to how many apocalyptic futures for the Marvel Universe now? ).

Hitch's art is very good for the most part, but seems in some areas very sketchy. like they colored directly from his pencils in order to save time, which is a shame. If you hire Hitch, you have to deal with the delays and not bother rushing him. He also doesn't seem to get Reed's face/head right. He's pretty spot-on with everyone else, by Reed just always looks rather mis-shapen. Also, he relies upon photo reference for a few too many of the women's facial expressions. I mean, how many do you know who talk while sticking their tongues out? Apparently Bryan Hitch (and Greg Land) know a lot of them. My last issue with the art is that there's a few places where it's obvious they had meant to do a double-page spread of an action scene, but for some reason decided not to. It makes the action in those pages seem rather compressed and loses a lot of its impact (I noticed this towards the end of Ultimates 2 a well).

Overall, I liked the book in it's turn-off-your-brain, action movie kind of way, but it's certainly not something I'll hold up to people as vital work on the FF.

*Probably my favorite run on the title.


JH said...

Anything Waid touches turns to gold. I really have mixed feelings about Millar, too. I mean, Red Son is fantastic, but most of his work is very hit or miss. I mean, just look at Marvel 1985 - It's a real rollercoaster... though to be fair here, it's the Fantastic Four - there are quite a few limiting factors here. It seems like he's just trying to play it safe by falling into those old FF conventions we're so familiar with: Reed's the smart one, Ben's the dumb jock, Sue's the woman and Johnny is the hotshot. This book really just screams "rushed" on all counts.

CalvinPitt said...

I believe the answer to "how many apocalyptic futures?" is "all of them". The future in the Marvel universes will always suck. Always.

That regression of the character stuff can really be annoying, but it seems to happen a lot. I'm almost positive other writers had Johnny grow up, just to see the next guy come along and turn him back into the immature goofball hothead.

It's like how one writer (Engelhart or Busiek) will have Hank Pym deal with all his issues and put them behind him, he and the Wasp usually find some peaceful ground as good friends, then the next writer (Johns/Austen/Bendis) promptly wipes out said progress and throws Hank right back into being all messed up in the head and having tension with Jan because of the smacking thing.

I guess it's part of the curse of the ongoing serial format.

Matt said...

Nice review. I'm still interested in checking it out, but not till I get the last trade I need to read the McDuffie/Pelletier run. An underrated gem, that. I have the first trade and the Hudlin-penned "crossover" from Black Panther when they end up on the zombie planet; just need the last one, which is The Beginning of the End, to re-read it. I thought McDuffie really nailed the characterizations and love the spice of adding BP & Storm to the mix.

But yeah, Waid/Weringo is the apex of the modern FF, agreed.

Jason said...

JH- I kind of knew what I was getting when I picked this up, but I was just hoping that they would try something new. The rushed artwork is the biggest disappointment.

Calvin - You're right, frankly I'm amazed the Marvel U made it to the 2000's without getting blown up.

The constant hammering on Hank Pym's past really bugs me, it's not that it is not important, it's that no writer can be arsed to come up with some new type of story or motivation for him.

Matt - Yeah, I have the first trade of McDuffie & Peltier's run and it's very good. They do pick up on some of Waid's threads (particularly Johnny growing up) and it makes me ticked off to know that their run was so short.