"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.