Or – “Turner Can Barely Draw Humans, Who Thought He Could Draw Ben Grimm?”

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There have been a lot of interpretations of the Thing over the years, from Jack Kirby’s original lumpy monster, which then rocked up, and then Joe Sinnott drew the “separate eyebrow” Thing, and then John Byrne rounded him off and gave him a gorilla’s body. There’s a lot of precedent for making slight changes to the Thing. There is NO excuse, however, for drawing him with a separate steam-shovel jaw ala Robotman of the Doom Patrol, especially when the interior art isn’t going to represent it. The terrible art makes me wonder how he keeps the lower half of his face from falling off there, and that’s before we even look at the starvation physiques on Storm and The Human Torch. I know, I’m an art whiner, and it’s an old comic industry trick to have a pretty cover sell different interior art, but the fascination at the big two with the work of Michael Turner eludes me. His art feels like a less-talented Arthur Adams impersonator, and I fail to see why anyone would buy a book just to see it on the cover, especially when the interiors are more skillfully done…

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What has gone be-Four: after a tragedy involving the new Warriors, the Marvel Universe has made it illegal to be a superhuman unless you jump through a bunch of hoops and register with SHIELD, despite no fewer than seven recent stories where SHIELD has been shown to be venal, corrupt, untrustworthy and rotten, and five separate helicarrier crashes (each one undermining the horror of the one before it). Marvel’s heroes chose sides, which led to Captain America’s death, Iron Man becoming the boss of everyone, The Black Panther’s embassy being blown up, Spider-Man dressing up just like a his arch-enemy, villains becoming heroes, red skies, BURNING SEAS, DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER, TOTAL CHAOS! Also: Sue left Reed because he was being a schmuck, Reed later recanted, and the Richardses are taking a temporary leave of absence to try and rebuild their partnership, while the now-homeless Panther and his wife Storm take up residence in the Baxter Building temporarily.

I have to say, I have no idea how politics in the Marvel Universe actually work. For a FOREIGN NATIONAL, recently working against the interests of the country alongside a band of people labeled terrorists, who was a key figure in a fight that cost the lives of over fifty people in downtown New York, to suddenly say “Hey, look at me, I’m working with your Fantastic Four now!” doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s one of those moments that can only be accepted with a “Well, the writers want to do this, now” kind of finality, which is not what the Civil War was supposed to be about. We were told to expect real changes, real differences, some sort of results, and all we have is a cliche “You’re In The Army Now” story over in the Initiative, and a bunch of random changes across the line. Oh, and the death of Cap, which was a pretty good individual issue, I’ll grant you. This month starts with Reed, Tony, and T’Challa, the Black Panther, combing through the rubble of the Wakandan embassy in New York, and discovering that something more sinister was afoot…

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Somebody had boobytrapped the embassy BEFORE the battle for New York, but was it someone with a grudge against them, or someone who wanted to keep them off Cap’s side? Perhaps even someone who wanted to keep them out of the Civil War altogther, someone with a vested interest, someone like… Tony Stark? Tony plays the diplomat, weaselly saying that he and SHIELD will find the people responsible, without actually saying that they DIDN’T do it, a very bad idea. T’Challa, the only man left in the Marvel Universe with the pull to tell Stark off, informs him that if he finds that Stark, SHIELD, or the U.S. Government had ANYTHING to do with the mining of his HOME… “The consequences will be DIRE.” Awesomely, Tony is actually intimidated (being uncharacteristically out of his armor at the time), and then tries the classic sociopath tack: working on the friend to manipulate the target by twisting Reed’s arm.

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Wait, what? Go back a step… Reed AGREES with T’Challa about militarization of super-beings? Wasn’t this part of the plan all along? Did Tony keep his old friend, his supposed partner in the dark about what would happen AFTER the Civil War in order to make certain that Reed behaved? The man is just geting worse and worse with every successive issue. I am now mighty intrigued by how they’re going to retcon away all this change in five years. And, frankly, you know they’ll have to, because they’re creating avenues for storytelling that (while new and different) are also finite stories with a seriously limited shelf-life, drastically altering the Marvel Universe and guaranteeing that we’ll have to undo all this mess eventually in order to tell stories OTHER than the ones they want right now. Thankfully, retconning and ignorance of stories we don’t want to remember is a specialty of the comics industry. Just my two.

Reed and Sue inform the remaining Fantastic Two that they’re leaving, at least for a while, and that T’Challa and Ororo will be able to temporarily take their places on the team. They have an official press conference (where T’Challa, interestingly, states that the Fantastic Four has no official roster), announcing this change. The press assumes that Black Panther is the new leader, as Johnny and Ben have broken out the old black and white Byrne-era costumes, but Ororo deftly repairs that misconception. “We are guests in the Fantastic Four’s home…”

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Now, I don’t read Black Panther regularly (it sells out pretty much every month), but I love this confident Storm, and love her comfortable interactions with Johnny. It’s nice to see real adult interactions (rather than the soap opera crap Marvel wants to foist on me every month) between characters who’ve known each other for years. Speaking of decades of friendship, T’Challa and Ben Grimm watch his retinue redecorating the new Royal Quarters with tons of his stuff, making it fit for their king. “Makin’ yerself at home?” Ben asks. T’Challa smiles, “I am, thank you.” “I guess sarcasm doesn’t travel as well as I’d like. I was mouthin’ off,” Ben admits…

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Dwayne McDuffie is awesome, illustrating in just a few panels the camaraderie between old friend Ben and T’Challa, setting up The Panther’s character and his standing in the Fantastic Four, not as stodgy as Reed, but still a leadership figure, and notably, willing to let his old friend take some friendly shots at him. Ben’s response there shows that, while he’s not a genius, he is a capable and complex figure, and is going to be the one most used to the FF’s kind of missions. (Johnny, of course, will be blase and jaded about everything, because that’s what Johnny kinda does.) Suddenly, one of Panther’s retainers (drawn in an entertaining Kirby-esque style) rushes in and says that “the hero of the battle of Canaan” is here. Who’s that, you say? That would be the third man to call himself Deathlok, Michael Collins… but things have changed for Mike in the last couple of years.

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Wait, what’s going on with Deathlok’s body? And is he actually Deathlok anymore? I thought there was another one after him… I’m sure we’ll get to that, eventually. Turns out that Mike came for help because the grave of Gravity (Greg Willis, who sacrificed himself to save many of his fellow superhumans in the criminally underrated “Beyond” limited last year) has been desecrated. The new FF and the old Deathlok head out to the cemetary, and upon arrival, T’Challa finds evidence of a scientific impossibility…

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It’s interesting to see this new dynamic on the team, a contrast to Reed’s general “Five Steps Ahead” approach. T’Challa is equally brilliant, but has a populist sort of vibe (probably from leading a country all these years. Using Reed’s new shiftship (which essentially warps them straight to the moon) the new Four arrive in the Watcher’s chambers, and are greeted by a silent Uatu. “How do we get the Watcher’s attention?” asks The Panther. “By setting something on fire, I hope,” replies Johnny. Heh. I like that. “How’s it hangin’?” asks Ben, “I guess if your skirt was any shorter, we’d all know the answer, am I right?” I love McDuffie’s Ben Grimm dialogue, by the way. Storm suddenly arrives from a side mission that her husband asked of her, and he holds up a item guaranteed to get even a watcher’s attention: The Ultimate Nullifier.

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Oh, nice one, Uatu. Way to one-up the guy who thought he had everything figured out. T’Challa is stunned, but Storm calmly asks The Watcher if they can access his records of everything that happened in his sector. He reminds her that he cannot interfere to stop them, and then links all their minds into the “Cyclopedia Universum,” The Watcher’s storage device. “Here is stored the combined knowledge of every Watcher who ever lived. It is the history of the universe. I bend my vow to give you a warning… The information here is too much for the human mind to comprehend. You should sip slowly and carefully at the well of knowledge, lest you drow–”

“Got it.” says Ben. HA! Love that moment. The entire team (and the Watcher) is stunned to hear this, but Ben shrugs it off with a “What can I say? I got good concentration.” He may not be as polished as the other heroes, but don’t ever write him off as stupid. Ben immediately sets course, and they pop through space to find: Epoch, the cosmic being who used to work with Quasar. She babbles something about how they’re all dabbling in forces beyond their comprehension, won’t tell them what’s up, and says it will all be moot in a moment. The Thing asks why, and a voice pops up “She was rightfully fearful…”

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Uh oh! It’s Norrin “Totally” Radd, the cosmic Moondoggie, back in his evil “I work for Galactus, and we’ve come to eat you” mode after Annihilation events. We hang from a cliff on what Epoch wants, why The Surfer is angry, and where Gravity’s body went, but I have a suspicion it has something to do with heraldry.

Dwayne sets up the new status quo efficiently (and awesomely) making it feel much more natural than some changes after Civil War. The Black Panther fits right in here with his old friends, and Storm’s forceful personality works in this context as well. Sure, it’s probably only temporary, but it’s an interesting kind of temporary. It’s also interesting to note that they’ve completely jumped away from the post-CW (CW Post?) Marvel U, to a cosmic adventure that will keep all the SHIELDiness at bay, and it’s good to see the threads from “Beyond” followed up on, here. Most of all, Paul Pelletier, an artist who I hated on The Flash, hated on Exiles, whose figures are sometimes bloopy and flabby, is on a roll here, with a slight retailoring of his style for the FF, and a lean figure sense that totally works for me (inker Rick Magyar certainly helps as well.) As a kickoff to a new era, this issue is good. As the start of a new arc, it’s good. As a standalone issue of FF… it’s pretty darn good. Overall, Fantastic Four #544 is a solid 3 star effort with two wonderful Ben Grimm moments, and an overall sense of wonder that I haven’t gotten from this book since Mark Waid left it…

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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3 Comments

  1. Brent F.
    April 8, 2007 at 1:54 pm — Reply

    I like the depiction of Black Panther and Storm’s relationship here, it seems more upbeat than it’s been depicted before.

    Oh, and I don’t like the way Turner draws the Thing, his lower jaw looks like a soup bowl.

  2. OS Perry
    April 8, 2007 at 4:30 pm — Reply

    I agree. I don’t see the big fascination with Michael Turner.

    Yes he’s more talented than Rob Liefeld, and I never liked Ed McGuinness either. There are many more, that get all the spotlight and all of the overhyped credit. As well as some artists that never get the credit they deserve…

    Although I used to really like Art Adams.

  3. April 9, 2007 at 7:47 am — Reply

    Art Adams is awesome on a number of levels, as his work on “Jonni Future” or “Monkeyman & O’Brien” should attest. I think the main difference is a question of stylization.

    In my completely subjective opinion, Adams stylizes his work on purpose, to achieve a specific look. Rob Liefeld and his imitators stylize in order to make drawing easier and faster, and to keep from drawing things outside their abilities (like feet). Turner’s work is fair-to-middlin’, certainly not (in my mind) a big selling point for a comic, and he falls more in the latter category than the former.

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