Or – “It’s Not Really Issue 565, By The Way…”
So, in recent months, the Fantastic Four has been put under theÂ direction of a new superstar Writer/Artist team (Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, also responsible for the first two “seasons” of the Ultimates) and they have been building to a overarching plotline that seems to be ready to reveal theÂ existeance of a terrifying menaceÂ that out-Doom’s even Doctor Doom.Â But, before all of that happens, we have Marvel’s First Family visiting their distant relatives for Christmas, hanging out in a not-at-all sinister small town where everything is perfectly normal, and nothing could go horribly, fatally awry and killÂ them all, right?
Previously, on Fantastic Four:Â Reed Richards and company have always been referrred to as “the superhero family,” but with the exception of weddings and the occasional Invisible Woman pregnancy, they never seem to actually do family things.Â Reed has decided to fix that, and last issue, the foursome (plus Franklin and Valeria, Reed & Sue’s kids, and the Things new fiancee, whose name escapes me right this instant) trundled off to Scotland to spend the holidays with Reed’s cousin Hamish Richards (whom I’m not certain is new or not.)Â After a Christmas dinner and present opening, Franklin and Valeria go flying in their new rocket jackets, and Valeria is captured by some strange creature.Â Franklin returns to town, and his mother, father, and uncles set out to find the little girl.Â Whatever is snatching babies in the town of Iarmailt, I have a sneaking suspicion that it has never dealt with pissed off superpowered parents of this particular caliber…
The first thing that jumps out at me in this issue iw the spectacularly unattractive cover.Â I usually try to be more politic than this, but… man that is an ugly book.Â Â Maroon background, goggle-eyed characters, Valeria in the foreground looking cross-eyed with Reed stretching in and around an amorphous tentacle creature.Â Â Even the Thing looks freakish, and not in his usual freakish way.Â Anyway, we open the issue with the team reacting to theÂ capture of Valeria, and mounting a search party, while the locals act even weirder than usual.Â Â The local police ask a pertinent question, wonderingÂ how Reed and Sue could let two children wander around in the forest, and Reed shrugs it off.Â “Wherever we go, the madness just FOLLOWS.”Â The Human Torch manages toÂ figure out that Val isÂ in the local lochÂ and goes looking, only to find her captured by a giant squid-beastie.Â In a very nice moment, Val tells him that the creature is right behind him, and even before Johnny fully turns, he quickly immolates the beast, filling the cavern with his flames.Â It’s immune, of course, but it’s a moment that illustrates how dangerous Johnny is, even if he is a gearhead womanizer.
Back in Iarmailt, the FF find Rhona (a girl who tried to warn them last issue of the weirdness in town) only to realize that she was beaten by the locals for nearly spilling the truth.Â Ben arrives at a dead run, followed quickly by a flying Johnny, who is in turn followed by the giant Cthulu-esque creature.Â The Four go into panic mode, attacking full-force, but the creature shrugs off fire, is immune to stretchiness (as are most things) and even handles a Thing-hurled car without injury.Â With the boys having no luck, the DANGEROUS member of the Fantastic Four steps in, mustering a force-field,Â and hitting the creature…Â WITH THE LOCAL CATHEDRAL.Â The Thing quickly steps in and smacks it in the face with a bus (“You always have to have the last word,” says the Human Torch.Â “Yep,” says Thing.Â Heh…) while the townspeople panic that “Korgo” has been defeated.Â Hamish Richards sheepishly explains that Korgo has protected them all, watching over the town and making it a utopia, and all it asked in return was ritual sacrifice.Â Susan is horrified that the natives were willing to let HER child die, but Hamish reveals that Korgo had chosen HIS son, and he offered up Valeria as an alterante sacrifice.Â “It looks like you’re not the ONLY magnet for this stuff, Reed…” says Hamish, but before he can finish, Mr. Fantastic decks him with an enormous rubber fist.Â An epilogue, marked “Months Later,” comes in the form of a letter from Rhona to Sue Richards, talking about her life, how Reed built Korgo a special habitat, how the whole town went to hell afterwards, but she finally has a normal life.Â “I’m sorry about what happened with Doctor Doom and those horrible teachers of his.Â So sorry for what happened to the Thing and that lovely fiancee he had,” says Rhona, and we end the issue with a tearful Sue, sitting alone in her room, with a coming attraction promising “The Master of Doom.”
Well, then.Â There’s some good bits here.Â The “strange little town” routine was old when Rod Serling was doing it in 1959, but Mark Millar manages to make it work with great effect here, and its pretty obvious that he took pride in and had fun with depicting his old Scottish stomping grounds.Â Bryan Hitch’s art is still good, but something about the inking on this issue (duties apparently split between Cam Smith, Andrew currie, and Hitch himself) leaves the art feeling a bit unfinished.Â I’m completely not sold on the new FF costumes, especially Johnny’s short sleeves and Sue’s unattractive ponytail, and that also took me out of the story proper.Â Add to that funny timing (this Christmas story was apparently initially slated as a holiday special, but was split up and stuck into these two issues due to some sort of scheduling problems) and we’re given an issue that could have been much more effective than it ended up being.Â Still, I like Millar’s plotting, and the characters (while feeling a bit “Ultimatized”) are given respect for how powerful and experienced they have become, something that I haven’t really felt about FF since Waid left a few years ago.Â Fantastic Four #565 (and, honestly, isn’t renumbering getting tiresome about now?) earns a middle-of-the-road 2.5 out of 5 stars, balancing things that work with things that are troubleseome, and setting up the big super “movie blockbuster” finish for Millar’s run on the title.Â Let’s hope that it’s effective, and not another “Mary Sue” moment.