At the start of this issue, Ben Grimm and his fiancÃ©e Debbi are having some pre-nuptial problems that are a little more unusual than the average engaged couple has to deal with. On the Thingâ€™s return to the Baxter Building, he and the rest of the Fantastic Four are forcibly catapulted into a major battle with Doomâ€™s Master, which not only shows how dangerous their adversary is but also reveals the shocking origin of this major new villain.
It used to be a total given in the comics industry that if you were a top flight creator you desperately wanted at some time in your career to work on the title that started the modern Marvel Age. It may only have been a three issue story arc but that didnâ€™t really matter, because the essential thing was that you were contributing to the ongoing mythos of Marvels first family. You felt that it was really important thing to do, because after reading each and every one of Stan and Jacks legendary 100 odd issue run you had been totally blown away by what they had achieved in such a relatively short period. So when your turn at bat did finally arrive, you did your absolute best work possible because to do any less would demean the collective storytelling efforts that had been made in the decades long narrative of the Richards household.
But over time that situation has slowly changed, and I am not exactly sure when the rot set in.
Maybe it was the publication of Giant-Size X-Men number one. This groundbreaking book took the spotlight away from every other Marvel title and even to this day it still has never really fully relinquished its premiere position. The goings on at Xavierâ€™s mansion proved to be vastly more entertaining, and personally profitable for the creative teams, than what was happening to the people living in the skyscraper located at the corner of 42nd Street and Madison Avenue. There was a new family in the neighbourhood and their life stories were much more interesting that the people who had lived next door for years.
Maybe it was the whole â€˜Heroes Rebornâ€™ makeover. This was the era when the Marvel editorial department basically said they didnâ€™t know what to do with their own characters and turned them all over to that yearâ€™s hot young artists and writers. These were the same creators who had made significant amounts of money depicting the various Mutant tales and then promptly left Marvel to set up their own company. They were welcomed back to the fold with open arms and give the latitude to do exactly what they liked with any character they chose. For that hardcore and loyal readership of the F.F books this was bad enough but when the title numbering was started again at number one it felt like a large piece of granite had been taken from the Kirby and Lee plinth.
Maybe it was the â€˜made to secure copyright and not for distributionâ€™ movie that Roger Corman produced in 1994. This film was explicitly made to be thrown away. The money spent on it was minuscule, in movie terms, and was only disbursed at all so that even more cash would not have to be expended later on by lawyers in a courtroom defending a challenged copyright. Watching the motion picture itâ€™s clear that the cast and crew did their best with a woefully terrible script but itâ€™s like seeing a real world version of Bialystock and Bloomâ€™s plan to engineer something that everyone would object to, come alive before your eyes. The only thing thatâ€™s missing is â€˜Springtime for Victor and Latveriaâ€™
Maybe it was the two recent blockbuster Summer movies. The first one at least did the depictions, both their characters and costume, of the Fantastic Four reasonably well but somebody forgot to include the Kirby Krackle into the plot. There was more action in the fifteen minutes of this yearâ€™s annual Terrapin Derby race in Lepanto, Arkansas, than occurred in this entire film and to my mind the second one was even worse. Even though the digital representation of the Silver Surfer was everything that any die-hard comic fan could have wished for the big payoff of the movie was debased because they could only represent Galactus by a menacing cloud. Someone should have told the producers that Stephen Spielberg did that whole sinister vapour thing way much better, over twenty years ago, in â€˜Close Encounters of the Third Kindâ€™
But whatever it was that originally caused the rot, its plain to see that the serious damage has now been done and this current arc is symptomatic of the current effects of the malady. The really annoying thing to me is that nobody seems to love or care for the F.F franchise anymore. It used to be the favourite aunt who came to visit and always brought you a small gift whenever she showed up. Now itâ€™s turned into a sick unwanted relative, stuck in a nursing home, which we are now unwillingly forced to visit.
There is no actual cognoscente scripting in this issue. Instead there is Meta-plot. Itâ€™s an exercise in filling pages of the book with dialogue balloons, some of which make no sense at all, and incoherent action until its time to get to the all important â€˜end of the issue double page spread cliff-hangerâ€™ Whoâ€™s at fault here? Is it Millar who everyone knows is already working on the scripts for the new â€˜Ultimate Avengersâ€™ and has just left the outline of this story for Joe Ahearne to finish? Well maybe it is. I think the point could be made that Mark should have stuck around long enough to finish the job he started almost eighteen months ago. After all, this tale is supposed to be the big climax of his entire F.F run and to me the whole thing just miserably fizzles out, even though there is still another issue yet to be published. Itâ€™s really just writing by the numbers and I would feel sorry for the artist, or in this case artists, if there work wasnâ€™t also a total mess.
Bryan Hitch was offered the â€˜Captain America: Rebornâ€™ gig and he understandingly grabbed the opportunity of working on a book that is going to sell thousands more copies that the one he was currently illustrating. One of the reasons surely is that any of the perceived kudos of working on the Fantastic Four title is now a thing of the past. Its obvious reading through this comic that his mind was somewhere else entirely when he was drawing this book. In fact I donâ€™t think that he did actually draw much of it all. It seems more likely that he did the outlines and allowed Neil Edwards to finish the renderings before it was inked. Why do I think that? Well because some of the panels in here look like the work of a very young child who wants to be a comic book artist some day and is copying out the pages of his favourite artist so that he can imitate his style. Its endearing but ultimately childish.
There is also a double act on the coloring front as well that I must mention. I donâ€™t want to say too much about the palette work of Messerâ€™s Mounts and Sotomayor but itâ€™s not everyday that the colors on the page make you wish that you were reading a black and white book.
So in closing, I give this book a rating of two and a half stars.
The two stars are for those stellar creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who created a wonderfully complex universe whose brightness is still so currently evident that we donâ€™t need the Hubble Telescope to find it. The half star is for every other creative team who followed in the originators steps and told their F.F tales in such a lackadaisical manner that they ultimately turned the â€˜Worlds Greatest Comic Magazineâ€™ into a super powered version of â€˜Family Tiesâ€™.