Today, Ethan and Patrick are discussing FF 4, originally released February 27, 2013.
Ethan: Growth is hard. Everyone’s familiar with the usual childhood “growing up” process, with all of its difficult changes, naïve missteps, puppy love, and idealism. Then there’s the second adolescence — of the mind rather than the body — that we deal with as we explore what it means to be an adult. The changes are more situational and relational than hormonal; the missteps become less laughably naïve but often have much larger consequences; idealism fades to pragmatism, and puppy love — well, love doesn’t really change that much. Alongside these more mundane types of development, life occasionally confronts us with something truly awful and growth stops being something we do as a matter of course and starts being something we do just to survive. In the hands of writer Matt Fraction and artist Michael Allred, FF #4 continues to show us a world in which the varieties of growth faced by children, adults, and survivors collide.
The issue opens a with Ant-Man (Scott Lang) declaring his new, linguistically redundant determination to “End Doom” to the rest of the FF. Zero-G (Alex Power) voices reservations at this plan, and sends Scott off the deep end by bringing up the death of his daughter as part of the argument. We don’t learn the outcome of this meeting, but it seems to have broken up after Scott’s confrontation with Alex. Apparently undeterred, Scott and the future-version of Johnny “John” Storm head to the lab with Darla and Medusa to take inventory of the gadgets they can wield against Doom. Medusa interrupts their task with an accusation that John is not the real Human Torch, apparently as a ploy to test the stability of the team, and John acts in typical Human Torch fashion by losing his cool and “storming” off (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Meanwhile, She-Hulk Jennifer Walters has found her way into a slinky black dress and a date (or not-date) with sometimes Fantastic Four ally — her ex-fiance — Wyatt Wingfoot. The young Moloid quadruplets, acting on their collective crush with Jennifer, solicit the devious mind of Bentley-23 (child clone of the supervillain Wizard) to help make the date a disaster. One hypnotized waiter, one resurrected leviathan, and one sun-in-a-box heat-bomb later, the children have only made the evening an enchanting one and brought Jennifer and Wyatt back together. As Bentley-23 sulks in his room, the issue closes with Medusa revealing her sinister side, telling the boy that she is there to help him “achieve his destiny,” presumably as a villain.
For me, issue #4 cements, develops and improves upon the wacky trajectory set by the story so far. This is a series that is not afraid to throw some really goofy stuff at the reader, but also manages to ground itself amidst a lot of bizarre comedy by highlighting the more serious aspects of the characters involved. Case in point: Alex Power, aka Zero-G of Power Pack. One of my favorite lines from the run so far was from Alex, in the last panel of his mini-interview, back in FF #1:
Alex is used to being around kids in Marvel’s first official unsupervised, kids-only superhero team. The experience seems to have given him perspective on what it means to be facing and fighting huge threats and enemies, but he’s still kept the frank, unfiltered, slightly childish way of expressing himself. This part of his personality and opinions comes out loud and clear when he confronts Scott in the first scene of FF #4 about Scott’s plan to take out Doctor Doom. The idealistic language he uses to argue that the FF doesn’t have any right to dethrone Doom, and his clear sense of responsibility for the kids show that he’s personally grappling with what it means to have powers and to protect the people you care about.
His phrase “inflictable solutions” and his repeated references to the FF’s wealth and resources made me think about those days in junior high/high school when you realize that the awesome power of the Western military complex shapes reality in more ways than the simplistic “kill bad guys, save good guys” narrative. Should the U.S. be sticking its finger in all of the war-torn pies around the globe? What about those scary people using horrible weapons on their neighbors and their own minority populations? It’s the right thing to do to go after them, right? What about all of the civilians that get caught in the crossfire? Are we sure we should be doing this? Even when Alex calls Scott a fascist, you can see the younger man reaching for themes and ideas and swinging them about like a toddler who’s found an air-horn: he’s discovered that certain concepts and terms have weight, but he hasn’t quite gotten used to using them. When Alex artlessly accuses Scott of letting Cassie’s death cloud his judgement, the Power Pack punk is just confirming his youth and inexperience. If an adult team member were in Alex’s shoes and suspected Scott of poor judgement, the conversation would have most likely taken place in private, with a gentler approach. Obviously the adults in the Marvel universe also make PLENTY of thoughtless remarks and don’t always act their age, but in this context, the connection of the comment to Alex’s youth seems clear.
All of which is not to say that Alex is not right. Scott has not had a good history with Doom OR Kang messing with his daughter. Exhibit A: Doom’s heir Kristoff Vernard caught Cassie’s eye after the former was taken from Latveria. Exhibit B: a younger version of Kang the Conqueror came back in time and founded the Young Avengers, crushing on and being crushed on by Cassie while she went by codename Stature. Finally, Exhibit C: Doctor Doom killed Cassie while she fought to protect her father. If anyone has a perfectly good reason to be fed up with Doom — and his fellow time-traveling ne’er-do-well Kang — it’s Scott. He’s very clearly stuck in a difficult period of personal growth of his own as he struggles to move past his personal tragedy. He’s trying to do right by his daughter and by the allegedly deceased Fantastic Four. All the better if “doing right” involves wiping Doom’s dictatorship off the map, and striking a blow against Kang is a bonus since Scott was technically dead when Young Kang was making eyes at Cassie. Right?
What do you think Patrick? Should Ant-Man dig two graves before starting down the path of revenge? Is he just fulfilling the generally accepted role of the hero by bonking baddie heads? Did you get a load of that dance scene between She-Hulk and Wyatt?
Patrick: Oh man — that dance sequence! It’s amazing how effective an instructional graphic conveys the joys, frustrations and ultimate satisfaction that comes from completing something. The early Hawkeye covers (which are also written by Fraction), live and die on simple diagrams of Clint lining up a target in his sights, small vectors and dotted arches telling us everything we could want to know about the physics of the act itself.
Plus, the diagram makes the action immediately clear, freeing up page-space for a lot of fun acting — both from Wyatt and Jenny and Bentley. It’s a simple moment — not nearly as morally complicated as the arguments Ethan lays out above — but the economy of storytelling is astounding. This page is so genuinely sweet and funny at the same time, telling two equally compelling stories. Also, they’re totally doing the Batusi in that first image. EVERYONE LOVES BATMAN.
I had forgotten how funny this series is. Ethan makes a point of just how fucking goofy the life of a Future Foundation student must be, but this issue seems to take that mantra more seriously than it did in the past. Bentley and the Moloids set out to ruin Jenny’s date, but they do so through hilariously ineffective supervillain means. Somewhere around the appearance of the lethargic leviathan (appropriately named “Blarrgh, The Unliving”), their tactics take on a near Venture Brothers level of absurdity.
Leave it to Matt Fraction to actually pay off the frustration that comes with this repeated, hilarious failure. Poor Bentley!
Though, I’m not convinced that Medusa is at all interested in helping Bentley actually achieve his villainous machinations. Just as she calls bullshit on Johnny, just to see how he’d react, she seems to have a clear understanding of getting to heart of the issue. She frustrates the Human Torch until he gets to a point where he acts like a totally characteristic jack-ass: that’s proof that he is who he says he is, right? I’d be willing to bet that she knew what Bentley and the Moloids were up to, and probably even took a few steps to prevent them from actually hurting someone. She says, “I want you to achieve your destiny,” which is different from “I want to help you become a supervillain.” He’s a kid — and while it’s super-cute to watch him flail around with heat-bombs and hypnotized waiters, the adult version of this would be horrifying. She’s paying attention to the kids — which is also something we see from Jenny — and even the semi-villainous kids need love too.
That’s obviously where Scott falls short. And it’s not necessarily that he doesn’t care, but he’s just not emotionally equipped to take on the role that he’s landed. To be fair, he told Reed as much in the first couple issues. We don’t get too much from Scott in this issue… come to think of it, there are a lot of the main cast we don’t see very prominently here. Even the maybe-isn’t-but-probably-is Future John Storm, takes a backseat to the adorable adventures of Bentley-23 and the Moloids (totally a great band name, by the way). This series almost ends up being multiple team-books rolled into one, and it’s interesting that no one really seems to know how any individual faction of of the FF is supposed to work. It’s a big dumb family and they’re all just figuring it out as they go. That feels pretty genuine, and for all of its goofiness, the emotion at the heart of their struggles remains sincere.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?