Today, Shelby and Ethan are discussing FF 6, originally released April 24th, 2013.
Shelby: It’s interesting to see the real world creep into comic books. On the one hand, real world elements make comic books more relateable; if we can relate to the events our heroes are facing, it’s easier for us to become immersed in the story. On the other hand, real world events juxtaposed with fantastic (and sometimes dumb) comic book events can be jarring and ultimately make the story unnecessarily nonsensical. Matt Fraction maintains the balance of real world and comic world by making the silly comic book stuff EXTRA silly while at the same time making the characters extra endearing. I don’t understand how or why, but it works.
People are beginning to wonder where Medusa and Bentley have gotten to. Scott is trying to pull himself together after another night of dreaming about his daughter when She-Hulk discovers that the Yancy Street Gang hacked Darla’s phone and sold the pictures to the Daily Bugle.
She-Hulk and Ahura (Medusa’s son) head off to Attilan to see what they can find out about Medusa, while Darla goes to Carnegie Hall for a concert. Scott tags along, in case the YSG shows up again, which they do in abandon, pelting poor Darla with fruit and basically ruining everything. She meets up with Scott at a seedy internet cafe, where the two confront the leaders of the Yancy Street Gang. Turns out, they are basically the internet hacker group Anonymous, famous for hacking politicians and C.E.O.s and hassling The Thing. They’ve been giving Darla crap because they don’t want someone running around thinking they can replace Ben Grimm. Scott explains that all of FF is fully aware they are not the Fantastic Four, nor are they seeking to replace them. He says they should hassle Darla because it will toughen her up, but at the same time he’s not afraid to, say, shrink down to hang out with them, steal their user names and passwords, and email them to every rival hacker gang he can think of. Which he did. An uneasy truce established, Scott and Darla head back to HQ, where Dragon Man is beginning to suspect that Medusa took Bentley, when the whole building is transported to the Negative Zone.
There is a lot of goofy stuff in this title (did I forget to mention that one of the Moloids has decided she’s actually a girl?) Fraction has no qualms about embracing some of the sillier aspects of comic books; that somewhat hokey Golden Age vibe permeates this whole title. The thing that keeps this title from just falling into zany wackiness are the incredibly touching character moments Fraction and artist Joe Quinones deliver. Sure, one of the Moloids donning a pink dress to declare a new gender is a little ridiculous (Aren’t they non-gendered creatures? One of whom is only a head in a jar?), but you can’t deny her coming out to her brothers is incredibly touching.
And Scott just continues to break my heart. Not only does he dream about his daughter every night, he talks to pictures of her on his phone every morning. It’s sad and moving, but it also makes me very concerned for him and the rest of the team. He needs to confront Cassie’s death and move on, and leading the FF and watching out for all those strange kids is the not best environment in which to do so. He’s keeping it together so far, but mostly by virtue of telling himself over and over to “keep it together;” this is a man on the edge. That is what Fraction does so well; he imbues these characters with flaws and traits we all have and understand. I have never lost a daughter to a mostly metal super-villain, but I understand grief. I’m not a pop-star diva forced to take a role in a super-hero team (shocking, I know), but I’m familiar with Anonymous and Reddit, I know how these groups operate. Fraction grounds the wacky comic book bullshit we all secretly love so much with intimate and beautiful moments with these characters.
Speaking of beautiful, Quinones continues to rock the pencils on this title. I especially love Scott’s dream of his daughter.
Quinones style is more on the cartoony end of the spectrum, but that doesn’t stop him from creating expressive and haunting visuals like this one. The gray pallet, the simplicity of the tree and Cassie’s silhouettes against the turbulent sky, even the way Scott’s jacket is blowing in the breeze with the leaves is so gorgeous. It perfectly conveys the heartbreak this man wakes up to each and every morning.
I like what Fraction is doing on Fantastic Four, but I love what he’s doing here. The space adventure and Fantastic family drama is fine, and all, but this title is funny, touching, bizarre, and just a ton of fun to read. What about you, Ethan, are you enjoying this book as well? I didn’t even get into the confrontation with the Yancy Street Gang or the implications of the Baxter Building being located in the Negative Zone, what are you thoughts on how this is all going to turn out?
Ethan: FF continues to be a weird and wonderful thing. I think I am gradually coming to accept the fact that while I respect it as an original comic that’s doing something very different from a lot of the mainstream ones out there, I don’t quite enjoy it as I do most of the other series I’m reading. This issue more than any of those before it made me feel like I fell asleep while absolutely hammered and plummeted through a series of unconnected, unsettling dreams. This is a function of a few things.
One, like you say Shelby, real world elements (like having one’s phone hacked) make comic books more relateable, but I find that disorienting. When I pick up a comic book, I’m expecting an episodic spin through a world of superheroes using their crazy powers to fight the supervillains. To be clear, this is if anything a limitation on my part rather than a failure on Fraction’s; for the same reasons that I like vanilla ice cream, I like straightforward superhero comics. Which is not to say that this title isn’t chock full of superhumanity; it’s just less the “I can shoot LASERS! Out of my EYES!” kind of superhuman and more the “My hands are full, but I can still pick stuff up! Because I have prehensile hair!” variety. The surrogate Fantastic Four are a guy who can shrink, a woman with the aforementioned creepy hair, a musician, and a Hulk.
Two, Fraction’s and Quinones’s style of jump-cut mayhem has its own sort of pacing, but it’s a little like jazz; it’s less about using a standard tempo to build up to unexpected twists, and more about a new idea as soon as it comes into your brain. Bentley is missing – Scott misses his daughter – Tong’s a girl! – Darla’s performance goes south – Inhumans! – Negative Zone. Explain to me how that succession of events makes sense in one story, let alone one medium.
Thankfully, Matt Fraction doesn’t show the same concerns with boundaries and linear storyline as I expect him to. This issue is all over the place, but a lot of the places it goes are worth exploring. Scott’s increasingly violent battle with his inner demons are brought to the fore, and I really like the depiction of that in this panel.
When heroes sit down for a meeting it’s as often as not filler, but I like how we start the scene with Scott’s flashback to his dream rather than the topic. Again, it’s disorienting, but it feels “real” – unbidden thoughts like the kind of pain he’s going through can come out of nowhere. The jagged splitting of the panel gives us an echo of the lightning-bolt-in-a-clear-sky sensation that pulls him out of the present. And just like a dream, the identity of the woman in his nightmare is a little ambiguous; with middle-length hair that’s between the short cropped cut of his ex-wife Peggy Rae and the long hair of his daughter Cassie, I wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be.
So, while this issue traversed some engaging ground, I admit I’m looking forward to the return to the more event-driven storyline. What kind of no good is Medusa up to? What’s going to happen to Alex, who just strolled into Latveria full of idealism and stupidity? Why the heck are we in the Negative Zone? Time moves faster there – could be problematic if the stand-ins for the Fantastic Four are away from the place they’re supposed to be protecting for too long. Annihilus lives there – Old Johnny said that Annihilus has something to do with the Fantastic Four’s death in the future. While this issue was a whimsical exercise in the moving and bizarre things that Fraction can get up to when you give him enough slack, I’m anxious to see where the plot is heading.
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?
Something else I forgot to mention in the post – is anyone else weirded out by the fact that their headquarters uses an old-school projector in their theater? I mean, they have spaceships that time-travel, but they couldn’t spring for a digital flatscreen in the theater?
Hey, they’re traditionalists. I bet they have some kind of VR glasses that make digital movie viewing a surreal, transcendent experience, but still prefer going into the old film theatre to roll Taxi Driver or something.
Ethan, I love that you’re a little overwhelmed by all the crazy shit that’s going on here, but mostly find Scott’s struggle with his daughter’s memory to be the most moving thing in the issue. That is EXACTLY what Scott’s going through – he doesn’t have the emotional energy for all that crazy comic book stuff. Reed made the point early in the series that running the FF would give him something to focus on, and this showed us Scott making baby steps toward that. Like, helping Darla was stressful and time consuming, but he wasn’t haunted by bleak-scape dreams while he was working that out.
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I always considered Darla Deering to be a vague pastiche of Katy Perry but this issue really begins putting it into Wesley Willis/Milan territory; the mention of her wearing a back brace in her middle school yearbook is a reference to the head brace thing that Katy wears when she plays the young, nerdy version of herself in the T.G.I.F. video (a part played on tour by her sister) and how later she plays the acoustic, “demo” versions of her songs to a fans-only crowd is a direct reference Katy’s acoustic singer-songwriter method for writing her albums. I wonder if Fraction is aware of how very little crossover his b-lister superhero book has with your average Katy Cat?
Oh, and I demand an FF-ized version of Kitty Purry!