Today, Patrick and Ethan are discussing FF 9, originally released July 17th, 2013.
Patrick: We recently decided to ax our coverage of the FF‘s sister series, Fantastic Four. Partially, we did this because Reed Richards is an insufferable asshole, but the series also suffered from its own apparent non-importance. The idea of the Fantastic Four’s totally episodic adventures through time and space sounded like an awful lot of fun, but they started to feel trivial pretty quickly. When you account for the Magic School Bus level of coincidence involved in some of their stories (“hey look kids, it’s Julius Cesar!”), it became clear that the story wasn’t for us. Or was it? FF’s stories have been pretty insubstantial too, but there’s something about the cast and the sense of humor we just liked more. With this issue, Fraction reveals that none of his stories have been irrelevant, and all of these threads are woven together into a single tapestry, telling personal, interested and interesting stories about the people touched by the Fantastic Four. Plus: POOL PARTY!
The FF has been invited to a pool party at the world headquarters of Julian Enterprises, by the C.E.O. Charles Cotta. Bentley-23 sees this as the perfect opportunity to gather more information for his “get to know the culture of one of your classmates” film project, so he brings his camcorder to the pool and generally annoys everyone getting talking-head interviews all afternoon. Meanwhile, the adults (Future John Storm included) have a meeting with the enigmatic Charles Cotta, who reveals himself to be the same alien the Fantastic Four encountered back in issue 5 of their own series. It turns out that Cotta considers the the Richardses friends, and he wants to aid the FF in locating and retrieving them from the murky depths of space-time.
Delightfully, the closest thing to action or violence in this issue is the roughhousing that takes place in the pool. If you want a quick concise image of what’s so charming about this series, it’s got to be this outstanding drawing by substitute artist Joe Quinones.
Quinones is doing his best Mike Allred impression throughout, but this poolside scene is stunning all of its own virtue. There are so many priceless details packed into this drawing. Vil and Wu — the fishy royalty that are the subjects of Bentley’s film — are only seen as shadowy figures at the bottom of the pool. But if you look, they discarded the helmets that allow them to breathe on land by the side of the pool – just like the kickboards and fun noodles on the other side. But also look how Alex Power planted himself right in the middle of the pool, apparently eager to start a big splashy fight. And the moloids also appear totally game to get splashing, but notice how they’re each characterized slightly differently – one in regular trunks, Tong (who recently decided she was female) in a one-piece bathing suit, and a third with floaties? My god, they’re adorable. Fraction and his art team seem to want me invested in all of his characters, even those that were originally presented as three identical siblings (plus one head-in-a-jar).
That theme of getting-to-know-you appears pretty explicitly through Bentley’s movie about the Uhari siblings. He’s just a kid, so he can’t help but put a weird little sinister spin on his investigation, but before he does, he comes to a quiet realization:
Being a kid is hard – especially if you want a little privacy. I love that Bentley’s able to put himself in the shoes of these guys, even if it’s only because he similarly wants to be left alone. This cast of kid characters is huge and bizarre as all get out, but Bentley’s an example of how we can approach this band of weirdos: with an open mind and a sympathetic heart. Inhuman childhood may be the furthest thing from our personal experience, but we can all understand the simple terrifying thrill of a splash fight in the pool that ends in cannonballs.
From a plotty perspective, it’s really cool to see some of these disparate threads coming together. I already mentioned the return of Alien Julius Cesar, which is really cool and more or less confirms that that really is John
ny Storm and not some weird imposter. Cotta also confirms that the Fantastic Four are somehow trapped in time, which we had been sort of intuiting since they hadn’t returned yet. Over in Fantastic Four 10 (on sale now!), the family just lost their “chronal-anchor” (stolen by Skrull-Ben-Franklin… it’s a fun issue), so the pieces of the greater narrative are starting to coallesce. Even Bentley’s little reminder about the sea monster that came to defend Vil and Wu back in issue 5 comes back to inform the events and characters featured in this issue.
Ethan, I’m pleased as punch with this thing: it’s fun, it’s funny, it even made me pick up the most recent issue of Fantastic Four. Was I a sucker for letting that one go when I did? I think last month you expressed your preference for that series over this one. If nothing else, they interact in fascinating ways. Are you looking forward to seeing how Scott Lang and co. actually set about rescuing the Richards, or are you sort of hoping these series can keep each other at that fascinating arms-length a little bit longer?
Ethan: I’m not exactly disappointed that we’re dropping Fantastic Four, mostly for the same reasons you laid out. I liked the illustration style and the Star Trek / Lost in Space vibe of zipping around meeting new alien cultures and getting into trouble while you’re there, but there are so many great titles running in the massive Marvel reboot right now. You can only cover so much, and Fantastic Four seems to be a decent choice to drop while trying to zero in on the best of what’s out there right now.
I did state a preference for that title over FF, but it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. FF is so extremely focused on its characters and creating a bizarre, new vibe that it’s plenty of fun to dig into even if it doesn’t have the same predictable rhythms that the entertainment has hard-coded into my brain. If Fantastic Four uses an format of short episodes in wild places to pick at bigger ideas (like Star Trek), FF is a perfect counter-point, using innocuous occasions like a pool party to find new angles at which to look at the characters and their relationships. Moreso than the average issue in this series, I think the setting itself – a swimming pool – was a great medium in which to tell more of these kids’ story.
On one hand, you throw a bunch of kids into a pool and you know what’s going to happen: splash fight. Some of the kids will be the instigators, some of the kids will get drawn into it despite themselves, and others will consistently want nothing to do with it. Removing Bentley from the action by putting a decidedly pool-incompatible camcorder in his hand was a good move, whether or not that was a conscious move by Fraction. Whenever you have a situation that Bentley can interpret as a power-play (read: every situation), he’s going to try to establish a hierarchy, make alliances to protect himself, and then execute the inevitable backstab. He’s a baby supervillain; it’s in his genes! That, and since it’s such a big part of his identity, he feels the need to play into it a bit as is clearly shown in his attempt to cast a sinister light on the Uhari.
Since Bentley’s ineligible for the role of instigator due to the electronics in his hands, Alex, being the eldest and most confident of the bunch, fills the void.
The thing about Alex, though, is that there’s a lot more going on than he’s letting on to the other kids in this issue. He’s just been on a trip to Latveria during which he was knocked around by Dr. Doom AND got to see his parents in Doom’s dungeon where they’re being held as hostages so that he’ll spy on the FF and report back to Doom. In a word, traumatic. In that context, I can’t help but see his behavior in this issue as a kind of defense mechanism to help him process the pain he experienced and the continued stress of keeping a secret from his classmates and tutors. Saying that he’s acting aggressively by starting the splash-fight would probably be a bit too on the nose. Instead, I saw him mostly just trying to act “normal” and fill his usual role of older brother to the others. The more closely he can fit that position, the easier it is for him to suppress his worry about his parents, his shame at having to betray the FF. And maybe there’s a part of him that is trying to cancel out his own unhappiness by pulling the other kids close and making sure they have a good time. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but there’s definitely a feeling of disconnect between Alex’s troubles in Latveria and this light-hearted pool party scene.
On a completely unrelated note: bikinis.
Sure, there was that time back in issue #3 where Darla was running around Times Square in a towel, but by and large this title seems like it’s done an ok job at avoiding the gratuitous sexy-skinsuit-posing thing with women. I’m thinking the issue is constructing a bit of a parody of that phenomenon by being blatant about the constant shots of the girls in their swimwear, but it still struck me as a bit odd.
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?