Ethan Patrick and Drew are discussing FF 15, originally released December 18th, 2013. Ethan Patrick: I guess it’s appropriate that I’m stepping up to bat for Ethan for this issue of FF. There are an awful lot of substitutes and avatars in play for the invasion of Latveria. The good guys are all either trying to be something they’re not or asserting something else as themselves. In some cases, the characters are two or three steps removed from the version of themselves that’s actually doing the action. Interestingly, Doom never falls victim to this same delusion — in fact, even though everyone expects him to either a) port his consciousness over to another body or b) merge with another body. We know it can’t last, but Doom wins a victory here by being the only one refusing to be anything but himself. Maybe the kids still have one more thing to learn before the Fantastic Four comes back to town.
After recapping their battle plan using Heroclix (and one troll doll — what, they don’t make a Medusa heroclix figure?), The FF storms Doom’s castle. Let’s pause right there to enjoy Michael Allred’s attention to detail on these things. I did a little googling around and he’s even got the poses right on these things.
(And just as another fun detail — on par with putting a troll in a Fantastic Four costume — that’s just a Thing figurine with a Barbie head stuck on it.)
Anyway, their plan is largely successful. Doom tries to access just about all of his usual defenses, but finds each one systematically disabled. This includes his imprisonment of the Power parents, who are ably rescued by Alex and Ahura. Just as She-Hulk, Ms. Thing, Medusa and Old Man John Storm have Doom cornered, Uatu comes down from the moon — evidently, he wants to watch this one real close. Doom, rather than merging with Kid Immortus and becoming Doom the Annihilating Conqueror, absorbs his ally’s powers and then proceeds to blast everyone with his New Power. I mean everyone: friends, enemies, watchers… Darla is able to get in one good power-drain , but in so doing, knocks everyone out. In the aftermath, Doom staggers toward the machine, hoping to regain his powers, but Ant-Man suddenly appears on-site, ready to end the fight once and for all.
I alluded to the idea of avatars in my intro, but I mostly put that idea upfront because I thought it was funny that I was filling in for Ethan on this specific issue. There’s so much of it in this issue that we could probably spend the rest of our time discussing it. Consider Bentley-23. He’s a villain, pretending to be a hero, remotely controlling an army of robots and under the command of a pink cloud alien pretending to be Sun-Tzu. And in order to get the rest of his team to play along, he has to convince them to treat the “videogame” (which, in itself isn’t actually the case), as something else. Adolf and Luna have to pretend that they are characters in their anime, attending some kind of school sporting event. That’s a ton of levels removed from the actual front line.
Even our core group of adults that put themselves directly in harm’s way are doing so as the Fantastic Four. Lee Allred makes a point of showing how they don’t even quite have that shtick down yet, as they fuck up some classic Fantastic Four catchphrases.
They’re so fucking close! Their journey throughout this series has been from pretenders to actual leaders of the FF, and even though they’re within spitting distance of their goals, they’re still not quite the things they’re pretending to be.
But should that really matter? No matter how far removed from the things they’re trying to be, the members of the FF are also trying to do actually something, right? This series has drawn attention to its creative team in the past, even going so far as to point out that Matt Fraction is missing from the line-up in the previous issue. My perception has always been that FF‘s personality was largely driven by Fraction, and — because I’m an intolerant know-it-all — I’ve derided some of the Allred-penned issues as ineffectively trying to channel his voice. I maintain that the series isn’t quite the same without Fraction scripting everything, but I realize that I’m putting too much emphasis on something being the genuine article, and not enough on whether it has value in and of itself. This is a tricky spot for any writer to be in, and the fact that he’s able to emulate Fraction’s voice at all is noteworthy.
Drew, as the Allreds are running this series in for a touch-down, it looks like there are bits of Fantastic Four starting to creep in. I’m starting to feel bad from dropping it a few months back — that whole reveal about Ravonna being… the youngest Richards child… see, I can’t even remember her name. That was lost on me, and it felt like it might have been a fun moment. And, the extra Inhuman involvement answers Spencer’s question about Inhumanity 1. Spencer asked why Medusa was so chill in the presence of Reed Richards — it’s because Inhumanity 1 takes place after FF and Fantastic Four 16. Evidence? Karnac is alive.
Drew: You know, I honestly doubt that the Ravonna reveal would mean that much more to us if we were reading Fantastic Four. Sure, we might know Valeria a little bit better (though I’d suggest that the fact that you can’t remember a character’s name after reading 9+ issues is an argument against continuing to read that series), but I don’t think it would enhance that reveal in any significant way. That is, I wasn’t ever really wondering if Ravonna was a character we already knew in disguise, so finding out that it’s Valeria is no more or less surprising to me than if it was a character from this series.
Ultimately, we always knew that the conclusions of these series were linked, and I don’t really mind working to knit them back together as their reunion approaches. In the grand scheme of things, that scene is pretty inconsequential to the issue, which was otherwise so satisfying, I’m willing to excuse some board-setting for Fantastic Four.
Or, maybe satisfying isn’t the right word. From (almost) the beginning, this series has been about Scott’s mission to “End Doom,” and while this issue comes just shy of his achieving that goal, it sets up what promises to be one hell of a conclusion. What makes this half conclusion so satisfying is how cleanly Fraction and the Allreds have broken it up: this issue delivered all of the comics bombast we’d expect of a big final battle, while next issue looks like it’s going to zoom way in on Scott vs. Doom — the real dramatic engine of this series.
Don’t get me wrong — I love all of the zany kids stuff — but when you strip that away, the series really hangs on Scott’s emotional arc from broken, grieving father to vengeful, grieving father. Or is it more complicated than that? We maybe can’t say for sure just yet, but there’s no doubt that this is a very personal fight for Hank, and I love that it won’t be interrupted by the goofy fun of this issue. That is to say, I love the kid stuff and the Hank stuff, but I think cutting between the two of them would have come at the expense of both of their tones. By reserving the really serious stuff for next month, we’re left with a nonstop fight-scene that is very openly about dumping all of the action figures on the floor and going nuts.
And that’s super fun — and something that really captures the childlike imagination that has been so central to this series. It’s also kind of inherently devoid of emotion — their dog in the fight is so abstract, Dragon Man has to threaten them with piano lessons lest they give up — they’re just smashing and pirouetting indiscriminately because it’s fun.
There’s something so familiar about Bently’s mid-battle character switch — he was no longer liking his toy, so he grabbed a cooler one — that brings me back to that surrogacy theme, Patrick. If the surrogates are effectively interchangeable, what does that say for our investment in them? That is to say, who it is behind these robots — or behind these characters — matters a heck of a lot more than what they look like.
Lee Allred may be openly acknowledging here that his pretending to be these characters may be different from Fraction’s, but I’m going to disagree heartily that this is at all a consolation prize. It’s hard for me to guess where the “story” credit ends and the “script” credit begins, but I think this series is as smart and madcap as ever. Scenes like the fight between Sun Tzu and Julius Caesar, or Bentley hopping the kids up on “Mountain Doop,” felt true to the characters and made me chuckle. I was particularly fond of kicking off the issue with a walk-through of the plan — I had a lot of fun flipping back as the issue progressed to see how everything was shaking out.
This issue was a lot of fun, but I suspect that I’ll mostly remember it as the set-up issue that smartly cleared away the big battle for the real showdown in issue 16. It’s strange for me to size an issue up based on my anticipation for the next issue, but with such a stellar cliffhanger (expertly summarized by the issue’s cover), I can’t help but want more.
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?