Fantastic Four 2

fantastic four 2Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Fantastic Four 2, originally released March 12th, 2014.

Patrick: I don’t like the way James Robinson writes dialogue. Don’t like it. He invents unnecessarily awkward contractions; his characters use cliché superhero rhetoric; there are frequent problems with subject-verb agreement; and he’ll mix up countable and uncountable objects (using words like “fewer” and “less” incorrectly). I can accept some of these “mistakes” as affectations of Robinson’s characters: lord knows Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm aren’t going to edit the words that come out of their mouths. But dialogue is like 5% of a comic, right? As long as the art and incident are compelling, a few glaringly stupid sentences shouldn’t bother me, right? RIGHT!?

Manhattan is under attack! Y’know… again… An explosion at the Baxter Building signals the arrival of an army of interdimensional rock-bug-men. Franklin recognizes these monsters: they’re from the universe he created. Certain that no one else is going to have the smarts to deal with the invasion, Reed mobilizes his family in a cool new jet! Once they’re on the front lines, The Fantastic Four realize that every available cape is already duking it out on the streets, and measures more drastic are required. Reed retires to his lab, where he confides in the reader that he has been experimenting with gateways to Franklin’s world. He sciences up a solution in the form of a Human-Torch-Powered Bomb. Johnny takes the HTPB and sets it off high in the sky over Manhattan, felling the beasts and rendering Johnny powerless.

I know I’ll never be able to keep up with the Smartest Man in the Marvel Universe, but it is discouraging to see him apply that intelligence so generically. Reed’s explanation of this bomb — and how it will work — amounts to little more than “It’s from the negative zone, so… IT JUST WILL OKAY!?” Reed knows enough about the invaders to identify “unique genetic composition” (don’t think about that too hard — we’re all unique genetic compositions), but can’t elaborate on what that means. I’m tempted to draw a comparison to Fin Fang Foom, who Reed also identified as somehow different on a cellular or genetic level, but when Dr. Richards mentions FFF, it’s only to remind Johnny that hitting dudes with fire is cool.

Reed doesn't understand his own machineTo me, it’s fishy that Reed designed a bomb that requires his brother-in-law to set it off with his superpowers. I mean, it’s a bomb — those things are pretty good at generating ridiculous amounts of heat and energy. So why bother putting Johnny in harm’s way at all? I’m calling bullshit on that choice right now — and this is where my rant from the beginning of this piece comes into play. I don’t have the most faith in writer James Robinson, so when I encounter a question like this, my default assumption is that Robinson is being stupid and not that Reed is being manipulative. I pose the question to Drew — and to anyone that wants to fight me in the comments — am I being unfair? Even Reed’s explanation reads as vapid, with the use of awkward phrases like “at its optimum” and “base core.” That just seems dumb, right?

Of course, it’s also possible that the world of the Fantastic Four is just fundamentally dumb, and Robinson is playing into that expectation. I mentioned the family’s cool new plane with a facetious enthusiasm in my summary, but there is something incredibly interesting about its functionality. The vehicle breaks up into four separate vehicles so our heroes can split up when need be. Right before they do this, Johnny points out that he’s just going to abandon his. Why wouldn’t he? Dude can fly and is essentially invulnerable when he’s a fire man anyway. That kind of invention suits the tone of classic Fantastic Four perfectly: it’s a little cheesy, mostly unnecessary, and would make a great toy. By allowing one of the characters to simply reject the utility of the plane, Robinson might be acknowledging that he’s ready to jettison the series’ former wackiness.

Artist Leonard Kirk also seems to have abandoned many of the softer edges that usually characterize the Richards. An early drawing of Dragon Man huddled together with the children of the Future Foundation shows you everything you need to know about the tone of this book.

Dragon Man and the kidsI cropped it kind of tight, so maybe you can’t see, but the gutters of this page are filled with the vicious faces of the invading horde. All of the kids’ faces are so stern, to say nothing of the brooding posture of Dragon Man. Even his dialogue “you know that I would die for them” is needlessly dark and overwrought. The tone of the piece is dire, which is fundamentally at odds with the Fantastic Four universe.

There’s a moment where Thing launches into battle, and instead of quipping his tired old “It’s clobberin’ time!” he lands in the midst of throngs of bugmen and taunts them:

Would you rather just tell them what time it isThis is a willing subversion of our expectations. Instead of being the big goofy oaf that thrills the readers with his predictable catch-phrase, Ben Grimm is a bad-ass, invincible warrior with enough ironic detachment to remove himself from his own battle cry. Drew, I’m suggesting that this series suffers from that detachment, but I could see someone just as easily making the opposite argument. How do you feel about the tone this series strikes?

Drew: I wish I could offer a strong counterpoint to the arguments you raise here, Patrick, but honestly, I think you might still be giving Robinson too much credit. I wouldn’t say he’s willfully subverting our expectations so much as he’s just limply acknowledging them. Sure, he’s taking advantage of the fact that we know a catch-phrase that has been repeated ad nauseam for the past 50 years, but that’s basically the limit of what he’s doing. He’s not revealing anything cool about the catchphrase or Ben or our expectations. Swap out “It’s clobberin’ time” for the line as written, and the scene reads exactly the same. If anything, I would say it’s this interchangeable blandness that forms Robinson’s thesis here.

Patrick, I’m glad you brought up the genericness of Reed’s solution here. When faced with what he describes as “an impossibility,” he comes up with some hand-wavingly nonsensical solution. That is, he negates negative sci-fi mumbo jumbo with positive sci-fi mumbo jumbo, yielding an issue with a net of exactly zero. Except, of course, for Johnny’s apparent powerlessness, which as Patrick already pointed out, is contrived beyond excuse.

I might be willing to play along if I trusted Robinson to do anything interesting with the idea of a powerless Johnny, but honestly, I’m not even particularly invested in the stakes. If impossible problems can be solved in a matter of minutes by throwing together a nonsense bomb, there’s literally nothing Robinson could cook up that would scare me. Of course Reed will be able to come up with a solution whenever it’s convenient. Hell, I’m not even worried about the cost of that solution, since it will likely feel just as tacked-on and just as imminently solvable as this one does.

So, great, in two short issues, Robinson has robbed Fantastic Four of any dramatic potential it might have had. Becoming too powerful is a going concern in superhero comics, and Robinson has gleefully blown past that line in hopes that we might worry for Johnny out of pure habit. Don’t get me wrong — I understand that some suspension of disbelief is required of any superhero comic (of course Superman is going to get out of this jam) — I just can’t see Robinson coming up with a solution that is more satisfying than “because the Fantastic Four always wins.” The difference between the problems Reed can solve and the ones he can’t is entirely arbitrary, reeking of all the hackneyed laziness of dramatic necessity.

The cherry on top is the issue’s title — “The Fall of the Fantastic Four: Part 2” — which dutifully reminds us of that past-tense narration that Sue gave in the first issue. Robinson is keen to remind us of how important this story is, largely because nothing here is actually that interesting. It’s a crutch designed to prop up a boring beginning that mostly just reveals how tired the storytelling here is going to be. I already know that they’re going to fall — can’t we just skip to the part where I don’t know what’s going to happen next?

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?

14 comments on “Fantastic Four 2

  1. Gah! I think I agree with everything you guys are saying. I like each Fantastic Four member. I really, really, really want to like this comic. I can’t. It’s boring, It has bad dialogue. It has no suspense in spite of its name.

    I shouldn’t buy issue three. There are so many better comics and ways to spend my money.

    • Yeah, I’m with you on wanting to tap out of this series. I liked the first issue okay, but this one curdled all of that goodwill to total boredom. I think two issues is a pretty fair shake.

      • I can support not buying issue three. I don’t know why, but I keep going back on my no-fly rule for James Robinson. (“Maybe this time!” I say.) Hey, we’ve already waited out whole lives for a Fantastic Four comic to love, what’s another couple years?

        • I know I keep bringing this book up over and over, and I know finding time to go back and reread old comics can be tough when there’s so much new stuff coming out every week, but seriously: MARK WAID AND MIKE WIERINGO’S FANTASTIC FOUR IS THE FANTASTIC FOUR COMIC YOU’RE LOOKING FOR. As you’d expect from Waid, it’s masterful. If you can check it out, do so.

          Although they’re a bit more dated (and in the first case, rather sexist), the original Lee/Kirby run as well as the John Byrne run from the 80s are probably the other two quintessential Fantastic Four runs.

          But seriously. Waid. Wieringo. Fantastic Four. Get on it.

        • Nice thing about the Waid run is it’s pretty cheap, too. I found a bunch of them in the quarter bin at half priced books and others for a buck or less. They are good, I agree.

          I wasn’t a big fan of the Wieringo art. It was slightly over-cartoonish for me, but maybe that’s what FF requires since it maybe needs to be slightly goofy considering the anachronistic feel this book sometimes has.

          I’m seriously considering issue 3. Seriously. I want to like this. I’m like Mulder. I want to believe. Maybe I’m just jonesing for the Thing. I’ve dropped Hulk and Thor, I need a big bully superhero!

        • Don’t do it! We can’t in good conscience enable this habit any longer — it’s just not good enough to spend your money on.

        • Really want to check out Waid’s run. Just started on Hickman’s, thanks to a recent Comixology sale, and have to say it’s very well plotted and Dale Eaglesham’s art is superb (though the issues with Neil Edwards art falter the series quite a bit). I actually started collecting Fantastic Four and FF at the Marvel Now! stage, and FF is one of my top series ever, all the nostalgic fun of classic Fantastic Four but with a progressive message, it definitely beat its sister title which felt tired and uninspired.

        • I’m with you there — FF was one of my favorite series, but I bailed on Fantastic Four after the third or fourth issue. It’s too bad that gee-whiz throwback feel won’t be represented at the Baxter Building for the foreseeable future — this series is basically missing all of that tone I liked so much.

        • Agreed – so far it’s lacking charm. And that’s really it – the charm of FF felt classic but also fresh in this current comic book climate. The characters of FF really grabbed me, Scott Lang and Darla especially, and with the solicitation for #4 of this new volume it says they’ll be appearing. So really I want to hang in there and catch up with them, but the book is proving too jarringly dark a tone (maybe I’ll just wait for the inevitable Ant-Man/Men book and read She-Hulk and Silver Surfer for now!).

          Also just like to say what a fantastic site this is (actually stumbled upon it when Lee Allred linked to your FF #16 commentary!), and thanks for replying!

        • Thank YOU for the kind words! We work really hard to have cogent, in-depth conversations about our favorite comics, both with each other, and our readers, so we’re always thrilled when somebody finds us and enjoys what we do. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to consider filling out our guest writer form (https://retcon-punch.com/retcon-punch-guest-writer-initiave/) — we’d love to hear your thoughts on whatever you’re reading!

  2. This probably isn’t the place for this, but what the hell.

    I wIant to like Fantastic Four because I read Marvel comics and I think reading the Fantastic Four is somewhat ‘essential’ to being a Marvel fan. Essential isn’t really the right word, but in my delusional world, there are ‘core’ comics that one should read to really get the universe. To me, FF is definitely on that list.

    Marvel: Fantastic Four, Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man would be the four I’d say are the core of the Marvel world. Maybe Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Daredevil.

    DC: Justice League, Action, Detective, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern. . . maybe Batman and Superman also, but that doubles up a bit.

    Anyway, when I got back into comics a couple years ago, I made a point of trying to read these comics. I wanted to read the biggest and most important titles. Man, it’s hard. So many of these are not very good. I definitely prefer Marvel to DC at this point, but of all of these titles, the only ones I currently read are Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Batman.

    Do any of you feel some weird sense of obligation to being a comic fan for at least trying these books? I’ve given up on it (Image is winning the battle for my comic heart and there’s no shared world), but it still pulls at me every now and then.

    • I think there was a point where I felt like there were things I “needed” to read to know what was going on in a given universe, but I’ve totally lost interest in that, too. Honestly, that my favorite comics share a universe is totally incidental, and I honestly think I enjoy the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman more if I don’t have to reconcile the versions of the characters in those titles with the versions that appear in Justice League. In fact, I’m kind of resentful when events in a book I don’t care about effects one that I do. There are too many good comics and too little time (and money) to waste on bad ones. I’ve come to embrace the idea of fanon more and more, which means there really is no “essential” beyond your personal taste.

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