FX #s 1 & 2
“Monkey Business” & “Things That Go… Crash… in the Night”
Writer: Wayne Osborne
Artist/Cover artist: John Byrne
Colors: Greg Cordier
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Tom Waltz
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $3.99 US each
There’s been a trend in some super-hero comics toward lighter, brighter, more fun action/adventure stories, harkening back to the Silver Age of the genre. Some have argued that it’s a good development, as super-heroes have grown so dark since the 1980s, perhaps alienating younger readers. Others put forth the notion that the shift is a step backwards, that it’s nothing more than a fad of nostalgia, pleasing the already insular audience and no one else. I think both arguments have some validity, but it’s a more complex cultural issue. Wayne Osborne and John Byrne’s FX is certainly in keeping with the afore-mentioned trend, but it bucks one of the problems that sometimes accompany the more traditional approach. With DC and Marvel comics, the retro approach can also bring with it a lot of continuity references, to the delight of longtime fans but the confusion of newer readers. With FX, the creators don’t have that issue to contend with, as it’s brand new, unattached to any shared universe. There’s still a sense of continuity and history at play in the book, but everything’s fresh and innocent as well. FX isn’t a spectacular, cutting-edge comic; the writer and artist aren’t bringing anything new to the medium. But they have crafted an entertaining, cute super-hero property that has enough charm to overcome the ridiculous, implausible premise.
Tom Talbot and his best friend Jack like to while away the hours engaging in imaginary adventures and battles, using sticks and gestures to wield weapons, both ancient and futuristic in form. After Tom is bathed in a mysterious aura of energy, though, the pair soon discovers that when Tom pretends, his imagination comes to life. When he pretends to fly like a plane, he is surrounded by a force field that acts like a plane. And when he pretends to fire a gun with his hand, it really happens. He and Jack quickly realize that Tom can become an honest-to-God super-hero, and his timing is perfect. With an angry, intelligent ape breaking free from captivity and some supernatural villains lurking in the shadows, the city needs the new hero named FX. Unfortunately, others have learned of Tom’s secret. While one will serve as an ally, the others’ motives aren’t at all clear.
I’ve been critical of John Byrne’s work in recent years because his self-inked linework has tended to be too loose and sketchy. His efforts seemed sharper and more attractive when he paired with an inker. With FX, Byrne has opted to ink his own pencils, and while it’s not as polished and sleek as other projects, it remains nevertheless attractive. There’s a lot of energy in the artwork that’s in line with the youthful enthusiasm of the young characters. I like the simple yellow shapes employed to convey Tom’s powers. While it’s not entirely clear, the art seems to suggests others don’t see the manifestations of FX’s powers, though that’s really more for the script to clarify. Byrne’s character designs are a little on the generic side so far. Of course, that may be a conscious decision in light of the simpler tone. Greg Cordier’s colors are exactly what they should be: bright, primary shades that maintain the simpler, brighter atmosphere of this tribute to the Silver Age of super-heroes.
So Tom has the power to make anything he pretends to do or be essentially real. It sounds preposterous as the premise of a super-hero comic, the sort of idea one might attribute to an eight-year-old kid who’s scribbling and doodling in a notebook to make his own comic book. But when one considers the genre in general, that far-fetched notion fits in just fine. FX really isn’t all that different in concept than Green Lantern; the only main difference is the age and innocence of the protagonist. Opening the first issue with a scene in which Tom and Jack are playing reinforces that innocence. Sure, these kids seem a little too old for this kind of play-acting, but the storytelling and charm in the script and art sell it.
While Osborne’s story is just getting started, there’s already a lot of momentum going. Two different parties have uncovered the title character’s secret identity, and there’s clearly a larger plot underway beyond Tom’s effort to learn how to be a hero. One of the elements in this story that draws one in is that there’s a feeling that there’s a real plan, a long-term vision of what’s to happen to Tom and his friends.
One gets a sense from the stories in these two issues that FX isn’t the first super-hero to appear in this world; there are established super-villains after all. In that respect, FX reminds me of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. Fans of those less mainstream super-hero titles will no doubt appreciate what Osborne and Byrne are doing in FX. 7/10