Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley & Mark Farmer
This is another one of the Marvel Now! relaunches that caught my attention with the creative team. Matt Fraction has proven himself with several projects at Marvel, but his best to date has been his run on Invincible Iron Man, in which he demonstrated his skill at conveying futurism, among other things. His script here is in keeping with traditional FF storytelling; longtime fans of Marvel’s First Family will no doubt enjoy what they find here. After I read this issue, I had the same thought I had after reading the first issue of Kieron Gillen and Greg Land’s new Iron Man title: other than an attempt to boost sales, why is this a first issue? Fraction’s story is quite consistent with what we saw from Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF. The plot driving this first story arc appears to be the waning of the title character’s powers — again, hardly the newest concept for the team. The family aspect is properly emphasized here, as is the adventure-seeking goals of the group. But if I had to sum up my reaction to the story in one word, it’d probably be, “Eh.” There’s nothing technically wrong with the storytelling here, but there wasn’t anything about it that excited me either. Mind you, I do like that the premise here is opening the door to an oddball new FF, to debut in a couple of weeks in the relaunched FF title, with art by Mike Allred.
Mark Bagley’s sleek, energetic and traditional super-hero-genre style is a nice fit for the Fantastic Four, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen him bring their exploits to life on the printed page. The redesign for the FF costumes, blending the old-school outfits with the more recent Future Foundation uniforms works pretty well. His take on Dragon Man and the children of the Future Foundation seemed a little rough or rushed, but overall, the art serves the property well. Furthermore, Farmer’s inks seem like a natural fit for Bagley’s style. But like the script, there wasn’t anything in the visuals that really wowed me either. I plan on checking out the next issue or two, but mainly for their connection to the new FF series in which I’m far more interested. 6/10
Phantom Stranger #2 (DC Comics)
by Dan DiDio, Brent E. Anderson & Philip Tan
OK, I’m out. While I found the first two issues (there was a zero issue, remember) of this series to be awkwardly written and to have taken an ill-advised approach to the title character, I was hanging in there, wondering if Dan DiDio could turn it around and hoping something worthy of Brent Anderson’s art would come along. But I see now it’s not going to happen. DiDio fails with this issue in specific respect: there’s no story. This issue is made up or disconnected scenes that hint at plots but don’t advance them in any real way. The Stranger has a couple of conversations with enemies, but both just promise stories to come at some future date. There’s nothing really for the Stranger to do here. And I can’t begin to tell you how I hate the notion of a tortured supernatural force walking the earth who also happens to be a family man in Middle Class America. DiDio has robbed the character of any sense of mystery and even of heroism. With the Pandora appearance, it’s clear this series is meant to build up to the New 52’s first big event — the promised Trinity War, I believe it’s called — but for my three bucks, I want more than a teeup or teaser. I want a story, and DiDio doesn’t deliver.
I was thrilled when Anderson was announced as the regular artist for this series, and when he inked his own work in #1, it looked great. But for other issues, he’s been paired with inkers, and the result has detracted somewhat from his otherwise strong style. How his art should look is evident on the cover, which he inked himself, but Philip Tan’s “embellishments,” as the credits call his work, sometimes overpowers Anderson’s style. Texture is added where it wasn’t really necessary. The end effect is the art looks a bit like the result of Bill Sienkiewicz Lite, and while I enjoy Siewkiewicz’s work, I don’t want a watered down version instead. While Anderson’s cover is clean and boasts a classic look, Ethan Van Sciver’s variant cover is a little awkward, mainly because instead of looking like it’s adjusting his hat, the title character’s hand looks more like it’s just waving around his head. 3/10
Superman: Earth One Volume 2 original hardcover graphic novel (DC Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis
There were elements from the first Superman: Earth One graphic novel that really impressed me, but there were quite a few that were off-putting as well, so my overall reaction to the book was middling. Still, my memories of the more interesting and novel perspectives on the iconic title character drove me to check out this second book in the series. It’s a shame those positive memories weren’t tempered by a recollection of the first graphic novels’ weaknesses, because this followup effort offers the same mixed bag of smart and awkward writing. For every novel new approach to the character Straczynski offers — such as his take on how Clark isolates himself from those around him — there’s a ham-fisted or cringe-inducing or cliched element that counteracts the enjoyment I saw in the script before. Lisa Lasalle is implausibly sexually aggressive with Clark, and there’s never a clear reason why she’s attracted to him. It’s interesting how Straczynski tries to establish a parallel between Clark and Ray, the sociopathic man who would become the Parasite, but it never quite clicks. Ray’s brutal background is so completely over the top, it’s rather hard to buy into the premise, and his protective position regarding his younger sister is an overused concept when it comes to humanizing a monstrous villain. It was also nice to see Luthor introduced into this continuity, and it’s an unconventional take on the character concept. It’s a shame it doesn’t turn up until the very end of the book, no doubt to tee up the plot in the third volume. It’s also apparent some pages featuring Luthor are printed here out of sequence.
I love the youthfulness Davis instills in the title character. It’s easy to accept him as a young adult, just starting out in the world and confused about who he is and what his place in it should be. The redesign of the Parasite disappoints. The bucktoothed look, with glowing pods, just doesn’t have the same visual impact as past interpretations. Furthermore, the decision to present Lex Luthor and his partner complete nude is unnecessary and distracting. 5/10
Thor, God of Thunder #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jason Aaron & Esad Ribic
Of the Marvel Now! relaunches I’ve sampled thus far, this one stands out as the strongest of the bunch. This marks a departure from what we’ve seen of Marvel’s take on the Norse god of thunder in recent years. Sure, we’ve seen the godkiller concept before, but what’s interesting about Aaron’s take is how he actually approaches Thor as being divine. He answers prayers in this story. This feels less like a traditional super-hero story, and more like ancient myth and folklore. And I love how we see Thor as a bawdy Viking warrior god and not a super-hero. He’s boozing and sleeping around and behaving as one would expect from his ancient Norse origins. Now normally, I don’t care for loftier, cosmic storylines, as I feel they lack the human element to allow the reader to connect with the characters. But Aaron brings the plot down to Earth through the characters who worship Thor, who pray to him, who rely on him. I also loved Aaron’s three-pronged approach to the narrative, starting hundreds of years in the past, continuing in the present and wrapping up in the far-flung future. The latter part of the issue also does a great job of bringing a bit of the horror genre to the mix. The description of the slaughter and suffering in the silent chamber the title character explores effectively establishes real tension.
Of course, Esad Ribic’s moody, dark artwork plays a big part in that tension as well. I love how there’s a ghostly look to Thor in those latter scenes. He’s lit in an eerie way, isolating him from the dark bits of death around him. There were pages in which Ribic’s work here reminded me of the work of Alex Ross, and others reminded me of the style of Barry Windsor-Smith. The design for the shadowy “guard dog” seemed a little generic, but Ribic also captured a thoroughly alien look for the creature, which was fitting. The characters are quite expressive without looking too cartoony, and Ribic’s design and depiction of an alien version of Mount Olympus struck a nice balance between science-fiction and fantasy. I don’t think there was a single panel of this comic book I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. 8/10
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