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Four Plus Two

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It should go without saying that if it wasn’t for Fantastic Four #1, the comics we read today would look a lot different. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took the pure escapism of the comics in the 60s and added wit, humor, angst and pathos to it to make a much more real experience.

The FF had real problems and experienced real emotion. Ben Grimm felt anger and depression over being turned into the Thing. Sue pined for Reed, yet felt secondary to his work. Reed’s jealousy when Namor set his amorous sights on Sue proved this wasn’t true. And Johnny was a hothead, an immature teenager more concerned with impressing the ladies than anything else. Despite all their differences, they were still a family.

This realism made the book, and, by default, Marvel, extremely popular. It became the most talked about book in comics fandom, its storylines were regarded as classic, and its sales were through the roof.

But over the years, the shine has worn off the Fantastic Four. Its place at the top of Marvel’s hierarchy was taken by other books, like the numerous Spider-Man and X-Men incarnations. Instead of being in the forefront, it slunk into the background.

This week, Marvel is starting a new era on the title that could very well bring the Fantastic Four back into the limelight. This is the week when superstar creators Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch take over the series.

When it came time for Marvel to do a version of the Avengers for their burgeoning Ultimates line, they tapped the team of Hitch and Millar. I’m sure the creators’ work on two separate arcs of Wildstorm’s The Authority had something to do with it. Perhaps Marvel thought that Hitch’s panoramic, “widescreen” style from the first twelve issues of that series would mix well with the bombastic, over-the-top style of Millar’s writing on issue 13 and on.

The duo combined to make The Ultimates the comic book equivalent of a summer blockbuster. The book was an action-packed extravaganza with just a hint of subversive and shocking content which captured the fan’s fancy. It quickly became the one of the line’s best selling books.

While the combination of Millar and Hitch was known for some great stories,   it was also known for something else—chronic lateness. The 13 issues of The Ultimates 2 took 2 years to complete, with the final issue being 6 months late. It became the de rigueur punchline for the critics of late books. That is, until All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder set a new record for lateness.

This is why the excitement for the team’s run on FF is being tempered with doubts the creators will be able to keep up with a monthly schedule. The criticism about the book is exemplified by Chris Sims of Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog, who states Hitch and Millar “…are the perfect creative team for the book, assuming that you don’t actually like the characters and don’t really care if it ever actually comes out.”

Sims also brings up another concern. The Ultimates featured many characters with no redeeming social values—including a cannibalistic Hulk, sexual situations, and gruesome horror film-like violence. These are not qualities you would think would be a good fit with the Fantastic Four. It seems natural that Millar and Hitch would have to tone things down to make it friendly for an all-ages audience. It can be done, Millar did write the kid-friendly Superman Adventures series, but will they lose any of The Ultimates audience?

But regardless, this is the most attention the Fantastic Four has received in years. Will Millar and Hitch return the FF to prominence and the top of the charts? Or will lateness and a change in style push people away. We begin to find out this week.

Also out this week:

Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure:

If Millar and Hitch’s new take on the FF is leaving you cold, and you prefer a more “old school” approach to the characters, Marvel is providing you with something that is “original school”.

This special presents a Stan Lee and Jack Kirby story that was never seen in its entirety. This issue, which would have been Fantastic Four #103, spent most of its life in the Marvel vaults. Part of the issue appeared in a flashback scene in Fantastic Four #108, but, other than that, no one has ever seen it before. That is before now.

Stan Lee has added new dialogue and comic legend and regular Kirby inker Joe Sinnott has completed the issue and are presenting it to fans tomorrow. So, there will be comics representing the past and the future of the FF on the shelves on the same day. Isn’t that great?    

Stan Lee (W), Jack Kirby (A), Marvel Comics, $4.99.   One-Shot.

Booster Gold #0:

Back in 1994, the Zero Hour series set about to do a remedial continuity clean up within the DC Universe. One of the unique things about that crossover is that almost every book DC published back then got a “zero issue” detailing an unforeseen adventure from the star’s past.

Booster Gold never got a zero issue, mainly because he didn’t have his own book at the time. That is about to be rectified almost 14 years later and this issue ties in to the Zero Hour crossover.

And this issue is also a “coming full circle” for Dan Jurgens, who created Booster Gold, wrote and drew Zero Hour, and is providing the art for this title.

Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz (W), Dan Jurgens (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Ghost Rider #20:

There are times when you can just feel when a new creator comes on a book, that the title has a chance to reach legendary status. Usually, it’s when a writer on the rise meets a series in flux. This is when magic happens. And I believe this will happen tomorrow for this series.

Scalpedmade me a big fan of Jason Aaron’s writing. I must not be alone, because Marvel just signed an exclusive contract with him. One of his first jobs under this contract is taking over the reigns of Ghost Rider, a book in need of a change of direction. Johnny Blaze is miles away from Dash Bad Horse, but I have a feeling Aaron will excel at writing the former as much as he does the latter.

  Jason Aaron (W), Roland Boschi (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Next Issue Project #1: Fantastic Comics #24:

The mining of the Golden Age for characters and concepts companies can use today is all the rage. Whether it be the Marvel scouring their own archives for their series, The Twelve or Alex Ross tapping characters in the public domain for his Project: Superpowers series, everything old is new again. This week, Image enters the fray, but with a twist.

Their “Next Issue Project” does cover characters in the public domain, but also celebrates the titles of the Golden Age. Each issue will act as the continuation of a series that ended decades ago and will feature the stars of that said series. First up is Fantastic Comics, a Fox publication which ended almost 67 years ago. The format, page count, and characters are the same as they were back in 1941. The only difference is that a veritable who’s who of modern comics are working on the issue.

  Various (W), Various (A), Image Comics, $5.99. Ongoing Series.

Spider-Man Family #7:

Mike Wieringo’s death was shocking and sudden. When he died last August at age 44, he was just beginning to reach his full potential. His death left a great impact on his fans and the friends he made in the comic book community.

Several of those friends are uniting this week to pay a special tribute to him. Wieringo’s friends Mark Waid, Todd DeZago and Karl Kesel are coming together to write a story for this issue which will act as a tour of their friend’s favorite parts of the Marvel Universe.

This is a classy act by the creators and also by Marvel for allowing this to happen. It is a touching way to pay honor to Mike Wieringo’s memory and the work he loved doing. 

Mark Waid and Todd DeZago (W/A), Karl Kesel, $4.99.  Ongoing Series.

Tiny Titans #1:

DC has gone about revamping their kid-friendly Johnny DC line the right way. What they have done is take some of their concepts that are most open to reinterpretation for the younger set, hire on some independent creators who have created some of the best, all-ages books on the market, and have them apply their unique vision to the property.

This week, Art Baltazar and Franco, the team behind the charming Patrick, the Wolf Boy, take on the Teen Titans. Only this time they are a whole bunch younger (think, elementary school age) and a whole bunch cuter. The result is a series that is totally accessible for the kiddies but smart enough that adults will get a kick out of it. 

Art Baltazar and Franco (W/A), Johnny DC/DC Comics, $2.25. Ongoing Series.

X-Force #1:

Springing from the pages of the Messiah CompleX comes a brand new X-Force series. But this one isn’t your father’s (well, actually, older brother’s) X-Force. This team is even grimmer and grittier than ever before.

Cyclops has decided that there are some threats that must be dealt with—permanently. So he gathers the best trackers the X-Men have to offer—Warpath, Wolverine, X-23, and Wolfsbane—and forms his own dark ops group. They do the dirty jobs no one else can do, and the ones no one else can know about.

The tactic of putting the X into exterminate is sure to be a controversial change to the X-Men mythos. Only question I have is how long it will take before Kyle and Yost build up the same body count they had in New X-Men.

  Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost (W), Clayton Crain (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Spooks #1:

Certain members of government agencies such as the F.B.I., C.I.A. and M.I.5 are derogatively called “Spooks” because they are shrouded in mystery and operate out of the shadows. This series is about one such government which hunts another kind of “Spooks”, the kind that hides under your bed, that go bump in the night, and wants to suck your blood.

But now the nasty beasties have gotten smart. They’ve teamed up and decided to take the fight directly to the Spooks, with an all-out assault on Washington, D.C. And if the good guys lose, it could mean the end of the world as we know it.

This series comes from the minds of fantasy/Sci-Fi novelist R.A. Salvatore, military comic expert and G.I. Joe co-creator Larry Hama and horror movie writer and director Ryan Schifrin and melds each man’s specialties into one intriguing series.

  Ryan Schifrin & Larry Hama (W), Adam Archer (A), Devil’s Due Publications, $3.50. Four-Issue Miniseries.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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