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Fantastic Action

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Continuing his magnificent run on Fantastic Four, Mark Waid follows up the devastating Unthinkable storyline with the intense Authoritative Action (FF #502-508). This is where we find out the answer to the question, “What would happen if the Fantastic Four finally rid themselves of Dr. Doom?”

After sealing Dr. Doom in hell, the FF have an unexpected problem on their hands as a result of their “triumph”. Doom’s kingdom of Latveria is suddenly ripe for the picking by countries that have invoked legal and ancient rights to annex it. Whether it’s a twinge of guilt or the team just trying to “do the right thing,” the FF suddenly find themselves the protector of their archrival’s territory and the people’s liberators.

Despite the presence of Sue, Ben and Johnny, Authoritative belongs to Reed. The three are supporting characters here and the spotlight is on the FF’s brilliant leader.

While Reed has always been portrayed as a cool customer who hardly gets fazed by much, Mark Waid turns this image around completely and gives us a Mr. Fantastic who’s not so fantastic at all. Waid reveals a fearless streak in his storytelling by showing that he is not afraid to take risks with well-established characters and turn them on their heads, as is the case with Reed’s actions throughout Authoritative.

What appealed to me most was that throughout the story, Reed seems to be on the verge of losing his sanity due to his obsession of ridding the Latverians of their dependence and fear of Doom. His three teammates still follow his lead but for the first time, they entertain doubts as to just where their actions are going. This is evidenced by their reactions on the last page of FF #503 as Mr. Fantastic hoists his tunic over the flagpole of Doom’s castle as well as the last page of FF #505 where a seeming betrayal has taken place.

Without going into details, Reed’s method to his madness is one of the best plot twists I have read in any comic in some time. Waid waits until the last two issues of the arc to reveal just why Mr. Fantastic has been acting the way he has been. Reed’s objective is logical and noble, yet has not factored in the variable that he has teammates. As a result, tragedy ensues and the team may be changed radically because of that miscalculation.

I also like the use of Nick Fury as an important supporting character here. Though not as regular an ally as he is to the Avengers, Fury sees what the FF has been trying to accomplish and does his best to make the situation work for all involved. In the end though, he has to make a decision and follow orders as a good soldier would. Waid establishes a good rapport between the SHIELD leader and the FF.

But what this book has done for me, and what I really commend Mark Waid on, is how successfully the hatred Reed feels for Victor is conveyed after so many conflicts. In the past, it seemed to me that Reed mostly felt sadly for Victor but not anger nor rancor after their numerous confrontations. But with Authoritative, we see a side of Reed that is sick and tired of what has gone on before and a determination to see to it that those things never happen again. There is finality to his behavior that really puts across his sheer exhaustion in dealing with Victor countless times and facing the aftermath of each and every battle.

The series’ regular artist, Mike Wieringo, takes a break with this arc and hands over the penciling reins to longtime superhero artist Howard Porter (The Ray, JLA). I must admit, though I’m not a big fan of his style, Porter has improved greatly as an artist. He shows much more intricacy in his work and being inked by Norm Rapmund has strengthened the artwork on the book immensely.

He portrays Reed’s obsession very well throughout the arc by giving him a haggard look, which all the more reinforces the idea that he might very well be teetering on the brink of sanity.

With the discussion on artwork, I must also commend Avalon’s Matt Milla who does an impressive job with the coloring here. Every panel is alive and Milla brilliantly sets the mood with his palette. From capturing the stuffy and stodgy atmosphere of Doom’s castle to the greenish and bluish hues of the technology being used, he easily jumps subjects and breathes life into every page.

Mark Waid has been taking the FF to higher plains since he took over the book and he keeps going with Authoritative Action. It is a masterfully written story and definitely shows another side of the Fantastic Four that has not yet been seen before. It seems to me that Waid has a grasp of the characters and knows the right keys to turn in making them interesting. The Fantastic Four haven’t this good in years.

- Jose Clemente

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