Tag Archives: The Fantastic Four

A little listmania! part 1: favorite stories

Blogger wwayne got me thinking about my favorites;  Favorite story arcs and favorite single issues.  Putting the definitions as simply as possible ( since us geeks love to argue about the definitions ) we get….

Story arc:  a  story occurring within an ongoing series.  OK, that is not going to work for me, dammit!  Since I am a trade waiter and have been for 2 decades, some of this will have to be at least a little in the self-contained series vein.  But I will try to justify and explain as I go.

Single issue:  Just like it says on the tin, a single issue of an ongoing series.

So, in no particular order except the order if find them on the shelf….

Concrete:  Strange Armor.  (1997)  This is where the definition gave me trouble as Concrete creator Paul Chadwick didn’t really DO an ongoing Concrete series, just connected limited series, the definition became an issue.  Also in the age of trades and collections the actual issues of a particular arc are harder to recall.  This one I did read as the single issues when they came out in late 97 and early 98.  A 5-issue limited in the continuing story of Ron Lithgow, this was the story that finally gave the full and definitive origin of the character, and fleshed out the back story greatly.  The “series” of concrete stories that Chadwick has done are an amazing character study with its roots in the sci-fi and super hero stories he grew up with and have more heart than any other book(s) I have read since.  All but the most recent DHP series have been collected as trades and are still powerful today.

Cerebus #139 to 150 (Melmoth). (1990) The was the story that followed Jaka’s Story and is one of the shorter Cerebus arcs.  A beautifully written and drawn book, it explores the final days of Oscar Wilde as seen in this fictionalized universe.  Taken directly from contemporary accounts of friends of the dying writer, this is a powerful and sad story.  It is available in “phone book” number 6 of the Cerebus run.

Action Comics  #866 to 870. (2008) Geoff Johns and Gary Frank update and redefine the Brainiac character.  One of the most successful updates DC has ever done.  Gary frank’s art is at its very best here.  Available as the Superman Brainiac trade.

Justice League of America#1 to 7  (2006)  Brad Meltzer is a polarizing figure in comics thanks in large part to the love it or hate it Identity Crisis series.  (loved it)  This arc started up the new volume of JL with artist Ed Benes, and is a story that actually made me interested in JL.  What got me into the story in the first place was my affection for Red Tornado, and this story focuses on him and his existence heavily and is a great team book to boot.  Available as The Tornado’s Path trade collection.

Planetary #7 to 12 (2000)  After setting up the world of Elijah Snow and his team in the first arc, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday outdid themselves on this arc (available as Planetary:  The Fourth Man collection).  The jumped into the homages of the comics with both feet here.  They did versions of Transmepolitan, Hellblazer, Doc Savage and touched on the origins of the big three at DC and still managed to keep the main story moving forward without the meanderings that affected some of the later issues.

My Jill Thompson sketch in my Absolute edition

Sandman #41 to 49 (1992)  This was the arc that really made the series sing for me.  After the A Game of You arc cooled me on the series (It took me years to learn to appreciate it) this series just sang with life.  Gaiman was really flying here and this is the run that made me love Jill Thompson’s art.  This is available in the Brief Lives collection or in Absolute Sandman vol 3.

Fantastic Four #242 to 244 (1982)  I still go back and read these every few months.  In fact the whole #240 to 250 part of John Byrne’s run is just crazy fun to read!  This was the first Galactus story I read that I actually liked.  Available in several reprint volumes from FF Visionaries vol 2 to the big-ass omnibus collection of the Byrne run.

Uncanny X-Men #165 to 168 (1982)  Paul Smith’s first issues on this title were the wrap up to Chris Claremont’s Brood story.  ( I include 168 here as the epilogue to that story–because I CAN!) To this day, his art in these issues is amazing to look at.  Collected in too many versions to count.

Mage #1 to 15 (1984)  Technically this was a limited series, but to my mind, when you know that you are just going to do a series of limited series, it is just a series with breaks.  In the case of Mage the break between the first and second series was a little more than just a break.  The same is true with the ongoing wait for the third series.  This story by Matt Wagner was lightning in a bottle.

Avengers #198 to 200 (1980)  This was David Michelinie and George Perez’s last regular issues on the title(in a run anyway) and they rent out with a great story that was a follow-up to the Claremont/Golden story in Avengers Annual #10.  This run is not yet collected.  Hopefully the Marvel Masterworks will continue long enough to get to these.

Well, I stuck to 10.  I omitted runs where there was a single good issue that MADE that run, and I avoided genuine limited series.  Maybe that will be another list.  Next up…

Favorite single issues…

 

 

 

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Jonathan Hickman

I started this post some months ago and shelved it.  I really had a problem talking Hickman.  I’m not sure why, but I found it hard to quantify the works of this writer.  Having just finished the first volume of The Manhattan Projects, I thought I would give it another go.

Cover to the Pax Romana trade collection

In a fairly short span of time Jonathan Hickman’s body of work has become an impressive statement of his creativity and deep reservoir of ideas.  I first found his work with The Nightly News, a masterpiece of dark cynicism about the state of modern information and how it is disseminated to the peasants and livestock.  Six issues starting in 2006, this book is very much a sort of “the revolution will be televised” kind of idea.  With a dark path of media fuelled chaos, this book was not a happy read, but I could not put it down.  I found myself uncomfortable with what I was reading, and not just because my inner anti-social misanthrope was clawing to get out in response to the story.  This book hits uncomfortably close to home in many ways.  There is much made up whole cloth, but just as much that is right from our daily lives, and it is often hard to separate the two, a theme or stylistic choice that presents itself in much of Hickman’s work.  This book was Hickman as one man band.  He wrote drew and designed the package and that same design sensibility inform his entire group of creator owned books from Image.

So I started looking for his other Image books.  Having met him at C2E2 as Red Mass for Mars was starting up; I jumped to that one first.  Another very strong book with a dark theme, this was a very nicely put together and well-drawn book.  For this one, Ryan Bodenheim handled the art duties, but Hickman’s design sense is all over this.  I found this more accessible as a story.  It is more straightforward in its narrative and presented as more of a traditional panel-to-panel format than Nightly News was.  Next for met was Pax Romana, a book heavy with religious themes and science fiction, this one tells the story of a Vatican funded time travel exhibition to “fix” the world by altering the past with a decidedly one-sided view of the world.  Another wonderfully realized story, shorter at only 4 issues but just the right length and again, filled with Hickman’s design prerogatives and choices.  This is a beautiful book to looks at and a good and slightly challenging read.  The time travel aspect is well realized here and there is a strong sense of character and the book flows and evolves by the force of the characters. 

In the time-travel theme, I was less happy with The Red Wing.  This felt like a sort of Star Wars with a Star Trek flavored time-travel story.  The book felt forced, like there was a great idea at its genesis, but they failed to flesh it out completely, but kept going anyway.  Even Hickman’s less well executed works have a leg up on much of what is out there.  Transhuman fared much better in its execution and was again a more traditional comic book formatted style.

The Manhattan Projects is the most recent work from Image (Feel Better Now has been delayed for a while).  An ongoing series, the first 5 issues are now collected in TPB form and read very well in a single sitting.  The dark tone is again a strong force here.  This is something of a straightforward, if many layered, “what if…?” story, and it is meaty stuff.  Heavy on the sci-fi elements, while set in the very real WWII era race for the atomic bomb and other weapons, this book is not fully realized yet, given that it is an ongoing, that is not surprising, but I wonder how many issues are planned.  At this point it seems that this is a book that could run out of steam very quickly.

Then there is his work for Marvel.  He changed the face of the Fantastic Four, and by that I mean he made it a good book again for the first time in a while.  There are only a handful of writers that have understood what makes this book work since Stan and Jack left and he is the most recent.  I have no real hope that the book will be enjoyable once he is gone in a couple of issues from that and the newer FF title.  The story he has crafted in Fantastic Four for the last few years has been astounding and fresh.  It is always a surprise and never feels like he is repeating himself or others.  He has stripped the book of much of its recent messy plot points and retained only the ideas from the past he can use.  But he does it without retconning or negating any of the other points he chose not to use.  In that he shows a respect for not just past writers, but the readers as well.  While the FF book has not fared as well in the last few issues, and appears that it will wind down to something of an anti-climax, it has still been a strong book.  It just pales next to the regular title.  The plot threads in both books have touched on another Marvel book he has done, S.H.I.E.L.D.  There have been significant delays in the second arc of the story, and I have my doubts we will ever see the 2 final issues.  The collection is still listed at Amazon though, despite the book being unfinished.  I presume that the title is canon, and so his insertion of key elements of the Marvel U into the distant past (Galactus coming to earth in the Italian renaissance) has been inspired and never felt stupid, as so many retcons have.  Marvel is terrible at them generally, and they usually leave the readers feeling cheated or slighted in some way. 

As a group, Hickman’s books have many features in common.  He seems to like the story under the story.  Not so much tradition comic book subplots as much as underpinnings to the larger arc.  Very often there will be clues in the story that don’t pay off for a very long time.  There are a lot of influences, intentional or otherwise that feel like Warren Ellis or Alan Moore, and if he is aware of them, they are not so overt as to be distracting.  Hickman’s stories are his own, never feeling like they could have come from someone else’s pen. 

If you have not read any of these, they are all excellent and worth a read.  If traditional comics have been your bag, the FF and Fantastic Four books are very worth it.  If you want to be challenged on several levels, his Image work is a strong group of books to get you mind moving.

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Hickman departing the FF.

With the announcement yesterday that Jonathan Hickman will be leaving The Fantastic Four (and I assume that includes the newer FF book) I was thinking about his run and the others that I have enjoyed.

The FF was the first of three books that I read regularly in the wayback times.  The other two being Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers, both of those are now books I have almost no interest in since they became incomprehensible at several points in their history.  The X-Men, shortly after Chris Claremont was pushed off the book in favor of the soon-to-be Image guys  (Bloody well ruined that book). The Avengers just slowly descended into dazzling mediocrity over the years, with only a few bright spots since.

The first issue of FF I picked up was #203.  Marv Wolfman had started his run on the book a few issues prior; Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnot were doing the art.  Pollard would soon make way for John Byrne for his first stint on the book.  I read sporadically for the next dozen or so issues and was completely hooked by issue #218 or so and as Byrne began to really sink his teeth in, I decided I was there for the long haul.  There was a break in the Byrne run in the 220’s where Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz did some pretty nice issues, then Byrne returned to both write and draw things with issue 232.  He stuck around until 294.  For over 5 years the book was as good as it could possibly be.  Most readers and critics favorably compared the book to the Lee/Kirby run.  At the time, I had not yet read the Lee/Kirby run, but now I can see what everyone meant.  The book really was worthy of the title “world’s greatest comic magazine” again.  Then the book went off the rails; not because the writers were all that bad.  Some were awful, but most were very good at what they do; they just didn’t get the book.  Many have tried since, and most have come close, but still they’ve missed the mark.

Then Jonathan Hickman came on board in 2009 with issue #570.  He immediately reset the tone and style of the book back to the core concept of family.  He did not jettison all the previous continuity, even in cases where the stories they came from were less than great.  Instead of a full reboot, he just started a new story of his creation that incorporated the elements from the past he wanted to use.  I had to catch up fast since I had not been reading the book during the creation of Nu-World, or the birth of Valeria, or any of the odd changes that had happened in the intervening years.  Once I had done a little back-story research, everything clicked.  This was a family.  All the characters were fully realized and had a believable quality.  Even all the odd supporting cast of kids and other misfits that were there or brought in over the course of the story were fun, interesting and real.  The threats in the book were threats to the family first and as dangerous as any other in the past.  This time, because you care about the family, you are far more invested in what happens.  In the past, sometimes even in the Byrne run, Franklin was an afterthought.  The issues of family only entered into things AFTER the villain was dispatched.  Now the family is standing right there as the Annihilation wave approaches.  Calling this book the Fantastic Four almost doesn’t work.  This may explain some of the motivation behind the creation of the separate FF book.  The main catalyst for that was, and I don’t think I am spoiling here since everyone saw the press on this, the “death” of the Human Torch.  Everyone knew he was not really dying.  He didn’t even die on panel.  Everyone knew he would be back.  The main thing was that the story was good.  It was good.  The “death” never seemed forced and yet it was not something that came out of left field either.  In most pop culture stories, death is a result of an arbitrary change.  In TV, it is because an actor is leaving.  Those deaths are almost always poorly done.  They feel rushed and simply do not fit what has gone before.  Anyone recall how Jadzia Dax was written out of DS9 when the actress could not come to contract terms with the studio?  It was a slap in the face to the fans, the actress and the character.  In many comics, they are the result of the need for a stunt.  This felt like it was an organic part of the story being told and never felt like a stunt.  It WAS a stunt, but not being done just for the sake of a stunt.  Upon re-reading the series, it now feels like it was always leading to this organically, not just by Hickman’s design. 

While this run on the book, even if you include both titles, is far from the length of the Byrne period, this feels no less satisfying.  There are currently four collections of Fantastic Four and two of FF, with one or 2 more of each coming before the end of the run later in 2012.  At that time I will feel a little depressed about then end of Hickman’s run.  Yes, there are other books he has done.  His creator owned stuff at Image has been very good, for the most part.  But I want to have a good FF book.  Until I started reading this run, I had forgotten how much I had missed these characters.  They are like family or friends that you reconnect with after years apart.  Not exactly the way you remember them, but still special.

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