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4 #2
writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
artists: Steve McNiven and Mark Morales

This could be the most advance-hated comic of the year. First, it was originally intended to replace Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo on the regular Fantastic Four book. Then it became infamous as a Bill Jemas-mandated storyline, all the better to fit in with an as yet non-existent movie pitch. Though Jemas made some pretty good decisions, when he made a bad one, it was a doozy that burrowed deep under the skin of fans.

Which belies the fact that this Marvel Knights effort really isn't bad. But compared to the regular ongoing Fantastic Four and the equally good Ultimate Fantastic Four, well, 4 just isn't fantastic.

Aguirre-Sacasa has bankrupted the Fantastic Four in a sequence of events that make perfect sense in this liability-skittish society. (Lee and Kirby did a variation on this in their classic run as well - but it only lasted an issue.) From heroes to zeroes, the Richards family struggles to find a new place in New York City (in more ways than one), as their stock and their standing has gone kaput.

This opens up plenty toward exploring their individual personalities. Too young when he gained his powers, Johnny Storm has no marketable skill beyond being able to flame on. Arguably the smartest man in the world, Reed Richards becomes so engrossed in trying to solve the group's financial situation that he forgets to actually pay attention to his family.

Only Sue and Ben actually find a place for themselves. The Invisible Woman becomes a substitute high school teacher, and The Thing, naturally enough, goes into construction. But in a nice touch, he still pretty much gets his hump busted as the new guy on the site.

Though a few sharp observations are made, Aguirre-Sacasa surrounds them in attempts at being clever that keep drawing us out of the story. Johnny's supermodel girlfriend has dumped him in favor of Keanu Reeves. Immediately following that, the writer baldly references Superman: The Movie -- not in itself a bad thing, but hard to swallow when he's taken pains to point out that everybody knows who the Fantastic Four are.

In the outright weirdest moment, Susan Richards pulls an act of classroom discipline that in the real world, if it were possible, would be grounds for a class-action sexual harassment suit. Sorry, it won't wash.

And yet Aguirre-Sacasa excels in portraying the relationships among the four. There's an absolutely great tender moment between Ben and Johnny, as well as a long over-due confrontation between Reed and Sue. All of it supported by really sharp work from McNiven and Morales, who are great at facial expressions. There hasn't been any real action for them to test their mettle, but McNiven held his own on Meridian over at CrossGen, so there's hope.

The problem lies in comparison, and it's unavoidable. In Ultimate Fantastic Four, the characters are being brilliantly reimagined. And in the regular book, they're facing down God, since they've already met Lee and Kirby. How can this capture our imaginations when we know it's the leavings of an embarassing moment in Marvel editorial history?


The Flash #207
writer: Geoff Johns
artists: Howard Porter and Livesay

"A new race begins!" trumpets the cover. How many times have we seen that, or something like it, on a cover for this book?

Okay, so for longtime readers, such a headline probably isn't for us. No, this cover is one saucy little number meant to lure in those who just haven't figured out what a regular treat this book is. Fan favorite artist Michael Turner provides a full-figure shot of the Scarlet Speedster, and new artists have taken over the interior. Chances are that was enough to entice people in who haven't seen this before.

But guys, the rest of us have.

Some of The Flash's basic situation has changed, though all of that happened in previous issues. Now only those who should have known his secret identity are aware of it, instead of it being open to the world. For many years, this book has had the subplot of his love for his wife running through it, but now she has left to sort things out. And inexplicably (granted, it's been this way for about eight months), Wally West suddenly is happiest as a working class joe. Maybe The Spectre rewired him.

But that's not what we've seen before. The meat and potatoes of the issue is another grand get-together of the Rogues Gallery. Throw in a little conversation between Captain Cold and Doctor Alchemy to sum up what has gone before with the bad guys, and really, this book exists almost solely for those new readers. The old stand-bys hang on, because we know how good it can be. There are smoother ways, however, to get new readers up to speed without leaving the fans sitting in the hallway reading a magazine.

As for the new artist, Howard Porter has improved from his days on JLA. Livesay's inking smooths him out a bit. They definitely have a unique look, and it just hasn't gelled with the feel of the book yet. But after such a satisfying long run by Scott Kohlins, it's hard to begin a whole new race. Give it time.


JLA #93
writer: Dennis O'Neil
artist: Tan Eng Huat

It seems like old times over at the JLA watchtower, even if it's never happened before. In an interesting experiment, DC paired old-guard (but still immensely talented) writer O'Neil with up-and-comer Huat to take a shot at one of the company's more popular books. The result is somewhat mixed. And by the way, why is the image of Plastic Man with his head turned all the way around like that so disturbing?

First, it's a treat to read O'Neil's characterizations of the team. In particular, John Stewart comes alive in a way that he hasn't really been allowed to be since his early days - not coincidentally written then by Denny O'Neil. It's almost a shock to see this Green Lantern actually enjoy his powers and handle things in an easygoing manner. All of the team reads like we're getting their early seventies incarnations. Simpler, maybe, than years of continuity and reboots have made them, but no doubt heroes, each and every one.

With the possible exception of Plastic Man, a character O'Neil seems unsure of so he relegates him to the background. It's clear that he really wants to focus on the big guns left on the team.

Unfortunately, a lot of this arc has the same rhythms as an early seventies story, just more drawn out. If you couldn't figure out what the strange alien visitor "Peppy" intended to do, you weren't paying attention. And clearly, neither was the Justice League. It's also strange that Batman only appears via close-circuit TV, a touch that vaguely serves to underscore his loner status, but could just as well have happened so that O'Neil wouldn't be tempted to use a character he could write in his sleep. As it is, Batman plays oracle far too conveniently.

The whole thing also ends on a moralizing note that, while not quite out of nowhere, rings as falsely as a Superfriends episode. You can almost hear the cheesy horns swell. Or maybe it's like a 100-page giant story from …the early seventies. Perhaps if a different character delivered the denouement, it would not grate so much. You be the judge; it's not appropriate to spoil the ending here.

Matching Huat with the Justice League seems a noble experiment. The scratchy doughiness of his characters worked really well for The Doom Patrol, and should recommend him for a guest shot on Plastic Man someday, just to see. But here his faces tend to blur into one, even on Wonder Woman. But he draws a mean Flash effect.

Next issue, the book moves into the late seventies, reuniting Chris Claremont and John Byrne, inked by Jerry Ordway. Rumor has it that a new title will spring out of their run. That's all well and good, but how about shoring up this one?


Derek McCaw


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