But let’s get on with it, shall we? As with last week, potential spoilers lurk ahead. You’ve been warned.
FANTASTIC FOUR #554
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Brian Hitch
Artist: Brian Hitch
I very nearly left this on the stands. In the last few years, Mark Millar’s name (fun fact: pronounced “Mill-ER”, not “Mill-AR”) on a book has gone from being a guarantee that the contents would at least be fun to a messy game of Russian roulette – recent issues from him have had a 50/50 chance of being something solid like the first issue of Civil War or turning out to be a complete mess (like, say, much of the rest of Civil War). The days of quality work like Superman: Red Son or the first twelve issues of The Ultimates began to feel like a lifetime ago, and all signs seem to point towards him heading directly up his own ass at Bendis-like speeds.
Fantastic Four #554 doesn’t disprove any of this – it is, after all, just one issue, and there’s a good bit of damage to undo. It is, however, enough to give me hope that that the mad idea factory responsible for Millar’s earlier work hasn’t been completely consumed by overused Hollywood-cool imagery and lazy shock moments. From the very beginning, with the time-tossed FF careening stuck between angry Native Americans and a hard place on the way home from some adventure, it feels more like what Millar is capable of than anything he’s produced in a while.
As much as Dwayne McDuffie’s all-too-brief run captured the relationships between the characters (and made up for a lot of Straczynski’s nonsense), this issue taps into the other half of the formula responsible making the Fantastic Four so much fun when done right: they’re explorers first, superheroes second. Family jaunts into the past, lecturing school children on the ins and outs of an anti-Galactus suit, your husband’s ex teleporting into the living room when you’re in the middle of setting up a charity to help the victims of superhuman incidents – just another Tuesday afternoon at the Baxter Building. If this issue is any indication, it’s safe to assume Millar understands this completely, and is digging in with all the vigor of a kid discovering a new playground.
Hitch on art is a natural choice, given his long history of working with Millar, and it’s nice for him to have the chance to prove he can be as deft at capturing character moments as he is when laying out fight scenes in excruciating detail. Reed and Ben facing a classroom full of eight-year-olds is every bit as fun as the two-page spread just before the end of the book, which is just how it should be in a book like Fantastic Four. I didn’t know what to expect from this issue, and find myself cautiously blown away by how much I enjoyed it. There’s no telling if Millar and Hitch can keep it up, but if future issues can keep up half the sense of wonder and fun found here then it could very well be the best thing either of them have done in years.
BUY STATUS: Count me in for the next one, so long as Millar continues to leave his famous bag of tics at home.
Writer: Art Baltazar & Franco
Artist: Art Baltazar
Artist: Art Baltazar
This book isn’t for me. I’ve known that since the first images of the unspeakably adorable Tiny Titans came out last year. This hasn’t stopped me from looking forward to it, or from being excited at the idea these uber-cute takes on the characters getting their own book. Jump rope of truth? Kid Devil made somehow even more awesome? What’s not to like?
So now the book is out, and after reading it through twice, yeah, it’s not for me. The only trouble is, I’m genuinely not sure who it’s meant to be for. Considering its place in the Johnny DC line as a replacement for Teen Titans Go!, one would assume it’s meant for younger fans of the defunct show. Only no, because the way the book is presented – a collection of short vignettes with a joke at the end – is probably too young for fans of the previous title’s action-packed adventures.
So maybe younger readers then, the ones who watched the show with their older brothers and sisters? Perhaps, but a lot of the jokes here demand some prior knowledge of the show or DC-proper comic, particularly the ones about Raven’s and Rose’s dads. That pretty much leaves older readers, the ones who grew up on Teen Titans or at least recognize the characters and maybe have kids of their own. Again, maybe, but once you get past the super-cute (and admittedly great) art style, there’s really not a lot here.
I was hoping the book would follow the issue-long antics of the kids in the style of the Marvel Adventures line, but that’s not the case here. While I can largely understand the decision to have each issue be a bunch of sketches, it doesn’t quite work when most of the gags read as in-jokes for an older audience than the format seems to be aimed at.
We know kids are fine with more complex plots as long as the goals of the characters are clear (e.g., Harry wants to stop Voldemort and protect his friends, the Autobots want to defeat the Decepticons and save Earth, Ben Tennyson wants to protect the Omnitrix from Vilgax, etc.), so why the change to simpler stories? And if DC is hoping to target a younger audience than the hypothetical kids reading the other superhero titles in the Johnny DC line, why tie so many of the jokes into Titans continuity they likely don’t care about?
Then again, maybe I’m over-thinking this whole thing. Maybe younger kids will get right away that Slade is a bad guy, and that’s why having him be the new principle of Sidekick City Elementary is funny. Or maybe enough adults will buy the book for the art style alone (which, again, is super-cute in ways that need to be seen to be believed), and that’s all DC are hoping to accomplish. Either way, I’ll be interested to see if this book can find it’s audience, if only so I know who the hell they are.
Buy Status: I have a personal rule about new books get three issues to find their feet, so I’m in for the next two. Great as the art is, it’s not exactly promising at this point, though.
NOVA ANNUAL #1
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artists: Mahmud A. Asrar, Kelbs & Wellinton Alves
Artists: Mahmud A. Asrar, Kelbs & Wellinton Alves
The last two years or so in comics have revealed a great personal truth to me: I really, really like well-written comics about space cops. Between Johns’ Green Lantern run since the One Year Later jump (particularly the super awesome – shut up, Gallaher – Sinestro Corps storyline) and the solid gold of Nova ever since Xandar and his fellow corpsmen were nuked at the beginning of Annihilation, it’s a love that has been extremely well fed. While I haven’t yet managed to pick a favorite between them, Nova has a definite advantage going for it: I’m a sucker for hopeless causes.
Of course, it helps considerably that writers Abnett and Lanning have made Richard Rider, last of the Centurions, the sort of hopeless cause you really can’t help but believe in. This issue only drives that point further home, intertwining his origin as Nova with one of many possible futures spinning out of his current bout with the Phalanx’s techno-virus (things I love more than space cops? Grim futures where there is ONLY WAR).
It’s a nice jumping on point for new readers before the big push to the end of the current arc, summing up Richard’s recent troubles while depositing him on the doorstep of what promises to be a hell of a fight. I’m still a bit worried that the techno-virus is a way of neutering the characters off-the-scale power levels from here on out, but it looks like Nova #11 will go a long ways towards settling that. Either way, I have every faith in the creative team to continue giving me reasons to come back next month.
Buy Status: Still resting comfortably at the top of my reading pile every time it comes out. It’s reached the point where I can’t imagine a month going by without reading the line “It is critical that you pay attention at this time”, though I’m also a fan of “TELL ME HOW TO SHOOT STUFF OUT OF MY HANDS!” from this issue.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Mike Choi
Artist: Mike Choi
Why did no one tell me the X-Men were good again? Sure, OS reader Sammy did, and I bought this issue on his recommendation, but an earlier head’s up or something from the world at large would have been appreciated. Was Messiah Complex this good? What else are you people hiding from me?
I tried Brubaker on X-men back when “Deadly Genesis” was coming out, but the whole Vulcan/third Summers brother/Shi’ar nonsense became so tedious so quickly that I ditched it with no plans to ever look back. Based on that first impression, “X-Men: Divided” is a tremendous turnaround quality-wise, chock-full of moments that go a long way towards reminding me why I bothered caring about these characters in the first place. While nothing necessarily exciting happens (this is, after all, the calm both after the last storm and before the next one), Brubaker serves up a handful of character moments that show a deep understanding of how these different characters work and how much fun it can be to put them against each other.
The Scott and Emma stuff is particularly well handled – their conversation after Scott’s pissing match with Tony Stark, the snapshots of their Savage Land vacation... all of it rang true in a way the Cyclops and Phoenix romance never did. I’ve been a fan of the character Summers was becoming with Emma Frost in his life ever since Morrison’s run on New X-Men run (coincidentally, also the last time I could be bothered with Marvel’s mutants before now), and watching him open up after years of repression is the sort of character development I never knew he was capable of.
What else? I liked the bit with Nightcrawler, Logan, and Colossus playing pranks on each other in Germany. I liked the bit inside of Cyclops’ mind as he worked out how to take down two fully-grown Triceratops. I liked the end-of-issue tease of Angel’s email calling the couple back to the real world, and the slight tinge of fear in his last lines as what was left of his consciousness trickled away. I like all off it, and it’s been years since an X-book made me feel that way.
If there’s a failing to be found, it’s that the issue isn’t really the sort of jumping-on point you need after a major (and more importantly, largely well-received) crossover. I’ve flipped through enough of Messiah Complex to know what’s meant by the references to Xavier’s condition and the new hope for mutants, but neither of these points or the other major consequences of the last few month’s worth of adventures are really clear here. Not that it really hurt my enjoyment – Uncanny X-Men #495 has exactly the sort of feel I want from the title, and for the first time in ages I’m genuinely excited about what comes next.
Buy Status: On board, provided Vulcan and further misadventures in space stay well away. Bonus points to artist extraordinaire Mike Choi and his shout-out to Comic Foundry.
That should about do it for this week. Also picked up was Green Lantern Corps #21, which while fleshing out the rather great arrival of the Alpha Lantern's in last week's Green Lantern wasn't nearly as much fun as issue #20's scenes with Mongul and his new yellow power ring. As always, recommendations via the comments thread of email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org are more than appreciated. See you next week.
you can also read more of Chris's stuff at Expertologist