Hello there again. Getting back into the swing of things here. I usually have a very strict comic analysis format. It has a lot to do with how I read through the panels and my intense desire to share the comic with you in the same fashion that I absorb its panels.
I like to stop and focus on the art, the shifts in color, the finesse of the letters, the way they work seamlessly with the story to convey their perfect intentions. To pull your mind around a racetrack of stimuli, to deliver something that the art world and the written world could never accomplish by themselves. The ultimate team up of art and personal stories of triumph, growth, defeat, and things larger than ourselves comic books serves as a gateway to our courage, the unforgiving ways we feel about humanity, and the things outside of our daily concerns.
For these reasons, it has been a very difficult and different experience writing these next few articles. See that intense desire expanded to share not just a single book with you, but an entire adventure. It has been a process for me to try and pull my attentions further than I am used to. I hope it pays off.
So without further ado, let us venture forth, my dear friends.
ANIMAL MAN 1988-1990
I couldn’t tell you exactly what first attracted me to the Animal Man comics. At the time I was picking up tons of story arcs and a lot of obscure comics I had missed in my youth. I grabbed them up and have never looked at comics the same way.
……I honestly think I have something for the orange and blue contrasting color combination.
Animal Man wins the nonchalant hero award repeatedly while having a much much deeper undertone. I mean his name is Buddy, for goodness sake.
Movie stuntman, family man, Superhero – all these titles apply to Buddy.
Animal Man was one of those heroes with a good concept and a mostly forgotten execution. The idea of a superhero who can have any ability of any animal is not unheard of. The idea that he absorbs it from the life energy of earth is both super weird but really awesome.
A concept that FFVII completes beautifully with a bad haircut. And no noses.
Like so many other forgotten or overlooked heroes, Animal Man was resurrected in the late 80’s pushing into the 90’s and represented the shifts in perspectives from one decade to the next perfectly.
Bright colors and dark line work are the rules for most of the first few issues of Animal Man, looking much like early to mid 90’s American animation.
We begin with Buddy having an afternoon with his family in the suburbs. His family seems to be rather normal. A general discussion of the future between himself and his wife Ellen commences. Only it’s about his career…and how he’d like to get back in the superhero game. With JLA making headlines, etc., he wants to use his powers to provide for his family and find a place for himself in the process.
I swear that the World’s Greatest Mom shirt is the only reason embroidery stores exist.
This is the beginning of what seems to be a nice, if odd, homebody of a superhero story. The next 26 issues that follow both amaze and push the idea of what I thought you were allowed to do with comics. The schizophrenic nature of the comic actually helps me focus on what I think is more important in the overarching story. To lead the reader without holding hands. To push your eyes to follow the paths that you love and to rediscover new points as you gloss back over.
Reading Animal Man truly is an adventure that is unique. Every page goes quickly. Then your mind demands you repeat it. Until the block colors bleed over and the lettering stacks against the panel boxes. Until Buddy’s humanity makes you smile.
Back to what is at hand.
A beast hears the cries of the forgotten. Moving with haste through a concrete wilderness, we see his despair. We feel the isolation in the dark shadows and cool themed colors. All the major action done with gray chromatics, the rest of the city in the bright block colors we’ve grown accustom to.
As this drama unfolds, we jump back towards Buddy who is now serious enough to get a manager for his superhero career. I mean, nothing says a great future ahead like getting a friend and neighbor to be your manager. And then have a canned non-descriptive beer to celebrate.
Animal man appears on terrible television like we would all probably do if we were superheroes. After the usual “THAT’S SKIN TIGHT” costume joke from what appears to be Richard Dawson in comic book form we move on to a heart to heart with husband and wife. I love to see this dynamic in a comic book, where the more normal of the two has no real problems helping the super with their ambitions but still maintains their own existence and personality. I also love that weird model-style cocked hip panel of Animal Man. Because Orange and Blue is fabulous.
And with that he is off to investigate the odd happenings in town. Buddy is called in by S.T.A.R. Labs.
After being told he was the D-List in superhero choices, his powers are then questioned, and I can’t help but imagine that Dr. Myers says, “How fascinating” with all the enthusiasm of a older generation carnival worker. We find out good ol’ S.T.A.R. Labs is having research issues with primates. Animal Man finds lots of damage the likes of which he can’t imagine a normal person could have caused.
Much more distressing than that is what they left behind.
Just look at the horrifying state of it: faces of confusion, despair, fear, pain, and anguish dominate the being and this entire page. The melding of vibrant colors and textures create a frenzy of mercurial reasoning. No beginning or end to be found. The fear alone trapped within this panel is enough to give me nightmares. The movement suggested by the being before us is almost nauseating.
What has Buddy gotten himself into?
Thanks for bearing with me on this first foray into our Animal Man adventure. I cannot wait to continue it with you. Expect plenty more parts and more often than usual!
The days start getting shorter, kids go back to school, the baseball season tightens up (My cherished Kansas City Royals are in first place as I write this! What?!?), and even The Unspoken Decade is not immune to the end of the season as we wrap up the MC2 summer today. I know you have had all sorts of fun, folks, but all good things must end, and this one ends with a WILD THING!
Wild Thing you know already because we met her in our J2 write up, part 2 of the MC2 summer, and if you don’t, well I just provided a link for you to check it out via the hyper magic of the internet! When last we saw her, we were informed that she is the daughter of Elektra and Wolverine and that she has psychic claws in lieu of her father’s adamantium ones.
In all honesty, I was sort of dreading this title, as I was worried we would get more of the teen hero trope that permeated almost all of the line except Fantastic Five, where the teen is confused, upset, and uncool despite having nearly limitless power. I liked it in J2 and Spider-Girl, but it was getting tiring by A-Next. Thankfully, though, I was wrong here, as we get something similar, but the trope is warped just enough to keep the teen interaction interesting. Larry Hama does a fantastic job on the title with dialogue and serviceable plots that definitely would have interested folks new to comic books. We even get to start the entire shebang off with that lovable invention of the 90’s, the Zero Issue!
Tom DeFalco wrote this issue, and it is just straightforward action. One should expect nor be given no less, as a cover with Hulk vs. Wolverine vs. Wolverine’s daughter must deliver action. We are also graced with the creature that first brought us Wolverine and first brought Hulk and Wolverine together – WENDIGO!!!!
My brother used to love Wendigo when we were growing up. Our primary exposure to the guy was the X-Men arcade game, where he jumps at your character(s) over and over again, screaming ‘WENDIGO” as though he is utterly frightened that if he stops you or he will forget his name and he will somehow cease to exist. My brother used to love yell “WENDIGO” and follow that up with a much more quietly said “to the bathroom.” He’d then cackle as though he had invented a joke so funny Rosie O’ Donnell was going to discover his humor and offer him a spot on VH-1 Stand-Up Spotlight.
But back to Wild Thing. She shows up here and attacks Hulk for no discernible reason, only to discover he is working with Dr. Strange. Her behavior earns Wolverine the ultimate punishment, a verbal rebuke from Dr. Strange about kids.
I want to address one of my big pet peeves with superheroes here, and that is when they express incredulity in a world of amazement. Wild Thing makes a comparison of the Wendigo to The Blair Witch Project (a very hip and contemporary reference for DeFalco to make. Remember that movie and how big the build-up was?) as though the curse of the Wendigo is somehow a ludicrous assertion. Keep in mind she has no problem believing in Dr. Strange, and keep in mind that her FATHER, Wolverine, is the one who has told her it is real. Why would she doubt this? Why does every hero do this? Why does it bother me so?
The rest of the issue has some fun action, but the last page reminds us this ain’t your Daddy’s Marvel Universe!
Of course, no teen ever believes their parents allow them any fun. MC2’s parents really hammer the belief home and make it seem as true as the fact that Waffle House is beyond delicious. Also, can you get over Dad Wolverine? Because I cannot. The idea of the most savage killer and beloved maverick in Marvel Universe history doling out punishments for things like ignoring instructions is just beyond uproarious. It would be like Kim Kardashian chastising someone for drawing fame from the reality show business. You’d be like, “Really?!”
Larry Hama does the writing on the ongoing series, and he brings a charm that I think DeFalco could not match in his #0 issue. Hama inverts the entire “uncool” teen thing, by having the so-called “cool girl” constantly attempt to make our hero look bad but never succeeding at it. That’s a nice change of pace from what we have seen thus far in J2 and A-Next, and it’s the first original treatment of our teen heroes attempting to fit in since Spider-Girl. First, though, let’s not forget what a badass Wild Thing is supposed to be, and let’s help you remember via a close-up on her psychic claws.
You really hate Cameron until you find out that her father isn’t just a bad father, but he is actually the world’s worst father combined with the worst aspects of all of those 1980’s yuppie villains. He’s not above negotiating anything, so his natural first reaction to his daughter’s kidnapping is to try and get the kidnapper to lower his demands. Shrewd is one way to put it, but I’d probably just call him an asshole. That is, if I was being nice.
The dynamic between Rina (Wild Thing) and Cameron continues in one of my favorite moments of the book. Of course, part of it being one of my favorite moments is the fact that Elektra is going shopping. Not just shopping, mind you, but shopping at the mall. Not just shopping at the mall, mind you, BUT SCHOOL CLOTHES SHOPPING with her DAUGHTER at the mall.
I am sure that during all that groundbreaking work he was doing, Frank Miller was secretly pining for a day when his creation Elektra could finally reach her true potential as a Mom, shopping at the mall with her daughter. I bet he always intended her character to be fulfilled by driving her daughter (who looooooooooooooooves video games) to the mall for some clothes.
You know, I was being facetious, but with what we know about Mr. Miller and his paeans in favor of fascism, maybe that is what he thought. If so, brilliant, sir, brilliant.
Cameron continues her attempts to spoil Rina’s social life faster than a wet tomato in the sun, but they all continue to backfire. I do have to agree with Cameron, though, in that other than for our entertainment, there’s not much of a reason for John and Colin to be so interested in Rina. Her Dad does ride a Harley, though, so her Mom has to up the cool ride quotient, lest Josh and Colin not be down with Rina any longer.
Now is where we stop reading a comic book and Larry Hama and Ron Lim start giving us a plot that would have seemed more at home in a 1980’s movie than a comic book. Elektra has a few errands to run prior to taking Rina school shopping, one of which is just stopping at this MARTIAL ARTS SCHOOL and saying hello to an old pal. Then he asks her to help teach his class Sai technique, because why wouldn’t a martial arts school in the mall be teaching deadly weapons to its clientele? Also, why wouldn’t Josh, Colin, and Cameron stumble upon this and find another reason for the two boys to be enamored with Rina?
I have to mention one other moment, where Wolverine and daughter howl at the moon. LITERALLY.
That’s basically the book. Hama does a fantastic job with dialogue on a fun title. This one ain’t gonna change your life or make anyone write one of those articles for the New York Times designed to convince mainstream folks that comics are now high class entertainment. On the other hand, it is a fun romp where we get to see an inversion of the “uncool kid” trope done well along with Ron Lim’s splendid pencils.
I think my only real complaint of this book would be that we don’t get to see Elektra and Wolverine interact. I don’t know if they are divorced, married, together, etc. I would have enjoyed seeing their interaction, if for no other reason than it probably would have inspired at least four more snarky jokes.
The MC2 summer is over, folks! I hope you were able to enjoy a sunbeam or two along with this look back at an innocent imprint for a decidedly non-innocent time. I had a lot of fun looking back at it, and I am sure you did too. All in all, the verdict is positive. Not just positive, but much more positive than I had imagined the verdict to be. When I first picked these up, I was sort of dreading them. I figured they’d be hokey, silly, and awful. While they were hokey, and they could be silly, they were never awful. In fact, I feel like if they had gotten the push to a market for kids like MC2 was intended to do, they’d have taken off.
Welcome back, folks, to the greatest 90’s comic book blog you’re gonna find on the interwebs! I hope you have enjoyed Emily’s work on Enigma the past two weeks. Enigma happens to be one of my all-time favorite comic books, but a few of you are probably ready for lighter fare, seeing as how Enigma makes David Lynch films look like Jennifer Aniston romantic comedies! Picture Perfect, anyone? Emily really brought it home on this one! Enigma is a tough subject, but she handled it with aplomb, wit, and humor. (Toss her a kudos when you can!) So now that your soul and mind have been permanently scarred by entities like Enigma’s Envelope Girl and the Interior League, I bet that you are ready for a return to the MC2 summer, and this week, I bring you Fantastic Five!
This title is honestly best known for being a continuation of Tom DeFalco’s less than heralded 1990’s run on Fantastic Four. Many of his supporting characters are in play, including the villain Hyperstorm, Franklin Richards as a character named Psi-Lord, and Lyja, the Skrull that Johnny Storm married when she was impersonating Alicia Masters. His run is almost universally reviled, except for the issues that introduce the New Fantastic Four, which are classic 90’s gold that we will definitely cover soon here at The Unspoken Decade!
I read DeFalco’s Fantastic Four when I first started collecting comic books, and to be honest, while I was not a fan, I did always find them entertaining. Fantastic Four might be the most difficult book to work on in the entire industry. Do the same thing over and over again, and you’ll be accused of plagiarizing Kirby and Lee; go too far way and you’ll be accused of not carrying on in the right vein. DeFalco, even when he struck out, seemed to be one of the least intimidated by those ghosts. He did what he wanted with the characters, and it always worked for me just a little bit better than his work on Thor.
That having been said, I have been more tired than a guy who has driven 1500 miles in one day of the MC2 Universe formula thus far, which has centered around three books about teenagers attempting to find their way in heroism. It’s gold with Spider-Girl, silver with J2, and then tin with A-Next. Certainly, A-Next has its moments, but it’s as tiresome as going to Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon by that third book. Thankfully, this FIRST ISSUE’S COLLECTOR’S ITEM breaks away from that!
Man, Uncle Scrooge bank vault jokes are always funny. What is it with them? I hope they never lose that appeal because they’re a big part of my shtick! Those jokes aside, I was prepared to really dislike Fantastic Five, but I was surprised. This book isn’t going to set the world on fire or anything, but the first thing it does to make me enjoy it is that it gets away from that teen hero trope that has been dominating MC2.
The second thing it does is a really good job introducing the Fantastic Five to us. Somewhere in the 90’s superhero comic books started taking it for granted that everyone who picked one up would just know who everyone was. Perhaps that’s because of the growing insular nature of the hobby – there were few impulse buys, save the already initiated, due to only being able to access comic books via the direct market…but I digress. DeFalco takes nothing like this for granted:
So we have our heroes, folks! Oh wait, I guess there’s one more we need to meet…
One thing that DeFalco always got right, both here and during his earlier Fantastic Four run, is the characterization of The Thing. Ben Grimm is one of the most beloved characters in comic books for his fortitude, endurance, and cool looks, but I think we love him the most for his character, which is instantly instilled in us via his tough guy dialogue.
It’s easy to forget the fact that Ben Grimm is a smart guy. He constantly deflects the intellectual challenges to Mr. Fantastic the way the manager of the high school basketball team never touches the rock without the permission of the star. Permission I bet he never gets! High school is unfair, and if you don’t believe me, you have plenty of MC2 books to check out that will back up this cliche. I’d appreciate it if you’d wait to dive into those until after this article is over, though! That’s not too much to ask at all! Besides, I’m getting back to Ben Grimm in a moment.
As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, Ben Grimm’s dialogue may be the best in comic book history. With just a few sentences, this rock creature comes to life as whatever charmingly cantankerous role strikes your fancy. Perhaps he is your uncle, your father, your grandfather, or a neighbor, but one way or another, you feel like you know The Thing. No matter how much crazy cosmic stuff he gets exposed to, he always reacts just like that older guy in your life would! I dare you to imagine your dad/uncle/grandpa/neighbor saying “What a Revoltin’ Development This Is” and not laugh. I’ll wait. So will Ben.
The other thing that really makes Fantastic Five worth a look is a serviceable but interesting subplot about what happened to Reed and Sue Richards. After all, this is causing lots of gossip in the science community.
Damn! We’ve seen the Fantastic Four take on everyone from Mole Man to Galactus and come out more or less unscathed, so whatever happened to Reed and Sue must be serious business. The craft on display on this page is subtle, yet brilliant. By having the scientists discuss this, no matter how skeevily, it feel less like an infodump and more like two scientists just shooting the breeze about one of their colleagues. If you have ever had a job or gone to school, you are more than aware about how gleeful it can be to just riff on the folks around you, and you are also more than aware about how awesome it can be just to OVERHEAR a good conversation between people about the weirdos. Of course, few things hurts more than stumbling into that conversation and finding out it is about you. That feels like a thumbtack point to the underside of your eyelid. (I should apologize for that one; it hurt me just typing it.)
This conversation also recounted the original FF’s origin fairly naturally, so kudos to this one for bridging the past and the present so well: two birds, one stone! Unfortunately, other than Thing being Thing and this subplot, the series is full of villains that the FF (especially now that it stands for FIVE members on the squad) could defeat more easily than the Yankees could beat a little league squad. Take this guy for instance:
Am I really supposed to believe that this guy who can’t even conquer A DATE is going to defeat the Fantastic Four Five? And I don’t mean conquer as in make that lady bend to his will via his mastery of violence or hypnosis, but I mean conquer as in, you know, have one and know how to act on one.
That crime pays joke has to be a crime in and of itself as well, and I wish the FF would bust him for that alone. For real, though, there’s just nothing about this guy or his smog monsters that screams threat to me, and if it does to you, I am not trying to mean, but you’re a wuss. You can overcome that, and the first step is probably not letting wishes-he-could-date-a-supermodel-Ichabod Crane-looking-motherfucker intimidate you.
Despite his utter lack of ability to do anything, he actually manages to capture the FF at one point, and their only recourse is to allow Big Brain (what Reed is called now) to sacrifice his body to free them. No worries, though, because Reed is a supra-genius who will just whip up another one.
I would think Reed would have less trouble building better robots. I mean, he’s smarter than God with one of those GIANT Texas Instrument calculators. Remember those? They had all those buttons, but all you ever did was play Snake and Tetris on them. I did too, so no judgement from me. Point being, Reed is super mega smart, even for a comic book character. Maybe it ties into the subplot of what happened to Sue and him! Even if it does, we have more easily-defeated villains to deal with first!
I have never gotten The Wizard. The first time I ever saw the guy was during the Acts of Vengeance crossover, and I wouldn’t see him again until this crappy game. Don’t get me wrong, though, the arcade version of Captain America & The Avengers was awesome. There is no version of The Wizard you could say the same about. He’s just such a second stringer, and that second stringer is now multiplied by five. I guess that’s appropriate because there are four five in the Fantastic Four Five, except that any member of any incarnation of this team could easily defeat The Wizard of this time. I am even counting Fantastic Force members as having the ability to kick the hell out of The Wizard any time they wanted; I am even counting you, Vibraxas!
Still, despite his shortcomings, Vibraxas could beat The Wizard so badly that “Wizarding” would become a gerund in The Official Dictionary of the Marvel Universe. (TRADEMARKED) I just wish they could have used anyone in the Fantastic Four besides these guys. Wizard and his flunkies just scream “guys the FF will have no trouble defeating.”
Wizard does help advance the subplot that is keeping this series interesting, though, so I guess he has that going for him.
Now we’re talking! The Negative Zone!!!! It doesn’t get more Fantastic Four Five than that! Unless we are talking Galactus. Which we aren’t…today. The Wingless Wizard stuff still bothers me, and I think it will forever. But before I wind up eternally mired in the bog of this comic book nonsense, I think it would be nice to note that Spider-Girl shows up in this short-lived series as well, which makes me happy. Tom DeFalco does a pretty good job intertwining the MC2 Universe, especially when it comes to Spider-Girl and The FF.
Unfortunately, Franklin Richards takes on Wizard’s Warriors with Spider-Girl. (I keep wanting to call her Spidey, but I am unsure if that’s allowed or not. Someone who is a bigger fan of both Spider-Man and Spider-Girl should really let me know. Please?) I have already proven the Warriors pack all the punch of an armless 2-year old. I won’t go on again about how much I detest The Wizard and these minions of his, but I will say that I would have rather had Paste-Pot-Pete as a villain. At least one of these jerks who are dressed like Wizard has a paste gun, evoking memories of the villain so awful he is awesome. Come on, how do you not like this guy?
Less of a threat than Wizard, but lots more fun to see for sure. Also in the book where Our Gal Spidey (see what I did there?) teams against Wizard’s Warriors with Franklin Richards (who I will never call Psi-Lord, no matter how much he, this book, Marvel, or Tom DeFalco wanted me to because it’s just such a shitty name), we get to see a thinly veiled sex joke in a book that was part of a line aimed at kids to get them interested in comic books again. First, though, the greatest chef’s apron of all time:
Aside from attempting to figure out how old is too old for a human to be to date and marry a Skrull, we also hearken back to a time when Skype was a technology for the far future that we may never see for at least 11 years. But the Fantastic Four Five’s Cyborg Thing can just whip out his laptop and get right on there to discuss his kids with his ex-wife, another subplot that you just know would have appealed to that kids market!
I don’t have an issue with these subplots so much as I think they belie what I understand was the ostensible reason of the line, which was to get kids to read comics without a lot of modern continuity baggage. I just find the Human Torch/Lyja joke, while not terrifically offensive, just past the edge of a book for this stated purpose. The Thing having custody issues isn’t going over that edge so much as I don’t think that kids, even kids of divorced parents like me, would find it interesting. It is well done, though, and it gives us a different angle on the everyman nature of Ben Grimm that we love and adore so very much. Perhaps this was just a subplot slipped in there for older readers to enjoy. Superhero comic books, when at their best, appeal to readers of all ages, and this certainly would be something for a slightly older crowd.
The secret of why Reed is beaming his thoughts to an automaton and what happened to Sue Storm is revealed in the fourth issue of Fantastic Five (you get it already, so no more strikethrough), and it is quite a doozy to say the least. Doozies always seem to be “quite a”. Is there ever a doozy that doesn’t measure up? I know one, and I will introduce you to him right after showing you the snazzy cover to Fantastic Five #4!
The creepy looking guy staring blatantly at Reed and Sue Richards is Hyperstorm, a Tom DeFalco creation from his earlier run on The Fantastic Four, and he is obviously named from one of those dual lists where one picks a word from each side and makes a compound word to form a name. I am not knocking Tom for this, as I used the same thing to name characters in the 90’s.
Hyperstorm is a mutant from the Days of Future Past storyline, and beyond that, the character gets incredibly complicated and somehow becomes the reason for Fantastic Force and that godwawful Psi-Lord name. Don’t believe me? It’s canon, baby!
While I find Hyperstorm to be about as epic as a Juicy Fruit commercial without the catchy tune that reminds us all the taste is indeed going to mooooooooove you, at least he does something epic by TEARING A HOLE IN REALITY. Also, The Fantastic Five has awesome space scooters. These two things are only sort of connected.
To save us all, Sue Richards gave up her freedom, and she basically gets stuck in a cosmic MRI forever. Don’t believe me?
There’s nothing to top that. This is a nice reveal, and it really shows the character of Sue Richards. I enjoy the idea of her sacrifice, and I like this as a device that they could have come back to had this series lasted more than five issues. She truly is the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four.
I wish we had a moment or two like that with Lyja, who feels flat for more of the series. She does fool that car salesman, though, so what can you say? I imagine we would have seen more of her had the series gone on.
We leave Issue #5 for another blog, as that takes place after the millennium changed! All in all, Fantastic Five is a quaint sort of charming, and like most of the MC2 line, while not great, is a fun little read. The more I say that, the more it makes me believe that the line could have succeeded if it had been marketed as intended. This could have been the kind of comic book that you could give to an 8-year old (sans Human Torch sex joke) to hook them on the industry for life! Alas, it was not to be.
We’ll wrap up the MC2 summer next week when we look at Wild Thing! We already saw her in our look at J2, but now we’ll see the daughter of Elektra and Wolverine in her own title! The kids are back in school, and the summer has to end, but there’s one chance for fun right here at The Unspoken Decade! See you next week, folks!