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!