Friday, January 11, 2008

Repercussions (Marvel)
Fantastic Four #2 When: December 1996
Why: Jim Lee & Brandon Choi How: Jim Lee

The story so far...
When battle with the psionic villain Onslaught leaves Earth's mightiest heroes trapped in a pocket dimension; the Fantastic Four and Avengers become destined to relive their past, oblivious to their former lives as heroes.

When a team of phony SHIELD agents commandeer control of the space operation "Excelsior", led by Dr. Reed Richards, he and his team escape imprisonment to launch their space shuttle, designed for interstellar investigation. Their target is a bizarre space anomaly which has garnered the attentions of hidden rival and sponsor of Dr. Richards' plight - Victor Von Doom!

Ill prepared, the team of Richards, Ben Grimm, Susan Storm, and Johnny Storm find themselves overwhelmed by the cosmic energies emitted by the space phenomena, which appears to be a wormhole in space. With insufficient shielding in their prototype ship, the team are bombarded, and crash land on a remote island, where they climb from the wreckage to discover their ship's powersource - the quantum core - about to go nuclear.

Not only that, but as each space explorer discovers the effects of the cosmic radiation, they quickly come to rely upon they find themselves at the mercy of a madman calling himself master of the subterranean realm -- Mole Man!

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Greg LandARTWORK: Alan DavisStrength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Genius)
Speed: Human Torch 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Thing 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Rubber)
Fighting Ability: Invisible Woman 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Human Torch 7 (Cosmic Power)

- Ridiculed for his scientific theory that the Earth was hollow; eccentric and homely scientist-cum-explorer, Harvey Rupert Elder, would embark on his own expiditions to prove the validity of his claims to his dismissive peers.
One such outing would lead him to discover the fabled Monster Island, where he would be partially blinded by an underground deposit of diamonds in a subterranean maze that confirmed his theories.

Rejecting life on the surface, Elder renames himself Moleman, and takes leadership over hordes of creatures dubbed Moloids. Utilizing strange alien technologies, Mole Man uses his armies and machines to lorde over the subterranean realm, and terrorize the surface world. His influence beneath the Earth comes to extend to a great many other underground lifeforms, including the many monstrous creatures that earned Monster Island it's name.

- The Fantastic Four are: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing.

The original Fantastic Four were exposed to cosmic rays when Reed Richards led the team in a race to beat the Russians to space. Without sufficient preperation time, the shuttle lacked the shielding needed to filter the cosmic radiation, resulting in unique transformations in each member.

Reed Richards, already a potent force given his genius for invention, exploration and theory, gained the ability to stretch and contort his body with limited restriction.

Sue Storm is able to manipulate invisible forcefields to create a variety of objects, typically bubbles, platforms and shields. She is also able to cast a veil of invisibility over herself, others, or objects, and do so in a variety of creative ways.

Johnny Storm is the Human Torch, literally capable of englufing his body in flame. This fire can be projected, reach extreme temperatures, result in blinding light, and produce a wave of heat sufficient to propel his body through the air.

Ben Grimm, better known to the world as the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing is a rocky bruiser of incredible size, strength and durability. The power of his fists is dwarfed only by the power of his heart, which refuses to quit, even in the face of the greatest adversary.

The Math: Fantastic Four Ranking: Mr. Fantastic (#8)

What Went Down...
Having regrouped after being seperated, the Fantastic Four find themselves face-to-face with the Moleman! Despite the threat it poses to them all, the Mole Man lordes the ruptured Quantum Core as a trinket, mentioned in babblings as a potential offering to "the great one."

The hot headed Johnny Storm is the first to reinitiate conflict, leaping into the air to use his new powers of ignition as the Human Torch. He charges the Moleman, but finds himself victim of a blast from the underground monarch's staff!

Moleman exhibits surprising agility for one of his runtish stature, combining i with well with guile and technology. He laments on the foursome's powers, recognising them not as children of the great one, prompting the consideration of their potential as offerings to the hypothetical pseudo-deity with which he hopes to gain favour.

Moleman again utilizes his staff, tapping it to the ground to excite a mutated lichen fungus capable of both grappling with the youngster, and dousing his flames. With the Torch incapacitated, Moleman leaves his rampaging monsters to continue the fight with the other three.

Two hulking dinosaur-like creatures descend, one of them able to snatch the Thing up in it's jaws before he is able to fight back. Reed Richards comes to his aid, leaping into action with his elastine capabilities, using it to wrap himself multiple times around the legs of each creature.

Sufficiently bound by the bands of Richards' stretch body, the two monsters are meagre victims for the super strength of the rocky Ben Grimm!

With the monsters levelled, Richards begins to hatch a plan of escape for his he and his fellows. He orders Thing to wrench free one of the giant diamonds, used by the underground civilization to perpetuate the ambient glow of filtered light from above.

Richards directs his financer (and fiance) Susan toward the underground cieling, where she is called upon to use her powers of invisibility to project a field that will allow a clear shaft of light from above. Richards is able to deduce this capability from her first encounter with the power, which included projecting transparency to her clothes, as well as her person.

As Susan struggles to maintain focus, the light beams into the cavernous underground, allowing the soon-to-be Mr. Fantastic to reflect it into the diamond held by Thing. the orchestration of teamwork is capped off by the bound Torch, who is at close enough proximity to snatch away the Moleman's protective visor, exposing his sensitive eyes to the explosion of luminosity!

With Moleman and his minions sufficiently distracted, the foursome are able to make their escape thanks to the thing's earth-moving muscles! Their escape tunnel allows even more light into the underground, assuring their getaway.
That is, until another obstacle reveals itself to be waiting outside with a synaptic-scrambler, and a helicarrier to take them into custody...

ARTWORK: Alan DavisThe Hammer...
Ladies and gentlemen, your Friday night winners, successful as a result of teamwork: the Fantastic Four!

If you're just joining us, you might like to know that we're kicking off a new year of Infinite Wars by giving the 2007 year end top ten characters first bite at the rankings cherry. Since all four of the FF factored into the 2007 top ten, we're going to sum them up with this single entry, allowing us to move onward.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet, Bahlactus made his triumphant return to Fridays with the first of a brand new round of FNF's. We spaced last week, but we're well ready to represent, throwing out the FF for cosmic representation!

Speaking of the FF, I finally got to see Rise of the Silver Surfer last weekend, and I've got to be honest: I was pretty darn disappointed. It should be noted that I was not at all impressed with the first film, but felt some of the backlash and the benefit of experience and budget might have allowed for a better outing. Trailers which used the Silver Surfer/Human Torch chase from the film only helped build promise of what had every opportunity to be a fantastic do-over.

Alas, in it's own ways, Rise manages to disappoint all over again.
I actually contemplated the notion of using the film as the basis for this entry, but time and circumstances conspired to reserve my ire for another day, or as is the case, a less direct post. A post that shouldn't afford me opportunity to go into great specifics, but honestly, I find it hard not to.

If for some reason Barbershop and the Taxi remake fooled you into thinking Tim Story was going to be the perfect man for the job, you might have gotten a rude awakening. Then again, somehow I think if you had arrived by that assumption, there's every chance you loved Fantastic Four and it's sequel... Yeeeah...

Not surprisingly the simmering undertones of an agenda to incorporate African-American characters into the WASP world of the FF persists, but I am actually pleased to report that it seems to inadvertently benefit the film. Part of me still isn't entirely convinced by Fishburne's casting as the Silver Surfer, but really, the Matrix star's stoic delivery of lines in that velvety voice are key-perfect for the warm, but distanced portrayal familiar to the Silver Surfer.
Likewise, Andre Braugher seems under developed as the military hardman who plays antagonist to Gruffudd's Reed Richards, but brings a suitable stature to a role that could've easily turned into a clash of brawn versus brain.

Ironically, the criticisms start to rear their head around the more important facets of the movie, like the core cast and plot.

Defying all belief, Dr. Doom is bungled further still, narrowly avoiding what could've been a turn around reminiscent of the Ultimate fixing of the character, instead opting to disregard the negatives of the first film to continue to distance Doom from much of what made him the greatest villain in comics. Any good will earned by solid performances like Evans and Chiklis as the comedically feuding Human Torch and Thing, is completely nullified by the sheer miss of Doom.

Julian McMahon remains thoroughly unlikable, without the balance of intrigue, again leaving that cinematic performance to Darth Vader, who was inspired by the 1960's FF villain. The negatives spiral outward from this point, facilitating the familiar power-stealing plot by downgrading the Silver Surfer's vulnerabilities to be little more than a well placed shove.

Confused fans googling for answers managed to find their way to an Infinite Wars feature [Silver Surfer #107] that sees the Silver Surfer explicitly set the record straight in his own words. The issue reviewed there is ultimately quite insigifnicant in the scheme of comics, only highlighting the many sources available to inspire a device superior to placing all of the Surfer's powers in the board which he controls and manipulates freely.

From there you can get into further minutia, like Susan Storm's arc, which reduces the already hard-to-take-serious Jessica Alba to little more than a whining, selfish, tabloid wife. This is, to my recollection, contrary to the performance that was strong and reflective of the comics character; if a little slanted toward promoting the banner actress over traditional team leader, and far less bankable UK counterpart, Ioan Gruffudd.

If I had one final complaint I simply had to squeeze into a post that isn't even about the film, it would be a double red X for the visual effects.
One of the long recognised constraints on feature versions of the FF and Iron Man was the speculated special effects budget, due mostly to the nature of the characters, and CG-heavy filmmaking, pre-intergration reneissances seen over the past few years.

Given the money presumably saved on practical effects like the Thing suit (which remains less than convincing), and the one hundred and thirty million dollar budget, basic effects shots like Reed Richards stretching, or various green screen backgrounds, should've been far better than they were.

Attacking the CG department is also a convenient way to round out criticisms of design and concept of Galactus. Story defends the decision as considerate to plans for a Silver Surfer spin-off feature that he would not be directly involved with. [Story] explains the vague depiction of Galactus as opportunity for another director to put his stamp on what's required. Ultimately, the intrusion of weakening the Silver Surfer, and defining Galactus as much as they do, places enough intrusion on any following creative team that, I think the point is moot.

Frankly, the more I hear anything from Tim Story, the less impressed I am.
For a comic that has been such a success in the past, and remains a gem in the Marvel crown, it's so disappointing to see these films under perform the way they do. Sure, they make a lot of cash, but then, so does Britney Spears...

Bringing it back to the comics, we take a look at Heroes Reborn, which reinvents the heroes in a way the Ultimate versions would repeat a few years later.
This version of the FF manages to outdo it's Ultimate counterpart with an inter-connected series of associations that services the outlandish qualities of the superhero sci-fi, but lends a grounding by domino effect.

The anomaly explored in the Heroes Reborn universe is ultimately the Silver Surfer arriving in our galaxy through a wormhole. The entire line builds to a conclusion revolving around the arrival of Galactus, but before that, Fantastic Four manages to explore many of the classic heroes and villains with quite logical connection to "the great one", or, world devourer.

Personally I've always regarded connecting the FF's creation to Galactus as a reasonably logical one. Not only does it preemptively lend credence to their opposition of the space deity, but also lends a credibility to the sequence of events of the cosmic rays (which have never, to my knowledge, been elaborated upon in the central canon), and the arrival of Silver Surfer/Galactus some forty-plus issues later.

My perspective as a writer has always been to look at Galactus' need for planets that sustain sentient life, and his ability to embue sentient life with cosmic energy, as a potential means to an end. If an unexplained wave of cosmic radiation is what gives birth to the FF, why not connect the dots to assume Galactus sends out a wave of his energy with the intention of it travelling through space until it reaches a populated planet and dissipates over an entire populous, granting them all minute traces of the power cosmic.

The theory there would be that the power cosmic provides a signature beacon easily traced, making the search for planets a little more sophisticated than the groping orienteering heralds supposedly go on. The FF's intervention of the wave would provide a comparison to other worlds where denizens are not powered, and maybe even start to contribute explanations to the mutant population, and other unlikely super powers in the Marvel universe.

I consider myself a reasonably competent writer [and future Marvel hopeful], but I tend to imagine any well versed FF fan could probably come up with any number of two-hour alternatives that would surpass what was ultimately a very dull and boring sequel to an equally average summer blockbuster.

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4.5

Agree, disagree? Though our discussions have been fairly critical over the past week or so, we hope to remind fans that there's no shame in having confident opinions, or critical analysis. Secret Wars on Infinite Earths is not a website built to "bash" certain products, but discuss them with familiarity, reference, and recognition of materials, good or bad. It just so happens the bad is often where more discussion can be found.

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