Thursday, February 14, 2008

World's greatest? Or World's Greatest?

Yes, my friends, today is the day. Fantastic Four 554 has a special place in my longbox, and I'm going to review it for you. I'm sure other comics came out this week, but who cares? No big deal. It's Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary on the premiere Marvel title.

So what happens? Millar chooses to start FF 554 with a time-traveling vacation for the family, minus Johnny. They're somewhere in the Old West, being chased by Native Americans, on a time-sled made of a locomotive. When they arrive at the Baxter Building in present time, the Thing falls off and flies through a building, which is gloriously detailed in classic Hitch style. Resplendent, one might say. We find out that Johnny is forming a rock band in order to form a reality show and that he's given up on his idea of selling ladies' underwear online. After Johnny leaves, Ben and Reed go to Ben's old school to give a lecture, but Reed manages to monopolize the attention with lectures on his "anti-Galactus suit" and other things. In order to break the students' boredom, Ben offers the kids a chance to play on the Fantasticar. During the playtime, Ben manages to hilariously "charm" a teacher and ask her out on a date. Meanwhile, Sue is meeting with other superheroines to form a new supergroup to aid victims of superhero "incidents", giving us some great cameos of She-Hulk and the Wasp. There's a great bit about Reed fitting Doombots with H.E.R.B.I.E.'s solar panels while watching television. One of Reed's exes appears and asks to borrow the doctor for 24 hours and Ben admits that the ex, Alyssa Moy, is ten times hotter than he remembers. We follow Reed and Alyssa as they arrive on Nu-World, "where we're going when the Earth dies." And end of issue.

So the good? Well, readers of a lay of the land know that I am a huge fan of Hitch's pencils, and as usual, they're terrific. Hitch's level of detail is stunning and his drawings and inanimate objects is of Gerhard quality. In terms of story, this is a decent "first issue". We're introduced to the characters, they each have a moment to shine and be drawn as characters. Millar adds his own style to the character-moments with his idea-infused dialogue. Just like the dialogue written by the God of Comics, people don't talk in hyper-realistic ways, but merely throw concepts and ideas at each other like tennis balls. Which is fine. I don't expect ping-pong Bendis-speak. I'm interested in the Nu-World idea and am intrigued.

The not so good? Yes, even a Millar-Hitch comic can have its missteps. Firstly, Hitch's pencils aren't perfect. Often, my complaint is that Hitch's women have the same face, and often pose constantly. This issue does not alleviate that problem. Another problem is the medium sized panels often appear rushed, as if Hitch spent 80 percent of the time on the larger panels and splash pages than on the small to medium panels. On page 10, panel 3, there's a shot of the blonde teacher saying "This is gonna be the best fun they ever had..." and her eyes are just plain wacky. Just plain wacky. This happens frequently enough to be distracting. That concerns me. If Hitch plans to do 16 issues on schedule, with no delays, then what's going to happen near the end? Will we see a drop-off in quality? Or a filler artist like his run on JLA? Who knows?

My problems with the story is that the Nu-World thing is interesting, but it's not really a conflict or even dramatic. It's just interesting. To compare, in Millar's first issue on Spider-Man, he threw everything at Peter in 22 pages, including a ridiculous fight with the Green Goblin and someone figuring out his identity. It's madcap and sets up 12 issues of pure balls-to-the-wall action. FF 554, however, simply introduces the most famous family in comics, all of whom we're intimately familiar with. Not enough Johnny as well, but that's me.

All in all, I like. I certainly don't hate it, but I don't love it. I recommend it to comic fans, as well as to outsiders and new comic readers. It's a great introduction to the characters.

Join us tomorrow for an especially small Frugal Friday.

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