Thursday, March 31, 2011

FFWTFFTW: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

FF #1
by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting

So what, I’ve been asked by more than one straight (that is, non-dork) friend, does “FF” even stand for now? I mean, the Human Torch is dead, right? So they’re not the Fantastic Four anymore, but… FF? More like WTF?

Well, one of the things I really kinda like about this relaunch of my all-time favorite super hero franchise is that “FF” stands for more than one thing. Officially, it stands for “Future Foundation,” the organization of brilliant young minds that Reed Richards has put together under the raw genius of his daughter Valeria. But it also stands for “First Family,” which is what the team really is for the Marvel Universe. And that family has now expanded: Reed’s father Nathaniel, long lost in time, has returned to the fold. And Valeria has [SPOILER] made a rather questionable deal that further expands the clan in an altogether more horrifying direction: the brain-damaged Doctor Doom now calls the Baxter Building home, too.

I’m not entirely clear on the connection between Valeria and Doom, to be honest. I never read the issues that introduced the character, and the Grand Source of All Funnybook Knowledge (that is, the Wikipedia) unveils a story so convoluted that it could only have sprung from the pens of Chris Claremont and Jeph Loeb, who together are responsible for so many unnecessarily complicated continuity clusterfucks that it beggars the imagination (and the patience). I’ll just get pissed off again if I try to explain it, so let’s just say that Val considers Doom to be her “uncle,” and that’s enough to bring him into the fold. [/SPOILER]

All of which is neat stuff with deep roots in the team’s history, and opens up all kinds of new dramatic doors. But I haven’t gotten to the elephant in the room yet. The obvious sales ploy. The real WTF thing about this new status quo: Spider-Man. Yes, Spider-Man has joined the team. Or family. Or… whatever. Which makes sense primarily from a meta-fictional perspective. I mean, Spidey DID try to join the team in the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and actually went ahead with it in the first issue of What If? back in the 70s. And since that latter issue was the most exciting comic I never got to read when I was a kid, the move kind of resonates for me.

Spidey also slots into the team maybe even better than the Torch himself did. He combines Johnny’s “class clown” role with a keener scientific mind. While he’s hardly on Reed’s level, he can keep up with and get excited about the SCIENCE! that’s part of the FF’s basic conceptual mandate. The “big brother” relationship Spidey’s recently developed with Franklin makes the fit better, too. That’s been a charming and organic little piece of character development, and I like it as a door-opener into the FF‘s world.

The one thing that doesn’t work for me is the lynchpin of the move (from a fictional perspective, anyway): Johnny Storm essentially left Spidey his spot on the team in his will. It’s a classy move for Johnny, and fits in really rather well with the character as Hickman developed him. His Johnny was a good-hearted chucklehead whose real gift was his understanding of people. That’s at the root of his crotchety friendship with Ben, and it makes a lot of sense that he’d see Spider-Man as just the sort of person his family would need to be able to carry on.

Except that I must respectfully call bullshit on it. Those two dudes have hated each other’s guts since they were teenagers! Sure, it was in a “frenemies” sort of way. They were on the same side of the good guys vs. bad guys equation, after all, and would work together for the greater good. But, man. MAN! Theirs was a classic “jock vs. nerd” relationship, or even a class-based “rich kid vs. poor kid” sort of conflict. Spidey hated the Torch because he was a blowhard and a gear-head and an all-around popular guy with a cool car who got on with girls really easily. And the Torch hated Spidey because he was a touchy smart-ass loner. I LOVED that they couldn’t stand each other; it was, in many ways, the quintessential Marvel hero relationship. So that’s an ill fit for me. I can get beyond it, though, and I think I’m going to enjoy watching Spidey interact with Our Heroes.

But getting beyond all this literary talk and discussion of character psychology… What about the cool stuff? The whiz-bang kick-splodiness of it all? I could get used to that, too. The new FF costume designs have a very sleek, modern look to them. Here’s the cover art from this first issue, just to give you a taste:


The white suits actually have a bit of a future sheen about them, I think (albeit a future sheen as conceived in the 1970s). I even like that Spider-Man design, in spite of myself. The three-hexagon logo is a nice touch, too, and looks very much like Hickman‘s design work (though I‘m not 100% sure who did these). There’s also the added touch that they’re made of next-gen unstable molecules that respond to the wearer’s thoughts, so the designs can change at the artists’-- I mean, the characters’ -- whims. I love the classic FF costumes, of course, and will welcome their inevitable return. But these will be kind of nice to have around for a while.

And also: dig that new saucer-shaped Fantasticar! Or Futuricar, or whatever they’re going to call it. That’s some slick sports-car styling on that thing! Johnny would have loved it!

Our obligatory action scene involves an AIM splinter group breaking the Wizard out of jail, and involves a scene I don’t think I’ll be able to scrub out of my head anytime soon: the Wizard facing off with Our Heroes while wearing nothing but his helmet. Yikes!

So. Final verdict. Should we be saying WTF or FTW to this FF reboot? Well… There’s lots of potential for entertaining mayhem, it’s all being handled with intelligence, the Steve Epting art is nice, and they could have done much, much worse on these new costumes. So, hell yeah! FFFTW!

Grade: A-

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