Thursday, April 29, 2004

Knights Of The Dinner Table Illustrated #33 - A Review

Written by: Mark Plemmons
Penciled and Plotted by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Inked by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Editors: Brian Jelke
Publisher: Kenzer And Company

I really wish that this title were regulated to bi-monthly status instead of its’ sister book, Everknights. Sadly, with Everknights’ writer Tony DiGerolamo's busy schedule writing comic reviews for “Knights Of The Dinner Table Magazine” as well as his own comic “Travelers” (and a whole lot more besides, I found out after reading his website), that seems unlikely for the moment. A real shame, because this was one of my favorite titles. At least, it was before it tried to add in some drama that was as out of place and ultimately as unwelcome as Sammy Davis Jr. at a Klan meeting.

What’s funny is that last month’s issue, centering on a “Dwarf’s Night Out”, as two of our protagonists (the mage Teflon Billy and the master thief Knuckles) went out for a night of drinking and wenching, was nearly perfect and easily captured the attitude of the early, funnier books. This issue centers upon our heroes finding a magic wishing pool as they are in pursuit of the villains and is based around a plot twist that has been overdone everywhere, especially in comics (give you a hint… think Newhart and Dallas). Most of the humor in this issue comes from forced smile jokes and stale one-liners, delivered as the serious plot unfolds.

And I feel conflicted on the plot. On the one hand, I’m glad to see that for once the tired old “it was all a dream” device is limited to one issue and was not used to string the readers out over a couple of issues. On the other hand, since the “dream” in this case involves bringing back the character whose death caused the more serious plots and lack of humor that I find so infuriating, I feel cheated that a good, logical way to bring her back from the dead in terms of the dynamics of this world was found and then we’re told “Whoops, sorry… she’s still dead and we’re still chasing after the bad guys!”

At least the artwork by Brendon & Brian Fraim is still up to its usual high quality. All the characters are easily distinguishable from one another and the sense of visual storytelling is great. Sadly, great artwork can never cover up a dull story. And while everything LOOKS exciting and wonderful, the whole thing feels a bit flat and lifeless.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Looking To The Stars: A Rant On Green Lanterns

Green Lantern has always held a special place in my heart. When I was a kid and watched Superfriends, he quickly became my favorite hero. In the first place he had brown curly hair, just like me. Silly, I know. But for a five-year-old boy that was an identifying factor and a stand-out feature in a world where most of the superheroes were black haired and blue eyed.

In the second place, his powers appealed to me; to be able to do anything I could think of. Who wouldn’t want that? Even if I couldn’t effect yellow.

That was a third point. Green was a color I liked. I hated yellow.

And then there was the fact that whenever Superman got in trouble, it was usually Green Lantern who saved him. Now being the guy who saves Superman…. that’s just super ultra cool!

I didn’t read many comics as a kid, but at some point I learned there was more than one Green Lantern. In fact, there were a whole LOT of Green Lanterns; all of them aliens from other planets. And that was even cooler to me. Because that meant that any one…. any thing, could be a superhero!

I didn’t actually get into comics until my first year of college. I had a job in a bookstore and was unpacking magazines one day. There were comics mixed in with the magazines and one of them was an issue of Green Lantern. I was amazed by the cover, as it showed a strange man in a strange costume with black hair. This was not the Green Lantern… what was his name again, Hal something… that I grew up with!

Intrigued I opened the book up and learned of Kyle Rayner; the latest man of Earth to bare a Green Lantern ring. But I found no explanation in that issue of what had happened to Hal Jordan. One trip to the local comic shop later and I was hooked, picking up Green Lantern every month since then.

At first, I was a bit apprehensive when I learned of what had happened to my favorite boyhood hero. Still, I came to appreciate the merits of Kyle Rayner. Later, I began to enjoy them. See, at the time I was in much the same place as Kyle. I was just starting college, a new job and was slowly and clumsily trying to find my place in what was a whole new world. Like Kyle, I’m artistic and creative, though my art is words and drawing or painting. Kyle also had a sense of humor which similarly matched my own: self-depreciating and sarcastic.

In short, it was Hal Jordan who got me into superheroes. But it was Kyle Rayner who got me into comics. As such, it was with a great deal of disturbance that I read this week’s most recent news.

The basic upshot of the news is that Green Lantern is being canceled. Ron Marz (the creator of Kyle Rayner) is writing one final six-part story arc to close the book out and has said that this story is his final word on Kyle Rayner. Geoff Johns (writer of JSA, Hawkman, Teen Titans and The Flash) has announced that after that, he is doing a five-issue mini-series which will end with Hal Jordan coming back from the dead with a Power Ring.

This news has been hailed by members of HEAT (Hal’s Emerald Attack Team- an organization dedicated to getting Hal Jordan back into the comics as Green Lantern) and by die-hard fans of artist Alex Ross (a notorious Kyle Rayner hater, who swore he would only paint Hal Jordan) as a sign of great news. Conversely, it has also been hailed by devout fans of Kyle Rayner as a big mistake, a step backward and the final straw that will make them drop the book.

Of course this is all assuming a great deal. Just because Hal is coming back that means that Kyle is going to lose his ring or be killed off. Small chance, because if that happens then, by this twisted logic that Kyle must die in order to redeem Hal as “The One True Green Lantern”, then they are going to have to kill off John Stewart, Kilowog and everyone else on Oa who rejoined the Corps under Kyle.

This is all, in my professional opinion as a Green Lantern fan, pretty damn silly.

Ignoring the fact that it is just a comic book and that there are much more constructive things to argue about in this world, there is plenty of room for more than one Green Lantern in DC Comics. They got along fine for many years with a few thousand of them: I don’t think we need to pick and choose which one we have to keep.

Besides, what about the new generation of fans who, thanks to Justice League, think John Stewart is the one true Green Lantern? What about the vocal but sizable minority of fans who want to see Guy Gardner come back into the role of ring barer? What about us lonely few who consider Kilowog the definitive Green Lantern? And what about all the people clamoring for the return of G’nort?!?!

Thanks to the efforts of Judd Winick, Joe Kelly and Ben Raab we now have the planet Oa and the Guardians back. The ability to create new rings and raise a new GL Corps is there. Why then, is it totally unreasonable to think that we can all have our cake and eat it too? The Hal fans can have Hal back un-Specrteized. The Kyle fans can have their Kyle. Heck, we can even get G’nort back if we want. Anything is possible now. And deep down, wasn’t that the whole idea behind Green Lantern in the first place?

So color me optimistic. I’m looking forward to this next year immensely, as a fan of Ron Marz and Geoff Johns. As a fan of Kyle Rayner and of Hal Jordan. As a guy who realizes that Green Lantern isn’t just One. Indeed, it is a symbol of every One.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Punisher - A Review

I should warn you all right now that this will not be the usual review where I talk about how well a comic book movie was adapted from the source material. This is because The Punisher is one of the few characters I know very little about, and indeed have willingly avoided learning more about.

You see, I’ve never been a big Punisher fan. Classicist that I am, I’ve always been more fond of the Bronze Age style of storytelling than the Dark Ages in which The Punisher flourished. As such, I know very little about the modern Punisher continuity, though I am familiar with the broad particulars of the character and his origins from reading numerous Spider-Man and Daredevil stories. I’ve even read the odd modern Punisher story, owing more to my liking Garth Ennis’ work on Hellblazer than any fondness of Frank Castle.

I don’t know what the original version of Frank Castle is. I remember one story in which he was an ex-Marine whose family got caught in the crossfire of a mob hit. In another, he was a NYPD cop who refused to take a bribe and whose family was killed in response. Regardless, we get both versions of Frank Castle in this picture and the spirit, if not the history, of the character remains intact; the classic man with nothing left to lose out to right a few wrongs before his own inevitable and likely violent death.

Still, limited though my knowledge of the character and his history is in this case, I know enough to know that “The Punisher” as a movie is very schizophrenic. It seems, at times, unsure of whether it is going for a classic approach to the character, a more Dark Age violent approach or the dark comedic edge practiced by Garth Ennis.

The movie starts out slowly with the origins of Frank Castle (Thomas Jane); ex Military Man turned FBI undercover agent. Retiring from active duty for a desk job, Frank has a loving wife, son and all around wonderful family who he is meeting for a vacation in Puerto Rico before moving. On Castle’s last mission, one of those killed is the youngest son of a banker named Howard Saint (John Travolta), who launders money for the Cuban Mafia. Before you can say “Godfather”, Castle’s cover is blown and the order is given for him and his entire family to die. Needless to say, Frank survives and returns to Tampa to met out punishment against the entire Saint empire.

From there, things go all over the map. In some scenes, the movie is a counter-espionage epic as we see Frank going about various plans to make Saint’s life more difficult, including framing Saint’s beloved wife for an affair with his best friend. This would seem to fit the early, more thoughtful versions of the character in the Bronze Age where he was more of a planner.

In the middle of the movie, we get a quick (and totally out of place) tribute to the works of Garth Ennis as Frank fights the oversized assassin, The Russian. Opera music plays in the background as Frank’s neighbors joyfully dance a mock ballet while he is beaten senseless and thrown through walls like a cartoon character. Of similar note is the scene involving a guitar-toting hitman, who prompted the shouting of lines from Desperado in the theater I saw the movie in. (“So what’s in the case?” “My guitar.”) And at the end we get The Punisher of the Dark Age; semi-auto rifle in one hand, spraying endless rounds of ammo into faceless rows of black-suit-wearing mafasios rounded out by lots of exploding cars.

The movie also seems unsure as where it is going in other respects. It is suggested numerous times that Frank is suicidal, longing to be with the family he lost and that his war is a part of this desire. This might explain why he spends most of the movie without any armor except for the t-shirt his son gave him with an emblem that wards off evil spirits. It doesn’t explain why he finally dons armor for his final battle though.

Also, Frank is obviously becoming an alcoholic but little is done with this revelation other than to show how far Frank has sunk from his previous life and to give Thomas Jane a chance to look tormented as Frank looks at a picture of his wife and son. On a side note, if the people at Wild Turkey didn’t pay for product placement in this movie, they sure got a heck of a free endorsement. Perhaps these things were left uncertain and unexplored so that the audience might draw their own conclusions, but I doubt it.

Performance wise, the film is so-so. Thomas Jane is a diamond and was perfectly cast in terms of look and talent to bring the title character to the screen. He perfectly captures both the joy and happiness Frank had before “dying” and the cool emotionless that overtakes him afterwards.

Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, who is proving as good an actress as she is a model, is wasted in a brief part as Joan - Frank’s neighbor who tries (and fails) to provide him with a new reason for living. We learn very little about Joan, which is a shame as we learn enough to know that she had an interesting past – lots of jerk boyfriends, she can sew up a wound and she’s an ex-alcoholic. Still, in true fashion to the books, Frank has no room for romance but she still manages to change his life in another way.

John Travolta phones in a lot of his performance as Howard Saint. His performance here is very much the same one he gave in “Swordfish”, with very little emoting except in the scenes when he deals with his adulterous wife. Otherwise, he is as flat as plains of Kansas, very rarely breaking his “I’m so cool” bad guy persona. Although in fairness, he suffers the same problem Michael Clarke Duncan suffered in Daredevil: he is given little to do besides sit around his luxurious house and order things to be done.

Overall, the movie is strictly mediocre and unfocused. It is still a good deal better than the disastrous Dolph Lungren vehicle that came out when I was a boy, but its not nearly as good as most of the other recent Marvel projects. It manages to capture the feel of the comics perfectly at points but is unable to decide which particular comics it is emulating.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 10.0.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Sandman Presents: Thessaly - Witch For Hire #3 - A Review

Written by: Bill Willingham
Penciled by: Shawn McManus
Inked by: Shawn McManus
Cover by: Tara McPherson
Colored by: Pamela Rambo
Lettered by: Phil Balsman
Editor: Mariah Huehner
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

There is quite a lot to attract one to this title. The most obvious is that this is one of an all too-few limited series based around the characters from Neil Gaiman’s classic “The Sandman” series. Another feature is that the story is by Bill Willingham; for my money, one of the best new writers to hit it big in recent memory. Author of numerous other Vertigo limited series (including a fair number of Sandman stories), Willingham recently hit it big with his own series, Fables. And for those of us who don’t care much for a good story, the artwork is done by the amazing Shawn McManus; another alumni of the Vertigo/Sandman school.

If you haven’t had the good fortune to be exposed to Thessaly either in “The Sandman” or in Willingham’s original mini-series “The Thessaliad”, which “Witch For Hire” is a sequel too, then this book holds very little for you. This is a talking head’s issue that exists purely to advance the plot. Thankfully, with Willingham’s gift for dialogue this fails to be as tedious as it might be with a lesser wordsmith.

At any rate, Thessaly is a witch. One of the famed witches of Thessaly from the Greek Mythology in fact, and if you don’t know anything about the myths regarding the Thessalian witches, all you need to know is that being turned into a pig or a donkey was the least of your worries. Thessaly is the oldest of her kind, and indeed, this issue reveals that she is older even than the days of Ancient Greece.

Due to some problems caused by an annoying ghost (i.e. Fetch, a gestalt of every person ever killed by Thessaly in her long life), Thessaly has wound up being signed up to kill or capture a number of highly dangerous monsters. With Fetch trapped in a magic mirror, Thessaly set out to fulfill this unwanted obligation, only to find that by signing onto this contract, she has made herself the target of one of the few things able to kill her; a Tharmic Null.

A Tharmic Null, this issue informs us, is a beast made of pure chaos that is occasionally made when something very evil is done in order to remove the evil along with everything else in the immediate area. The rest of this issue shows us Thessaly’s journeys as she travels around the universe searching for the knowledge of how to kill such a thing. A journey that, we find out, was all for nothing as she was unable to find her answers anywhere, despite consulting numerous oracles and books of magic, a giant cat who has killed one of everything in the universe that can die and even the Library of the Dream Realms where we get a quick cameo of Lucien and Merv from “The Sandman”.

This is all a great treat for the Sandman fans but not very conductive to anyone who missed the first two issues or who isn’t, for some reason., a fan of “The Sandman”. But for those of us who are, Willingham does Gaiman’s creations proud and I cannot wait to see the conclusion. Which, it might be noted, we are promised on the final page: “No More Talking Heads. It’s All Monsters From Here On Out.”

Monday, April 12, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Comic Book: The Movie- A Review

Is there anything more enjoyable than a weekend spent at the comic convention?

Many things, yes, as those of us who have girlfriends and wives can tell you.

Even those of us who love the lowly comic book are hard pressed to find much enjoyable about the Con itself. Yes, there is the sense of comradely friendship as you walk among your fellow fanboys… the chance to meet the creative souls behind your favorite books…the thrill of the hunt as you look for the one back-issue or action figure that will complete your collection… and the numerous people in colorful costumes.

On the other hand, there’s the annoying fanboys yammering about Aunt May’s original hair color, the pretentious creators who insist that they are true artists while Writer X is crap, the outrageous vendor prices where they want double the list price for that statue of the girl on the dragon and the one guy who is convinced that he looks just like Michael Keaton as his muscle-enhanced Bat-suit has shifted all the fat to his already prodigious belly. Still, the Con experience, the good and bad, is captured to perfect effect by Mark Hamill in his film: Comic Book, The Movie.

Hammil, who probably knows more about the horrors of the Con (as both a fan and a celebrity) than anyone, plays Don Swan. Swan is a history teacher, comic-shop owner and fanzine publisher. He is also the world’s greatest authority upon Commander Courage: a super-patriot hero of the Golden Age and the biggest hero ever in the reality of this film. Even Stan Lee himself bows to the superiority of the creator of CC!

Swan has just been hired as a creative consultant on the new “Codename: C.O.U.R.A.G.E.” movie, based on the recent revamp of the original Commander Courage comics. The current series is based around a jingoistic, terrorist-fighting assassin and his spandex cat-suit clad partner; Liberty Lass; a far cry from the original comic’s flying, super-strong hero and his nephew sidekick, Liberty Lad. Needless to say, Swan is less than thrilled with this news and sets about trying to win over the film’s executives to basing the movie upon the Golden Age hero. To tell more would spoil the whole movie. Suffice to say, Swan and the executives use every tool at their disposal to stop the other, including swaying the only surviving heir to the Commander Courage legacy to their way of thinking and putting out different costumed characters to plug their image of the movie.

There are a lot of cameos here from faces and voices famed. Yes, many of us would know Stan Lee, Kevin Smith and Hugh Hefner by sight even without their names being flashed on the screen but I wonder how many people who view this movie will recognize the faces of the people who voiced Harley Quinn, Cosmo from “Fairly Odd Parents” and “Fry” from Futurama.

In addition to the plot of the film, we get a camera’s eye view of the San Diego ComicCon and a very nice simulation of the Con experience. From a John Belushi look alike in a Wolverine costume to the model-gorgeous woman in the Black Cat costume, we see the gamut of costumed types as the camera roams the convention floor. We also get to see such favored con past times as haggling over prices, flirting with the hotties in the skimpy costumes and scaring the pants off creators with just how devout a fan you are.

And I was not expecting NEARLY as much vicious satire of Hollywood and the comic book movie as this movie contained. It was a pleasant surprise however, and what “This Is Spinal Tap” was to metal bands, this movie is to comic books, comic conventions and Hollywood. I don’t just mean this as a comparison: I mean that this movie IS the equal of that famed satirical flick.

To give one example of the humor, we find out that Peter David was the writer on the much-hated (by Don Swan at least) Codename: C.O.U.R.A.G.E. Swan notes with all seriousness that while he liked David’s work on Aquaman, Supergirl and the Incredible Hulk, he never read “Codename” as he just could not bring himself to see his favorite character so vilely altered. The joke here, for those of us in the know, is that David has done the exact same thing to all the abovementioned characters and taken a lot of flack from the fans of the Kara Zor-El Supergirl, the dumb Hulk and the Aquaman with a shirt and both hands. There’s also a fair number of gags involving giant spiders as the ultimate sign of Hollywood corruption in a comic book movie screenplay. (If you don’t get this one, click here.)

Yes, this is a bit in-jokey. But honestly… who else besides a comic reader is going to watch a movie like this? Who else besides a comic fan is going to be able to watch a movie like this and laugh at it? For despite the fact that this movie does give a pure and unabashed, if somewhat fantastic at times, look at the world of comic cons and more, comic fans, it is done with love. Hammill seeks to praise these things, not bury them, and does a remarkable job in conveying the love of comicdom and just what can drive a man to such lengths to ensure that his favorite hero is treated right on the big screen.

Final Score: 9.0 out of 10.0.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Hawkeye #6 - A Review

Written by: Fabian Nicieza
Penciled by: Stefano Raffaele
Inked by: Stefano Raffaele
Colored by: Dimagmaliw & Reber
Lettered by: Dave Sharpe
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I’ll give Fabian Nicieza credit for taking the long shot with the big surprise on this story. To give the quick version, Clint Barton (also known as the heroic archer Hawkeye) stumbles into a big secret after stepping into what he thought was a simple case of protecting a girl from some local ruffians. This leads him into danger, intrigue and a secret that involves a temple in Vietnam, a village slaughtered. A secret that would, were it used in any art form other than the lowly comic book, would likely cause a major protest or at the very least, a lot of angry letters.

No, I’m not going to say what it is. After a hook like that, how can you not read the book?

It’s a shame that this series is ending with issue eight. Sadly, it is not surprising. Hawkeye has a loyal following but has never really been a “cool” character. And with Marvel management gearing up to take us back to the halcyon days of 15 different X-titles, with alternate covers and holo-foil, there’s no room for a simple archer hero outside of the Distinguished Competition. More is the pity, for while this book was a bit slow at times (the result, I think, of Marvel’s padding out all new series into six-issue potential trades), it was an enjoyable read when the action kicked in.

Stefano Raffael’s a good artist, with a strong command of shadow. A lot of his male character suffer from a look of sameness, but as the majority of the characters in this issue are nameless thugs this does not distract from the book. The colorists too, do a good job, using blue and grey shades to convey the book’s now-standard opening flashback scene as we see another defining moment in Hawkeye’s past. I can only hope that they all find a steady gig on some other title when this is over.

On the whole, I’ll be sad to see this book go. It had its moments, but ultimately it felt drawn out. And unlike a bowshot, telling a good comic story is not something you can take your time on.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Hellboy - A Review

Matthew 7: 1-5 says “Judge not, that ye be not judged”; a lesson in scripture that was sorely needed for some theatergoers this weekend, as my comic-shop employed brethren and I discovered. We were dispatched to various movie theaters in the area to distribute free copies of “Hellboy: The Corpse”, in order to help promote the latest film adaptation of a most excellent comic book as well as the comics themselves.

Sadly, some people did not see it that way. One member of our party was informed, most violently, that “COMICS ARE FOR CHILDREN” and that what she was handing out was “filth”. Another of us was saved from the angered rantings (and nearly a beating) of another Holy Roller, only by the timely intervention of the theater manager. The unluckiest of us all wound up handing out comics in front of the same theater where members of a local church group were handing out free bibles to everyone seeing “The Passion of the Christ”. Reportedly, the “Passion”-ate used most un-Christian language in chastising their “Satanic” brother.

The irony here is that all of this was done in protest of a comic and movie that ultimately has a more spiritual message at its’ heart than Mel Gibson’s film, which is ultimately more concerned with being a documentary on the shocking death of its’ title character than on his teachings about morality.

“Hellboy”, in contrast, begins and ends with a philosophical speculation on what it is that makes a man; his origins or his deeds? Are we damned from the start as the Calvinists believed? Or are we defined and redeemed by our actions, ever capable of our own salvation on both a spiritual and moral level?

Hellboy makes a case for the later, as we are introduced to the weird and wonderful world of Mike Mignola’s pride and joy. The origins of our hero are explained with a long attention to detail not seen since Spider-Man, which took nearly half its’ length to set up its title character. While Hellboy doesn’t take as long, it is no less the rich for its brief origin story, which introduces us to most of our villains as well as our title hero.

I’ve not read much Hellboy in the past, but the movie makes me eager to finish out the series. Based on what I have read, I can say that this movie remains truer to the comic that inspired it in dialogue, character and artistic design more than any other superhero movie before. This is both a blessing and a curse. For while Ron Perlman’s red skin stands out perfectly in the dark and rainy environments that make up most of the settings of the movie, many of the action shots are filmed too close up to be appreciated at times; particularly the underwater scenes in which merman doctor Abe Sapiens confronts “the Hound of Resurrection”. While this does perfectly ape Mike Mignola’s art style, it does make the film hard to see at points. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.

Another problem is that while the movie maintains the look, feel and plotting of a Hellboy comic, it does not move nearly as quickly as it can be read. This is not to say that it is ever dull, but it does give one the same feeling of strict adaptation as when watching a Harry Potter movie- where everything is shown and nothing is left to happen off-screen. While this is a treat to the fans and those with the patience and openness to see an entire epic on the screen, it is not for those who want non-stop action and cannot enjoy the simple scenes where a demonic being is spying on his girlfriend, while eating cookies and milk with a nine-year-old giving him a sympathetic ear.

Indeed, if I were to compare this movie to any other film ever, I would say that it is a spiritual heir to Ghostbusters and Men in Black.. It is an action movie for people who don’t like action movies, filled with wise-cracking characters that do a typical job stopping untypical things; exterminators of the supernatural, armed with holy water cocktails and crosses rather than the can of pesticide.

The cast does an excellent job and Perlman, a veteran of numerous projects requiring extensive make-up, is the perfect choice to play Big Red himself. He portrays Hellboy with the same lai back, “It’s A Living” attitude that defines the character even as he is being beaten senseless by a hentai tentacle demon. Selma Blair sets ever scene she’s in on fire and David Hyde Pierce (who apparently chose to go uncredited) gives the perfect voice to Abe Sapiens.

Overall, I’d say the film is a solid and a fitting tribute to its source material and damn me if this isn’t the best superhero movie since X-Men 2. If you go to see Hellboy, expect a devilishly good time!

Final Score: 8.0 out of 10.0.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Ultimate Fantastic Four #4 - A Review

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Millar
Penciled by: Adam Kubert
Inked by: John Dell
Colored by: Dave Stewart
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

There’s an old Fantastic Four comic from the Lee and Kirby days. I forget the issue number, but I remember the moment. The Mole Man has the entire team at his mercy in his underground city and says something to the effect of “But before I kill you, let me explain my brilliant plan to take over the world!”

This issue has much the same feel as that classic moment, being devoted for the most part toward The Mole Man (or is that the Mold Man now- his minions havening been grown in a lab) explaining his plans for revenge on those who mocked him to a captive Sue Storm. Sue is quite safe from death, though. Of course, death may be preferable to eternal confinement in a lost underground city where your only companions are a group of leg-humping mold-midgets and a fat man whose proclaimed paternal affection for you seems to be more romantic than anything else.This moment epitomizes the book and how Bendis and Millar are taking the classic moments of the good ol’ days of the last 40 years of Fanastic Four and slowly reenacting them while adding a few modern touches… like leg-humping mold men.

In all seriousness, we do get to see some “famous firsts” here including the first time Reed has to wrap himself around an angry Ben Grimm, the first time Johnny says “Flame on!” to get his powers to work and the first time Sue Storm is taken hostage and is unable to do anything but gape in horror…

Well, that’s more like the “bad old” days of Lee and Kirby. Still, at least Sue isn’t thinking about how she should get her hair done and at least maintains enough presence to question her captor. I’m just worried that she is going to be stuck in the classic “damsel in distress” role and will not progress out of the quite justifiable panic that she is in now. Still, time will tell.

While the story is a bit on the slow side, you would never know it from the art. Adam Kubert is one of the best in this business and manages to portray the sheer epic scale of an underground city or a stone giant with an excitement worthy of the long history of the Fantastic Four.