Thursday, June 24, 2004

Fantastic Four #514 - A Review

Written by: Mark Waid and Karl Kesel
Penciled by: Paco Medina
Inked by: Juan Vlasco
Cover by: Gene Ha and Morry Hollowell
Colored by: Paul Mounts
Lettered by: Virtual Calligraphy’s Randy Gentile
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Even in these days where four monthly Fantastic Four titles are available to me, this is still the only one that I read. Marvel Age just rehashes material from my “Essentials” collections that I liked just fine the first time. Ultimate Fantastic Four I’m avoiding on the principal that I can’t support Warren “If you read superhero books, you’re a bloody wanker” Ellis’ whoring himself out for the highest bidder. And Marvel Knights Four strikes me as a silly idea, adding unneeded darkness to a team that works best as a light entertainment and adding “realism” in order to ground its’ characters, when they belong in the clouds.

Still, another few issues like this and I may have to start leaving this book on the shelf as well. Waid seems to have been jogging in place ever since reaching the end of Authoritative Action; the arc that was to mark the end of his run before fan demand got him put back on the title. The last few arcs, where The Fantastic Four went to Heaven and the “Spider-Sense” arcs were enjoyable enough, but didn’t reach the high levels that Waid usually writes at. Still, I suspect that he did have to rush a few things together and that this arc, co-written with Karl Kessel, is a reflection of that. Still, even allowing for a rush to get some scripts done at the last moment to keep the series going, this is a rather sad spectacle.

The whole of the plot centers about the return of a new Frightful Four. (Any connection to this week’s return of The Fearsome Five over in “Outsiders” is probably just a coincidence.) I say return, even though we only have two of the founding members returning: The Wingless Wizard and Paste Pot Pete aka The Trapster. Filling the rest of the spots in this all-star loser squad is long-time lamer and second-tier Sandman substitute… literally; the hapless Hydroman and apparent newcomer (I’ve never heard of her, nor have any of the other Marvel experts I consulted), Salamandra, The Fire Maiden.

I would LIKE to take them seriously as a threat. Really, I would. But Trapster is, by his own admission, rather useless with the Wizard around. Hydroman, even with his powers supped up, is barely competent under good conditions. And… well any brilliant genius who can call himself the Wingless Wizard without any sense of irony can’t be all THAT brilliant.

Howard Porter and Mike Wieringo are sorely missed already on this title. Paco Medina is a poor replacement for the quality artist’s that used to headline this book and I can sum up the biggest problem with his characters with one word: noses. Look at anybody in this book and marvel at how hugely out of proportion all the noses are compared to the rest of their faces. Reed Richard’s himself comes off looking like Karl Malden in some panels. And perhaps there is some explanation as to how The Thing mysteriously acquired a pair of boots in the middle of a fight after being barefoot for the whole issue other than a poor sense of artistic continuity. But I doubt it.

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