Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fantastic Four #559 Review

Writer: Mark Millar
Penciller: Bryan Hitch

One of the best things about the Millar/Hitch run on the Fantastic Four is that they are not afraid to tell stories that are truly cosmic in scale. At the end of the day, Spider-Man fights bank robbers. True, many of them are bank robbers dressed as a variety of animals, but they are bank robbers all the same. One has the impression at the end of most Spider-Man stories that, had he not fought crime, not much would have changed about the world. None of this is intended as a criticism of Spider-Man. However, Spider-Man is telling a different kind of story, where Spider-Man is trying to make a difference on a small scale, day-to-day.

The Fantastic Four, on the other hand, are rightly called "imaginauts". That is, they sail the imagination in a way that no other comic book ever really accomplishes. In a way, their stories are pure imaginative fiction, in which their adventures are extraordinary. They challenge the writer to imagine what sorts of things humanity might face, either as threats or opportunities. Millar and Hitch have tapped into this potential in a remarkable way. Their first arc, about Nu-World, was a wonderful opporunity to imagine the possibilities of building an entirely new Earth and what that might mean for humanity. Some criticised C.A.P., their omnipotent robot, as being too powerful, but against the Fantastic Four, the goal is to see what one might imagine, not be as realistic as possible.

As such, last issue looked like the "Death of the Invisible Woman" arc might be very diappointing. First, it's selling point is the putative death of a major character, which will almost certainly not stick even if it were to happen. Second, it involved a group of boring looking "New Defenders" and an attack on the Fantastic Four in order to capture Doctor Doom. Ho hum. Bad guys attack. Fighty fighty. No real stretch of the imagination is involved there.

Issue #559 brings us right back into the realms of speculative fiction. First, we have the reintroduction of Nu-World, as Reed wrestles with the possibility that the Earth may actually be dying, and Alyssa Castle reveals that Nu-World may actually be designed only for an elite to continue the species as sort of an extra-dimensional Dubai. It's wonderful to see them return to such a promising premise, not content with the somewhat cliché conclusion that too much well-meaning power leads to naive tyranny (represented, of course, by giant killer robots). Now we'll get a chance to explore Nu-World again, as Reed tries to save the planet and humanity must decide to do with its clone.

Second, the New Defenders story suddenly exploded in scope. After capturing Johnny and Reed, Johnny looks below and we have a truly marvelous two page spread as we and Johnny realise at the same time: it's Galactus! This spread shows one of the wonderful parts of Hitch's art in his book. He is not at all afraid to show scale. His concepts are so big, they constantly make the main characters look like ants. Most artists are afraid to dwarf out the main characters. Even when large structures are shown, the main characters are always in the foreground. In both this book and in the Ultimates, Hitch quite happily turns the main characters into dots in the face of something truly impressive. As such, he is the perfect artist to capture the wonder of the Fantastic Four.

I do have some concerns with the book. I wish Millar wasn't quite so eager to constantly remind us of how cynical he is. We all know that Johnny is vain, but pretending to be with leukemia patients when he's really with twin Playboy centerfolds? That's a bit much. Millar seems intent to constantly hammer the banality of celebrity, and both here and in the Ultimates, it just comes across as cynical and occasionally preachy. I often wonder why Millar wants to tell stories about characters that he doesn't seem to like very much. If he would just lay off the heavy-handed cynicism, his books would be a lot more readable and no less fun.

However, this book has a lot of promise. The "Is that Galactus?" moment is vintage Fantastic Four, and the story is picking up again. Bryan Hitch's art is absolutely beautiful, and I'm amazed it never occurred to anyone to have him draw the Fantastic Four before. He is the perfect artist, and though I don't like Millar's dialogue, Millar is a writer with exactly the right sense of the scope that the Fantastic Four should be taking. There's a lot of prelude to this issue, but it's clearly a prelude to something fantastic.

B-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I beg to disagree. The current penciller working on the Fantastic Four doesn't do them any justice.