Monday, July 18, 2016

The Life Fantastic

A fun and lightly entertaining Fantastic Four one-shot published in 2006 may also appeal to those of you who enjoy seeing more contemporary stories give a nod to the classic tales which laid their groundwork and stood the test of time. In this case, the new story marks the fortieth anniversary of the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, which was given its day in Fantastic Four Annual #3 and forty years later receives an informal commemorative issue that centers on the happy couple--er, that is to say, happy couples. The meaning behind that slip of the tongue becomes clear about a quarter of the way into the story--and I must say that, despite the occasional liberties the story by Karl Kesel and Drew Johnson takes at times with the history it seeks to play on, the method employed to touch on those memorable events is cleverly executed and all in good fun.

There are two lead-ins, however, which draw in the nostalgic reader right from the start. The first, of course, is the issue's familiar cover image, a scene which caps the hectic day leading up the actual wedding ceremony--and part of that image is arguably more iconic than the embrace of Reed and Sue after vows are exchanged.

Yes, you probably noticed right away--a tip of the top hat to the famous cameo of the writer and artist of the original story, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, respectively, who are formally attired but sternly denied entry by Nick Fury because they've apparently misplaced their invitations.

Without the pair pictured at the door on the issue's cover, I might have opted to pass this issue by--but the scene ends the original story (and the occasion) beautifully, and its inclusion on the cover painting above by Gene Ha caught my eye immediately and had me thinking that the story might have other nice touches to offer. In bits and pieces, yes, perhaps it does--but mostly they take the form of memories which offer new information on different points in time where Reed and Sue are concerned, such as the "sweetheart tree" at State University where Reed made his feelings known to Sue. In the revised version, the scene ends with Reed popping the question (complete with engagement ring) right then and there, something that happens off-panel in the original story but leads to the engagement announcement in the next issue.

The second lead-in is perfectly positioned in the story's opening pages, a scene which to my knowledge hasn't been examined elsewhere--the four about to board their rocket ship, suiting up in the base complex. Regrettably, the scene is structured to set the stage for the main story that follows in this issue, which is full of fond reflection and optimism--while in the original story, we're led to believe that the mood before liftoff was rather grim and determined. Here, the emphasis shifts quickly to Reed and Sue, which fits well enough--but the two are rather carefree under the circumstances and very much out of character, to say nothing of downright flirtatious. Where are the people who were so single-minded about their reason for going on this mission, so determined to risk flying a rocket that hadn't been sufficiently shielded against deadly radiation? By the collective mood we see on display here, you'd think they lifted off into space every day.

Segueing nicely to the main story, we find Reed and Sue about to escape for an evening out at Tavern On The Green. The light touches of Kesel continue as they make arrangements with the Inhumans to babysit their children, including two others who could do with some supervision.

This isn't really the type of story which invites scrutiny, though it could be mentioned that Ben and Johnny have doubtless watched the kids many times without Reed or Sue batting an eye at it. And why the mask for Medusa? Is she intending to pull a bank job while no one is looking?

As for Reed and Sue, they compare notes and discover that neither of them issued an invitation to the other for the evening--and upon investigating, they find themselves part of a *ahem* fantastic but nevertheless delightful gathering.

And from here, we spend much of the issue mingling along with Reed and Sue, moving from one mixed grouping to another and mostly following a theme of putting their relationship on a pedestal as one that was meant to be and, in the end, extremely rewarding. It's very light reading, for the most part, though there are unavoidable references to hurdles faced along the way.

Eventually, the conversation circles back to the couple's wedding, and the mood shifts immediately back to one of celebration and the promise of adventure for every Reed/Sue pairing present.

Kesel injects another "lost scene" of FF lore into this story by following up the entrance of the newlyweds and answering the question of why their honeymoon was never covered in the pages of the regular mag. The short answer might be that there are times when even a comics couple deserves a little privacy, bub--however, in the spirit of this story and the remarkable adventure and wonder experienced by the couple, Kesel decides to make their honeymoon no exception.

(Yes, I was thinking the same thing: I hope Uatu has a swimming pool and maybe some tennis courts in those ruins somewhere.)

Kesel adjusts the original stories on this point, since it's already on record that the couple never took a honeymoon, directly from the altar or otherwise. Again, it's only a minor quibble in a story of this nature.

Finally, it's the grandparent version of Reed and Sue that closes out the issue, as it becomes clear that it was they who arranged for this reunion as an anniversary celebration--one that a final toast will assure that none of the participants remember.

In the last few pages, it's evident that the adventure will continue, as the grandparents head off to who knows where--a snapshot of "our" Reed and Sue, taken at Tavern On The Green, resting on a table as a memento of their date and a reminder of the life they've lived. By the way, if you were wondering about that server... he, too, was a product of the elder Richards' orchestration of the reunion--a mechanized recorder who, by making the rounds with champagne, was able to wander unobtrusively and record all of the different chats as a living "scrapbook" of the evening.

After finishing the story, I found myself thinking how amazing it would be to attend such a gathering of my own selves. How cool would it be to encounter versions of yourself from different points in your lifetime while in, say, your forties--a one-time-only event that you could explore to the fullest because you would have no memory of it afterward? And to extend the fascination with such a concept, imagine yourself now wondering if such a gathering could have already happened.


Anonymous said...

But what if you were in your forties at a gathering of all your different selves and discovered to your horror that you were the oldest one there - in other words, there were no more versions of you ahead !!

Comicsfan said...

I suppose I'd try to be optimistic about it, Colin, and assume that version of myself was just being fashionably late! ;)