Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fantastic Wannabes

During the time the Fantastic Four comic was preparing to enter a strange and perplexing cycle of reboots and numbering shifts, we began seeing a few other titles assume the mantle of the FF and borrow the concept of the famous foursome to launch their own spin-off series--a move which probably served to call attention to the pervasive feeling that the regular FF title was losing the unique spark that had made the team resonate with its readership. We'd already seen instances of occasional lineup changes which shook things up a bit--and there was even an informal foursome of replacement FF members who stepped in while the real McCoys were out of action, a grouping that had me wondering what writer Walt Simonson and editor Ralph Macchio had been smoking the night before.

But it was quite another matter to launch a different title and bank on another foursome to earn its own following while the future of the original title seemed so uncertain. The ones that happen to come to mind happen to come to four in all (though feel free to chime in if you recall others), each taking its cue from the original FF in some capacity but naturally making an honest effort to stand on their own merits. The following profiles should give you a good rundown on them.

Fantastic Force (1994)
Members: Psi-Lord, Huntara, Vibraxas, Devlor

Following the conclusion of the Dark Raider story, the Fantastic Four basically splits up to the extent that there's really no team to speak of. Reed Richards is missing and presumed dead; Sue Richards believes otherwise and leaves to search for him; and Johnny Storm, preoccupied with his own mortality, angrily exits the team to chart his own course. Ben Grimm, presumably, will mind the store (though, in his boredom, let's hope he sticks to all-night poker games with his buds and stays clear of that time machine).

Psi-Lord (the result of Franklin Richards being abducted to the future as a child and returning to his own time as a young man), with the assistance of the Black Panther, motivates Huntara (his aunt from the future), Vibraxas (the Panther's charge whom he feels needs training), and the Inhuman named Devlor to take up where the FF left off and continue their legacy.

Fantastic Force had a surprising run of eighteen issues, disbanding after Reed was found alive and Franklin thereafter restored to childhood. The group reformed briefly under the Panther in order to battle constructs of Onslaught.

Fantastic Five (1999)

The FF of the MarvelComics2 universe sees the return of Psi-Lord to the group, this time having aged at a natural rate--while Big Brain will probably have you thinking of Reed's disembodied brain from a late 1977 What If tale. Yet in this formation it's the Torch who leads the team, thanks to a mysterious incident from the past where the FF lost both Reed and Sue, and the only link to Reed is a hovering invention that appears to hold his mind.

But the mystery deepens at the conclusion of the first issue, when the metal form of Big Brain is destroyed and it's revealed that it was empty and controlled remotely--by a seemingly alive Mr. Fantastic.

Fantastic Five ran for--you guessed it--only five issues.

But eight years later...

Fantastic Five (2007)
Members: Ms. Fantastic, Human Torch, Thing, Kristoff, Psi-Lord

The mystery of their disappearance solved in the prior series, Reed and Sue are also members of the group and apparently none the worse for wear, while the super-powered children of the Thing and the Torch train to become additional members.

Yet they won't get the chance to debate a new number for their uniforms, if Doctor Doom has anything to say about it. Held prisoner by the Sub-Mariner for over a decade, Doom escapes with a vengeance and regains the cosmic power he once stole from the Silver Surfer, wasting no time in beginning a vicious attack on the entire group in a power play that will see him realize his goal of conquering the world.

It's rather startling artwork by penciler Ron Lim, whose style has become very different and noticeably more dynamic in the fifteen-plus years since his work on the Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War series. Writer Tom DeFalco also gives us an impeccable Doom, every bit the FF foe we remember.

Another five-issue run for the book, though this time the company has the good sense to bill it as a limited series.

Fantastic Force (2009)
Members: The Hooded Man, Lightwave, Banner Jr., Alex Ultron, Natalie X, Psionics

Dusting off the 1994 name, the New Defenders from the future travel back with the refugees of a dying Earth to find haven on the engineered planet of Nu-World, thanks to the current-day Fantastic Four.

Nu-World isn't quite the paradise that was promised--its co-creator, Ted Castle, teaming up with the insane Earth spirit Gaea and no less than Ego the Living Planet to take revenge on the fleeing population.

Only four issues for the Force (though its first issue promises five), another limited series designation that was probably a good idea. (For what it's worth, I really liked their logo update.)


This rates its own review, don't you think? Come on, you're begging for it!


Unknown said...

all these 'efforts' had one thing in common: CRAP ART with NO effort. UNLIKE the FF drawn by Kirby, then Big John, then Byrne. Which is why this crap failed: the artless art matched it's lack of an idea, presented by the zombified form of the House of Ideas. Still better than any sewage helmed by Shooter, though. Then again, that ain't hard.

Anonymous said...

CF, following on from yesterday's topic - you don't need to go into a comics shop to find out if the FF still exist. Just google Marvel NOW 2016 and you can find a full list of all Marvel's current titles. I did that recently and discovered a book called "The Unworthy Thor" which sounded intriguing so I downloaded #1-5 (as a graphic novel). It was rather good I must say. I'm now waiting for June 21st so I can download the latest volume of Guardians Of The Galaxy (the Guardians are marooned on Earth after the events of Civil War 2 - gosh, I'm wondering if they'll meet Dr. Doom as it's obligatory for everyone in the Marvel universe to meet Dr. Doom at some stage).

Comicsfan said...

Kitty, I'd have to disagree with you in one respect. While I'd certainly share your opinion that the art in Marvel's current line of books isn't in the same league with that of the artists you mention, and could stand to convey more realism, it's not difficult for me to overlook its failings if (1) both writer and artist are on the same page, as it were, in the story's pacing and direction, and (2) the narrative and characters are conveyed to the extent that they reflect an understanding of those characters and their rich history, as opposed to simple familiarity. A few of the new stories I've sampled lately actually do a fair job of treating their readers less like consumers and more like those who knew these characters back in the day, which, frankly, I wasn't expecting. I'm not going to be shouting "Make Mine Marvel!" again anytime soon--but there is an effort being made here by genuine creative talent to publish decent stories, rather than churning out consumable product where only the most basic elements of the medium are plugged in. That said, there's more than enough of the latter to make it necessary to do some considerable digging to find the gems.

Colin, thanks for that reference. I scanned down the list to the "F" section and, where I'd expect to find the FF, instead found only a single title--Foolkiller. It seems like a huge oversight at first, until it sinks in that it's really not--when you realize that, well, that's the way it is now.

Justin said...

Thanks for this! I'd never heard of any of these...but I'll be the weirdo here and admit that your discussion of the 1999 Fantastic Five piqued my interest. I'd definitely be willing to read a few issues and see how things progressed.

Side note: The Big Brain robot kind of reminded me of that 1960s FF cartoon series that featured a robot in place of one of the classic characters (Human Torch, was it?).

Anonymous said...

As acting Treasurer and President of the Goom Appreciation Society, I'm appalled and embarrassed that I missed an appearance of Googam. I'm tempted to turn in my ceremonial hat and badge out of shame.
You gotta love that kid, though, he's a chip off the old block. He's ready to conquer humanity even if he's in diapers.


Comicsfan said...

I believe you're thinking of this little guy, Justin!

M.P., I flipped through a few pages of that mag, and Googam definitely brings the attitude.

Unknown said...

Comicsfan, agreed in all the contexts you presented. Howvever, as an ex freelancer artist, I as you to consider that the aesthetic, aside from and and on top of what you rightly mentioned, is part-and-parcel of the jobs of pencillers/inkers, despite deadlines, despite rapport w/the writer[s]. and for most of the art in this post, 'failure'. But, for most readers (versus collectors) you are 100% correct. :)

Jared said...

There are many reasons why the Fantastic Four have not worked in the modern age. The biggest problem is a lack of suspense. The X-Men will not kill off Storm and the Avengers won't kill off Iron Man. But the back of their rosters usually have less important characters who the danger seems much more real for. Has there ever been a time when you really felt one of the FF was going to be killed?

I think the Fantastic Four are more historically significant than truly popular. Marvel could say tomorrow we are relaunching FF. The first two issues would sell great. Then no one would care. It isn't just Marvel vs. Fox (partly is). The characters have not aged well, and the people who remember their best days probably don't buy comics anymore.

Comicsfan said...

...the Fantastic Four are more historically significant than truly popular.

Jared, I think you've bottom-lined it very well. I'd probably only add that their classic stories (let's say '60s-'80s) haven't lost their popularity to any great degree--unlike their more contemporary tales, which often seem dead on arrival.