Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Spider-Man/Fantastic Four

This four-issue, 2010 miniseries looks at Spidey’s relationship with Marvel’s First Family as it has evolved through the years, with each issue checking in at various points in the two franchise’s history and where they intersected, hanging untold stories in between told stories and forming an overall narrative goosed along by a time-traveling villain’s plot.

It bears a great deal of similarity to the 2005 series Spider-Man/Human Torch, which has the exact same remit, albeit that series focuses in on Spidey’s relationship with the Torch, with the rest of the FF merely playing supporting roles. The comic it bears the most resemblance to, however, is 2009’s X-Men/Spider-Man, by the same creative team of Christos Gage and Mario Alberti. The FF-focused sequel even used the same cover design as the X-Men mini when published serially.
The book opens “Years Ago,” less than a month after Dr. Doom fought Daredevil and the FF in their headquarters, which probably puts it in context to those who know FF history very, very well (a glance at the first page's worth of FF covers on comics.org seems to indicate it must be a reference to this 1965 issue). Doom is secretly visiting the campus of Empire State University to help negotiate peace treaties among his neighboring European countries, and he has insisted the FF provide security for him.

Why? It’s all a ruse to that he can switch bodies with the Human Torch. This being ESU though, Spidey shows up and, randomly but welcomely, Namor and the Atlantean army arrive to avenge themselves upon Dr. Doom.

On the last page, a mysterious villain in a green hood and cape who appears to be Doom (Spoiler: It isn’t!) arrives on the scene, to plot out loud. This villain then appears breifly in each of the following issues doing…stuff, until he reveals himself and his plot in the fourth issue, set in modern times, for a climactic battle.

In the next issue, it’s already the 1980s, and Spidey turns to Reed for help with his living black costume, which possesses Sue and Reed before ultimately being defeated. And then it’s the 90s, maybe, when there was a She-Thing and Spidey, Wolverine, The Hulk and Ghost Rider were the Fantastic Four for a little bit, and a Skrull gets fought, and Mole Man and the First Issue Monster hanging around too.

And then we get to the big villain reveal and it’s…easy enough to understand, even though I’ve never heard of the guy. He makes sense in the context of the overall story, which is the idea of the Fantastic Four as a family (hardly novel, I know) and whether or not Spider-Man fits into it, and how important family is to keep super-powered loners from becoming supervillains.

Gage’s writing is sharp and funny, and it no doubt helps that he’s dealing with some of the best-defined characters with the most unique voices in superhero comics—you have to try awfully hard to get, say, The Thing or Doctor Doom or Namor wrong, to have them say things that don’t sound like the characters themselves are writing their own dialogue (It can be done though! I’ve seen Brian Michael Bendis do it, for one!).

His invention of stories between other stories seems to work just fine, too . I haven’t read, let’s see, any of the stories these ones are built on top of, but they definitely felt as if they were part of a bigger narrative, without alienating me or punishing me for not having read all of the comics Gage has read.

I enjoyed Alberti’s artwork much less. He’s a strong artist, and one with a very individual, very present art style, but not one that necessarily fits with his subject matter. He’s certainly not an artist who does a Silver Age Marvel pastiche well, for example, and makes no attempts to do anything cute light calibrate his style to match the look of the various decades being depicted (Oddly enough, none of the characters seem to age at all either, but then perhaps that is due to the fact that Marvel’s timeline is constantly compressed).

He draws a pretty cool Venom-possessed Mr. Fantastic, all elongated and bendy, and he does fine work on a huge, strong and sexy She-Hulk and the finely detailed armor of Doom and…the other guy, but the guys with their name on the marquee? They don’t quite look like themselves, and perhaps it’s simply that he didn’t draw the series like I would have liked to have seen him draw the series, but it would have been nice if the art reflected the constantly changing settings in time and relative history in the same way that Gage’s writing did.

It’s certainly not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, of course, but it’s not the first or second one I’d recommend to anyone who wants to read a trade paperback featuring Spider-Man teaming up with the FF.

Because it would simply be monstrous for Marvel to charge $15 for an 88-page comic, this trade also includes two issues worth of a "classic" Spidey/FF team-up from 1980 written by Bill Mantlo, with Mike Zeck and Jim Mooney drawing the half that was published in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man and the half that ran in FF by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott. These mainly serve to demonstrate how off-model Alberti's versions of the characters are (not that Marvel or DC even attempt to have artists stay on-model anymore when it comes to character design), and how badly comic book coloring has devolved; the back-matter is so bright you can read it in the dark, while the 2010 storyline that fills the bulk of the book is so dark I got seasonal affective disorder while reading it.

1 comment:

Akilles said...

I thought that I might wanna buy this but didn`t, given the page count. after reading your rev, I might ask my local library if they could buy it, so I could loan it, though.

Also,you forgot something from the end of the fifth paragraph.