Monday, June 19, 2006

Delayed Reaction: The Fantastic Four by JMS Vol. 1

Fantastic Four By J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1 (Marvel), by J. Micahel Straczynski (obviously), Mike McKone and Andy Lanning

Why’d I wait?: I was a big fan of Straczynski’s early work on Amazing Spider-Man (with John Romita Jr.) and was actually looking forward to his run on Fantastic Four…until I learned his artist would be Mike McKone. The guy’s talented enough, but his work’s just not my cup of tea, and seems a little too representational for FF. As the most comic book-y comic book of all time, the "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" should have a more comic book-y look to it.

Why now?: Once again, let’s hear it for the The Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Well?: Now, I read this six-part story in its final, collected form as a single graphic novel, but it was originally planned, written and published as simply six issues in an ongoing, serial monthly.

Which explains why JMS’ story about Reed Richards, perhaps one of, if not the, best Reed Richard stories ever written is diluted with sub-plots featuring the other three members of the Fantastic Four. Neither of the two B plots—Sue’s battle with children’s services, who want to take their kids to a safer environment less prone to attack by Doombots, Ben Grimm suddenly becoming a millionaire and rubbing it in Johnny’s face—have anything to do with the A plot, and neither are anywhere nearly as compelling.

As for that A plot, it’s a story that Marvel writers have told over and over, but never so succinctly and powerfully: Genius inventor and explorer Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards is so busy being brilliant and revolutionizing the world on a daily basis that he often forgets to make time for his gorgeous wife and wonderful family.

As a metaphor, JMS has Reed using some sort of typical Fantastic Four doohickey that allows him to peer into the entire histories of other worlds, from beginning to end, while his own life goes on all around him.

When he gets involved in a U.S. military experiment to make an army of super-people by replicating the cosmic ray accident that created the FF, Richards meets a cosmic creature that’s disturbingly similar to him, and things get really weird and deep for Richards and this entity while the others fight off an alien invasion (which all makes sense in context, if not synopsis).

It would have made a wonderful graphic novel, were it written to be one. But because it was a story arc running through the monthly series, and because JMS felt the need to give all four characters a bit of the spotlight each month, it reads like a wonderful graphic novel fighting for attention against a rather mediocre superhero drama.

Would I travel back in time to buy it off the rack?: No. If I had access to a time machine though, I’d travel back in time and try to convince JMS to save his Reed Richards story for a Mr. Fantastic original graphic novel.

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