Monday, August 20, 2007

Fantastic Five #4

Residing in MC2, a future-based counterpart to the regular Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Five consists of the same four faces you’ve come to know and love, plus Franklin Richards, Reed and Sue’s all-grown-up-now baby boy. In issue three, Dr. Doom escaped from an imprisonment by the Sub-Mariner, who’d held him for over a decade, regained the Power Cosmic, spread the might amongst his army of robotic duplicates, and set out to claim the world as his own. This issue: repercussions!

Since the story is set in an alternate future, the gloves are really off as far as major storyline direction goes. If writer Tom DeFalco wants to kill off Dr. Doom or the entire population of New York City, there’s nothing that says he can’t, at least from a continuity standpoint. That opens up a tremendous amount of storytelling possibilities, which come in handy during Doom’s heavy-duty display of power that opens the issue. His aim is global domination, and he makes more of an impact on that front in just a few panels than he’s ever managed to in the main F4 title.

But, while it’s a lot of fun to see Doom kicking so much ass and making a joke out of our world leaders, the plot itself is fairly stagnant. The great majority of DeFalco’s work came before and during his run as Editor-in-Chief in the mid ‘80s and early ‘90s, and his style doesn’t seem to have changed since those days. His presentation of the team, of Doom, of the world powers, of the public in general… it’s all very dated, with cheesy dialog, two-dimensional storyline development and no shades of grey. You’ve got the good guys, squeaky clean and glisteningly honest, the bad guys, with a single nefarious goal and a god complex, and the public, blissfully unaware and easily confused. If a character doesn’t fit into one of those molds, (s)he’s not going to have a place in one of these stories.

For a Fantastic family title, there’s a notable lack of adventuring, science fiction and teamwork. The dual narratives of this issue take place in Doom’s palace and a sealed ship floating aimlessly through space, respectively – neither very interesting settings. The presence of the all-powerful Power Cosmic makes any potential scientific contributions worthless, and Franklin Richards devises a questionable plan of his own midway through the issue, putting it into action without consulting nor asking for the aid of his companions. It’s a fake F4 story, one that uses many of the same characters but none of the familiar themes.

Ron Lim’s art is similarly dated, which actually makes the two a good match for one another. His work is simple, neatly underdetailed, but without much of a personality. In a way, he reminds me of Dan Jurgens during his run as both artist and writer for Superman. Both artists’ work is disturbingly clean-cut, technically correct but never overly interesting. Even when a Doom Bot is single-handedly going to war with the entire roster of Avengers, I was never really excited by the moment. It’s there, it tells the story adequately, but it doesn’t stand out.

If you’re a big fan of the more run-of-the-mill superhero books of decades past, this might be right up your alley. It’s quite shallow, which makes it light reading at best, and does nothing particularly inventive with the all-star cast. The artwork treads water for twenty-two pages, the dialog is uncomfortable and the plot strays from the traditional Fantastic Four direction. Skip this if you aren’t a balls-to-the-wall Marvel completist extraordinaire.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

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