Monday, October 1, 2007

Fantastic Four and Power Pack #4

The Power Pack is a team with a deep history in the Marvel universe, one that has been largely overlooked and treated with disdain since the cancellation of their self-titled series in the early ‘90s. They’ve enjoyed something of a revival lately, as Marvel brought them back into continuity with a self-titled mini series in 2005. Since then, they’ve appeared in a variety of crossovers with Marvel’s heavy hitters, meeting up with the X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Hulk and now the Fantastic Four (with an Iron Man mini already in production).

In last month’s issue, Dr. Doom discreetly swapped bodies with Franklin Richards, which isn’t necessarily his most diabolical plan for world domination, but one which still fits the expectations of a lighter book like this one. Fred Van Lente treats Doom beautifully in this issue, retaining every bit of his plotting, maniacal personality despite all outward appearances, which makes for a few great moments. His interactions with Franklin’s elementary school teacher and a pair of bullies are just great, as he’s stripped himself of his physical powers but refuses to back down nevertheless. The Power Pack, Franklin’s classmates, notice Richards acting strangely and choose to intervene. In retrospect, this is a real cream puff of a story, but it’s handled so effectively that I barely noticed. It’s very by-the-rules, but it acknowledges that fact and never takes itself too seriously.

Gurihiru, a Japanese duo with an extremely clean, expressive style, has been handling the artistic chores for the bulk of Power Pack’s comeback. Their uncomplicated, animation-influenced work is a great fit for the childlike, innocent flavor that their stories provide. They bring an interesting blend of Manga and Disney to the table, borrowing the best of both worlds while selectively editing out each style’s more overused indulgences. Their stuff is surprisingly simple, considering the amount of action that’s crammed into this short issue, but constantly effective. There aren’t a lot of lines on any given page, but that never limits the visuals, and the characters never lose sight of their personalities along the way.

The team’s interpretation of the Thing is unspectacular, borrowing more from the character’s lumpy, clay-like first few appearances than his more modern, rocky representation, but their work with the rest of the characters is great. They nail the motherly / scientific personality of the Invisible Woman and pull no punches when Reed or the Torch are using their powers. When the focus shifts to the Power Pack, the artists quickly display their familiarity with the characters, (they’ve illustrated the majority of the group’s recent appearances) showcasing their youthful energy through body language, restrained use of speed lines and a few dynamic poses at the right moments. This is some nice work.

Fantastic Four and Power Pack is a fun read, regardless of age. While more hardcore Marvel enthusiasts may need to curtail their expectations a bit going in, the nature of this story fits snugly alongside the history of the imprint’s first family, and even the hard-edged Doctor Doom doesn’t feel out of place alongside four kids with super powers. This is good fun, with a lighter tone and younger cast making it friendly to a younger audience but a solid plot and quality artwork appealing to more serious readers such as myself. I’d recommend you borrow this and give it a read without any preconceived notions. It’s great reading for a lazy Saturday afternoon on the couch.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

1 comment:

Kris said...

I gotta give Sumerak credit for the rebith of the Pack -- but that said, Fred Van Lente sharp dialog makes this the best of the new Pack series -- maybe the best Pack stories ever. Just a great job all around.

Not all stories have to be scary and filled with despair.