Monday, October 15, 2007

Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four #29

As the most accessible book in the Fantastic Four line, F4 Adventures focuses on out-of-continuity stories of the team, generally of a historical perspective. In this issue, for instance, Steve Niles tells us about an early confrontation between the team, the Hulk and General “Thunderbolt” Ross. There’s no need for an elaborate back-story, since the characters are already familiar to so many potential readers, so the writer can focus less on wordy explanations and more on delivering a simple, exciting tale.

Niles has a firm grasp of the lighter moments the four frequently share. Ben Grimm is distracted mid-sentence by a nearby dishful of candy. Sue warns the team to avert their eyes while Reed is “doing the eye thing,” presumably bugging his eyeballs out to inspect a bit of hardware in greater detail. It’s the little things that make his story such an entertaining throwback of a read, that give the reader a sense of familiarity and association with these heroes.

I’m not sure how long the Thing’s word balloons have been treated with jagged edges or if this is a recent development, but it’s really distracting and unnecessary here. I was constantly mistaking his lines for thought balloons throughout this issue, which in turn took me out of the story while I tried to figure out which dialogues were internal and which were Ben’s. The cardinal rule of a good letterer is to play their role nearly invisibly, so thumbs down to Nate Piekos for breaking that law here.

Fortunately, Leonard Kirk’s artwork generally atones for most of the letterer’s sins. His style is subdued and legible at some moments, dynamic and explosive at others, depending on the mood chosen by the storytelling. While he occasionally gets a bit too playful for his own good, (how much time can Reed possibly save by stretching his neck out forty feet in front of the Fantasti-car, greeting a guard at the gate before the team arrives?) these indulgences are par for the course as far as the Fantastic Four is concerned. I’m not crazy about his rendition of the Thing, who comes off a bit too gorilla-like for my taste, but he’s at least got the right texture and the rest of the team looks great.

Kirk is at his best during a fast-paced action segment, as evidenced by his illustrations of the team diffusing a skyscraper fire in this issue’s opening pages. As a reader, I can sense the urgency of the moment through his light, shadow-focused linework in these situations. He doesn’t weigh things down with a bevy of unnecessary details – he just delivers the pertinent information, fills the panel with motion (usually Johnny’s fire-tail while he’s in flight) and lets the characters do the rest of the talking. There’s a lot about his style that reminds me of Andy and Adam Kubert, particularly the simple, energetic way he’ll render characters at a distance. The brothers are masters at delivering a signature pose or tiny bit of body language in this kind of small, afterthought of a panel, and he follows their lead perfectly in that regard. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover he’s a graduate of their dad’s school.

There’s not a lot of weight to this issue, but that’s all right because they can’t all be multi-issue epics. There’s a time for giant events and it’s not every month – that’s something that a lot of books have lost sight of lately, and something that Marvel Adventures: F4 only shines a brighter light upon. Not all that long ago, this kind of a short, simple, entertaining read was the norm. Today it’s the exception, and I’m not sure if I’m all that happy about the situation. That’s not the fault of this book, though, as it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a no-strings-attached joyride through a simple chapter of the Marvel story. I was pleasantly surprised by Leonard Kirk’s artwork, found Steve Niles’s story entertaining, and closed the issue with a smile on my face. It gets a bit hokey at times and the tone of the tale won’t be for everyone, so I’m recommending you borrow this issue and see if it’s down your alley.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.25

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