Fantastic Four Musings


The rumor is out there: Marvel Comics is considering shutting down the Fantastic Four comic because it don't own the movie rights to the characters.

Is this believable? Should we be seriously contemplating it?

I have no clue. But, like so many topics in the world of comics, it's certainly fun to speculate. Let's explore some angles on this:

  • Jonathan Hickman will soon be paying off his years-in-the-making Avengers storylines. He did write Fantastic Four before that. Are they part of this grand conclusion? Remember how the Superman titles were "canceled" for a month or two after "Funeral for a Friend"? Is it something like that?

    Given the lengths Marvel marketing goes these days, I wouldn't put any of it past them.

  • Was the death of Wolverine timed out to be a distraction from the removal of the Fantastic Four from the Marvel landscape? Yes, I can do conspiracy theories, too!
  • The numbers don't add up. Take the worst of the movies based on a Marvel character. Millions of people saw that movie. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people, maybe around 100K at best, read the comics. A minuscule percentage of those are readers who aren't already regular comics readers. Marvel should be hoping for any attention getting paid to the F4 comics for any reason. Even if it's another studio making the movie money, any bump in sales on comics that sell at industry low levels should be a good thing. Removing the team at this point would be serious nose cutting to spite the face territory.
  • Is this merely a sign of things to come? Probably not, but it's always fun to revisit the Marvel bankruptcy days, when one of the theories was that Marvel doesn't need to publish new comics anymore. They have 50+ years worth of comics in the vaults. Why would they ever need to publish a new one again? Is The Fantastic Four the first to test that theory? (Give this one the longest possible odds, but the idea did come to mind, so I'm sharing it.)
  • I'm Completely Making Stuff Up Now: Remember how some comics were Direct Market only titles in the 1980s? As the new outlet for comics began to grow, Marvel and DC would create books that would only sell to the regular comics fans. They knew they wouldn't sell to a general audience at the newsstand, so they only sold them through the DM. It cut back on their returns, made books profitable with lower print runs, and gave the retailers in the new distribution scheme an advantage.

    Will Fantastic Four come back as a digital comics-only series?

    With digital, it seems like we have the inverse of the origins of the Direct Market. The digital marketplace is far wider and the Direct Market is far more insular. The digital market is the place to put books that appeal to a more general audience, and that aren't niche or superhero enough to thrive in just the Direct Market. The Fantastic Four wouldn't fit in that role, but there's still a lot of experimentation to be done with digital comics. Could this be one of those experimentations?

  • No matter what happens, I'm secure in the knowledge that those three hardcovers collecting the Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo run on "Fantastic Four" are secure on my bookshelf and can't be taken away, no matter who owns the movie rights. Anything after that is gravy.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #309: "Styx and Stone"

Mary Jane Watson-Parker fights back against Jonathan Caesar, as Spider-Man continues to hit dead ends in his frantic search for her.

I complained last issue that Mary Jane comes off as a weak victim. With this issue, though, she turns into Jack Bauer by comparison. I'm not sure how believable the sudden ambition is or how dramatic it is and how stupid the bad guys suddenly become to allow it all to happen, but Mary Jane does fight her way free this issue. Then she takes a gun off one of the guards, runs into Central Park, and saves Spider-Man by scaring off two superpowered bad guys with some bad shooting.

The whole issue feels a bit like a high-budget Lifetime movie that way.

It's a bit of a stretch, really. But we can go back to her escape to lay the groundwork for such silliness: Mary Jane throws a pitcher of ice at Caesar and then, an unknown amount of time later, tries to electrocute him when he steps into the puddle those ice cubes made. When that doesn't work, she just knocks him upside the head with a lamp base and knocks him out cold. She takes out two armed goons with the electric trick, though, because they wore leather-soled shoes, not rubber. Dumb luck or fierce determination? You make the call.

The rest of the issue features Peter Parker/Spider-Man brooding and feeling lost. After an easy fight with a Grade-D villain, he realizes he's run out of people to question. If Styx and Stone hadn't attacked him -- on Caesar's payroll -- then he might have had a very boring issue. Instead, we get a good fireworks show of superpowers and Spider-Man nearly loses.

McFarlane gets to show off in these pages, of course. Can't go wrong with Spider-Man swinging through the air, contorting himself to dodge the bullets. McFarlane specializes in that kind of movement, along with some strong separations between foreground and background to keep the three-dimensional look going. The superheroics play to his strengths: People in costume doing crazy things work. People standing around and talking inevitably look stiff and posed, with a few artistic tricks used repeatedly.

David Michelinie also throws in a couple of pages of Spider-Man thinking to himself, giving McFarlane the chance to draw more great images of Spider-Man in the city. This month, instead of being perched atop a recognizable city landmark or swinging between the concrete canyons, he's pulling a Batman and sitting on his haunches next to some gargoyles high above the city. The art is nice enough to distract you from the fact that it's just a couple of pages of Spider-Man brooding.

The transfer to this Omnibus from the original newsprint edition is the worst of all the issues to date. It feels very lightweight and dull. Someone forgot to ramp up the contrast on the black, resulting in lots of thin lines looking too thin. I have no doubt that the original art looks more detailed than what showed up on the printed page 25 years ago, but the version in this Omnibus goes too far. The lines hold no weight. Areas where smaller black lines would clump together and create slightly thicker and darker areas are gone, replaced with all thee itty bitty lines that a perfect reproduction would give the art.

Here's a good example of the differences in question. Here you can see the art from the Omnibus on the left, the original comic in the middle, and a scan of the original art on the right. The Omnibus looks too light, the newsprint version looks muddied, and the original art looks right.

Here's another, more drastic example. Take a look at what happens to the lamp Mary Jane drops in that first panel. The loss of detail in the Omnibus is dramatic. You can't even tell what it is. See the full original art here, where Mary Jane's hair in the upper right looks drastically different in stark black and white.

But this book was drawn for newsprint. I have to think McFarlane knew to draw in a certain style to get specific results once the book hit print. This reprint issue, though, has more to do with the process used to recreate the art. There are too many lines that seem to fade out of existence in places. This Omnibus reprint is not a time-consuming recreation of the files and an extensive archival project. It's an attempt to get the material out in a timely and budget-conscious manner. An Artist's Edition, it is not.

Some of the color corrections feel overzealous, too. Some small minor pieces are colored wrong, like wisps of Mary Jane's hair in front of her face not being colored at all, or little chunks of debris being colored in the same shade as the backgrounds. A few of the solid colors used to fill in the sky turn garish. And the hidden Felix in this issue is lost in a solid green field where once there was a variety of tones.

That last part is a real shame, because I jumped when reading the original issue when I saw Felix staring out at me from inside the vegetation. In the Omnibus, you would never see him unless you knew where to look for him.

It's a shame that the reprint didn't fare better in this case, because it's one of McFarlane's more consistently strong issues, in everything from his superhero skills to his quieter personal moments. Thankfully, his art continued to grow and we're far from the best of it even yet.

Next month: Shrike. Who? It's a guy in a black and gray costume with a long flowing cape. Not Batman. But a cool design, anyway.


I'm slightly torn on this KickStarter campaign for a book named "Augie and The Green Knight." The lead character is a girl named Augie, and Boulet pronounces the name wrong. I guess I should chalk up the latter to the French accent, and remind myself that August on "Third Rock from the Sun" was a girl, too. Then, be very happy that they didn't spell it with two "G"s the way my otherwise favorite comic, "Thief of Thieves," does.

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