FX2: The Lost LandWritten by Wayne Osborne; Illustrated by Uko SmithIDW; $19.99
In FX2, Wayne Osborne takes analogues to various superheroes and other adventurous characters and archetypes and then mashes them into a story so packed that it may just include the kitchen sink as well. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, but I suspect that readers will have mixed feelings about it. I certainly waffled about it a few times.
If we re-replace the FX characters with the ones they're standing in for, the story's about Green Lantern and Spider-Man's attempt to rescue a bunch of high school kids from the Mole Man. The villain has appeared from the ground in the middle of a football game and taken his captives back into the Earth. Among the kidnap victims is Mary Jane Watson, who's transformed by Tyrannus into the Hulk (she becomes too dumb and uses the word "smash" too much to be a She-Hulk analogue).
The characters don't stay in the caves forever though. When the Hulk disappears, the heroes follow her to the Savage Land where they meet up with Ka-Zar and learn the horrifying truth about what the bad guys are really up to. There's far more at stake than the lives of a few kids.
Of course, Osborne puts his own twist on these characters. Arachnoid is actually a Spider-Man/Iron Man hybrid who gets his spider-like powers from a metal suit. He's not a student, but he does teach science at the place where Tom Talbot (aka FX , our Green Lantern stand-in) goes to school with his friends Vicki and Jack. I'm not sure exactly how Tom's powers work (I'm guessing that's revealed in the first FX collection, which I haven't read), but the ultimate effect is that he can create anything he wants out of what looks like some kind of hard light. Vicki has power of her own: the ability to read minds (an X-Men reference?) and a helpful aid in the form of a ghostly knight (maybe a Black Knight/Haunted Tank/Firestorm combo?). Jack has no superpower, but is a skilled fighter (Robin?).
Obviously, the further Osborne deviates from the templates he's using, the more difficult it becomes to tell who represents whom. But he's not trying to be sneaky or even subtle about his analogues. This is apparent from the very first scene in which Arachnoid tries to stop Minx (Black Cat) from robbing a museum, but is mistaken by the guards as her accomplice. The editor (named Simmons) of The Daily Reveille gets a lot of mileage out of this the next morning with the headline, "Arachnoid: Threat of Menace?!?"
Later, in the Lost Land, John (Ka-Zar) uses phrases like "Kree-gah" and "Bundilo" that will be familiar to Tarzan fans.
Because Osborne's so obvious with his swipes, I ultimately decided to excuse them. He's having fun; throwing all of these childhood inspirations and ideas into a big pot and stirring them together to see what comes out. And he is - in fact - able to produce something that's more than just the sum of its various parts. Tom and his friends are believable, likable characters who have a great adventure to the center of the Earth where they encounter mad scientists, lost cities, time travel, Nazis, samurai, and pterodactyl-riding cowboys.
It's also fantastically illustrated by Uko Smith, whose work somehow marries the fascinating geometry of Larry Stroman with the more conventional attractiveness of someone like Adam Hughes. The combination is unique, which further allows The Lost Land to stand on its own and differentiate itself from its characters' influences. And that's vitally important.
Because even though I was able to settle back and enjoy characters like Arachnoid, The Lost Land works best the further it gets from Marvel and DC. Once you've combined Mary Jane Watson and the Hulk, for example, the result isn't really Mary Jane Hulk anymore. It's its own thing. And because it's a giant, purple cheerleader with a proclivity for smashing, it's pretty awesome. As The Lost Land progresses, it does more and more of that. So that by the end, it's chock full of its own awesomeness as well as the borrowed kind.