LOOKING TOWARDS THE WEST COAST
Two big scheduling updates for the weekend from Friday's column:
1. Gail Simone will not be able to attend the Bongo Panel due to a scheduling conflict. She will, instead, be at a Marvel X-Men panel in that same time period, Thursday at 4:30. If you were planning on cheering her on at the Bongo panel, just move over to the other room and cheer her on from there. DEADPOOL's been a lot of fun these past few months, and she deserves accolades for that.
2. The Beat The Geeks trivia competition is now a must-see for me. I've been informed from my sources "on the inside," as it were, that the Geeks themselves will be there. The lead Geek for the trivia team is the TV Comic Book Geek. (You may know him best as the guy who answered in a recent episode that Dolph Lundgren played Captain America [sic].) It now looks like some of the other Geeks might be sitting front row center to cheer him on.
FANTASTIC FOUR #60
On August 28th, Marvel releases its latest creative team revamp, as Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo team up for FANTASTIC FOUR. The title's 60th issue is a special promotion with a cover price of a mere nine cents. Marvel was kind enough to pass along a black and white photocopy, though, so I have the chance to review it for you now.
It's a pretty cool book. I've never been a huge FANTASTIC FOUR fan, to tell you the truth. In many ways, it can embody the worst of science fiction, in getting so wrapped up in the pseudoscience that it forgets the characters, or makes terrible clichés out of them to advance the far out plot. Often, when comic book writers try to reach out for new and more wild ideals, the whole things comes out looking like the results of an L.S.D. trip. It's not my thing. (Grant Morrison fans seem to love it, though. ;-)
It's the characters that I'm more interested in, and Mark Waid focuses on them in his first issue. By the time you've read through the 22 pages of story the book has to offer, you'll have a pretty good idea who each of the characters are, and what they're relationships to each other are. Waid even goes so far as to add a new dimension to Reed Richards' character in this issue. It's done in a way you might not expect.
Marvel Comics seems to rely on two major themes today. The first is the revealing of the secret identity to the world. The second is the impact of the superhero on the general population, especially where it concerns celebrity and power. FANTASTIC FOUR falls into the latter camp. In FANTASTIC FOUR #60, Reed Richards brings in a firm to consult on his family's press relations. Why and to what end? Therein lies the mystery and a surprising, but logical, conclusion. Waid doesn't cheat here.
The lucky guy from the relations firm who gets to spend a week with the team to assess their full potential is named Schertzer. We learn all about the team through him, which is a bit disappointing. I'm not a fan of the writing technique where a third party gets involved to act as the eyes and ears for new readers. (For example: A new mutant shows up at the door of Professor Xavier's School for the Gifted. Conveniently, she becomes the narrator for the tale, thus allowing the writer to reintroduce everything and everyone.)
They're not super-heroes. They're adventurers. They're a family more than a team. I've never seen it better supported than in this issue
The idea of using that person to avoid some exposition is clichéd by now, but there's a reason it's so commonplace: It can be made to work. Waid works it well with Schertzer, who is hilarious in his bumbling and fear of everything alien to him about the Baxter Building. (I think it's the Baxter Building. Don't quote me on that. Like I said, I'm not a regular F4 fan.) Through him, we have a nice and easy introduction to the dynamics of the F4 family and what their mission is. They're not super-heroes. They're adventurers. They're a family more than a team. I've never seen it better supported than in this issue that will be used to introduce (hopefully) a whole new generation of readers to THE FANTASTIC FOUR.
The only dialogue annoyance in the issue, really, is Yet Another Howard Stern reference in the issue. Will Marvel ever get its lips off that cretin's butt? I wonder, sometimes.
Mike Wieringo's art is as clear and as inviting as ever. There's nothing to complain about here. He's got a nice interpretation of all the characters, including the wild card Thing. The Thing is the one who's most subject to artistic interpretation. Some artists put his rocky exterior in interesting patterns. Others focus on rocky spikes sticking out in patterns to make him look more interesting. The head is up for interpretation, where some artists make it more human and others more alien. Wieringo keeps him simple and straightforward. He's got that loveable mug we want to see, and a body that's simply drawn and effective.
If ever there was a man made to contribute to this book in some way, it's Karl Kesel. Here, he's inking the book, and his smooth line nicely compliments Wieringo's round lines. The line weights are important for Wieringo's art, which is almost animated looking. Kesel does a nice job in matching the art and not trying to overpower it with his own style. (It doesn't hurt, really, that Wieringo's art style isn't that far off from his own in the grand scheme of things…)
There are still some parts that have to fall into place for this to be a complete success. The copy of the issue I have is photocopied from the lettering files. It's black and white and the art is very jaggedy. When it goes to the printer, those lines will be straightened out, I'm sure. This is an advanced copy, after all. But the color is still important. Between Sue and Johnny Storm's powers, the FANTASTIC FOUR is a comic that relies on color a lot. It will be interesting to see how the colorist (Paul Mounts in this case) works those effects into the book. They look fine in black and white and I can easily read the art. I can't wait to see this book colored up.
About the lettering, all I'll say is this: I like the new cover logo. It looks both modern and retro all at the same time.
There's only a month to go before FANTASTIC FOUR gets a much-needed boost of attention. It's probably the most classical book out of all of Marvel's revamps so far. It's good to see a creative team honoring the traditions of the book without stepping on anyone else's heels. It's a book that's all-ages appropriate and promises to bring something different to Marvel's spate of increasingly "relevant" titles. I don't think Marvel will have too many problems with this one from the traditionalists.
All that counts, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's an entertaining and enjoyable book. When it comes out in a month, be sure to drop a dime on it and put that extra penny in the Give A Penny/Take a Penny tray.
COMIC BOOK COMMENTARY TRACKS
X-MEN UNLIMITED #37 is due out this week, featuring a collaboration of talents under the watchful eyes of Kaare Andrews. Those collaborators include, but are not limited to, Mike Kunkel, Joshua Middleton, and Troy Nixey. I haven't read the book yet. I've flipped through it and some of the art in it is, indeed, gorgeous.
The thing that interests me the most about the book is on Andrew's web page. He and Troy Nixey sat down to record a "commentary track" for the issue. Spread across four MP3 tracks, you can listen to the two creators talking about a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into making the issue. There are interesting thoughts in there about the creative process, and some good-natured bantering, also. I wouldn't mind seeing more such MP3s from other creators. I could do without the background music and the obnoxious Page Change chimes, though. There's a faint echo in the recording, but since I wasn't expecting this to be done in a professional recording studio, I won't complain. Creators doing things for the glory of their creation is a great thing.
I can only think of one instance of this being done before. Graphitti Design's DAREDEVIL hardcover collecting the Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, and Jimmy Palmiotti issues came with a "director's commentary" on CD. (I remember it so well because Smith referenced my review of the book on one of the tracks.) They didn't go page-by-page with their commentary, but issue-by-issue. It's understandable since there's more material to work with. The CD also included pictures, before-and-after artwork, and original script pages to look at while listening.
I think the concept is a great one that I hope more creators would give a try. It's easy enough to hook up a microphone or two to your computer and blab away. Edit it into an MP3 file, post it on the web somewhere, and you've just generated extra interest in your book and given the fans a behind-the-scenes peek at your work.
Andrews and Nixey's four MP3 files total up to over 40 minutes of commentary. It's a great idea, with good execution, and definitely gives you more value for the money you spent on the comic book.
I'll be back next Tuesday in this space with a look at PREVIEWS for products shipping (theoretically) in October 2002. Come back here on Friday, though, as my daily San Diego coverage begins at CBR, including a Pipeline con journal.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
Right now, San Diego is the only convention I've committed to attending for the rest of the year. The Small Press Expo in September is a strong possibility, though, and the Baltimore convention in October slightly less so.