Category: fantastic four

Fantastic Bore

Fantastic Four (2015): based on the comic book created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee; written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, and Josh Trank; directed by Josh Trank; starring Miles Teller (Reed Richards/ Mr. Fantastic), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm/ Human Torch), Kate Mara (Sue Storm/ Invisible Girl), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm/ The Thing), Toby Kebbell (Victor Von Doom/ Doctor Doom), and Reg E. Cathey (Franklin Storm):

A truly misguided effort sucks all the fun out of Marvel’s first family of superheroes. Writer-director Josh Trank got this gig on the basis of Chronicle, his found-footage film about teen-agers with super-powers gone horribly wrong. And there are moments in Fantastic Four that would make for a great superhero movie just so long as it wasn’t about the Fantastic Four. Our heroes were some of the first whose origins were presented straightforwardly by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee as moments of Body Horror. Some of that remains here, and it’s the best thing about the movie.

Unfortunately, the movie is slow, ponderous, and weighed down with characters who seem to have been written to be as annoying as possible. Following the lead of Marvel’s revisionist Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book (not by Lee and Kirby), our heroes are all teen-agers now, while Doctor Doom is only a few years older. None of this helps. The actors, especially Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, do their best with the awful material. This isn’t their fault. 

The movie pretty much throws away everything that made the original FF awesome, from the bickering, nearly soap-operatic melodrama to the low-comedy hi-jinks of The Thing and The Human Torch to the looming menace of Doctor Doom, here reduced to an angry crash-test dummy with ill-defined super-powers. The FF no longer get their powers by being heroic in a very early 1960’s way (they want to beat the Soviets into manned orbit). Now they get drunk and take their goofy-ass transdimensional Stargate out for an ill-advised test drive. What larks, Pip!

It’s all really pretty terrible, and as boring as Hell for long stretches. I think Josh Trank could do a great job on certain revisionist superhero properties — or preferably on his own creations. This movie made me long for the goofy mediocrity of the early oughts FF movies. And I had to read 200 pages of classic Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four to get this movie out of my head. Also, whoever thought taking away The Thing’s blue shorts was a good idea should be fired. Now. Forever. Not recommended.

Fantastic Four: Beta Version

The Challengers of the Unknown Archives Volume 1: written by Jack Kirby, Ed Herron, and Dave Wood; illustrated by Jack Kirby, Roz Kirby, and others (1956-58; collected 2003): Jack Kirby’s foray into a four-person, jump-suited team of heroes who fight weird menaces predates the Fantastic Four by 5 years — and almost directly led to Kirby going to Marvel where he’d co-create the FF, as a conflict with series editor Jack Schiff caused Kirby to leave DC for a decade.

The four Challengers are Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis and Red Ryan; blonde June Robbins becomes the distaff honorary member a few issues into the team’s existence. The four men, who are already adventurers or various types, survive a plane crash they believe they should have died in and decide afterwards to become a team of heroes because they’re “living on borrowed time.”

Technically, the Challengers are the first new superhero team of the Silver Age of Comics. While they usually lack (super)powers, they fight a wide variety of monsters, aliens, and supernatural menaces. They’d be one of the early success stories of that Silver Age, with the first run of their adventures lasting until the late 1960’s, with sporadic revivals ever since.

Kirby and company seem to be having fun here, what with all the scary monsters and superfreaks threatening the world. The Challs (as they get called, even now) take awhile to become truly differentiated in character, but it does eventually happen — script-writers Dave Wood and Ed Herron are competent comic-book writers, nothing more, at least here. Kirby’s visuals and visual inventiveness do the heavy lifting here, and it’s some pretty good lifting. A Kraken is especially awesome-looking. Recommended.

Falstaff in Comicbookland

Thor Visionaries Walt Simonson Volume 4: written by Walt Simonson; illustrated by Walt Simonson and Sal Buscema (1986; collected 2004): The fourth collection of Walt Simonson’s 1980’s run on Marvel’s The Mighty Thor marks sort of a slight pause before the last major arc gets fully underway. Norse death-god Hela’s curse on Thor would supply the impetus for the final ten-issue arc, and she does curse the Thunder God herein, but most of the collection is concerned with other things.

One of those things is the Simonson/Sal Buscema four-issue Balder the Brave miniseries, part of which takes place during events chronicled in the previous Visionaries volume. It’s a pretty entertaining adventure for the Norse sun-god, while also setting up events and situations that lead back into the regular series.

Meanwhile, in the other four issues collected here, Thor teams up with Simonson’s homage to Judge Dredd, Judge Peace (who would later appear during Simonson’s run on Fantastic Four), to battle two old Thor enemies to save an even older supporting cast member. Most of two other issues tie directly into the line-spanning Mutant Massacre X-Men storyline.

One of Simonson’s more endearing side-projects — his fleshing out of the fleshy, comic-relief Norse god Volstagg — also proceeds here. Sal Buscema’s pencils continue to impress here. He’s no Simonson, but the art remains solid and professional throughout, with some unexpected flourishes at points. Recommended.


Fantastic Four 1234, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Jae Lee (2001; collected 2004): Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison has always seemed much more comfortable at DC than Marvel, despite the sales success of his 4-year run on Marvel’s flagship X-Men title in the early oughts. This miniseries about the Fantastic Four is something of an abomination, though that isn’t all Morrison’s fault — hyperreal artist Jae Lee, very good on a lot of Marvel titles, is a terrible fit for the Fantastic Four.

Basically, Dr. Doom gets up to some shenanigans, the members of the FF start acting wonky, and then the reasons for their wonkiness are revealed. This may be the most ‘decompressed’ Morrison writing ever — it certainly seems a piece with its era of Marvel comics, as 20 pages of plot gets spread out over 100 pages. This cuts against one of Morrison’s strengths — namely, his hyper-dense, Silver-Age-influenced plotting. What one gets is a four-issue miniseries that takes less time to read than any issue of Morrison’s JLA.

Lee’s art is solid but ill-used in this case — as with a lot of other contemporary Marvel artists, he tends to make The Thing look like a burn victim, which I’d say is pretty much the last place to go with this character. Applying a certain level of realism to Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards results in another grotesquerie. The Fantastic Four really shouldn’t look like people you’d run screaming from if you met them on the street (well, OK, a little with The Thing sometimes, but he still works best as a tragicomic lug and loveable proto-Hellboy monster).

The centrepiece of Doom’s latest evil plan gets tossed off in a couple of sentences — with some development, it might have at least been an interesting idea, but as is it just sits there unconvincingly. Not recommended.