Posted tagged ‘Fantastic Four’

Review: Planetary

October 29, 2009

Well it took a decade for a mere 30 issues (counting the 3 specials) to come out, but the wait was worth it.  Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary is one of the key comics of the last decade and unquestionably a must read for any fan of the medium.
What makes the book such a standout is the two levels the story works on.  On its surface this is an adventure book about 3 adventurers dedicated to their catchphrase “it’s a strange world, let’s keep it that way”.  To do so the team of “mystery archaeologists travels the world finding wonders and trying to save them from the 4, a group dedicated to hording those treasures for themselves.

This is where Planetary goes from being a merely good comic to something special.  The four are clearly patterned on the Fantastic Four, who if you know your comics history, launched Marvel’s dominance of the comic stands.  The FF are explorers at heart, a quartet that goes into the unknown in order to define it.  In this book, Ellis instead portrays them as the death of the heroic age that came before them.  An age in which the pulp heroes sought out the same sorts of wonders, but soley to have the experience, and not to define them and limit their capacity for evoking a sense of wonder.

Ellis then combines this analysis of pulp history with his archaeologists to turn the comic into a tribute what was lost.  Up until the end when Ellis starts wraping up the story every issue serves as a meditation on a different part of that history.  There are issues dedicated to Doc Savage, Japanese Kaiju, the Justice League, and big dumb object s.f. tales (think Rendezvous with Rama), plus many more.  Ellis is always respectful of these inspirations, and Cassaday’s art, which made him a superstar, is the perfect compliment for it.

Just an incredible book.

Advertisements

Review: Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol.1

January 25, 2009

The Challengers of the Unknown is one of DC’s best, failed comics.  The concept is pretty straight forward, 4 adventures have a near death experience and decide they are living on borrowed time (which they never get tired of saying).  Thus they decide to live the rest of their lives risking death and routinely saving the Earth from alien menaces and evil scientists.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the book Jack Kirby was working on just prior to the Fantastic Four, three out of four team members are nearly identical (if you must know Ace Morgan and the Invisible Woman are the odd ones out).  So if you ever wondered what the FF would be like without super powers, this is that book.

The stories themselves are nothing that special, lots of women in distress, lots of three part McGuffin quests, but every now and then something odd sneaks in.  I particularly liked the two issues with Multi-Man, a villain who gleefully commits suicide in order to be reborn with a new power set.  And the premise of the comic makes this one out shine a lot of DC’s other silver age comics for me.  The plots really are identical, but just the fact that you’ve got a professional wrestler doing the same sorts of things as Superman at the time elevates it a bit.

However, the Challengers never really caught on, and that’s hardly surprising given that you can look back at them as an inferior version of the FF.  It’s a shame though, given the chance (Darwyn Cooke did his best to save Ace Morgan in the New Frontier) there’s some potential in these characters for further adventures.

Review: The Eternals Vol. 1

July 17, 2008

The Eternals was the book that marked Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel comics after his all to brief stint working for the competition (a period during which he produced his best work).  The story concerns what went on to become the origins of the Marvel universe (but which was originally intended to be separte from the publisher’s other books).  In brief the Space Gods known as the Celestials are responsible for evolving mankind from the apes, and also created two other species, the Eternals and the Deviants, at the same time.  Now the Celestials have returned to judge their work and the three species of man spend the series figuring out how to respond to their trial.

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  In one regard it’s one of Kirby’s most well written titles.  Most of the over the top concepts he’s known for have been scaled back in order to focus more on the characters, who are amongst Kirby’s strongest.  But on the other hand, those same larger than life bursts of creativity are what worked best in many of his other books.  I also have trouble with the similiarity to Kirby’s New Gods work over at DC.  The concept of Gods from space is nearly the same, but the approach here is different (the New Gods was more about the creation of the mythology while the Eternals focuses on the effects of mythology instead).

I can’t help but feel the Kirby is simply recycling ideas from his older books here.  But the additional maturity that is present in the writing helps alleviate my reservations somewhat.  And as always with Kirby, the art is wonderful, and this edition does a very nice job on the reproduction.  So I guess this is a must for Kirby fans, but if you’re new to him you should probably stick to the DC books and his earlier Marvel runs on Thor and the Fantastic Four.

Spotlight On Jack Kirby

June 21, 2008

The collection development bug has bitten me thanks to my getting to help spend down the last of our yearly book budget.  I loved that I was actually asked to help because of of geek credentials.  In the end I orderd a ton of graphic novels, filled in the significant f&sf books from the last year, put together a small collection of noir classics on dvd, and even got to order a bunch of art books.  And now it’s time to share my expertise in what I think is going to be a regular feature here.

There’s only one person I could think of to start off a creator spotlight, and that is Jack “the King” Kirby.  Kirby is probably the single most important artist in the history of American comics.  He’s credited with co-creating Captain America, Thor, The X-Men, the Fantastic Four and too many others to bother naming here.  As an artist he revolutionized the field, as a writer he was decades ahead of his time (just not his dialogue).

The reason Kirby’s been on my mind recently is that DC has been releasing his 70’s works for them in some beautiful new editions, with meticulously restored art.  The Fourth World, OMAC, and the Demon are major works of pop art.  The only problem with them is that they were all cancelled and so they all remain unfinished.  OMAC is probably the worst for this, considering that at the end of issue 8 everyone explodes in order to tie up the loose ends.  But the imagination on display in all of these puts every writer to have come since to shame.

However, I would only recommend these to a library with a sizable graphic novel collection.  For more modest ones I would stick with Kirby’s work at Marvel in the 60’s, particularly his runs on the Fantastic Four and Thor.  I actually really like the black and white essential editions Marvel has put out of these, Kirby’s pencils look really good uncolored, just be warned that these copies are cheaply made so you can expect to reglue pages periodically.  Full color, hardcover editions exist as well, but they are marketed as collector’s items, and carry much higher price tags because of that.