Fantastic Four #1 Review

Fantastic Four #1

(W) Ryan North (A) Iban Coello

First up, a confession.  I have never found a Fantastic Four run that has engaged me enough to see all the way through.  It’s not that Marvel’s first family haven’t had loads of great talent involved over the years – heck, the likes of Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Dan Slott have all taken the reins at one point or another. But I just haven’t found that run just yet.

But if the rest of this series lives up to the quality of this first issue, then they may have their hooks in me at long last.  For me, this is up there with the best single issues of the year.

Ryan North has gone on the record, that after Slott’s large cosmic, universe spanning run, he was interested in starting small, with self contained stories for each of the heroes.  And Fantastic Four #1 kicks off with an absolutely doozy, as we follow The Thing and his wife Alicia.

The story is straightforward enough.  The Thing and Alicia are on a trip and they end up pulling up at a motel for the night.  Some of the locals don’t take kindly to Ben Grimm’s appearance, and they attempt to harm him by driving a truck into their room as they sleep.  But alas, the truck disappears into thin air.  And despite all the noise and commotion, no one has any recollection of what happened the night before.

They take a walk around the town, only to find out they’ve somehow ended up in the middle of small town America in the 1940’s.  Not only that, but they are stuck relieving the same day over and over!  So a mystery begins as they try to figure out why this is happening and how they can escape it.

Knowing the Fantastic Four was starting fresh from #1, I would never have guessed that the titles biggest influence would be Groundhog Day.  But that’s exactly what we have here.  We have Ben getting to know the townspeople, and even the ones who feared him in the beginning, become his best friends.  Alicia shows how charming and thoughtful she can be.  And you’re reminded over and over just how much heart these characters bring to the Marvel Universe.

The art is vibrant and clean the whole way through it, with detailed expressions and plenty of humour to be found in the imagery.  There’s also repeating imagery with subtle differences as we’re stuck in this time loop with the characters.  I actually read this issue out loud to my son, who hung on my every word (Probably nothing to do with the quality of the story admittedly…), and I wondered at the start if the first few pages were mistakenly reprinted over and over!

The reason why this timeloop has been created and where the story goes is so endearing and genuinely affecting by the end.  To go into too much detail would spoil it somewhat, but some of the last few pages had me welling up a little.

And then we get a few pages added to the end which while separate from the Ben and Alicia story, go somewhat towards letting us know what the conflict is going to be for the series moving forward.  Absolutely incredible first issue and count me all in on this run on Marvel’s first family.

Punisher #7 Review

Punisher #7

(W) Jason Aaron (A) Jesus Saiz (Present) Paul Azaceta (Past)

When The Punisher came back after an indefinite hiatus, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the direction they were taking the character, even before picking up an issue.  The guns were gone, replaced by a Sword.  The iconic Punisher skull was redesigned and replaced. His mission to wipe the scum off the streets of New York had been replaced by a more worldwide cause, and is for all intents and purposes, an assassin whose targets are fed to him.

But why would Frank even consider being a tool of chaos and destruction for someone else?  Well, they were able to deliver something to him that he’s always wanted – more time with his wife, who was of course slain along with his children at the beginning of his journey to becoming The Punisher.

This throws up plenty of questions about Frank’s state of mind.  He knows that his wife is dead, but is willing to play along with the charade in a bid to disway his guilt over failing to protect her.

He gets to indulge in extreme violence and destruction, which has always been his modus operandi.  And take out his rage and pain against the faceless hordes.  But was he The Punisher in mind even before his family’s untimely demise?  Has this predilection for violence always been there?  This misguided sense of using violence to protect those who can’t protect themselves?

That’s what Jason Aaron has been doping throughout his run so far, choosing to split it over two timeframes, with a different artist tackles each period.  Paul Azaceta handles Frank’s past, even going back so far to when he was a kid.  While Jesus Saiz handles the art in the present.  This dual exploration of Frank has been fantastic the whole way through the series, and #7 is arguably the best so far.

In the present, Frank is on a collision course with Daredevil.  And that’s exciting stuff on its own, and there is some fantastic action in this issue.  But for me, the guts of the issue lie with Frank when he returns from the war.  His kids are scared of him.  He can’t sleep in a normal bed, preferring a tent outside.  He doesn’t know how to be intimate with his wife.  He just feels he’s come back from the war broken.

But over the course of the issue those protective instincts kick in and he is able to find peace, as the children’s guardian and protector as much as anything else.  And this makes knowing he ultimately fails them in that role all the more heart-breaking.

This is a fantastic series and arguably the best Punisher has been since the iconic Garth Ennis days.  The first trade is already available and if you even have a passing interest in the character, should be deemed absolutely essential.

Dark Ages #6 Review

(W) Tom Taylor (A) Iban Coello

This was a seriously tough week to narrow down to one pick of the week. The 30th March saw the return of Something is Killing the Children, the return of Ram V’s Swamp Thing, Issue 2 of Jock’s One Dark Knight, the best issue yet of DC vs Vampires, and the excellent opening chapter of Shadow War Alpha. In other words, a ton of DC goodness, yet it was a Marvel title that just edged it for me, and it was Tom Taylor’s swan song to Marvel.

We’ve spoken about it before, but it is a bit of a shame that Tom Taylor has signed exclusively with DC. Of course, I have a preference for DC, so more titles from him playing in that sandbox are of course welcomed. However, his Marvel work has been nothing short of stellar from All New Wolverine, to his War of the Realms one shots, to Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man and now Dark Ages.

And Dark Ages has so many moving parts that it easily could have been a 12 issue maxi-series. So if there’s one tiny criticism for this issue, it’s that some parts are maybe a little rushed, but you’ll barely notice to be honest because of how many brilliant, genuinely jaw-dropping moments there are in this final issue.

#6 picks up after Peter Parker was able to save Miles Morales from the twin threats of Venom and Carnage (and what a great issue that was as well), Peter Parker and the rest of the heroes learn of Apocalypse’s plans to project his consciousness into the Unmaker, and take over the entire universe. They must also deal with Purple Man (what an adversary he has been in recent Marvel titles by the way), who has exerted his will over their friends! Will the world be saved, or will Darkness prevail?

This being a Tom Taylor, outside of canon book, the great thing is you know that no-one is safe. Heroes will be sacrificed and lost along the way, stakes will be raised, and the heroes may not necessarily win in the end.

As well as weaving an entertaining and tense narrative though, there are also interesting themes at work here. At its core Dark Ages goes against the grain of the usual “dark future” trope that often populates alternate-universe comics. And that has remained true through the series; it’s very interesting that the ultimate goal is for the heroes of the Marvel Universe to make a better world despite the loss of technology. “Who says a post-apocalyptic world has to be a bad thing?” Parker says in one of the series’ most emotive moments.

Taylor also is able to display the perfect balance between the grimness of the situation and injecting humour into the tale. He even achieved the impossible throughout this book in my eyes, as he was able to make Deadpoool both hilarious and an integral part of the heroes plan. Too bad we’ll never see a Tom Taylor scripted solo Deadpool anytime soon, as I would have been all over that!

The writing is of course on point, but the book succeeds just as much because of the wonderful art, and issue 6 is Coello’s best work in the series. He delivers some jaw-dropping action sequences. There’s a brilliant sequence involving Wolverine going up against a mind-controlled Cyclops (though he is still cognitive and knows what he is doing. He tries to keep his eyes closed for as long as possible), with the X-Men leader’s optic blasts shredding his teammates’ flesh and bone off in a series of horrific panels (this book is not one for Wolverine fans who don’t want to see their hero bettered. This was one of those jaw-dropping moments I mentioned before).

There is an absolutely amazing two-page spread which depicts the Purple Man’s mind-controlled heroes against their counterparts; Colossus and She-Hulk wrestle, Doctor Doom engages in battle with Dracula, and Spider-Man darts around Captain America. It’s pure wish fulfilment from when you were a kid and you wanted to see these heroes do battle to find out who is the toughest and best. We even get a great moment involving Blade, which is few and far between in modern Marvel titles (side note, can we please get a Rodney Barnes scripted, Jason Shawn Alexander drawn Blade book sometime soon…)

This was a brilliant series and when it hits trade I cannot recommend it enough. It delivers a fitting swan song to Tom Taylor’s time at Marvel and Coello’s art was a more than worthy companion to this bittersweet, goodbye tale.