Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Good Time for FF Fans

You know, for years, fans of the Fantastic Four (like myself) were limited to only one book about our favorite team. If you wanted an FF fix, you pretty much only had one choice since the team didn't even appear as guest stars in other books all that often. But today, we've got several different FF titles on the market right now: Fantastic Four, Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four, The Thing, Fantastic Four: First Family, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Marvel Knights 4.

Now, it seems to me that the "main" FF book should be the definitive one. It should be the one that all FF fans flock to and say, "This is the best FF book on the market!" There'd be dissenters, of course but, by and large, the level of quality should be higher in the main book than the others.

So why is that not the case?

Ultimate FF certainly wins in terms of sales numbers; it's currently selling about 30,000 more copies than Fantastic Four. (Of course, we all know sales numbers don't necessarily reflect quality anyway!) Personally, I've been enjoying Thing and First Family much more lately. I've not heard much from others about First Family but I don't know anyone who's tried The Thing and not thought it was a better story than what's in Fantastic Four. I haven't really heard anyone who's claiming that JMS and McKone should be thrown OFF the book, but I haven't heard anyone clamoring to keep the on indefinitely either. And, though I personally haven't tried it, I don't know anyone who's reading Marvel Adventures and not liked it.

So, why do we have what could be considered better creative teams on four books OTHER than the main one?

2 comments:

plok said...

Marvel Adventures is the one that's the "kid's book", yes? I flipped through one of these expecting to see Spidey Super-Stories, imagine my surprise when I discovered the real live actual Fantastic Four inside those pages! I thought "why are they publishing anything else? This is it!"

Sean, I don't know. Maybe not everybody is as brilliant on every book. Maybe people think they can't follow Stan and Jack's act anyway, so they want to make their mark on FF by doing something in a different, non-Stan/Jack direction, only to find out that you can't stray too far from it after all and still stay true to the feel of the book. Or, maybe they try too hard with the homage to the two originals, and end up recycling old ideas without injecting any new pep into them. Or maybe what they have to say artistically would actually work better somewhere else, and that hampers things. I think JMS' FF has too many epiphanies in it, and Waid's relied too much on a kind of nostalgic self-one-upmanship. And maybe the runs sometimes go on too long for what the writers have decided to do: even Byrne exhausted his "back to the basics" approach after a couple years, and ended up floundering because of it. So much of a pleasurable FF reading experience relies on ringing the old changes in ways that are just a little new, but never too little...I think it's easy to get lost in trying to hit that note perfectly all the time without being derivative or repetitive, and writers end up not giving themselves permission to just write a story where the FF fight Dragon Man, or something. Sometimes you have to let the subplots be subplots, too...

I don't know. I think it's a whole thing. As I've said before, I think it's the influence of current-day TV, that has itself been influenced by comics reading and is now coming back to recast its influences in its own image. FF as sitcom, FF as family drama, FF as NYPD Blue or Star Trek: The Next Generation or ER. Same goes for a lot of other properties right now too, I think...the rhythm is just a bit wrong, the "arc" is too self-contained, it's all just too heavy, and it starts to feel a bit like reading The Sentry after a while. Not knocking Paul Jenkins, but that's what it feels like.

Meanwhile over at The Thing, things seem pretty relaxed. No one is asking be to be FLOORED by something every five seconds, and things rarely turn out as depressing as all that. I don't hate JMS' FF run, far from it: most of it has been very interesting, and highly readable. A lot of it has even been quite funny. But for the most part it hasn't really been fun. It's too serious for that.

I reserve the right to reverse myself on all this later if I change my mind. But, sound accurate?

Sean Kleefeld said...

I agree. I don't want to knock what JMS is doing -- he's definitely brought some interesting ideas to the table. However, I honestly haven't been particularly keen on his execution of some of those ideas. The child services sub-plot, for example. Brilliant idea; I've been waiting to see something like that for years. But the actual execution of it felt forced and unnatural to me. The Army trying to capitalize on cosmic rays? Great. Reed being the architect of the FF's creation? Sure. But the execution of the ideas seemed to lack spirit. I felt like I was reading the old Handbooks.

I think you're right, plok, that trying to pitch the FF in the "high-concept" movie/TV model doesn't work very well. You might be able to use that a baseline, but you can't limit yourself to that structure. Imagine if Roddenberry had really kept Star Trek as "Bonanza in space"? Would that property have lasted four decades? Doubtful.

Take a look at any great piece of literature. It almost invariably will be about the human condition AS A WHOLE, not one small aspect of it. Wells' Citizen Kane, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Kirby's "Fourth World"... They're about what it means to be human, not about "Okay, what kind of whacky adventures happen when the FF go broke".