I've been reading comics as long as I can remember, but the single issue that really made me latch on to comic books in a big way was Fantastic Four #254 by John Byrne. I was just absolutely captivated by the story; there was friendly reparte among the FF, a villain they didn't/couldn't just wallop into next week, an alien dimension, pop culture references, a good action sequence... There was a great sense that I was stepping into the middle of a story, but one that was easy to step into the middle of. There was stuff that happened earlier, but I didn't need to know that because I was in the story NOW.
Today I picked up Fantastic Four #551 by Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Pelletier. I was struck by how, despite it being a very different story than #254, the book had much the same feel. There's the friendly reparte, multiple villains they can't wallop into next week, time travel, a little action... There was again that sense of stepping into the middle of a story, but one that was easy to step into the middle of. There was stuff that happened earlier, but I didn't need to know that because I was in the story NOW.
On all accounts, it was a good, well-crafted comic. The story, as implied above, is solid in that the reader is given everything they need to know. It's also well written so that the reader is not left feeling like s/he is just reading exposition to make sure they have all of that information. I feel as if I've read a good complete comic, but there's still an incentive to get the next issue based on the story alone. The art is superb as well. The characters from the future actually look older, as opposed to just having white hair. And you can see a great depth of emotion in everyone's facial expressions. I was even struck by some of the textured inking that was done to emphasize some of the more "raw" moments. Kudos to the whole team that put this issue together!
For anyone who's been reading this blog, you'll know that I'd dropped all of my marvel reading except Fantastic Four because the sandbox wasn't fun any more. Their whole line just reeked of negative emotions, and I've continued to read FF almost exclusively for the nostalgia factor. So let me say that #551 is precisely the manner in which I'd hoped to continue reading the title. It felt akin to what I fell in love with, but without re-treading old material. No small feat, to be sure, so let me provide more kudos to the creative team on that front.
Here's the thing, though...
It still wasn't fun. There really wasn't that negative weightiness which caused me to drop all the other marvel books I was getting. By all rights, this issue should elicit in me a very similar reaction that #254 did all those years ago. Oh, sure, I understand that part of what grabbed me with #254 was the simple newness of everything, and it's wholly unreasonable for me to ever expect from the Fantastic Four anywhere near the level of excitement I got when I first discovered them. But #551 really wasn't all that nostalgic for me. I suppose it must have been on some level -- after all, I'm writing this post and actively remembering how I felt when I first read #254. But my recollections are strangely more academic than emotive.
"Ah, yes. Byrne opened his story with a seemingly disconnected prologue as well."
"Good to see McDuffie has brought back some of the banter that used to be a hallmark of the book."
If I were 11 years old again, and waffling on whether or not I should give up comics, I'd bet that this issue would've sucked me in just as readily as Byrne's did. But I'm 35 now, and I spent over two decades hanging out in that universe. A couple of years ago, I'd have told you that a romp in a superhero-laden world was fun and a great way to relive my childhood. But it's just not doing it for me any more, and I can't even say that it's because I'm just not reading quality material. This was a darn fine comic book, but I'm getting more "warm fuzzies" these days from the three or four decent comic strips in my local newspaper.