Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Stripping Down #16

Fantastic Four Adventures #24 (Panini UK)
“Dream Fever” by Karl Kesel, Tom Grummett, Larry Stucker & Norm Rapmund
(Fantastic Four (v1) #526)
“Rock Bottom” by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Andy Lanning (The Thing: Freakshow #1)
“The Return Of The Mole Man!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Bell
(Fantastic Four (v1) #22)

Dream Fever was always going to have a tough job, following as it does from Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s consistently inventive and enjoyable run. However, even compared to Karl Kesel’s previous fill-ins as scripter, this is a disappointment. Long-time adversary Diablo is again criminally underused and the story’s climatic sequence featuring Sue and Johnny fails to convince. In the archive strip featuring The Mole Man, even the usually reliable Lee and Kirby stumble somewhat, as the FF flee from complaining neighbours into the diminutive villain’s trap. The set up swallows nearly half of the story and the plot seems rather hastily wrapped up in the closing panels. The issue is rounded out with the debut of Freakshow, a solo adventure for The Thing. Geoff Johns’ script is… okay, albeit a little heavy handed with both dialogue and, on the strength of the opening instalment, premise. The ubiquitous Scott Kolins (is there a Panini Collectors’ Edition that hasn’t featured his work?!) produces some good visuals here. It’s interesting to compare Kolins’ relatively early style here, which avoids use of black fills and shading, with his work on last year’s Beyond!, currently featuring in The Mighty World of Marvel. I prefer the latter, particularly as Freakshow’s older, cruder visuals are helped little by David Self’s rather insipid colours. Hopefully, the series will prove to be more than a simple ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ moral. I also hope it encourages Panini to reprint more stories featuring The Thing, particularly some key Marvel Two-In-One tales and the current written by Dan Slott. Fingers crossed.

Fantastic Four Adventures #25 (Panini UK)
“Distant Music” by J. Michael Straczynski, Mike McKone & Andy Lanning
(Fantastic Four (v1) #527)
“Old Friends” by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Andy Lanning (The Thing: Freakshow #2)
“The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Bell
(Fantastic Four (v1) #23)

The FF Reborn! proclaims this issue’s cover. Neither this nor the other strapline, The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!, are strictly true. However, as well as hitting the quarter century, Fantastic Four Adventures also introduces the new creative team of J. Michael Straczynski, Mike McKone and Andy Lanning. I’ve mixed feelings about Straczynski’s comic writing: I loved Supreme Power, but consider his take on The Amazing Spider-Man to be inconsistent. Still, the run gets off to a promising start with a smart bit of narrative misdirection. There are a number of other nice touches, including The Thing’s realisation that, whilst the rest of the team are broke, he’s a multi-millionaire and Reed’s discovery that the US government have been trying to replicate the creation of the FF almost from Day 1. Mike McKone’s pencils are spot-on, amply coping with the epic and small scale demands of Straczynski’s script. Andy Lanning again proves that he’s one of the – if not the – best inkers currently working in mainstream comics, the detailed inking unmistakeably his own without subsuming McKone’s own style. Freakshow, whilst not straying too far from the previous issue’s premise, introduces an interesting twist with the appearance of shape-changing Krees and Skrulls towards the end. And, thankfully, Lee and Kirby are back on track in the issue’s closing classic strip. Dr. Doom’s up to no good again, this time recruiting a trio of souped up thugs who inevitably prove to be no match for the fab foursome. All in all, a good mix of stories that makes for an enjoyable read.

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