Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Creature Comforts From Home VII: Fantastic Four

After wrapping up Starman, James Robinson moved on to other things. He wrote JSA (Justice Society of America) and Hawkman; he wrote Justice League: Cry For Justice; He wrote Batman and Detective Comics; he wrote the War of the Supermen and New Krypton storylines in Superman. He had a brief run on Justice League before The New 52 reboot relaunch in 2011. His League could be described as Justice Titans; it featured Dick (Robin) Grayson as The Batman, Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy as Wonder Woman, Mon-El as Superman, and Supergirl, just to name a few. I picked up a few issues of that, and I enjoyed it. What I would have enjoyed more, is Robinson's take on the original Magnificent Seven. With The New 52 reboot relaunch in 2011, Robinson re-imagined the Golden Age heroes of the Justice Society of America in Earth-2. You may have seen the news that his new Alan Scott was gay.

Robinson left Earth-2 and DC abruptly. He went across the street to the competition, Marvel, where he is now writing and updated The Invaders and Fantastic Four. I still believe that James Robinson has something in common with Roy Thomas. A Golden Age spirit. The Invaders was a World War II team book that Roy Thomas wrote when he was at Marvel in the mid-1970's. Captain America and Bucky, The Human Torch and Toro with Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

I'm sure that it is no co-incidence that Robinson was attracted to The Invaders, having worked on The Golden Age four-issue mini-series for DC; then Starman, which spent a great deal of time in the Golden Age; and finally writing both Justice Society and Earth-2. It is probably no co-incidence either that he is working with two teams that have a Human Torch; Jim Hammond, the original, Golden Age Human Torch, and Johnny Storm, Human Torch with the Fantastic Four.
Robinson's The Invaders is a little different from what I might have anticipated. It is hard to see these characters updated and contemporary from their wartime adventures. The same was true with the re-imagined Earth-2 heroes. The first story-arc puts these veteran heroes in a cosmic setting; which I would see as more suitable to the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four is a more cosmic team. They got their powers from a cosmic event. Reed Richards, Mister Fantastic is a cosmic scientist. He discovered the Negative Zone, which is cosmic. I see The Invaders as more of a Batman and The Outsiders team. Somewhat more political in nature. That might not work these days, it being such a small world. I see The Invaders as the original The A-Team. Only super-heroes.
I'm leaning more toward really enjoying his run on Fantastic Four. His Starman was about relationships; father-and-son, brothers, family. I believe that makes him a perfect fit for Marvel's First Family. I enjoyed Mark Waid and Mark Weringo's run on the book and their approach to the team as "Imaginauts". So far, Robinson is a few issues into his run and is deconstructing the team to define and rebuild them. As always, I'm interested to see where he is going with things.
To get ready for his relaunch, I went to the library and I picked up a copy of Essential Fantastic Four, Volume 1. It is a soft cover trade paperback collecting the first twenty issues, plus the first annual. One of the stories is the often reprinted Fantastic Four #5, featuring the first appearance of Doctor Doom.
This was re-imagined by Marc Sumerak and Dax Gordine in the All-Ages, Marvel Age Fantastic Four #5. Doom traps the Fantastic Four in the Baxter Building and takes them captive. He then enlists them to go back in time through his Time Platform to bring back Blackbeard's Treasure Chest. And, wackiness ensues. He holds Sue hostage while Reed, Johnny and Ben make the journey into the past. It is one of the greatest Fantastic Four stories by the original creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
In 1996, around the time Doctor Doom and Reed Richards seemingly died like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Marvel launched a ninety-nine cent comic book line. One of the many titles was Fantastic Four Unplugged. It lasted all of six issues before it was cancelled ended. One of the issues featured Johnny Storm on a date. While on this date he encounters a group of Moloids carrying out an operation for The Mole Man. He is the Fantastic Four's first villain. It is very much a companion piece to the main Fantastic Four book; and, it is also interconnected to other Marvel books. You can't just pick up an issue and jump right into the story without knowing what else is going on in the Marvel Universe. Still, it is a pretty fun story. Except for the stuff that might not make sense unless you already know what's going on.
Marvel and DC have had a long love-hate relationship. Over the years they have produced some great cross-company team-ups; Superman and Spider-Man and Batman and The Incredible Hulk. In 1996, the two companies came up with DC Versus Marvel. It was a contest with fan involvement to see which characters would best each other. During the course of this and future encounters, the DC and Marvel characters were amalgamated, producing new characters from each publisher. Batman and Wolverine became Dark Claw; Iron Man and Green Lantern became Iron Lantern. The Fantastic Four were combined with the Challengers of the Unknown to become the Challengers of the Fantastic. Doctor Doom was combined with the Superman villain Doomsday to become Doctor Doomsday. The Watcher was melded with the Guardians of the Universe to become Uatu, the Guardian. Galactus and Brainiac became Galactiac. The Silver Surfer and The Back Racer became - you guessed it - The Silver Racer. It was all very '60's Silver Age and fun, in an Elseworlds/What If? alternate reality sort of way.
Robinson's Fantastic Four feels grand, epic and serious. At the end of issue #2, Johnny loses his Human Torch powers. The storyline is called "The Fall of the Fantastic Four". It should be interesting to see where Robinson takes the team. The most interesting development is that they are now wearing red uniforms.
Kinda like this...
Since my wife, Cathy, and I are building our family through adoption - we are on our third trip to Kiev, bringing home our daughter, Masha - and Marvel's First Family is the Fantastic Four, I brought along the first two issues of James Robinson's Fantastic Four and a couple of other FF comics as creature comforts from home.
I can wait to get back home to my favorite run of FF comics -

I have the entire 49 issues of Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. A number of issues were written by Batman '66 writer Jeff Parker. They are all done-in-one stories. They are a lot of fun to re-read! I hope the same is true of Robinson's FF.  

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