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Review of Fantastic Four 560 (4 stars) October 3, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

With this issue, we get a rather interesting twist. It turns out that the New Defenders are actually from the future. While this plot device has been used countless times, their reason for coming back in time isn’t one you see too often: they haven’t come back to change the past and “save the future,” nor have they come to conquer primitive beings to recreate a world under their rule. Instead, with the Earth dying, the New Defenders are simply refugees trying to build a time machine big enough to bring people from the future back. But for an as yet unexplained reason, they need Johnny, Doom, and Galactus to power the machine.

Hitch delivers more of his great artwork, and some of the best scenes are that of the future. Between the views of utter devastation, and the massive spread of the heroes of the future, the opening pages are a treat for the eyes. One could look at the “heroes page” for minutes, simply to discover who in the future has been influenced by past heroes, and also figuring who future heroes were influenced by.

The second half of the issue focuses on an attack on the Baxter Building (and the rest of the FF) by none other than … the nanny, Tabitha Denevue! (Never trust the nanny.) She disables the FF quickly, and we learn two things about her: one, she is the leader of the New Defenders, and two, she is Susan Richards from 500 years in the future. … Don’t ask me to explain how Sue lived to be 500 years old, I’m sure (I hope) that Millar has an adequate explanation. But at least I may have finally figured out what will be the cause of the “death of the Invisible Woman.” Earlier in the issue, Doom swears to kill whoever it was who plotted his capture. When he discovers that it is a future version of Sue, he may simply kill the “current Sue” to prevent it from happening. Or I could be completely wrong, at least we’ll see next issue. (And hopefully Millar will do something to surprise us. I mean, why give away the ending of an arc by making it the title? Hopefully, Sue’s death will not be the biggest event to occur.)

-LOTRKing

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Casual Saturdays: Where Things Stand… September 27, 2008

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Wow, three months goes by fast! Let’s once again take a look at where things stand in the Marvel Universe.

Secret Invasion – It’s rapidly approaching its end, and six issues, three big Skrull reveals, and countless tie-ins later, it is a great story, while at the same time being a little unsatisfying. For the most part, I have enjoyed the goings-on in the main series, but many of the tie-ins have been disappointing. While this has almost as many tie-ins as Civil War did, Civil War was much better at being able to carry the story of each particular character or group of characters coping with the SHRA. In this case, most tie-ins simply feature a character or group of characters participating in an issues-long brawl with the Skrulls. As epic as this story has been, I will be happy when it is over.

Fantastic Four – I’ve loved Millar’s take on the FF, even if it is a little slow at times, but it seems that many do not share my enthusiasm. Sure, his take on the individual members may not be completely orthodox, but this departure from the norm has been what has made most of it fun. So while I’ll enjoy his sixteen issue run, I wouldn’t want him to take the helm for the next several years. (And I do hope they find someone great to do so, FF really does need a shot in the arm that will carry it forward.) In the meantime, regardless whether or not you are a fan of Millar’s handling of the team, you should definitely check out the Fantastic Four: True Story mini-series that is going on. The story might be slightly absurd, but I’m loving every minute of it. I’ve reviewed the first two issues of it at WCBR here and here, and I’ll soon post the link here to my review of the third.

Silver Surfer – We haven’t seen hide nor hair (that is, if he had hair) of him since Nova 15, and as far as I know, it looks to stay that way. I really wish Marvel would do another mini. 😦 (Or, heck, even an ongoing!) But, with the “War of Kings” that’s supposed to tear through Marvel’s cosmic line next year, maybe they’ll find a place to tell a story about good old Norrin. Until then, I plan to write a review of one of my favorite Surfer tales, Silver Surfer: Requiem for WCBR sometime this week, and I’ll post a link here when it is available.

Amazing Spider-Man – It sure has come a long way from the atrocious One More Day fiasco. New Ways to Die has been every bit the fantastic story we were promised it would be and while I’m still upset with the dissolution of the marriage, I won’t lie that I’m looking forward to what the “Braintrust” will bring us next. Especially the courtroom story hinted at in the “Extra!” one shot a while back. Also, the first issue of ASM Family was decent, and I was disappointed at first when it sounded as though they wouldn’t be including further “Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man” stories, but the solicits for future issues makes it appear they will. Expect reactions to issue two in two weeks.

New Avengers – This title is severely lacking from its title characters, namely the Avengers. I’ve not hidden my dislike for the fact that Bendis is using these two books he’s in charge of to write Secret Invasion back-up tales (some of which haven’t even been that important) despite the fact that they rarely involve the Avengers. I really wish he’d done a Secret Invasion: Origins mini-series for these stories, or something of the like, and just given us more Avengers adventures. Though I won’t lie, rumors running around of the possible upcoming fourth Avengers ongoing (Dark Avengers) has me excited.

Mighty Avengers – See above.

Avengers: The Initiative – Where its two “Avengers brethren” have suffered from “Secret Invasion overdose,” Avengers: The Initiative has flourished. Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue to put out spectacular, character driven stories proving that you can pull characters from the “nobody’s ever heard of these random Marvel superheroes” list, and still have one of the best comic books on the market. Yes, I still miss Cloud 9, my favorite character to come out of this series, but team Slott and Gage haven’t steered us wrong yet, and I’m sure we’ll see her before too long.

Captain America – With Ed Brubaker’s long awaited conclusion to the “Death of the Dream” “mega-arc” that came out this week, Brubaker proves that he can leave you satisfied and begging for more at the same time. With almost complete resolution on the good guy side of the equation, and almost none on the bad guy side, Brubaker has made me a permanent fan of Captain America. Don’t expect to see this series leaving my must-read list anytime soon.

Thor – This, in my opinion, is still probably the best comic book series on the market. J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel continue to give us this slow-churning epic infused with humor and suspense. What is Loki’s true plan? What does it have to do with Dr. Doom? How does she intend to gain the allegiance of Balder, one of Thor’s longest friends? How will her actions affect Midgard? When JMS’ run on Thor is finally over (which I hope never happens), this will likely be one of my favorite graphic format stories told. (This honor currently belongs to Bone by Jeff Smith, and yes, I have read Watchmen, I still think Bone is better.)

Invincible Iron Man – One year ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be reading an Iron Man series. I loathed him for his actions during Civil War and, along with many fans and much of the actual Marvel Universe, blamed him for Captain America’s death. My appreciation for him, unknowingly, actually began when I started reading Avengers: The Initiative. As I began to see more and more the benefits of the SHRA, I began to understand Tony’s actions. I didn’t necessarily like him, but I no longer hated him. Then, of course, the Iron Man movie came out. I was completely blown away. I needed more Tony Stark, and I needed it IMMEDIATELY. Luckily, Marvel was wise enough to start a new Invincible Iron Man ongoing series just days after the release of the movie. And, luckier still, the series has maintained much of the flavor of the movie. IIM has become one of my favorite monthly reads, and one that I recommend to everyone I talk to who loved the movie (especially non-comic book readers, what better way to introduce them to the medium?)

Uncanny X-Men – With the authors of the already legendary Captain America series and the breakaway Invincible Iron Man ongoing at the helm of the world’s best selling super-team, this should have been an easy success. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong. Ever since Messiah Complex, Uncanny has taken a turn for the mediocre. Luckily, it had the beautiful artwork of Mike Choi to make us survive through the awful hippie story. Now we’re just getting an ever-increasing focus on the ever-increasingly annoying character Pixie, as rendered by the horrible artist Greg Land. I don’t know what needs to happen to fix this title, but Brubaker and Fraction but figure it out fast. (And firing Greg Land from the comic book medium would be a good start, especially when he pulls off crap like this.)

Astonishing X-Men – Who’d’ve guessed that this series would still be plagued with delays after the departure of Whedon and Cassaday? I dunno, but with the upcoming Ender’s Game comic book adaptation (discussed below), I’ve decided to drop this in favor of that. Don’t get me wrong, the story seems interesting enough, and the artwork is wonderful, but I feel this isn’t really an essential part of my reading list. I will, however, still review issues of this from time to time on WCBR.

Ender’s Game – Finally. One of my all-time-favorite novels is getting the comic book treatment. I’ve never looked forward to the release of a comic book as much as I am Ender’s Game #1 on October 8th. If you’ve never read the book, first off, shame on you! But secondly, you definitely better read the comic, because it’s gonna be epic! In fact, next week, Casual Saturdays will be all about why you should read it, so if you aren’t planning to, you better check back then!

So what do you guys think of the Marvel Universe as it is now? Share your thoughts if you feel like it.

-LOTRKing

Review of Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four Annual 2008 (3.5 stars) September 17, 2008

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Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Still no comics in the mail yesterday, here’s hoping there’s something new today. Until then, here’s a review of a good two-part “Ultimate” story. (Well, a review of part one anyway.)

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 285 (December 1985) September 15, 2008

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If this issue serves as any evidence, it is not hard to see why John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four is considered legendary. In this standalone issue, “Hero,” the Human Torch gets a stark contrast to Peter Parker’s “The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man” tale. The beginning of the story focuses on a boy named Tommy who idolizes the Human Torch. At school this boy is bullied, and his parents seem to have little time for him at home. The only thing that he seems to live is to follow the adventures of Johnny Storm. When a neighbor leaves out a tank of experimental fuel and asks Tommy to put it away, he cautions him not to spill any because it could turn him into “a real Human Torch.”

A few weeks later, Johnny is approached by a doctor who says that a dying boy would love to meet him in his final moments. As Johnny meets him, we learn that this boy is Tommy, and is suffering from third degree burns because he wanted to be “just like his hero.” As Johnny tries to cope with a death that he believed he caused, he is visited by the Beyonder (this is a Secret Wars II tie-in after all), who shows him that all Tommy ever lived for was the Torch, and that the rest of his life was only sad and pathetic. According to the Beyonder, he did not die because of Johnny, he lived because of Johnny.

I do not know if I really agree with this statement. Is it better that he had a shorter life full of suffering, or would it have been right for him to continue on with a chance to improve his life? I cannot truly say if I enjoyed this issue, but I must say, it does introduce some interesting philosophical questions. If you’re looking for a single story, not concerning traditional superheroics, but something that’ll leave you thinking for quite a while afterwards, this is certainly one to look into.

Next week: Silver Surfer 6 (Volume 1)

-LOTRKing

Review of Fantastic Four: True Story 2 (4 stars) September 10, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hey, another day with nothing new to review! So, you now get a link to previous review by me from WCBR. For those who aren’t reading this (and you should be), Fantastic Four: True Story takes the FF to a place they’ve never gone before: the world of fiction. As a dark force seeks to control the world of human creativity, the FF must travel through some of literature’s most beloved novels to stop it. FF: True Story is certainly very different from the rest of the comics you are reading, but is just as certainly an entertaining story. It is written by Paul Cornell, who writes the current Captain Britain and the MI:13 series in addition to be a well known writer of the Dr. Who TV series. If you don’t plan on picking up the single issues, I at least encourage you to get the TPB when it comes out; this is not to be missed. Here is my review of issue two, and, for good measure, my review of issue one.

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 157 (April 1975) September 8, 2008

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Either I’m easy to please, or I’ve been really lucky the past couple weeks because this issue is yet another great read that was randomly picked. I mean, the cover should say it all: the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, AND Dr. Doom? How could this issue NOT be good? The story is the finale of a three-parter (I haven’t read the first two parts, so I’m not too familiar with the entire story) as Doom has captured the FF (which includes Medusa as a current replacement for Sue) and is transferring a portion of the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic into his own Doomsman android.

First off, Rich Buckler needs to be awarded kudos for his very Kirby-esque pencil job. He also definitely gets tons of cool points for his last four pages being seemingly framed by fire (which makes sense when the master villain is revealed.) Of course, good art is always to be paired with a great story, and Roy Thomas delivers. Much of it is typical FF drama as the team tries to work their way through a series of dangers and traps that Doom has planted for them.

But the heart of the story comes with the seeming reunion of Norrin Radd and Shalla-Bal. Shalla-Bal seems to have lost her memory of the Surfer, until the two embrace, only to find tragedy. The reason she has lost her memory is because she never had it: she is only an Earth look alike, tricked into serving Doom to help capture the Surfer. As the Surfer is able to break free and help the FF defeat the Doomsman android and Doom himself, the Surfer leaves, sorrowing, and wondering if he shall ever see his Shalla-Bal again.

Here, Thomas pulls back the curtain and reveals that all of this was carefully constructed by Mephisto to further torture the Surfer. And the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) part? There was no look-alike. The girl is indeed Shalla-Bal who has been implanted with false memories from Mephisto. Norrin will continue to attempt to escape Earth to find his true love, while she will be living here, unknown, while he does this.

As I said, I didn’t actually read the first two parts, but I probably will. If this issue was any indication, this arc is a great piece from the early “Bronze Era” of Marvel Comics. It may be old, but if you ever get a chance to read these issues, I once again have a high recommendation. (I’m almost hoping next week’s pick will be a bad or mediocre one, so I don’t have to keep telling you guys to look up all these great old back issues! 😉 )

Next week: Fantastic Four 285 (A Secret Wars II tie-in!)

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 234 (September 1981) August 25, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in many instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

This is by far the best issue I have yet reviewed for Flashback. I’d like to say it is likely because it is a Fantastic Four issue, but very little of the story actually has to do with the FF. Instead, we are introduced to “The Man with the Power,” as the cover references him. Skip Collins is middle-aged man, living a very average life, in a typical mid-size town. What he doesn’t realize is that he has the power to change things just by willing them so. As we are introduced to the many “un-unique” facets of his life, we learn much about the character in a few short pages.

When his boss breaks Skip’s ordinary routine by sending him to NYC for a business meeting, he does some touring and eventually sees Reed and Sue in a crowd. As he trails them hoping for an autograph, he sees them rescue a girl from a condemned building, before all of NYC is hit with a major earthquake. In the face of this massive destruction, we see the reactions of all the characters (namely, the Four and Skip, who never actually meet).

As Reed comes to realize that the quake was global, and caused by something in outer space, he takes the Four off-Earth to investigate. Meanwhile, Skip, distraught over what has occurred, states “it never should have happened!” At this remark, the world-wide destruction rights itself, and all memory of the incident is lost. (Except for the FF, who are not on Earth and not affected.) As Skip slips back into his ordinary life, the FF discover the true source of the attack: Ego, the Living Planet! This brief outline may make the plot seem slightly cheesy, but a read through will show anything but. There is a reason that John Byrne’s run on FF was legendary, and this issue definitely serves as evidence.

I recently purchased the anthology Who Can Save Us Now? (as suggested on a blog I read), and being over half way through the book, I confess myself rather disappointed. Most of the stories are either just plain weird, or focus too much on matters I would rather have left out. This one issue and the story of Skip Collins are better than every story in that book I have read put together. If you ever come across this issue, I’d highly encourage reading it (along with 235, the cliffhanger is too good to leave part two untouched, not to mention 235 was an extremely enjoyable issue, even without the continuing story of Skip).

Next week: Amazing Spider-Man 284

-LOTRKing

Review of Fantastic Four 559 (4.5 stars) August 15, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My review can be found here.

Quick spoilers: Ben and Debbie attend Johnny’s band’s opening night concert. Johnny is running late, and is then attacked by Lightwave and captured by the New Defenders. Alyssa reveals to Sue that the Earth-Trust is building Nu-World only for politicians and aristocrats. In addition to capturing Johnny and Doom, it is revealed that the New Defenders have captured Galactus.

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 63 (June 1967) July 28, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Sweet, two weeks in a row of Stan and Jack goodness (don’t blame me for this week, it was chosen randomly). Unlike our last venture into the Silver Age of comics (or the Marvel Age, as Stan would have called it), this one is, for the most part, entertaining. FF 63 features the first appearance of Blastaar. I’ve heard of this character, but fittingly enough this was my first time actually seeing him in a comic. First off, I appreciate the many contributions that Jack Kirby made to the world of comic book art, and I usually thoroughly enjoy his work, but what was up with his tendency to make villains hairy? Blastaar is no different as he looks like a purple gorilla. Mehh, oh well. Blastaar’s apish look and Sandman’s goofy costume aside, he maintained his wonderful storytelling abilities, as well as his signature looks for each of the Four.

Stan Lee’s story appears to be a continuation of the previous issue (which I haven’t read) as the issue starts out with a bang (quite literally) with the recently-escaped-from-the-Negative-Zone Blastaar attacking the Baxter Building. Somehow, the Sandman has also found him, and is serving as his guide on Earth. (I’m assuming he is doing this in exchange for spoils or something.) After knocking Reed unconscious, Blastaar moves through the streets of Manhattan, and eventually Johnny and Crystal, who are sharing a date, run into him. The rest of the issue is mostly a big fight scene between the pair of Blastaar and Sandman against the Fantastic Four and Crystal. During this fight, we mostly get cool displays of powers from all the parties involved, and in the end, it is Reed’s smarts (along with one of his inventions and help from the rest of the Four) that saves the day. So while this issue may not be important in the grand scheme of things with the exception of being the first appearance of an N-Zone baddie, it was a good example of an entertaining Silver Age book. So if you ever get the opportunity to read it, go ahead, but no need to go out of your way to find it.

Next week: Amazing Spider-Man 222

-LOTRKing

Review of Fantastic Four 558 (4.5 stars) July 2, 2008

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Following trend of this announcement, my review can be found here.

-LOTRKing