Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fantastic Four: Unthinkable

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Fantastic Four: Unthinkable (Marvel, 2003)

I'd heard very good things about Mark Waid's three-year tenure as writer of Marvel's venerable Fantastic Four series, and that "Unthinkable," the second volume, was one of the wildest of all Dr. Doom stories, so I checked it out. Unthinkable is labeled volume two; as with the recent Daredevil stories that I read, it's a meaningless label. In this case, it's the second volume of Mark Waid-scripted stories, but how many volume twos do you reckon that a series that's run almost fifty years has managed under that sort of numbering?

Anyway, "Unthinkable" does indeed have a corker of a plot, in which Doom gets sick of losing to that accursed Reed Richards, who understands science better than he does, so he decides to attack the Fantastic Four with magic instead, embracing his gypsy heritage for the first time. (All gypsies in Marvel Comics are magical. It's something of a rule.) It's a good idea, and it's delivered with a whacking great moment when we learn that Reed and Sue's daughter, Valeria, is Doom's familiar. Waid and his artist, the late Mike Wieringo, knocked this scene out of the park with a brilliant cliffhanger to that issue.

Despite liking the idea behind the plot and one or two great moments, I really didn't enjoy this book very much, because the execution is really grim. There's an undercurrent of brutality and hatred in the early episodes that's deeply unpleasant. When Doom succeeds and captures his hated foes, it explodes onto the surface and just turns what could have been a wild, fun book into something repellent and nasty.

This tends to happen with me whenever comics veer too close to the realities of our world's ugly nature. Certainly, I can believe that a paranoid psychopath like Dr. Doom, operating in the real world, would take advantage of a victory to torture and abuse his prisoners, especially after being handed one humiliating defeat after another for years. I guess I just long for the good old days when the bad guy would just lock the heroes in a prison with some super-scientific power-neutralizer or something, because the alternative, shown here, makes for godawful reading.

The whole book is less a plot than a series of strung-together moments of physical and emotional cruelty. It's so heavy that it requires an epilogue to address the atrocities that Reed and Sue's son Franklin witnessed after he was abducted, and that issue's about the least pleasant affair I've read lately. It adds up to a huge, ugly burden, punctuated only by one or two script flourishes and the great way that Wieringo drew Ben Grimm. I really love Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four, and I like the work of a couple of other creators. These, however, can be buried at sea.

1 comment:

Dobson said...

I just wrote a review coming to pretty similar conclusions over at http://thepouchfiles.blogspot.com/, and just wanted to say I appreciate your review. This is just an unpleasant, unnecessarily grim comic that is somewhat inexplicably considered something of a new classic.