14 Feb 2008

Cover To Cover: FANTASTIC FOUR #554

Review by Matt C

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary
Marvel $2.99

“World’s Greatest Comics Magazine!” Those are the words that have hovered over the title logo on Fantastic Four comics since before I was born but, to be honest, it hasn’t really deserved the accolade since John Byrne left the book back in the late 80s. Don’t get me wrong - while some of the issues in the 90s are best forgotten, there have been many times in the last twenty years when FF has been good, and on several occasions it’s been very good indeed. But the world’s greatest comic? There’re probably a few moments when it came close, but for the most part other titles have proven to be far more worthy of that honour.

Marvel obviously wants its First Family back on top again and who better to get them into pole position than the ‘Dream Team’ of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, the men behind The Ultimates, one of the most critically acclaimed books of recent times? If you only took that book’s creative success as an indication of what’s in store, chances as are you’d waiting for their take on the FF to drop with baited breath. Unfortunately, in between the end of Ultimates 2 and the beginning of Fantastic Four #554, Millar was responsible for a certain book by the name of Civil War, a record-breaking project many of us were initially chomping at the bit to see. It certainly hit the ground running but, after the initial rush of the first couple of issues, the excitement began to wane as multiple flaws presented themselves. I won’t rake over them here, but you all know, you all read the thing, and you remember the likes of the Clone Thor, certain characters exhibiting inexplicable behaviour, and Captain America blubbing like a baby in the middle of Manhattan. It left a bad taste in the mouth and, to paraphrase the old Hollywood adage, you’re only as good as your last comic.

So I came to this issue with a sense of trepidation – would Millar twist and change the characters to fit the story rather than the other way round? Would Reed behave more like Doctor Doom rather than the Mr Fantastic we’ve come to know and love?

The answer to both these questions is – thank God – “No”.

What is most surprising is how comfortable and familiar the characterizations seem. No matter what Millar has done elsewhere he obviously understands the combined appeal of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben. There’s no need for reinvention, they’re perfect the way they are. Yep, I’m happy to report that it’s great read and it does feel like a Fantastic Four comic. There are some effective scenes in here, from the action-packed opening pages to an amusing visit to Ben’s old school. I like the idea of Sue’s new “team” and adding Reed’s ex-girlfriend to the mix provides an interesting dynamic.

As for Hitch’s art, well, barring the ugly ass cover (is that really the best they could come up with?!) it’s gorgeously rendered and impressively detailed, but compared to his work on Ultimates something felt a bit off. It may be down to the lighter colour scheme but it’s certainly not the best work I’ve seen from the artist. Which is not to say its bad, because really, you don’t get to Hitch’s position without your talent being blatantly obvious from every panel, but it doesn’t quite have the knock-out punch some of his stuff has had in the past. I fully expect him to find his groove quite swiftly though, because the guy rarely disappoints.

This is an extremely positive start to what will no doubt be a very memorable run… hopefully for the right reasons! Millar has shown us before that he can tell a great stor’y but he’s also shown us he has an occasional habit of misjudging his audience. Keep on with what your doing here, Mark, but remember that the FF ain’t broke, so don’t try to fix them! 8/10

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