Saturday, May 19, 2007

One, two, three, four, get your woman on the floor!

One of Grant Morrison's "forgotten" works (as pretty much all of his time at Marvel aside from New X-Men is) is actually one of his better ones: Fantastic Four 1234, which also features Jae Lee's excellent art. The four-issue story has Doctor Doom take apart the group until all that remains is Reed Richards who has been locked in his lab, working on something for the first three issues.

In the first issue, the Thing is verbally attacked by emergency services after trashing his neighbourhood while fighting supervillains. Morrison here channels some of the early FF stories as the Thing is back to his self-loathing, hate-the-whole-fucking-world ways. At one point, he threatens to break Johnny's neck. And this is how Doctor Doom finds him and tells him a secret about Reed so horrible, so world-shattering that the Thing actually trusts Doom and allows Doom to "cure" him. Of course, human Ben Grimm gets hit by a car and loses an arm.

Next, Sue Storm is feeling neglected and seems ready (and willing) for the advances of Namor. Johnny fights the Mole Man's monsters and is captured along with Alicia Masters--and it turns out that Namor and the Mole Man are working for Doom.

This all leads up to a giant Doombot storming the FF's HQ and Doom bragging to Reed about all that he has accomplished and asks what has Reed been doing while Doom has destroyed his precious family. Here, Reed gives the best answer I've read in a long while: "Well, Victor . . . I've been thinking."

Not the most groundbreaking or experimental of works, it does tell a good story and gets at many of the characters, often equating their powers with who they are. The Thing is a violent monsters; Sue is the invisible wife; Johnny's flames come on without him noticing most of the time; and Reed's mind is as fluid as his body.

There are also some great artistic techniques used in the series, like using splash pages as the basis for the first issue with panels then laid atop the larger picture, or the larger blank white gutters in the second issue to work with the theme of invisibility (as well as the switch to speech bubbles with no outlines).

It did have that standard "will Sue cheat on Reed with Namor" plot idea that bugs the fuck out of me--one bit made me laugh when Sue talked about why she's attracted to Namor. Basically, she argues that her mother raised her to think that she would someday marry a price or someone of that station and she can't help but be attracted to Namor. Okay, that actually makes some sense. I just can't get over where she talks about how Namor has manners and sophistication. Can someone point me to the comic where Namor displayed anything close to manners, please? (Oh, I'm a nit-picky bastard sometimes.)

At the root of the story is an exploration of what makes Marvel's first family tick as Doom pushes them all in different directions, preying on their weaknesses--but, those weaknesses are also their strengths, which Reed highlights in the final issue--and then turns it around on Victor to point out that his greatest strength is what causes him to lose every single time.

I don't think the series fits into continuity really, it stands more as an "All-Star Fantastic Four" type of story where we have the characters represent the larger ideas of who each is rather than who they are at any one moment. It's meant to be a modern take on the team that stays true to past stories and intentions.

It's also a good read.