Waiting for the Trade – Fantastic Four

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Fantastic Four Visionaries vol. 2
by John Byrne.
Collects Fantastic Four 241 – 250.
Why I Bought This: This was actually the last of my recent library rentals. In this case I picked the cover promises a famous fight between the FF and Gladiator (a character clearly designed as a stand-in for Superman) that I’ve wanted to read since the Marvel Handbooks in the late 80s talked about it. In fact a couple years ago I purchased The Trial of Galactus trade knowing it involved the FF and the Shi’ar and was disappointed the Gladiator fight was not part of it.

The Plot: John Byrne wrote (and drew) many consider the second greatest FF run ever after Lee and Kirby. The Visionaries series is collecting his entire run sequentially in about 10 issue junks. There are at least four volumes so far and probably more to come. As such there is no overriding plot in this issue. It several stories that are either one or two issues in length. A brief overview then is as follows:
Chapter 1 – SHIELD sends the FF (along with Torch’s current love interest Nova—the daughter of the creator of the original 1940s Human Torch who has flame powers of her own and not the more well-known male cosmic hero whose had three or four short-lived solo titles) to Wakanda where they along with the Black Panther discover an ancient Roman soldier with omnipotent powers courtesy of an alien artifact that he’s apparently been hanging on to for a few centuries without making his presence known until now.
Chapter 2 – Evil herald Terrax comes to Earth seeking to escape Galactus’s service. He battles the FF, severely damaging the Baxter Building in the process and then levitates all of Manhattan into orbit, leaving guest stars Thor, Iron Man and Spider-man to contain the collateral damage.
Chapter 3 – Galactus arrives on Earth and with a wave of his hand depowers Terrax and restores Manhattan but then decides to feed on the Earth leading him to battle the FF and Avengers and ultimately Dr. Strange, who wins the day with his magic powers.
Chapter 4 – the FF and Avengers (despite Iron Man’s misgivings) save Galactus, who is now dying of starvation following his defeat last chapter. When he recovers he takes on Nova as his new herald in exchange for agreeing to not eat the Earth.
Chapter 5 – Franklin’s mutant powers age him to adulthood and near omnipotence. In a confused state Franklin battles the FF until Sue gets through to him. He then shuts down his powers and reverts to his normal age but not before telepathically sharing Thing’s deepest secret with Reed.
Chapter 6 – Dr. Doom uses Doombots to battle the FF in an elaborate plan to restore himself to health; apparently as a result of a prior story not in his volume his body was in a coma while his mind was trapped in one of the Puppet Master’s dolls.
Chapter 7 – The FF and Doom restore Doom to the throne of Latveria, which has suffered under the rule of Prince Zorba in Doom’s absence. This is also the first appearance of Kristoff, a character that would become very important later in Byrne’s run.
Chapter 8 –The FF are visiting the Inhumans on the moon when the moon is whisked away by planet-sized aliens. Reed watches everyone die but in the end realizes it is all a dream caused by some funky crystals Triton had discovered at the start of the story and everything is restored to normal.
Chapter 9 – Gladiator is chasing some Skrulls, who trick him into facing the FF. He defeats them with ease only for the X-men to arrive on the final page.
Chapter 10 – Spidey and Cap arrive to aid the FF in their fight with Gladiator while the X-men are revealed to be Skrulls. Once the ruse is uncovered Gladiator takes them off to space.
Critical Thoughts: It’s funny as despite my love of cosmic Marvel, I’ve never been that big a fan of the FF even though they are the fathers of this corner of the Marvel Universe. I don’t dislike them, and in certain stories I can be quite fond of Ben, Sue and Johnny but the team as whole is not my favorite. That said there are some very good stories here but there also some bad ones. I will say however if you were looking to introduce someone to the FF this volume is a near perfect primer on their corner of the Marvel Universe as not only are the core members all featured but you have big stories featuring the top three FF villains in Doom, Galactus and the Skrulls as well as stories featuring their three most common allies in the Inhumans, Black Panther and Spider-man, so this introduces the reader to most of the major players you’ll see in other FF stories.
I’m going to start with the bad for once. All three single issue stories in this volume are almost exactly the same, which is bad both for being awfully redundant in a short period of time and also because it’s not a good story really any of three times Byrne tells it. I’m talking about chapters 1, 5 and 8. In all of them the FF meet an omnipotent entity (Roman soldier, adult Franklin, planet-sized alien) only to win the day and have whatever reality changes said omnipotent entity caused disappear and everything return to how it was before the story started, which begs the question of why bothering telling it to begin with.
Warning spoiler in this paragraph. I also hate Ben’s secret in chapter 5, which is that none of Reed’s cures work because he’s afraid his blind girlfriend Alicia only loves him as the Thing and if he was cured he would lose her. If the point is to give Reed an out for his continued failure to cure Ben, it seems to ignore that a) a real cure should work whether Ben wants it to or not, and b) now Ben is the one who looks bad instead and how is that better? Also, future writers broke Ben and Alicia up (she even married Torch and later dated Silver Surfer; while Ben later dated the second Ms. Marvel) and yet Ben didn’t suddenly revert to human because really it’s a dumb idea to tie his mutagenic condition to his love life thus why would a future writer want to be hampered by such nonsense.
However, there is also a lot of good here in all of the stories that involve the major villains. The Galactus story is the sort of cosmic story I like. While I read it before in the Trial of Galactus trade, it is still good reading. That Terrax can do the impossible and lift Manhattan into orbit and then Galactus takes him down with just a wave of his hand is how you build-up a bad guy as a major threat. Then seeing all the heroes available join the FF in the fight is a nice touch because let’s face it if Galactus is going to eat the planet that should be an all-hands on deck situation. I would complain about Dr. Strange defeating Galactus with a single spell but lets face it Dr. Strange has a history of showing up at the end of impossible fights and being the deus ex machina that solves them (see also Hulk 300 and Avengers Disassembled as other prominent examples).
I do think as a historical note it’s interesting to see only one hero of the combined Avengers-FF roster arguing for letting Galactus die. Sadly if this story was written now I’d bet you’d only have one or two heroes arguing in favor of life—actually that’s pretty much every Bendis Avengers story with high stakes in that the entire cast except Spidey is like let’s kill this dude as that would solve the problem.
The Gladiator story is similar to the Galactus one in that it uses guest stars very well. While the initial fight in chapter 9 is more of a squash match for Gladiator over the FF (which in fairness is how a fight between Superman and them should go, especially as this is the pre-Crisis era). I thought the fight scene in the final chapter was very well drawn/plotted out. Plus [spoiler alert] the Captain America fan in me loves that he’s the one who can stand down Gladiator long enough to enable Reed to execute his defeat; because let’s face it if you could only have two earthbound Marvel heroes to take down any enemy those are the two you want so to me it felt right.
The big surprise is the Doom story. I’m not much of a Doom fan at all; although I have a friend who swears by Doom and argues his case as comics’ best villain quite elegantly. He often cites this story in his arguments and now having read it I can see why. If you want to see Doom as a nuanced villain this is the story to read. Instead of his usual motivations of trying to either kill Reed or take over the world, we see him reclaiming his country, caring for his people and showing that he has a sense of honor. Sure, other writers will say Doom has a sense of honor but they don’t actually back it up—in this story you see it clearly. It is the old adage of show, don’t tell. This may be the best Doom story in an FF book I’ve ever read, for that reason alone this trade is worth checking out.
Of the four core members of the team, I’d say Sue fares the best in this volume, which is hardly surprising as Byrne is the one who evolved her into the Invisible Woman (not Girl) and in many ways her defacto characterization to this day is based on Byrne’s work with the character. Byrne writes Reed’s intellect quite well also, which much like with Doom he does by showing us how smart Reed in his thought balloons and not just saying Reed is the smartest man alive as lesser writers do. I’m not as enamored of his takes on Ben and Johnny, I’ve discussed Ben already and Johnny, while featured less prominently than the others, comes off a melodramatic drama queen in the one story that does affect him on a personal level.
Grade B. That Doom story is an A+. The Galactus and Gladiator stories are both solid B’s. The various single issue omnipotent encounters however are all D-list at best. He’s also only two of four on the characterizations of the core team members, which is why I can’t go hire than a B.

Waiting for the Trade #5 – Thor

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
The Mighty Thor
by Matt Fraction and Olivier Coipel
Collects Mighty Thor 1 – 6.
Why I bought this: Actually this was another library rental, as opposed to purchase. It was a story arc (Galactus comes to eat Asgard) that I knew wanted to read because I love me some cosmic Marvel; but at the same time I was wary on purchasing it because I know I don’t like Thor’s solo title–I never have, and the last time I purchased a Thor trade it was awful despite having Thanos in it; so I was very happy to see this at my library and I picked it up instantly.

The Plot: The Asgardians find a seed to the World Tree, Galactus believes the seed can cure his cosmic hunger. Odin refuses to relinquish it. A brouhaha ensues. That really sums up the whole story, but we’ll give the chapter by chapter recap anyway.
Chapter 1 – Citizens of Broxton, Oklahoma are worried about constantly being collateral damage since Asgard arrived in Oklahoma circa 2007 (don’t ask me how: didn’t read it and don’t care too). Meanwhile Galactus is eating a planet, while Silver Surfer assures us through narration that he only guides Galactus to unpopulated worlds. Meanwhile Thor and Sif are swimming in the pink energy that makes up the World Tree trying to fix its roots and are attacked by giant caterpillars, one of whom bites Thor. You wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, and the art makes it look he’s barely scratched, but his wound becomes a plot point throughout the story. Loki, now inexplicably 10-years-old or thereabouts, dives into the tree and saves Thor using a spear. They find the cosmic MacGuffin and turn the seed over to Odin. Apparently Thor and Sif are dating again and we get to see way more of them than we should in a children’s comic; and Thor is leaking energy from his side where the caterpillar bit him. Silver Surfer arrives on Earth.
Chapter 2 – Odin hides the seed inside the Destroyer, who is in a weapons vault from right out of the movie. Surfer informs the residents of Broxton they should depart because Galactus is coming for the seed. (Surfer’s cosmic senses apparently became instantly aware of it when it was plucked last chapter.) Surfer asks Odin for the seed, he says no and Thor attacks Surfer.
Chapter 3 – Volstagg goes to Broxton to get a beer and the residents led by the local preacher tell him the Asgardians they are not welcome anymore. Surfer and Thor fight until Odin intervenes and agrees to hear Surfer out. Surfer explains the seed can cure Galactus’ hunger, saving countless worlds but Odin refuses to turn it over without explaining why because that’s what Odin always does; so Surfer departs warning that when he returns Galactus will be with him. Meanwhile Volstagg tries to raise the guard because he’s an idiot and believes Broxton will attack Asgard soon; however all the Asgardian warriors of note have departed for space to take the fight to Galactus.
Chapter 4 – Loki goes to see the Weird Sisters (from Macbeth, who are apparently now part of Norse mythology) in hopes of finding a cure for Thor’s wound. We get a big battle in space, which breaks into three parts. Galactus sends purple energy tendrils to occupy the rank and file Asgardians, Thor and Surfer go at it physically—mostly hitting each with their hammer and surfboard, and Odin and Galactus battle on the mental plane by making each other relive bad memories. In the climax: The Oklahomans are standing outside Asgard asking them to leave via megaphone, Thor threatens to kill Surfer as their fight spills to Mars, and Loki gets what he wants from the Weird Sisters.
Chapter 5- The battle in space continues, and Odin, losing the mental battle, head-buts Galactus breaking his helmet and causing energy to leak out as he starts to dissipate; wounded both fall to Earth just in time to distract Volstagg and stop him from slaughtering the Oklahomans. Loki retrieves the seed from the Destroyer, accidentally reactivating it in the process. Spent by the battle Odin falls into the Odinsleep, while Galactus pulls himself together and now he’s pissed. Loki decides to put the seed back in the tree, while Pastor Mike thinks Galactus is God.
Chapter 6 – Pastor Mike asks Galactus to have mercy and he gives a definitive “no.” Surfer senses the seed is gone. Odin takes control of the Destroyer and arms himself with Thor’s hammer, he’s about to attack Galactus, who teleports into orbit. The Asgardians feel they have driven him off, but in truth he’s trying to locate the seed with Surfer’s cosmic senses. Odin returns to his body and awakes; and everyone is mad at Loki for putting the seed back even though in so doing he probably saved them all from Galactus. Surfer goes to visit Pastor Mike, and takes him to Asgard where he arranges a truce with the terms that Surfer will remain on Asgard to guard the seed, while Pastor Mike becomes the new Herald of Galactus. Galactus then makes Surfer human again and ties his power to proximity to the seed, the former of which seems to be counterproductive to watching the Asgardians; and we see life going on for the major players as we wrap things up.
Critical Thoughts: Let’s start with the positive. I love the art. From the penciling to the coloring it is gorgeous. Galactus in particular is drawn as an awesome force–in reveal after reveal the art finds new ways to convey it from his eating a planet, to his arrival, to his recovery, to his interaction with Pastor Mike each time he looks more majestic than the time before and the bar starts high to begin with.
I also appreciated Surfer’s narration to start the story that he’s been leading Galactus to uninhabited worlds. As much as I loved Annihilation, the one thing in that story that rang false was Surfer rejoining Galactus, which was clearly shoehorned in to align the comics with the Fantastic Four-Silver Surfer movie that year. As a huge fan of Surfer’s 80-90s solo-title, which was all about his quest for redemption for the genocides he caused when serving Galactus the first time, I was glad to see this included because it mitigates his return to service considerably. Likewise I’m glad to see Surfer released from service at the end of this; and I liked that he was inspired by Pastor Mike’s courage to leave Galactus and try to recover his humanity as it definitely feels in-character and in some ways is a nice hallmark to how Alicia’s compassion won him over the first time. And while unnecessary, since we know his being human probably won’t last more than this writer’s run on Thor, I don’t have a major problem with it.
Unfortunately, I found the story as a whole weak. Part of this is I that I’ve never cared for the Asgardians. I like Thor in the Avengers, but his own book with its mystic mumbo jumbo nonsense has no appeal for me and never has no matter which writers I’ve sampled; and the Asgardians themselves are bunch of dull characters with interchangeable personalities.
But beyond that and specific to this story the fight scene between Galactus and Odin is lacking. The idea that they are metaphysical entities and we can’t see their battle is a cop-out—and patently not true: we’ve seen both have physical battles dozens of times. Plus there is no context given in the memory war they do have. As someone who doesn’t read Thor regularly, I have no idea what any of Odin’s flashbacks are about.
Which brings us to another point; there is a general lack of exposition throughout this trade. Most glaringly why is Loki 10-years-old? That is a fairly jarring status quo change, that should be explained somewhere in this book; especially when you consider not just that trade paperbacks should be self-contained but this collects a new issue #1 released to correspond with the movie in case casual fans wanted to sample the title. And it’s not just Loki is still himself but in 10-year-old body, like he when he was (also inexplicably) a chick a few years ago. No, he’s fully a kid now: in one scene he’s all agog at seeing Sif naked, in the climax he’s crying because no one likes him when he tried to do good. He also seems to no longer have magic as he has to go to the witches for help and uses a spear in his one fight scene. Plus he and Thor are all buddy-buddy, with Thor being all like he’s my beloved brother and defending him to the other Asgardians. So yea exposition definitely needed.
I’d also add the Volstagg-Pastor Mike subplot wasn’t to my liking at all, that Thor seems way too willing to attack and even try to kill the Surfer when they’ve been allies for years, and Surfer’s fighting tactics in general were a little off—since when is the board his primary offensive weapon as opposed to the power cosmic? Is it just to dumb down the fight to magic hammers vs. cosmic surfboard?  Either way it just compounds the lazy plotting of the main fight scene that drives the entire story.
Finally, I don’t see why Galactus would agree to this truce as he really gains nothing from it and he has the power take what he wants—the explanation given is he can wait the Asgardians out because he is more immortal than they are, but in the meantime he’s spending tens of thousands of years eating planets when the problem could be solved now. In fact why isn’t at least one Asgardian (preferably Thor since he’s the protagonist) questioning Odin on this? Thor has certainly defied his father in past stories and this is a chance to save millions of billions of innocent lives, while Odin isn’t even explaining why he wants the seed. That seems like a major lost opportunity for story-telling; at the very least Thor should be conflicted rather than unquestioningly trying to kill a longtime ally for the glory of Asgard.
Overall Grade: D+. The art is fabulous, but while the story had potential it never lived up to it with the fight scenes, subplots and climax all failing to deliver.