Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review # 114: "Fantastic Four - Doomed" and "FF - Family Freakout"

The fate of Matt Fraction's dual run on "Fantastic Four" and "FF" turns out to be an interesting case study on creative team changes. Yanked from the title to write "Inhumanity," his plots are handed to new scripters. One switch works well. The other does not.

Might as well start with what didn't work: the flagship title. The clock is ticking for Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben as they desperately try to find a cure to a mysterious ailment that is ripping their molecules apart. Their hopping through dimensions lands them on an Earth controlled by Doctor Doom, in the process of merging with Kang the Conquerer and Annihilus to form a new super-entity. While the concept of "Doom the Annihilating Conquerer" is goofy, it's still plotted out with a level of gravitas.

But reading it, you can't help but feel that something is off once the scripting is handed to Christopher Sebela. I can't fault the guy for coming into a difficult situation, but nevertheless the writing quality takes a noticeable dive. The pacing goes way off course while major revelations about the First Family's ailment, including the cure, go by way too fast and are brushed off almost as nothing. It's an extended sour note to end on.

That said, what goes on in "FF" nearly saves BOTH series. What "Fantastic Four" lost with Fraction's departure, "FF" does not. Keeping things "all in the family," Lee Allred joins his brother - artist Mike Allred - and his sister-in-law - inker Laura Allred - and fits in perfectly from the start. Hence the other side of the experiment. The goofy charm of "FF" does not diminish, and the character work on the likes of lesser-knowns like Scott Lang, Ms. Thing, Bradley and the Moloids continues to be top notch. The humour is still there too, maybe funnier than it was under Fraction (and that's difficult to do) while the greatness of Mike Allred's retro-style art goes without saying.

Despite its quirky charm, I walk away from the conclusion of Fraction and Allred's "FF" most impressed by its drama. Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa and Ms. Thing are dealing with their OWN version of "Doom the Annihiliating Conquerer" and face long odds with a "B" squad and a bunch of kids. It's your classic underdog story.

And does it ever make Scott Lang look like a million bucks by the end. Doctor Doom has battled the best of the best and the smartest of the smartest. From his arch-rival Mr. Fantastic to Iron Man to omnipotent beings. This marks the first time where he is thoroughly outmatched and left a quivering mess. And it's by the SECOND Ant-Man! Not even Hank Pym, but the other guy! Over several issues, Lang outlines a step-by-step plan, including how he figured out the machinations of the man who killed Ant-Man's daughter. The pacing in "FF" is incredible... the opposite of what had happened in its sister-series.

In the end, I've got to recommend both volumes. The closer of Fraction's time as plotter for "Fantastic Four" limps to the finish line, for sure, but it's acceptable as a complimentary piece to the far-superior "FF." While I'm sure Marvel expected better things from the Mike Allred-drawn title from the get-go, I don't think they predicted the gap between the two would be as large as it became.

Rating(s): 5.5/10 ("Doomed,") 9.5/10 ("Family Freakout")

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