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GRAPHIC NOVEL AND TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


THE FANTASTIC FOUR - PAGE 2

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The Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventures 2008 (HC & SC TPB) 200 pages

coverWritten by Stan Lee. Pencils by Jack Kirby, John Romita, Jr, and others. Inks by various.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure (including FF #108), The Last Fantastic Four Story, Fantastic Four #296, plus a short story from Fantastic Four #543

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

The Lost Adventures collection takes its name from the 2008 one-shot, The Lost Adventure. Back in 1970, one of the last FF stories artist Jack Kirby did for the Fantastic Four (in collaboration with Stan Lee after more than hundred issues of an uninterrupted partnership) was rejected in its original form by Lee, resulting in changes to the plot and other artists (notably John Buscema) called into to redraw some of it before it was published as FF #108. But with Kirby's original pencils still floating around decades later, Marvel decided to finally publish Kirby's original version (with Lee providing dialogue) in the same way as "director's cut" DVDs are all the rage, presenting "restored" versions of old movies. Along with the restored version, the one shot also included a reprint of FF #108 for contrast, as well as Kirby's un-inked pencils and notes.

This was all published in comic book form as the Lost Adventure (singular). But that's not enough to justify a TPB collection, so to pad out The Lost Adventures (plural) collection, they included another one-shot, The Last Fantastic Four Story, and Fantastic Four #296, a whopping 64 page anniversary tale, as well as a short story from FF #543. The unifying thread? They were all written by Stan Lee, but years after his initial epic stint on the FF and long after Lee had stopped writing comics regularly. So, unlike the restored Kirby pages, none of these other comics were exactly "lost"...but they were unusual for Lee's name in the credits.

And the result is, of course, mixed. Lee (in partnership with Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others) quite literally revolutionalized comics -- it's not much of a stretch to say that the entire modern super hero comics owes much of their style, theme, and ideas to what Lee and the Marvel bullpen did in the 1960s -- and you just have to flip through some of Marvel's Essential volumes to see that there remains a great deal of entertainment value in those old issues. But most would also argue that Lee's occasional return to comics scripting over the years have been uneven, retaining some dated sensibilities in terms of plotting and clumsy dialogue, while rarely reflecting the better elements of his old comics: the heartfelt characterization, the wit and humour, the humanity of these only human super humans.

Yet Lee often seemed to slip back into the FF "groove" easier than some other characters he had done.

The Last Fantastic Four one-shot (sub-titled "World's End") is part of a semi-series of one shots and mini-series Marvel has done, envisioning final adventures of their heroes. Here, the FF are the same as they always are (as opposed to imagining them a few years down the line, middle aged) but, nonetheless, feeling they've fought the good fight long enough. But then they are faced with one final crisis, as a cosmic entity arrives announcing earth has been judged unworthy and humans are to be destroyed. It's a story that has echoes of the classic Galactus concept Lee and Kirby came up with decades ago, or Kirby's later Celestials idea from his Eternals series, as the FF must confront a menace that is almost godlike in its omnipotence, and equally unstoppable. Along the way, Lee throws in various FF touchstones, appearances from the Sub-Mariner, the Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, Galactus, Dr. Doom, etc.

Strangely, given that Lee's 1960s work was marked by its attempt to infuse a greater sense of realism into super hero comics, some of his more recent scripts can feel almost like fairy tales, or parables. There is an almost dreamlike feel to the story and the dialogue that, in a way, can be oddly effective. And there are some nice bits true to the characters: Johnny lamenting the fact that while Reed has Sue, and Ben has Alicia, he has no one; or Reed berating himself, as if somehow it's his personal responsibility if the earth gets destroyed. And the Thing's wisecracks continue to add a grounding to the fantasy. But the 48 page story is very thin, plot-wise, and with the FF spending a lot of time just kind of sitting on the sidelines, not really doing much. It exist basically to provide an apocalyptic threat, and to shoe horn in cameos, and not much more. Nonetheless, there's a clever resolution, speaking to the nature of heroism, and despite being "the last" story, ends happily.

Interestingly enough, the comic also included Lee's original plot outline (perhaps to show that, after years of critics claiming the artists plotted and Lee simply added dialogue, that Lee did come up with the plot) and it contains a few extra scenes and ideas that were left out of the finished version that might've been better to keep in (blame the artist?).

John Romita Junior is a fan favourite artist and, though I have mixed feelings about his cartoony style, I've become more a convert to him over the years. He has a nice eye for composition and telling the story. And his blocky, cartoony style is vaguely evocative of Jack Kirby's. (Though one can't help but think it might've been neater to have recruited an artist even more suited to evoking Kirby, or at least capable of tweaking his style in that direction, such as Steve Rude or Jorge Lucas).

The FF #296 issue (that Lee scripted from a plot credited to Jim Shooter) is easily the strongest issue in this collection. It's an anniversary issue (marking the 25th anniversary) that really feels like a grand anniversary issue. It's 64 pages long, with a variety of artists called in to illustrate various scenes. Though building on events that had gone before (the Thing is estranged from his comrades) it is readable on its own, as Reed, Sue and Johnny track down the wayward Ben, only to find he's hanging out with the Mole Man in the latter's underground kingdom. Again, there's something oddly dreamlike about the telling at times and, again, there's something oddly appealing about it, in a way. Yet there's also some grounding in the characters and the drama, too. It's a bit darker, more broody than some FF tales -- but it does have a nice, epic feel to it, willing to slow down and be a human drama, and to unfold the story, as much it is an action-adventure romp. The weakest part here is not Lee's writing, but the art which, despite assembling some decent names, is more perfectly decent than truly inspired -- but it is decent.

It's a tale that I had read long before its collection here and had already found myself thinking of as one of those comics that if I was pruning my collection, it would definitely be a keeper.

The "lost" story from which this collection takes it's name is okay, but nothing great. Yeah, it's nice seeing Kirby and Lee together again (even if the former is posthumously). But ultimately, it's not sufficiently different from the version that was published as #108 to really score as a "new" story, without being a significant improvement. In fact, though Kirby's original does have some nice touches to it, I think I actually prefer the version that was originally published, the plot maybe a little more intriguing. Perhaps -- heretical though it may be for me to say -- Lee was right to make changes. Read back-to-back, they're a little repetitive, but read on their own, neither is a "classic", but both are okay page turners.

The ultimate result is a collection of latter day Lee scripts where only one strikes me as "great" yet all are entertaining to varying degrees. To be honest, FF #296 I could easily assign 5 out of 5 stars to for itself...but you could probably pick it up, cheaper, in an any well stocked comic shop's back issue bins. As such, balancing the various issues, finding a comfortable medium rating -- the collection probably warrants a solid 4 out of 5.

This is a review of the story as it originally appeared in Fantastic Four comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ __ USA. 


The Fantastic Four: Nobody Gets Out Alive 1994 (SC TPB) 134 pages

coverWritten by Tom DeFalco (with Mike Lackey). Pencils by Paul Ryan. Inks by Dan Bulandi.
Colours: John Kalisz, with Lia Pelosi. Letters: Steve Dutro, with Dave Sharpe. Editor: Ralph Macchio.

Reprinting: The Fantastic Four (1st series) #387-392 (1994)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

For a while, Nobody Gets Out Alive was one of the few FF TPBs around. And when I came upon the original issues in a back issue bin, I thought: why not? Knowing issues were collected means I might pick them up, on the theory if they were collected, they must tell a story (as opposed to picking up a run of old issues and finding they still end on a cliff hanger). During this period, Reed Richards is dead (or at least, is presumed so) and Sue, Ben and Johnny are struggling with the repercussions. The Sub-Mariner and Ant-Man (II) are hanging around, Johnny's married to the Skrull woman, Lyja, who recently gave birth to an egg, and young Franklin has become an other-dimensional teenager, working for the possibly sinister Nathaniel Richards (Reed's dad), and Franklin has an evil psychic entity living in his head, and so on. Told ya there was lots of continuity going on.

The basic plot here begins when the FF (or those left) see an apparition of Sue bemoaning the deaths of Ben and Johnny. Combined with the recent demise of Reed, this instills in them a certain fatalism which is maybe one of the first ways these issues fail to really hit their marks. Because you never really get a genuine sense of doom, despite characters remarking that they don't expect to survive this adventure.

Anyway, the various plot threads collide, as Franklin steals the FF's time sled in his on going conflict with the mysterious Dark Raider -- the FF pursue and find themselves meeting an alternate reality version of themselves, and learn the Dark Raider is going around killing Reed Richards throughout the multiverse. Then the Watcher crops up -- that largely omniscient alien who is supposed to just observe events but has occasionally helped the FF in the past -- and he guides the team to yet another alternate reality where earth was destroyed because the FF failed to stop the world eater, Galactus, years before as they had in their own reality. The Watcher wants our FF to try and change that history and save this other earth. Along the way there are appearances from The Avengers (circa the 1960s), the Black Panther (the contemporary one), and more -- even a minor sub-plot that seems as though they were trying to create a new super hero.

Ultimately the collection builds to a conclusion -- the Dark Raider is defeated, the Johnny-Lyja stuff comes to a head. But a lot of other things are still left dangling...including ending with the team disbanding (yes -- again!)

And it mostly didn't work for me.

Paul Ryan's art (inked by Danny Bulandi) is nice and detailed, affecting a clean, realist style. But it also tends to be a bit undynamic, told with a lot of run-of-the-mill angles and medium shots that don't really enhance the drama much. Of course, one has to recognize the material he's dealing with. Despite a big concept story of multiverses and a restaging of the FF's classic battle with Galactus...the execution of the story can be a bit bland. It's an interesting idea that somehow lost steam in the execution. Super hero comics about alternate realities can often be quite gripping. But here it seems a bit...banal. Partly it's because no real effort is made in fleshing out these other realities, or the alternate FF, beyond the immediate needs of a scene.

DeFalco also indulges in the hubris of a lot of later generation comics scribes, throwing in a few digs at the old comics as the characters remark how naive and simple life was back then, and how much more sophisticated their modern adventures are -- I don't know if he's trying to convince the readers...or himself.

With so much backstory and sub-plots, it's a talky script as characters spend a lot of time just explaining what's gone before. There's one issue in particular where we cut back and forth between three scenes of characters...basically just explaining things to other characters. Despite all the exposition...a lot of it still seemed vague, where I was unsure of motivation (such as Lyja's, or even the Dark Raider in the climax when he threatens the entire planet with destruction). Characters suggest the Watcher has a hidden agenda -- so we are left not even sure why these events were set in motion by him. When at one point a character asks the Watcher if he's their Watcher or an alternate reality Watcher, and are told: "Does it truly matter?", it smacks a little of even DeFalco having no idea -- and not really caring. The story is full of characters snapping at each other, then apologizing, then snapping again...often within a panel or two.

The biggest stumbling block for me was simply the dialogue. It's actually quite awful in spots. I'm okay with characters referring to each other by name (so new readers know who they are) or awkwardly recapping last issues events. But the clumsiness of the dialogue goes way beyond the needs of clarity. When in the middle of a battle The Thing exclaims: "It's that (guy) we briefly ran across" -- uh, "briefly"? "ran across"? Or Johnny, in another battle scene, says they might be "inadvertently" blown off the roof? I can't imagine Johnny using inadvertently on a term paper, let alone in the heat of battle. And the awkwardness of some of the phrasing might explain why the word balloons are sometimes pointing at the wrong people, as if even the letterer wasn't sure who was speaking, or why.

Ben and Johnny's bickering is more rude than teasing; Ben's wisecracks are flippant but not really funny (and DeFalco frequently has other characters commenting on his quips). And if you're not enjoying -- or believing -- the interpersonal interplay...well, that's half the point of an FF comic, ain't it?

Of course, without Reed, maybe the dynamics are just off. I know writers like to shake up the FF membership from time to time. But I don't think it works for anything more than a short term, and then usually with the replaced member still hanging around. The FF isn't like the Avengers or the X-Men where you can play around with the membership. The team's not defined by their quantity -- they are defined by the characters: Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny.

This is a review of the story as it originally appeared in Fantastic Four comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ __ USA. 


The Fantastic Four: The Overthrow of Doom 2011 (HC TPB) 192 pages

Written by Marv Wolfmam, with Bill Mantlo, Roger Slifer and Len Wein. Pencils by Keith Pollard, with George Perez. Inks by Joe Sinnott, with Pablo Marcos, Chic Stone.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: The Fantastic Four (1st series) #192-200 (1978) - with covers

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed Nov, 2011

The Overthrow of Doom collects nine consecutive issues (almost ten, given the final is double-sized) in which the FF had, previously, amicably gone their separate ways. Mr. Fantastic had lost his powers and, though the team had continued for a number of issues with him powerless (or employing stretchable robotic arms) eventually he decided that, without powers, he couldn't function as team leader...and the rest decided that without their leader, the team couldn't function. So the first few issues focus on different members in solo adventures, but eventually the team is reunited through the machinations of their arch foe, Dr. Doom -- leading to what is somewhat pompously billed as "the greatest F.F. saga of all!" (and in case we don't get that, it is helpfully repeated on the title page of each issue). All building to what, at the time, was intended as a fairly significant change in the status quo -- Doom truly being defeated (if only temporarily) and deposed from his throne as ruler of Latveria (something which probably hadn't happened in the last two hundred issues of the F.F.).

Doom's involvement is threaded through a few issues as an unseen villain waiting in the shadows, but in a collection where Doom's name appears on the cover...well, who the shadowy figure is will hardly be a surprise (granted, it was probably pretty obvious, even at the time).

Along the way, various old foes and recurring characters make appearances. I sometimes find comics that rely too much on just trotting out the old cliches a bit tired -- but when reading a collection of stories decades old, it's kind of fun to see a parade of familiar faces. So the Sub-Mariner guest stars in an issue, while the Impossible Man and Johnny's pal, Wyatt Wingfoot, have appearances. In the villain department we get Diablo, the Red Ghost, and the more obscure Texas Twister...as well as Doom himself.

As I say, the first few issues are basically solo stories, focusing on Johnny, Ben, and Sue -- the best being the two-part Ben story, which manages to have some suspense, some twists, and comic book pathos involving a tragic villain sabotaging NASA. It also probably benefits from Ben Grimm being the best personality of the team to carry a story on his own (hence why he also got to headline Marvel Two-in-One and even his own solo series for a time). The Johnny Storm solo has him participating in a cross country car race and getting attacked by the Texas Twister, while Sue has an encounter with a melancholy Sub-Mariner that is interrupted by an attack of robots. In both cases, the story is basically just an excuse for a big fight scene (well, the Subby story has some character rumination), again perhaps why the Ben story works better -- there's more of a sense of a story. The early issues are plotted by Len Wein (who had just finished a run as the FF scripter) while actually scripted by the likes of Roger Slifer and Bill Mantlo (the latter doing the Ben story). Marv Wolfman takes over scripting on the Sue issue and is the writer for the rest of the issues.

Unfortunately, once we launch into the main epic -- the "greatest F.F. saga ever" -- things become more problematic.

To be honest, I have developed a certain ambivalence toward Wolfman as a writer over the years. As a kid growing up, for me Wolfman's name was one of the pillars of Bronze Age comics, always seeming to crop up on comics I was reading (along with Len Wein, Gerry Conway, and others). But in later years as I would sometimes dig through my boxes, dragging out old comics, I realized that his name often wasn't on the comics I remembered liking the most. And as an adult, I can find myself regarding his stuff with some frustration -- not that he hasn't written some good comics, but he's also put out a lot of dreck. Clunky dialogue, thin characterization, and an approach to plotting that often seems a bit as though he's just writing to the next page, plotting just to string together the scenes -- without the scenes really being that great.

Doom can be a tricky character to write, all bombast and arrogance, some writers hinting at a tormented soul, others presenting him as just a one note villain. But when he works, he's a genuinely intimidating foe. But here, with his incessant put downs (everyone is a cretin or a dolt) and alliterative insults, he just comes across as, well, obnoxious and whiny more than the bad guy of bad guys. While a lot of the other dialogue is just clumsy and awkward. Granted, that's how comics were written -- a lot of the emotion and motives just boldly put out there in word baloons. But there's a way to do it -- and a way not to do it. I grew up with this era, and I still found some of the dialogue here almost painful. It doesn't help that there are a lot of grammar mistakes and muddled sentences -- a problem either with Wolfman's scripts, or the letters' transcribing of it.

The plot is a loose collection of ideas that only seem to make tenuous sense. Doom is preparing to abdicate his throne in favour of a man he introduces as his son, apparently following some obscure Latverian constitutional clause that says a monarch must step down after a time. So -- Doom goes to all this trouble to satisfy an unlikely clause...that no one but he, himself, even knew existed? And it's not clear if Wolfman (who was his own editor) forgot to explain plot ideas in the story itself. I mean, we assume it's a trick -- except it never is explained what Doom's true plan is!

Instead things go wrong, leading to a fight between Doom and his would be successor that seems almost as though Wolfman genuinely intends some pathos to it, as father fights son -- but I'm not sure we really got a sense Doom actually did care for the guy. Anyway, Doom has another plan also in the works -- equally dubious logically, involving the U.N. But you're left saying, um, how would this give him control over the world? As well, Doom is constantly fighting the FF (Reed having regained his powers by this point) and then leaving them alone, to escape his death traps, while he gets distracted by other matters.

And despite the length of the saga, there's very little development of the supporting players, like Doom's son, or the rebel leader, Zorba, who just seem there to serve as plot points than to act as characters.

Now, obviously -- this is a comic book. It ain't War & Peace. It's just a fun, goofy romp full of four colour antics and movie serial like escapades. And I've certainly enjoyed comics where you don't bother to examine the logic too closely -- heck, where the goofiness of the scheming is actually part of the charm.

But that then requires the execution of the scenes to be so thoroughly entertaining that you don't really care how you got there. But Johnny and Sue and even Reed are kind of bland, while Ben's wisecracks and humanizing cynicism just feel pedestrian. Despite various things going on too little of it really gels into interesting scenes or clever twists. And, again, there's that tenuous logic. In one issue, Reed, along with Zorba and a scientist of Doom's, has infiltrated Doom's castle -- and Doom later remarks he had Reed under constant surveillance. Yet later Zorba is outside the castle, leading a revolt, and the scientist is once more at Doom's side. So, despite Doom having seen all that transpired -- he let Zorba escape the castle, and forgave the scientist?

Keith Pollard is the chief artist on the saga (George Perez draws the first issue), largely inked by F.F. stalwart Joe Sinnott. Chic Stone inks one, and Pablo Marcos inks a couple of issues, though his style doesn't gel as well with Pollard's pencils. Pollard is a sturdy Bronze Age artist, telling the scenes well enough, with decently rendered faces and figures. Whatever I may grumble about the writing, the issues are certainly dense -- these 17 page instalments seeming longer than the 22 page comics you get today. As such, Pollard is drawing a lot of small panels, maybe not really able to break out much with big drawings, or to experiment with composition, more focused on just getting the story told. But it's likeable work -- particularly with Sinnott's familiar finishes.

But just as a contrast, after reading this I dug out an old Lee/Kirby FF vs. Doom tale (from Fantastic Four #84-87 -- and reprinted in the TPB The Villainy of Dr. Doom). And like with Wolfman, Lee/Kirby's tale suffered from dubious logic and plot holes -- yet I still enjoyed it more. The scenes themselves were entertaining. There were some interesting moments, Kirby's art was robust but also nuanced and character attentive, and there were some good lines and exchanges. And Doom was a more commanding, and in some ways, subtler villain.

Even as I sat down to write this review I hadn't settled on what my final assessment/rating would be. But I'll admit, my general feeling is one of...ambivalence. The "greatest" F.F. saga fails to really gel into a compelling epic with compelling scenes -- either emotionally, or comedically, or action-wise. Wolfman has some good ideas, and clearly wanted this to feel like the ultimate showdown between the F.F. and their arch foe. But the result is less than the parts.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $29.99 USA. 


Fantastic Four / Spider-Man Classic 2005 (SC TPB) 152 pages

coverWritten by Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, J.M. DeMatteis, Kurt Busiek, Stan Lee. Pencils by Mike Zeck, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Mike Allred, Steve Ditko. Inks by Jim Mooney, Joe Sinnott, Bob Wiacek, Mike Esposito.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #42, Fantastic Four #218, Marvel Team-Up #100, 132-133, and stories from Amazing Spider-Man #1 Untold Tales of Spider-Man Annual 1996 (1963, 1980, 1983, 1996)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

This collects various team ups between the two over the years. Why? Well, other than "why not?", it was maybe to link together two of Marvel's movie franchises. The fact that the FF gets first billing probably means it was released around the time of an FF movie. Though it may also be because Spidey got top billing for Spider-Man/Fantastic Four: Silver Rage.

So why these particular stories? Spidey and the FF have teamed up a zillion times over the years -- though, then again, perhaps not. That is, I can think of plenty of times Spidey appeared in an FF comic and vice versa, but often those were as just cameo appearances. And of course, Spidey has teamed up with various individual members of the team (notably the Human Torch) but maybe full fledged Spidey/FF team ups aren't as common as I would've thought.

Heck, the first story here -- reprinting one half of Amazing Spider-Man #1 (the comic having featured two different stories) -- is a case in point as the FF only make a small appearance. But presumably the editors felt they might as well begin with the very first meeting. And though quaint and old fashioned, it's still an enjoyable (and succinct) tale of Spidey tackling the master-of-disguise the Chameleon.

The collection jumps ahead almost twenty years for a two-parter first serialized over Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four's own comic. Written by Bill Mantlo, with Mike Zeck drawing one half and John Byrne the other, it's an illustration of the sturdiness of the franchises, and Mantlo's competent writing. Involving the Frightful Four plotting to revenge themselves against the FF, but first capturing Spider-Man, it's pretty minor, pretty shallow...but as executed is an eminently enjoyable little exercise. Nothing "classic" nor something you're liable to remember after the fact...but a fun little page turner, sturdily illustrated, with the requisite quips, angst, and high flying action.

A little more individualistic is a two-parter from Marvel Team-Up in which Spidey and a solo Mr. Fantastic take on an unstable villain, Every-Man, who wants to make everyone, literally, equal! This then segues into the next issue, with Mr. Fantastic seeking to find the villain behind the villain, involving the rest of the team and Spidey. Artist Sal Buscema is one of those guys who I have mixed feelings about, but I think I appreciate more as I get older. His art can be a bit workmanlike, his figures and expressions lacking subtlety -- but his storytelling is clear and keeps the story moving. Although I think Mike Esposito's inks may be a poor match. The script is by J.M. DeMatteis who often seems as though he's going for a little more depth and meaning than just a slug fest (when he's not doing his comedic super heroes). So there's some nice emotional undercurrents, some sense of playing with themes, some empathy for the villains. Granted, in the second half, you can kind of see the twists coming pretty early, but it still works as a mix of action...and human drama.

One wonders if there are other sub-texts at work. Every-Man had first appeared in a Captain America comic (also written by DeMatteis) but here has changed his look so that he resembles Steve Ditko's The Question (this being before DC's revival of that character). So is it just a coincidence? Or did they figure there was no harm in borrowing a look from a half forgotten creation? Or is there a deliberate intent? Maybe as a satire of Ditko's over-the-top proselytizing (though Every-Man's enforced egalitarianism seems a far cry from The Question's Objectivism -- but maybe DeMatteis is suggesting there's more commonality than you might think).

Perhaps the most disappointing story in the collection is the double-size Marvel Team-Up #100. Once upon a time Chris Claremont and Frank Miller would've struck me as a "dream team", but I've become more jaded about both men. Oh, I can still love their stuff...but they're both hit n' miss. Miller's pencil work here is just kind of crude and uninspired -- and seems an ill-fit for the FF. And Claremont's script is a bit stilted in pacing, with kind of a thin plot, and likewise seems a curiously low-key choice for an FF tale...involving a Vietnamese refugee's attempt to rescue her siblings from her gangster uncle. More, the Vietnamese girl in question is Karma, a mutant with the power to possess people. And clearly this was Claremont and Miller's attempt to introduce a new star into the Marvel firmament (the story is even called "And Introducing Karma!"). As such, Spidey and the FF can seem a bit like side players to a character that, frankly, doesn't really succeed in being that interesting (it would be another three years before Karma would achieve any kind of notice, as a founding member of Claremont's The New Mutants...and even then, I'm not sure she lasted that long!)

Despite this TPB being published in 2005, the lion's share of this collection is from the early 1980s. But the final tale is from a bit later -- 1996's Untold Tales of Spider-Man Annual. But Untold Tales of Spider-Man was set in Spidey's earliest days, so it kind of bookends the TPB by harkening back to the era closer to the first story reprinted here (and, like that story, is only one tale from the annual -- though a solid 25 pages).

I tend to be of mixed feelings on writer Kurt Busiek, one of the A-list writers in modern comicdom. Busiek's stuff is often well intentioned in its affection for old comics...but can be too obvious in its fanboy roots, his plots, characters and dialogue not always shaking off the mustiness of being an homage, whether working with established characters or his own Astro City heroes. So the tale tries to evoke the light-heartedness -- even outright comedy -- of some old Lee/Ditko tales, with Spidey and the Human Torch getting into one of their childish feuds, leading to Spidey asking Sue Storm on a date (just to bug the Torch) eventually leading to Spidey clashing with the Sub-Mariner (who had a long standing crush on Sue). It evokes something Lee & Ditko might've done...just not quite as well as they'd've done it, lacking a little extra snap to the dialogue, that extra sense of an underlining reality that makes the silliness even funnier (even the idea of the Torch sicking the Sub-Mariner on Spidey seems too reckless). Likewise, Mike Allred's art (inked by old timer Joe Sinnott) is sort of attractive, but sometimes seems a bit off, or untethered in its positioning: sometimes Spidey just seems to be floating in the air! It's a perfectly okay story...just a little off in little ways.

So I'm sort of mixed in my assessment. FF and Spidey are sufficiently well developed characters that even when the stories aren't great -- let alone "classics" -- they can still offer a baseline of entertainment. But I'll admit, the Mantlo and DeMatteis stories are the strongest (well, and the old Lee/Ditko tale, too -- but it's been reprinted in a zillion different collections over the years) and they're still more decent-to-good rather than great. Which I suppose makes for a "Passably Okay" read rather than the "Classic" of the title.

Cover price: $__ CDN. $16.99 USA



 

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