Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: Fantastic Four - Season One

Before I'd read the names associated with the books, I generally liked the concept behind Marvel's Season One initiative.  The books would retell the origins of Marvel's top characters and get something in bookstores and online that a new reader could pick up and enjoy.  Unlike DC's now baffling Earth One effort, Marvel basically chose to retell the same stories in a fashion that seems ready-for modern audiences.  In a way, this is the same continuity - just a wee bit cleaned up and with modern backdrops.

I believe this Fantastic Four Season One is the first Season One release, and its a promising start if the goal is to create a comfortable entry point to the Marvel Universe for someone vaguely aware of the brand and characters.

As a veteran comics read, I've tried to become more aware of the Fantastic Four in recent years, but I find my FF fandom extends only as far as the person working on the book.  Kirby?  Yes!  Mark Waid?  Absolutely.  But when Mark Millar took on the book a few years ago, I dropped it and never came back.  And that was after some bumpy readership between Waid and Millar during which my reading was never steady.

On the whole, I really like the idea of the FF, and the older I get, the more I like the idea.  I like the idea of a team of adventurers with a genius at the middle and a family around him, all of them with distinctive personalities and challenges.  I like that they're sort of celebrities with licensed t-shirts, and that they make the world better with SCIENCE.   But somehow I just have never been as married to the characters as I've been to my stand-by's at DC, and with my rocky readership, for me picking up FF trades is the way to go.

When Marvel announced that writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa would be taking on the Fantastic Four Season One book, I knew I would pick it up.  Back about 8 years ago I was a big fan of his Marvel Knights FF series 4.  He had a great feel for the characters, or at least one that worked well for me, and I've enjoyed some of his other work.  And then I read that Austin-based artist David Marquez was taking on the art, so I figured it also couldn't hurt to support local talent.

Full disclosure: I'd met David in November, and he was this very nice guy working on a book I'd heard of, but never read.  Mostly, at the time, I just enjoyed chatting with him and felt he was a decent dude.

Well, I'm thrilled to report that his work on Magdalena was not a fluke, and I think Marvel will be handing David a lot more work if the quality here is any indication.  Holy smokes. His take on The Thing really works.  Marquez's take on Ben as a solid block with the famous baby-blue peepers pioneered by Kirby and galvanized by Buscema, and I think of modern artists I've seen on the character, I have to now lean toward Marquez and Wieringo.  I also really, really dig the take on Reed Richards, who I think can be a hard sell (I'm waiting for a copy of Eaglesham on FF, and his Reed is a wee bit "Hawkman-physiqued").  Anyhoo...  Great work and very creative creatures, sets, etc...

The story is sort of boilerplate "FF beginnings" you may know from reading other FF books or seeing the pretty terrible movie from a few years back.  Luckily we have Aguirre-Sacasa writing the book, and he really manages to make it feel fresh without obsessing over details like the celebrity, etc.  Frankly my only regret is that this was a single volume and not an 8-12 issue series to pad out the book.

My two gripes:  I am honored to have bought this book at Austin Books, but even with ABC's standard 10% off trades rule - the cover price is $24.99.  That's a really expensive book, especially for someone trying out a FF comic.  You can buy the movie on DVD for less than $9.  Marvel needs to figure out how to drop the price $10 if they expect for this to move.  I know they have printing costs, but $25 is simply too steep for a starter book.

The phrase "Season One" doesn't work particularly well.  The comic feels like a pilot and second episode, not a 13-22 episode season of a TV show.  Speaking in TV language might translate roughly, but Marvel could have found a different way to pitch this concept.

Smart things Marvel did:  they included a digital code so I can get the Marvel app on my phone and read the book on a portable device if I like.  Or share that code with a friend.

They also included the first issue of the Jonathan Hickman run on FF, a well celebrated read.  With the issue included and with some direct lines about "and you can now read THAT story in this OTHER book", it tells folks where to go next (as well as what to expect).  That's good for giving someone the reader's high built up wile enjoying the book a great next step.

Initially I quite liked the idea of the DC Earth One series, but the execution of Superman Earth One left me less than enthused.  The relaunch of the DCU left me even more baffled as to the point of all this.  And then DC waited more than a year for a follow up.  That's just horrendous planning.  There was simply nothing else for the person who enjoyed the book to latch onto.

Season One solves all of those problems and remembers that those stories worked, that we don't need to re-envision every detail, but that we can update to meet new readers where they live.  My hat is off.

Anyhow, perhaps in the cheaper paperback format this will all make a lot more sense.


Gerry said...

I never read any Fantastic Four until Hickman and now I'm beyond hooked. He really is telling an epic story that has been going on for a couple of years now. I highly recommend it for all the things you said you loved about FF.

The League said...

I've heard such good things, and I finally have a gap in my budget to try it out. Very excited to hear a plug from a trusted source.

Jake Shore said...

Didn't even know about this Season One line by Marvel. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the review. I've always kinda liked the idea of the Fantastic Four, but rarely seen it done well. I enjoyed the Byrne stuff from the 80s, but have been eager for a more modern interpretation.

And thanks Gerry for the heads up on the Hickman stuff. I'll have to check it out.