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Non-Review Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

The second scene of Fantastic Four opens on a shot of a red neon sign reading “Grimm”, panning down slowly to a scrapyard packed with exhausted husks of old vehicles that have long outlived their usefulness. If you were to reduce Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four down to a single shot, that would be it; the purest possible distillation of this hundred-minute effort to adapt Marvel’s (literal) first family to the silver screen. It is possible to make a good Fantastic Four film, even if the movies bearing the family’s name suggest otherwise; The Incredibles proved as much.

What is remarkable about Fantastic Four is just how thoroughly and meticulously the edges have been sanded down, replaced with a misshapen grey blob that wants to be X-Men or The Avengers, or anything but what it is. All the moving parts of the film are compelling on their own merits. This is the first studio effort from Josh Trank. It is a vehicle for Miles Teller. It has a soundtrack from Philip Glass (and Marco Beltrami). It features Victor Von Doom in an era when studios have demonstrated they are not afraid of comic book tropes and absurdities.

Fantastic finish?

Fantastic finish?

Fantastic Four effortlessly squanders just about all that good will in a ruthlessly efficient manner, a demonstration of how brutal a bad script and a cynical edit can be. Trank only fleetingly shines through, commandeering the film for about ten minutes in the middle. Miles Teller is reduced to an exposition machine. Any unique identifiers on the Philip Glass soundtrack are pared down for generic superhero movie bombast. The film is so concerned that the audience won’t take a character named Doctor Doom seriously that he’s barely in the film.

The most interesting aspect of Fantastic Four is the recurring sense that the characters themselves openly resent the direction that the project took. Sadly, even Reed Richards cannot stretch far enough to bend the film back into shape.

Clobbering time...

Clobbering time…

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Tomb of Dracula Omnibus, Vol. I (Review/Retrospective)

It’s almost hard to imagine, looking at today’s comic book industry, but there was a time when horror comics were a major money-spinner for the “big two” comic book companies. The Tomb of Dracula stands out as the longest running and most successful of Marvel’s horror titles from the seventies, but there were a whole line of books being published featuring monsters old and new. It’s great that Marvel have taken the time and care to publish the complete series in three deluxe hardcover volumes. The Tomb of Dracula is a gem in Marvel’s seventies publishing crown, a delightfully enjoyable pulpy horror series that feels palpably more mature than a lot that the company was publishing at the same time.

A tome of Tomb…

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Acts of Vengeance: Fantastic Four vs. Congress (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

The more I read of Acts of Vengeance and its related crossovers, the more I think that the collections work best as a slice of Marvel, capturing a couple of issues from a vast array of creative teams working on a huge number of titles, to give a sampling of Marvel’s output at the time. Walt Simonson’s Fantastic Four is very highly regarded by quite a few fans of the comic book series. While it arguably hasn’t become as popular as John Byrne’s Fantastic Four or even Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four, I have to admit that I’m delighted to be able to sample three issues collected in a nice oversized hardcover. Simonson seems to gently (or not-so-gently) mock the premise of the event itself, but his three issue story arc here is fascinating and decades ahead of its time.

No, Ben, we ain’t…

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Acts of Vengeance: X-Factor – Apocalypse vs. Loki (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

It is very clear, reading some of the issues connected to John Byrne’s Acts of Vengeance, that some writers weren’t entirely on board with the crossover. After all, it was a giant line-wide event that existed purely to pit heroes against villains who traditionally faced other heroes – there was no more rhyme or reason than that. In many cases, that meant derailing whatever was happening in the book at the time, or even reversing or setting back characterisation. Magneto, in particular, found himself reverted back to little more than a villain. While a lot of books were implicitly critical of the event, Louise Simonson’s X-Factor seems particularly bothered by the intrusion, to the point that the only real tie-in to Acts of Vengeance sees the big villain Apocalypse effectively booting Loki out of his book.

I’m not sure Loki’s enthusiasm will crossover quite well…

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Acts of Vengeance: Daredevil vs. Ultron (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

I’ll confess that I haven’t read all of Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run. I’ve just read the issues contained in various crossover collections like Inferno, Mutant Massacre or even Fall of the Mutants. While any run on Daredevil is going to rest in the shadow of Frank Miller’s character-defining work, I find it interesting that Nocenti managed to so effectively tie the book back into the heart of the Marvel Universe. Miller defined the book as a noir adventure, and the tendency has been to follow that approach. While Nocenti writes the same Matt Murdock that Miller defined, she cleverly tends to put him in a different context, producing rather interesting and engaging results. Nocenti’s Daredevil is very much a superhero book, even though it follows Miller’s characterisation, and that gives it a unique flavour.

Stickin’ it to the man…

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Acts of Vengeance: The Punisher vs. Doctor Doom (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

I tend to like my Punisher stories with a hint of the ridiculous about them. I seem to be the only person who thought that Garth Ennis did his best work on the character as part of Marvel Knights rather than Punisher MAX, because I tend to think the character works best as a sort of an absurd straight man in mainstream comics. He is, after all, a character who uses superhero iconography (a giant skull on his chest, no matter how stripped-down the iteration) while being a guy with a gun who likes to kill criminals. I’ve always felt that the character required a suspension of disbelief that that only really worked if he was played just slightly ridiculous. Of course, that’s my opinion, and I seem to be in the minority on this, but it probably explains why I found Mike Baron’s tie-in to Acts of Vengeance – pitting the Punisher against Doctor Doom – to be so much damn fun.

Closing in to seal his doom…

Note: The always wonderful Chris Simms took a more indepth look at this unlikely crossover on Comics Alliance, perfectly capturing the wonderful insanity of it all.

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Acts of Vengeance Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

As The Avengers is getting its U.S. theatrical release this weekend, I thought I’d celebrate by taking a look at a gigantic crossover. I’ll be reviewing individual tie-ins over the weekend, so check back!

Truth be told, I would have been quite disappointed if I made it all the way to the end of the month without taking a look at one of those token “big, dumb” crossovers featuring Marvel’s iconic characters. Truth be told, Acts of Vengeance just looked kinda fun. Although it spread to Marvel’s whole line, it was directed by writer and artist John Byrne, who was behind Avengers and West Coast Avengers at the time, so I’m totally counting it as an Avengers crossover. It’s one of those incredibly silly concepts that could only ever work in the context of superhero comic books. Basically, tired of being soundly defeated by their heroes, a bunch of supervillains decide to band together and exchange partners. Hilarity ensues as the line struggles to maintain editorial consistency.

Shattered heroes…

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Captain America by Jack Kirby Omnibus (Review)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Today, I’m focusing on one in particular, Captain America.

“All the years of combat against forces of overwhelming power have done little to prepare Cap for the terrifying experience of being thrust under the Klieg Lights amid an undulating sea of precision dancers…”

– Oh no! Cap’s fatal weakness! Precision dancers!

It seemed like a bit of a no-brainer. With America’s bicentennial celebrations approaching, Marvel decided to put comic book legend (and co-creator) Jack Kirby on the comic book. Publishing two annuals, twenty-two issues of the on-going Captain America and Falcon book, and the iconic Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, Kirby celebrated two centuries of the United States in style, crafting Captain America stories that were at once anchored in the past, yet boldly forging forward. He also seemed to embrace the crazy and energetic potential of the medium he helped define, producing a run on the character that was borderline surreal, occasionally crazy, but never boring.

The most awesome comic panel ever…

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Warren Ellis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1-2 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

I have to admit that I’m quite surprised to see Warren Ellis writing for a year on Ultimate Fantastic Four. You could make the case for Ellis – an avowed technophile – as perhaps the perfect author for a high-concept series like the Fantastic Four. It was Mark Waid who dubbed the family “Imaginauts” – explorers of the imagination, rather than superheroes or guys in costumes. In a way, given how skilfully Ellis handled Tony Stark’s technological transformation in Extremis, you might not have been unreasonable in expecting he’d prove a deft hand with Marvel’s first family. However, reading the twelve issues he wrote for the title, it’s hard to get a sense that Ellis was ever really giving it his all – although he does play around a bit, it never feels like he’s genuinely pushing things to the limit and playing with all the associated toys. In fact, quite a lot of his run feels like it’s playing it safe.

See, the Thing is...

Note: Ellis’ run on the title picks up after the initial six issues written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, and so is split over the second half of the first hardcover and the first half of the second. The second hardcover is rounded off by a two-part Think Tank story from Mike Carey (who would take over as regular writer after Mark Millar) and an annual written by Millar. So this review/retrospective just covers the issues written by Ellis.

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Mighty Avengers: Assemble & Secret Invasion (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

This is the ninth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s core continuity (and in particular their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

After the schism of Civil War, a title like Mighty Avengers makes sense on some level. If you’ve pitted heroes against heroes in a contest that you’ve deemed to be allegedly subjective (Marvel’s editorial policy was that there was no right or wrong side to the conflict), then it makes sense to follow the winners as well as the losers. The post-Civil War issues of Bendis’ New Avengers followed those heroes who had fought against registration of superheroes and lost, and Mighty Avengers was launched to offer us an on-going narrative featuring the winning side. It also seems to be a conscious nostalgic effort on the part of author Bendis, perhaps a response to the criticism that his early work on New Avengers steered clear of conventional Avengers storylines – occupied as they were with Japanese ganglands, prison breakouts and Sentry’s inter-personal issues. Here, Bendis seems to be consciously focusing on classic Silver Age devices – in the first run of issues, the State-sanctioned Avengers team faces classic foes like Ultron, the Symbiotes and even Doctor Doom. The problem is that Bendis isn’t necessarily comfortable drafting conventional superheroic fare.

Ultron puts Tony in touch with his feminine side…

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