Tag Archives: Fantastic Four

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Dr. Doom #3

Death has always been a running joke of sorts in superhero comics. Characters die all the time, but rarely stay dead. That includes important, iconic characters whose deaths resonate beyond the pages of comics. Sometimes, these deaths are incredibly dramatic, showing just how great these characters can be when everything is on the line. Regardless of how heroic their deaths might be, however, it rarely sticks.

That’s why it’s often more interesting when major villains die. While they rarely stay dead as well, their postmortem journey is often more arduous. If ever there was a villain who constantly skews the concept of death, it’s Victor Von Doom. If anyone needs proof, then look no further than “Dr. Doom #3.”

While he has “died” before, he rarely stays dead. It’s not just because every one of his “deaths” can be attributed to a Doombot, either. This is a man who has been a God and won battles against Marvel’s version of the devil. To him, death is more an inconvenience than a permanent end. It’s just a lot more inconvenient than usual in “Dr. Doom #3.”

These are not good times for Victor Von Doom. The Fantastic Four are back. His brief stint as the new Iron Man ended before he had a chance to show up Tony Stark. He has also been deposed from Latveria, exiled from the country, and thrown into a world with a target on his back for every superhero and SHIELD agent. It is the most vulnerable Doom has been since he was stranded butt naked on Counter Earth.

In short, he’s vulnerable, pissed off, and under constant attack. It’s precisely the situation that brings out the best and worst in Dr. Doom. While the events of “Dr. Doom #2” ended with him “dying” at the hands of Taskmaster, death only gives him a chance to remind everyone why no afterlife can hold him.

It also gives him a chance at another rematch with Mephisto, also known as Marvel’s devil and the one responsible for breaking up Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s marriage. It’s not the first time they’ve clashed, but to date, Dr. Doom has a winning record against Mephisto. That’s something Mephisto is eager to change in his own hellish way.

It makes for a battle full of hellfire. Artist Salvador Larroca brings beautiful depictions of the hellscape that is Mephisto’s domain and writer Christopher Cantwell captures their less-than-heavenly egos every step of the way.

Mephisto tries to torment Doom with what he has sacrificed in the past to achieve his goals. Doom tries torment Mephisto by reminding him that he has beaten damnation before and only got stronger because of it. Neither one of them comes off as heroic, but that’s exactly what makes Doom’s defiance of death’s grip so unique.

Dr. Doom is not the kind of man who makes heroic sacrifices, but he’s also not a man who does what he does for no reason. As I’ve noted before and as other comics have highlighted, Doom doesn’t terrorize innocent people, heroes, and even other villains for no reason. He does what he does because he truly believes that the only future in which people are free from want and suffering is a future in which he rules.

It’s a sentiment that the late Stan Lee himself echoed. The first two issues of this series effectively double down on this vision, but “Dr. Doom #3” presents it with a major challenge. There are obstacles in his way aside from the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Death and damnation only compound those obstacles, but as is often the case, Doom raises to the challenge.

There are times when Mephisto tries to poke at Dr. Doom’s very few, but very real vulnerabilities. He tempts him with challenges and deals that test even his unshakable will. Cantwell never lets Doom come off as pure evil or pure ego, but he never comes off as a hero, either.

Heroes don’t beat death, Hell, and the Devil like this. At the same time, villains don’t prevail in ways that makes us want to cheer them on. That’s what Dr. Doom does in “Dr. Doom #3” and he’s somehow more menacing because of it.

There are only a handful of characters in comics that can truly die and stay dead, even if some of them do find roles in alternate universes. There are also certain characters who can die in any number of ways, but will never stay dead for long. Dr. Doom is definitely on that list, if not at the very top.

Dr. Doom #3” might very well be Doom’s darkest hour in the sense that his destiny to rule the world in a Utopian future seemed most distant. He has been dethroned, killed off, and sent to Hell to be tormented by a devil with plenty of motivation to see him suffer. For once, Doom has to beat the odds when they’re not stacked in his favor.

It’s a test of his will and resolve, but one we expect him to pass because he’s Dr. Doom. This is what he does. It doesn’t matter how many times every hero, villain, angel, or demon takes him down. Doom always finds a way to claw his way back. It’s not always easy to root for Dr. Doom, but when he’s beating the devil himself, it’s hard not to cheer him on.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #5

Certain characters are held to very high standards. That’s especially true of superheroes. Not all heroes can or should be judged with the same criteria. Wolverine can go on a rage-fueled killing spree, lust after married women, and drunk a gallon of whiskey a day, but still get labeled a hero. That’s because he’s held to a different, albeit very lenient standard.

That sort of standard just can’t work for a character like Sue Richards. Aside from being a hero, she carries herself very differently from the likes of Wolverine, Tony Stark, and Black Widow. She’s not a career assassin, a playboy billionaire, or some cosmic tyrant. She’s a hero, a role model, a loving wife, and a caring mother. She knows who she is and cherishes that identity.

That same identity has been tested, strained, and pushed in her latest solo series, courtesy of writer Mark Waid. We’ve seen her revisit an old part of her life that almost took her down a very different path, one that would not have met those lofty standards ascribed to heroes like her and teams like the Fantastic Four. In “Invisible Woman #5,” she comes dangerously close to crossing lines she swore to never cross.

It’s the end of a story that has taken Sue Richards away from her family and her life of wild cosmic adventures. Instead of battling planet-eating cosmic beings, she navigates the shady world of espionage. By the end, it’s easy to see why she prefers battling Galactus.

At first, the mission was simple. Sue set out to find a former friend and partner, Aidan Tintreach. As is often the case in stories involving spies, espionage, and beautiful women, it gets exceedingly complicated very fast. Along the way, Waid explores just how capable Sue is on her own. She’s one of those characters who is often defined by her team and her family. She rarely gets a chance to show what she can do by herself.

As a spy, Aidan saw that potential in her. Throughout the series, he has forced her to realize it in ways that don’t always sit well. Initially, it was as an ally and someone in need of her help. The events leading up to “Invisible Woman #5” steadily revealed the kind of person he became. He now has Sue in a position to become that same person.

True to the high heroic standards that she holds for herself, Sue never stops trying to save her former partner. She keeps trying to reconnect with the man she once knew. At every turn, however, Aidan keeps shooting holes in their history and her faith in him. It puts Sue in a difficult position in “Invisible Woman #5,” one for which she can’t play by the same rules that help make her an iconic hero.

What starts as a rescue is now an unfolding tragedy and it comes dangerously close to becoming much worse. At this point, there’s no more room for betrayals and secrets. Sue has to confront Aidan, who at this point has a death wish. However, rather than poke the Hulk’s eye or kick a puppy in front of the Punisher, he wants Sue to be the one to stop him.

He seems so far gone, but Waid never paints Aidan as someone who has just lost their mind. He’s not the Joker, the Green Goblin, or a villain from a James Bond movie. He’s just someone who has crossed so many lines over the year as a spy, lying and betraying everyone along the way, that there’s no standard left to judge him. As a character and someone who used to ally himself with superheroes, he’s gone morally numb.

At times, Aidan comes off as a dark mirror for Sue. In him, she sees what she could’ve become if she’d remained a spy. He is living proof of what happens when you’re held to a high standard, but cross too many lines. It makes what Sue has to do to stop him feel so dramatic and impactful.

Along the way, she has to push herself and her powers in ways we rarely see outside of trips to the Negative Zone. Artist Mattia de Iulis does an excellent job showing off what Sue can do when she needs to use her powers creatively. The visuals make clear that, even without her family, Sue is very powerful.

Anyone who has read more then one Fantastic Four comic knows that. However, seeing her powers applied in such unique ways helps demonstrate what Aidan sees in her. If she held herself to a different standard, she could be a true force to be reckoned with and not just as a spy.

Between de Iulis’ renderings and Waid’s characterization, “Invisible Woman #5” shows the Fantastic Four’s perennial mother figure in a new light. We get to see glimpses of her past before she became this iconic hero that we hold to such lofty standards. We also see how her approach to heroism differs from those who immerse themselves in situations where heroes and villains alike have to lie, cheat, and deceive.

It’s not one of those stories in which Sue can rely on her family, teamwork, or her inherently endearing personality to save the day. She has to face down someone who ventured into the same shady world, but came out far worse. It’s not the kind of situations that Sue often finds herself in with the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #5” shows that she can handle it, albeit with a heavy heart.

In the end, that same heart is exactly why Sue Richards holds herself to such high standards. It’s the same reason why her heroism is judged by such a strict criteria compared to other characters in the greater Marvel pantheon. When she does have to cross a line, it breaks her heart, as it would for anyone who hasn’t been too hardened by circumstance.

The fact that there are still characters like Sue Richards, who hold onto those values and refuse to cross certain lines, is nothing short of refreshing. In an age where we expect heroes, celebrities, icons, and leaders to cross lines all the time, a hero like Invisible Woman stands out for all the right reasons.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #1

There are some iconic characters whose iconic status acts as a double-edged sword. Being iconic helps give them staying power. Only a handful of characters are iconic enough to remain relevant for extended periods, especially when their relevance extends all the way back to the Kennedy Administration.

With that staying power, however, comes often baggage, circumstance, and complications. For much of her history, Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards has been defined by her role in Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. She’s not just the cute blond on a team of superheroes. She’s a wife, a mother, and a sister. She frequently acts as the anchor that holds the Fantastic Four together, as a family.

It’s a role that has helped make her iconic, but it has also limited her opportunities to explore stories outside that family role. It certainly didn’t help that she, Reed, and her children were MIA from Marvel’s comic book universe for an extended period, which may or may not have had something to do with movie rights.

Even with those complications, Sue is one of those characters who has always had the potential to be something more than her iconic role on a famous superhero team. With “Invisible Woman #1,” Mark Waid and Mattia de Iulis finally take a chance at realizing that potential. At a time when the Fantastic Four are still recovering from years of negligence and a historically bad movie, the timing couldn’t be better.

This isn’t just another story about Sue holding her family together. It’s not about her trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a sister, and a superhero. Waid and de Iulis put Sue in a position to show that she can be iconic in her own right without sacrificing what makes her so vital to her family.

The premise of “Invisible Woman #1” is fairly simple. It establishes that there was a time in the past when Sue explored other types of superhero activities on top of her role with the Fantastic Four. One of those activities involved espionage on behalf of SHIELD. In the world of Marvel superheroes, it’s basically the equivalent of taking the night shift at a grocery store.

She was good at it too. She could get the job done and, unlike other trigger-happy SHIELD agents, she could do it without much bloodshed. It nicely reflects the loving, compassionate nature that makes her the lynch-pin of the Fantastic Four. It also shows that she can be tough and cunning when she needs to be.

It’s a side of Sue that hasn’t been explored much, but one that still reflects the greatest strength of her character. She’ll never be as cunning as Black Widow or as stoic as Nick Fury, but she’ll find a way to get the job done and she’ll make an impression on those who work with her. Even before she became a mom, she embodied that motherly love that many find comforting.

It’s because Sue did this job her own endearing way that she gets pulled back into the world of espionage. In many respects, the timing couldn’t be better. Waid builds on the recent developments with her family that have been unfolding in the current Fantastic Four comics under Dan Slott, which I highly recommend. She’s still the same mother figure she has always been, but her family is evolving.

Her children are growing up. One of her closest friends is married now. Her brother is always doing his own thing. Waid even explores how someone like her deals with the changing nature of her family. It makes diving back into the shady world of espionage feel like a golden opportunity and Sue embraces it.

It also helps that the stakes aren’t so high that the entire multiverse is in jeopardy. Whereas the Fantastic Four will routinely prevent reality from falling apart, this particular mission involves saving the lives of imprisoned students and a captured agent that she once worked with. The world isn’t at stake, but it feels personal for Sue and that’s all the motivation she needs.

It’s both refreshing and overdue, seeing a character like Sue take on a challenge that’s far different from cosmic, psychedelic adventures that often involve shape-shifting aliens and hostile planet-eaters. She does so while never deviating from what makes her so endearing, as a member of the Fantastic Four. Waid’s past history with the Fantastic Four helps make “Invisible Woman #1” feel like a perfect extension of an iconic character.

The pace of the story is slow and steady, but it never drags. It sets up plenty of intriguing elements, some of which are hinted at in the final pages. There’s a great deal of introspection, which makes sense for a character who has been subject to many upheavals in the world around her. It helps reaffirm why she’s so iconic in the first place.

Sue Richards will always be defined by her role in the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #1” proves that she still has room to grow. She can still be a mom, a husband, a sister, and a superhero. She can also be a spy on the side and not fall into the same trap as every female spy in a Jame Bond movie.

Both Sue Richards and the Fantastic Four have a long way to go in terms of recovering from the setbacks incurred by bad movies and vindictive CEOs. While it may be a while before they show up in the MCU, a book like “Invisible Woman #1” feels like a small step in that process.

It’s been a while since anyone has been able to say it with a straight face, but the future of the Fantastic Four looks genuinely fantastic.

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Done Deal: The Disney/Fox Merge Is Complete!

As Micky Mouse himself would say, “Oh boy!”

As of 12:02 a.m. on March 20, 2019, the deal that has been 18 months in the making is complete. Disney and Fox are officially merged in an intimate corporate entanglement that sounds extra-sexy to fans of the X-Men and Fantastic Four.

There are a lot of implications here. The media landscape will never be the same. I’m neither smart enough nor psychic enough to make sense of those implications. However, I’m certain there will be plenty to discuss in the coming years. As a fan of superhero movies and all things awesome, I’ll be keeping a close eye on it and I’ll certainly single out the stuff that’s extra sexy.

Until then, let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the bold new, Disney-dominated world we live in now.

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RIP Stan Lee (1922-2018)

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No words. For once, I have no words.

Deadline: Marvel Comics Legend Dies At 95

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The following is a review I wrote on Fantastic Four #1 for PopMatters. Enjoy!

Unforgettably Unforgotten: Fantastic Four #1

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August 9, 2018 · 4:04 pm

Why We Should Embrace Married Superheroes

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What is more emotionally satisfying than seeing someone you care about find happiness? Whether it’s a friend, a sibling, or even a celebrity you admire, don’t you feel a twinge of joy when you see them achieve something special? Unless you’re a cynic or a sociopath, you’ve probably had those feelings at least once in your life.

With those warm and fuzzy feelings inside, why shouldn’t that also extend to the iconic superheroes we know and love? When our favorite heroes finally get around to marrying the love of their life, it’s natural to want to cheer them on the same way we would cheer for our best friend as he and his bride do karaoke at the reception.

However, those tasked with building the canon seem to have an aversion to married superheroes. Just this past summer, that aversion was on full display. Two major superhero weddings were set up, one involving Kitty Pryde and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 and the other involving Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50.

Sadly, both events ended without tearful vows and a drunken toast, although one salvaged a matrimonial quickie at the last second. I’ve already broken down how one wedding just prolonged an already drawn out romance while the other denigrated the entire concept of romance, as a whole. Rather than bemoan those romantic misfirings, I’d like to step back and look at the bigger picture of married superheroes.

This is actually a controversial issue among fans of superhero comics and those who create them. I’ve been browsing comic book message boards for years. I can attest to just how much fans care when their favorite characters get married. They continue caring long after the wedding reception.

On the other side of the controversy, though, there are the creators that work for Marvel, DC, and their corporate overlords. They have a slightly different view of married superheroes and one that’s not nearly as sentimental. To say their views are complex is like saying a plumber has mixed opinions on food poisoning.

While many of those writing, editing, and producing superhero media are fans themselves, they often have to leave their fandom at the door. Companies like Marvel and DC Comics don’t pay them to write fan fiction. They pay them to tell stories that will sell, increase the value of their brand, and improve market share.

A writer or editor’s ability to do this is prone to many challenges. Fans, especially comic book fans, are notoriously fickle with their passions. If they see something they don’t like happening to a character they love, they’re pretty vocal about it. Just ask fans of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, or Cyclops of the X-men.

In that respect, I have some sympathy for the people responsible for handling beloved characters. They’re basically playing with someone else’s toys and getting paid for it. However, if they break those toys or damage them in any way, there can be hell to pay. Just look at the current situation with Star Wars.

That sympathy, though, only goes so far and I can’t extended to how some at Marvel and DC have approached marriage. DC Comics editor, Dan Dido, once went on record as saying that superheroes should not get married. Long-time Marvel editor and COO, Joe Quesda, even had to justify breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson by claiming that it “stabilized” Spider-Man too much.

Now in general, I try to be understanding and respectful when people hold positions that I disagree with. I’ve even tried to do that with hot-button issues like abortion, feminism, and organized religion. In this case though, I just have to call bullshit.

Claiming marriage does too much to stabilize a superhero is like saying ketchup makes food too red. It gives the impression that stability is somehow a liability with superheroes, as though they can only be interesting when their world is falling apart and they’re one stubbed toe away from a nervous breakdown.

It’s true that we superhero fans love seeing our favorite heroes fight back invading aliens, punch Nazis, and even take on renegade alien gods. However, it’s also true that we don’t expect or want that to be the only story that superheroes tell. We’re also interested in the lives they live outside their flashy costumes. It doesn’t just humanize them. It gives us more reasons to root for them.

Both Mr. Quesada and Mr. Dido try to make the case that part of being a hero involves sacrificing parts of their personal life in order to serve the greater good. There’s little doubt that being a hero comes at a price, as many of Batman’s former lovers can attest, but that doesn’t have to involve outright isolation.

It also doesn’t mean being a superhero makes a functioning marriage impossible, either. Yes, it’s a lot harder to be a loving spouse and a superhero, but I wouldn’t say it’s as daunting as battling planet-eating space gods or surviving a team-up with Deadpool. In fact, it can enhance their heroics in ways that go beyond romance.

I’m not the only one to make that point either. In wake of the recent wedding debacles by Marvel and DC, Comic Books Resources asked why publishers are so afraid of married superheroes. They cited the same excuses I did about heroes needing to sacrifice, but they also pointed out how these kinds of real-life, mundane events help people connect with these characters.

What the article didn’t get into is why this matters. Superman is a hero with god-like power who can move planets and create diamonds with his bare hands. He’s also married to Lois Lane and still has to put in the effort to make that marrage work, even when it becomes prone to complications.

Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is among the smartest beings in the entire Marvel Universe. He creates thought projectors, flying cars, and personal robots without breaking a sweat. He too has to work hard to keep his marriage and family functioning, especially when a handsome Atlantean king keeps trying to sleep with his wife.

Then, there’s Spider-Man. I know I’ve brought him up a number of times and not always in a positive light, but what happened to him and his marriage is still one of the most controversial things that have ever happened in comics. In many ways, he embodies the ultimate flaw in the excuses to undercut married superheroes.

In the infamous story, One More Day, Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson wasn’t just undone. He actually made a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s stand-in for the devil, to sacrifice his marriage in exchange for saving his Aunt May’s life. Considering his Aunt had told him just a few issues ago that she didn’t want to be saved, Spider-Man still went through with it.

To say fans were upset by that decision would be like saying the Hulk has a slight anger management problem. This act didn’t just undercut an iconic superhero romance. It essentially reverted Spider-Man back to the state of an immature loser who had barely grown up since high school.

Again, Marvel made plenty of excuses. Long-time Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, claimed that Spider-Man has to remain within a particular status quo. He has to keep being this lovable loser who is always struggling to hold down a job, keep a girlfriend, and still be a hero. In order to keep that unique appeal he has, and all the merchendising money it makes, he can’t be married.

I understand that logic, but I still call bullshit. You know what happens to characters who never change, grow up, or evolve over time? It’s the same thing that happens to real people. They become boring and unlikable. In Spider-Man’s case, he becomes something worse. He becomes the guy who sold his marriage to the devil to save someone who didn’t even want to be saved. That’s not heroic. That’s just plain selfish.

That’s the price a superhero pays for remaining in a prepetually regressed state. I contend that price is far higher than any associated with the inherent difficulty of writing married characters. With Spider-Man, One More Day established that no matter what he did in his personal or heroic life, he would never change. He’d always end up sleeping on his Aunt May’s couch.

It doesn’t matter if he pursues a new romance. It doesn’t matter if he becomes a billionaire and runs his own company. A reader can just assume he’ll screw it all up somehow and end up right back where he started. It’s just hard to root for any character that keeps regressing like that.

It’s like rooting for a sports team that never wins. Even terrible teams can turn it around at some point. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns. If that team never wins, though, why even root in the first place?

This is why marriage is so vital to the growth and evolution of superheroes. When a hero gets married, it’s not just an excuse to have a big event full of superhero-themed cakes. It’s a culmination of a much larger story about love, growth, and strength. It takes a lot to make a marriage work and not all of it can be done with superpowers.

Therein lies the ultimate appeal, though. When a superhero gets married, they go from simply pursuing a relationship to actually making it work. They have to learn how to build a life with another person and become part of a larger family, something that cannot and should not be exclusive to the Fantastic Four.

It fundementally changes how superheroes approach their lives, in and out of costume. It adds new layers of complexity and intrigue. Yes, it’s considerably harder than telling stories about Superman rescuing Lois Lane from Lex Luthor’s evil clutches. That’s exactly what makes it more compelling.

I don’t doubt that Marvel and DC will continue making excuses about married superheroes. Whether or not their approach to the issue evolves remains to be seen. However, since they’re in the business of keeping their characters relevant, they will have an incentive to adapt these characters for changing times and maturing audiences.

Being the romantic I am, I believe love will eventually win out in the end because love is part of why we root for superheroes in the first place. Love isn’t just about being unselfish. It’s also about achieving something special after so much sacrifice. Fans of superheroes want to see them achieve the things they struggle for. It affirms that all those heroics have meaning and purpose.

Marriage doesn’t have to be the ultimate achievement for a superhero. It can be part of it, though. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can be a beginning, as well. Until Marvel and DC lets its heroes get to that point, though, those stories won’t get told and hearts will keep getting broken for all the wrong reasons.

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