Thursday, 31 May 2012

Books: Fantastic Four: First Family


Fantastic Four: First Family
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Chris Weston

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

The writer/artist ratio is a strange one. Well. Actually - no - maybe not that strange. Most of the time if I'm checking the names on the cover it's the writer and not the one that did all the actual heavy lifting [1]. I mean - yeah - it's important how a book looks and stuff - but nearly all of the time - a great writer will make a comic worth reading (even if it looks like trash) but a great artist is often only as good at the stuff they're told to draw (a good example: Dave Gibbons: I mean - the guy's a really great artist obviously - but the only two books of his that I would really rate as being worth your time are Watchmen (because: duh) and his Martha Washington (which he did with Frank Miller and which you should really try if you haven't already) - while everything else he does is right kinda - alright - (sorry Dave)). But then - there are exceptions to every rule: and for me that exception is Chris Weston.

Yeah, yeah - I know that I have already declared my love for all things Weston elsewhere on here but I think it's worth reiterating just once more: guy makes every comic he draws into something well worth your time. He just makes everything look so scrumptious and at the same time slightly off-centre and peculiar - with a sense of framing and page layout (check out those moments when the background disappears and it's just a character's head framed against the whiteness) that always makes everything as dramatic and exciting as possible plus (oh man I wish everyone could follow his example) he never scrimps on the background detail - so it feels like everything takes place in a fully realised and properly fleshed out world.

So then - who's the other guy - Joe Casey? Who's that again exactly? The name rings a bell - although I have to confess - in order to work out what bell it was ringing - I did have to do the wikipedia [2]. Which is where I found this pretty close to self-parody sentence (underneath "biography"): "During Casey's run at Marvel Comics people started to recognize his talent as a writer, especially in regard to his work on the book Cable. He took the story in a different direction than had been previously established. Cable went from a multi-gun toting tough guy to a more spiritualized leader for the Askani." And - hell - maybe that means something to some of you (I know who Cable is - but no idea who the Askani are - or even if they're real or some made-up faux Native American thing [3]) - but - damn: if that's how people first started to notice his talent as a writer - then guy doesn't sound like that much of writer. (I mean - I know it's unfair to compare other people to Alan Moore - but compare and contrast "he made the tough guy to the tough guy with a spiritual side" to the kinda mischief Moore got up to with - say - Swamp Thing). Of course - that's his mainstream comics work which - one would guess - is always going to be written under market pressures and doing what you're told by the publishers - but then the only other thing I've read by him was a little bit of Gødland (which is a translucent Jack Kirby homage) but didn't get very far - but then I'm not much of a Jack Kirby fan.

Point being: I don't care anything about Joe Casey - but that doesn't take away from the fact that this is a nifty little comic.

But on to the Fantastic Four and radiation: There's an old Superman story that I read way, way, way back (I think it was in some collection or the other - and I doubt that Islington have a copy - but anyway): it was a Fantastic Four pastiche that told the story of the crew of the NASA space shuttle Excalibur getting infected with somesort of space radiation - only instead of giving them awesome super powers - it gives them awful radiation sickness (which makes a lot more sense when you think about it) and they all die in horrible ways with Superman (who can't really do anything to help) just kinda stands there and watches them - with jaw agape (mmm "agape" is a nice word). Obviously - it's really good [4] and kinda freaked me out about radiation and stuff. Because - yeah - radiation is scary and it can make you weak and sick and it can kill you. Which - if you think about it - just makes it sort of weird that some many of superheroes out there seemed to rely (back the day before the all got rebooted and stuff) upon radiation in order to make them super: Peter Parker and his radioactive spider, Bruce Banner and his his gamma radiation and - finally we get to the point - The Fantastic Four and their cosmic radiation.

Because - yeah - going out into space and being bombarded with cosmic radiation is most likely going to result with people like the Superman Fantastic Four pastiche (horrible death) than the more mainstream Fantastic Four (fun happy superpowers) but that's something that most iterations of the characters don't tend to touch - instead they focus on the family squabbles and the adventuring: but not this book - this is a book that's prickling with so much radioactivity that if you held a geiger counter up to it - it would start to click - it would start to click a lot. A lot of that has a lot to do with Chris Weston (like he says in the Comic Book Resources Interview (link below): "I suppose if you had to summarize my style in a single sentence it would be "weird shit rendered realistically."") he has a way of making the familiar figures of Reed, Susan, Johnny and Ben seem ever so slightly grotesque - with Ben Grimm himself looking less like a superhero and more someone suffering from chemical burns (I mean - maybe that's a slight exaggeration - but the point is: this is a book that real makes you feel the effects of their metamorphosis so that it's more than just - hey! now we're super! - and more: oh my god our bodies have radically changed - which as a bit of a Cronenberg fan is you know: a welcome stylistic choice).

And - yeah - the writing is good too. It knows what to show and what to leave unseen (there's a nice jumpcut which works pretty nicely) and everything rattles along in a pacey franatic way that gives you everything you need to know whilst making sure that nothing gets too bogged down - plus: there's a lot of nice touches in the art (ha - Emmerich Street!).

Elsewhere here I've already mentioned about how crazy and self-involved superhero stories can get - but rest easy: Fantastic Four: First Family is pretty much an origin story so you don't need to know anything prior before going in - plus (bonus): everything wraps up by the final pages - so you don't need to worry about trying to find out what happens next. In fact - the whole thing kinda feels pretty for what a Fantastic Four film should be like (maybe they could do a reboot?).

Superheroics (with a touch of dread) and radioactive mutant monsters as the heroes and the villians = great stuff.

[1] Evidence: writers can churn out books a lot faster than artists can. Like - for every one book an artist can create - a writer can do three or four or five (at least). It's like actors and directors - just by virtue of how much they have to do - directors only ever manage about (if they're lucky) one film every year and a half or so. And - continuing the thought but flipping the roles - that kinda helps explains maybe why generally more interested in directors rather than actors - being that directors (by their very defintion) control everything and so get to be more "auteur-y" (that's a word right?) and stamp their individual take on stuff - while actors just kinda tend to do what they're told - and it's kinda the same with the writer/artist relationship in that (in the main) it's the writers who are coming up with all the stuff and directing the actions - while the artist is sorta the actor -just (and I know this is massively unfair - but oh well): get the script and do what they're told. So writers = directors and artists = actors - it's just that writers (like actors) can do things a lot more quickly while artists (like directors) have to take things more slowly. Ok.

[2] And whilst doing the wikipedia and checking out his bibliography I saw all the X-Men stuff he's wrote and thought oh right all this time I thought that it was Joe Carey who was writing all those X-Men stuff. Except of course there's no such writer as Joe Carey (altho according to google there is a Lieutenant Joseph "Joe" Carey who was (is? will be?) a 24th century Human Starfleet officer and assistant chief engineer on board USS Voyager during its seven-year journey through the Delta Quadrant - but I digress) and I was getting him mixed up with Mike Carey - who wrote The Unwritten (ha - and that's a great little sentence!) and Lucifer and stuff - and also - yes - he also does do loads of X-Men stuff too. So I thought I mixed them up - but turns out I didn't - and I made up a writer that doesn't exist - and (most importantly) I'm an idiot or (then again) maybe it's good that my brain hasn't been playing that much attention to who writes all those X-Men stuff because - let's face it - there's more important things. But - whatever.

[3] I checked. Yawn. They don't even sound that interesting. They're just a made-up religion / resistance group thing whose motto is: "What is, is" and meditate in the lotus position, but levitate upside down. etc. I mean - yay - I learnt something new today - but I get the feeling it's never to prove useful. Oh well.

[4] And - as I found out watching this (it's called the The Death and Return of Superman: "A somewhat-mostly-accurate educational" parody film by Max Landis (son of John Landis and director of Chronicle) starrring Elden Henson, Elijah Wood, Mandy Moore, Morgan Krantz, Simon Pegg and many more- yeah - you kinda need to watch it) I found out that the Mr Fantastic stand-in eventually turned into - very a pretty long and convoluted process [5] - into Cyborg Superman (who looks all sorts of amazing) and just goes to show that - I dunno - something about superhero comics.(My best guess: That they're stupid)

[5] You think I'm exaggerating? Fine (then read what it says on his wikipedia page): "Though Henshaw's physical body expired, he was able to transfer his consciousness into the LexCorp mainframe. Now able to control technology, Henshaw appears to his wife in a robotic body. The shock of this bizarre rebirth is too much for Terri and in a fit of insanity, she jumps to her death from the nearest window. By this point, Henshaw's electronic consciousness has begun to disrupt Earth's communications networks. Using NASA communications equipment, Henshaw beams his mind into the birthing matrix which had carried Superman from Krypton to Earth as an infant. He creates a small exploration craft from the birthing matrix and departs into outer space alone. Henshaw spends some time traveling between planets, bonding with local lifeforms to learn about the culture and history of various worlds. Henshaw would later come to believe that Superman was responsible for the tragedy of the Excalibur after learning that around the time of the accident, the Man of Steel had thrown a rogue Kryptonian artificial intelligence (the Eradicator) into the sun. Henshaw believes that this created the solar flare that resulted in the Excalibur crew's transformations. Over time, Henshaw becomes delusional and paranoid, believing that the Man of Steel had intentionally caused the deaths of himself, his wife, and his crew, then driven him from the Earth. Arriving on a planet controlled by alien overlord and Superman foe Mongul, Henshaw learns of Warworld and forcibly recruits Mongul as part of a plan for revenge against Superman. With Superman apparently dead after his battle with Doomsday, Henshaw decides to pose as him in order to destroy his reputation. To that end, the Cyborg claims to be Superman reborn, the result of the hero's body being pieced together and revived with technology. The Cyborg then uses knowledge obtained from Superman's birthing matrix to construct a body that is genetically identical to Superman." HAPPY NOW?

Links: Comic Book Resources Interview with Chris Weston.

Further reading: The Twelve, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: 1234, Fantastic Four: Worlds Greatest / The Masters of Doom, The Filth.

Profiles: Chris Weston.

All comments welcome.

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