Fantastic Four Vol 2, #6
At one point in the mid 90s, I wasn’t reading very many Marvel comic books. But late one afternoon in 1997 (I can’t remember where I was coming home from), I passed a shop in Oak Park, IL and, on a whim, stopped in and bought a couple of books. I got a Gen 13 issue and Heroes Reborn Fantastic Four #6. While I definitely appreciate it when Marvel or DC tries to do new things– and I am a fan of Jim Lee— this particular comic is, um… Kinda a hot mess.
Hot Mess Genesis: The Heroes Reborn project involved Marvel farming several of their major characters out to former artists– most of whom had gone on to successfully form Image Comics. Heroes Reborn presented new versions of classic heroes in out-of-continuity tales for about a year or so (when the status quo would eventually be restored.) Obviously, the idea was to sell the “event” by hyping the return of hot star artists like Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, etc– with the promise of also giving hip updates to a few Marvel characters some readers felt had gone stale. This particular issue actually had two stories: The main Fantastic Four story written by Brandon Choi with art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams, and a back-up starring Dr Doom– written by Scott Lobdell, with art by Brett Booth and Tom McWeeny.
Hot Mess Part 1: What’s up with the main story in this comic? Dr Doom is there. Black Panther does… Something. Silver Surfer is standing around with the Super Skrull… Ok… And Wyatt Wingfoot is a SHIELD agent. Super Skrull has the Surfer’s powers and fights Johnny, Ben and T’Challa– while Reed, Doom and Sue attempt to figure out how to restore the Surfer’s cosmic energy. Then, for some unknown reason, Doom’s castle blows up and the good guys get away… And “The End.”
Uh… Ok. There’s some fighting, ray blasts and explosions… But it doesn’t feel like a story– or even the climax to a story. None of the events are compelling. It’s simply a collection of random elements from mid 60s FF comics that just sit there.
Hot Mess Part 2: As I said, I like Jim Lee– but this comic demonstrates one of his major artistic flaws. Lee’s great at drawing detailed figures looking heroic, but his storytelling is sometimes muddled and his fight scenes are occasionally confusing. It’s a bit difficult to make out who’s standing next to whom and where the action is taking place. I know they’re in Doom’s castle… But are they in the basement, in a bedroom or in a dining room? (There’s no way to know.) And then, out of nowhere, we get a big splash page of Galactus– who does not appear in any active element of the story. Someone just happens to explain the Surfer is Galactus’ herald– so we get a splash page featuring the purple-helmeted World Eater. Don’t get me wrong… I think it’s way cool looking, but why is it in this story?
Hot Mess Back-Up Story: This tale is called Industrial Revolution– part of a storyline I think crossed over between a few of the Heroes Reborn titles. Dr Doom discovers the Hulk has destroyed Avengers Mansion, which (for some unknown reason) causes him to think about his college experiences with the other brilliant minds in the Marvel Universe… Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Apparently, they all posed for a picture together. That’s it. Then one of Doom’s robots shows the masked dictator an image of the Hulk standing in front of a destroyed Avengers Mansion– and Doom immediately surmises the destruction is the result of gamma radiation. How does Doom know gamma radiation is the culprit– rather than cosmic radiation, toxic irradiation or something else? Or is it just because writer Scott Lobdell thinks fans are basically stupid– so they can only associate gamma radiation with the Hulk? Lazy writing, dude…
Hot Mess Omega: In the grand scheme of things, Fantastic Four #6 is not the worst comic book in the world. However, I’ve seen some of these creators do better work elsewhere. Choi and Lee were a much more entertaining team on their Wildcats run and Jim would go on to create some very nice work for DC on Batman Hush. Scott Lobdell? I always find him hit or miss. His contribution here doesn’t stand out– aside from his being paid to write a story that isn’t really a story.
Power Man #30
Luke Cage Power Man was inspired by the 70s blaxploitation film craze. In 1976, the craze was waning, but hadn’t completely died yet– so Cage’s portrayal in Power Man #30 wasn’t quite out of date, although he’s still portrayed in a slightly stereotypical fashion… Ok, make that a HIGHLY stereotypical fashion. All that said, I feel there was enough care taken in the storytelling to raise this comic above mere trend-mongering.
Power Man #30 is written by Don McGregor (who was also writing the Black Panther in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic at the same time.) The issue opens with Luke tied to the bottom of a bridge about to open– having been chained there by a villain in the previous issue. Luke frees himself and vows to bring the criminals responsible for his indignity to justice. He then converses with his friend D.W. (named after filmmaker D.W. Griffith, creator of the highly controversial Birth of a Nation), dodges questions from the police, confronts corrupt businessmen and ultimately fights the main villains: Piranha Jones and Cockroach Hamilton (complete with henchmen.) The story ends on a cliffhanger threatening not only Luke, but everyone in Manhattan.
Don McGregor’s script raises this issue above exploitation by including lots of flowery language and social commentary throughout. The title is, “Look What They’ve Done to Our Lives, Ma” (a play on the name of a popular 70s song called Look What They’ve Done to Our Song by The New Seekers.) When Cage remarks how it’s easier to make criminals like Cockroach pay for their crimes than it is to bring corporate CEOs to justice… There seems to be a kind of class awareness exhibited in the narrative that’s not immediately present in many other comics from the same era. I believe McGregor is trying to remake the consciousness of this street level hero, rather than just write a Shaft (link NSFW!) rip off. Another positive aspect of the script: Cage’s dialect is less embarrassingly clichéd here than it is in some comics.
On the flip side, this comic also features a Don McGregor script– so a few of Don’s writing weaknesses are clearly present. Sometimes characters are just a little too self-aware and captions are a bit too over-written. The exposition is often moving and engaging, but occasionally hurts the narrative too. For example, when Cage is chained to the bridge, McGregor describes Luke’s struggle through powerful and dramatic captions… Then evokes the famous Hang In There! kitty poster. As a reader, I’m like, “Errr… What?”
And while the comic doesn’t wallow in clichés, it’s not completely cliché free either. The biggest stereotype is probably Cockroach Hamilton. His partner Piranha Jones is portrayed as a sophisticated business criminal who wouldn’t seem out of place in a current Spider-Man or Daredevil comic. Piranha’s gimmick isn’t his skin color– it’s his razor teeth and his “Crime Boss” attitude. But Cockroach is Ghetto Stereotype 101: He carries a six barrel shot-gun, but is more memorable for his wide brim hat, shades, big coat and 70s TV Pimp Look. Sure, this comic came out when this image was still quite contemporary, but that doesn’t make the character any less a stereotype.
The art credits say Rich Buckler, Arv Jones and Keith Pollard— with no clear distinction between penciler and inker, or who did which pages. The art is fairly consistent throughout, so I’m not 100% sure who did what. If I had to guess, I’d say the majority of the pencils were Buckler with some by Jones– with Pollard inking? The art is nothing spectacular but definitely clear and functional.
McGregor would leave Marvel within a year or two and accomplish some interesting work for 80s Indie Comic Publisher Eclipse– as well as creating Nathaniel Dusk for DC Comics. So while this comic isn’t on the level of Native Son by Richard Wright or even Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns— McGregor’s Power Man #30 does demonstrate how care and intelligence can raise even dubious concepts over their clichéd origins.
Fun Fact #1: The letter column features a letter by Jo Duffy— who would later write Powerman and Iron Fist in the 80s.
Fun Fact #2: At no point in this issue does Luke say, “Sweet Christmas!”