Best Shots Advance Reviews: FANTASTIC FOUR, NEW YORK FIVE
No Overprint for FANTASTIC FOUR #587
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Mike Perkins and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
"Tell him this is where I made my stand."
Even though death is hardly permanent in comics, there's a sentimentality that lingers, an aching of the heartstrings that keeps you hooked. Perhaps it's morbid — like imagining your own funeral — but at the same time, it reminds why we liked these heroes so much in the first place.
Because after all, you never really know what you have until it's gone.
Now I won't tell you who is the unlucky hero — although Jonathan Hickman has laid down plenty of hints in the past — but it's clear that the last stand of this seminal Marvel character is well worth the read. That's not to say that this story is a perfect one — even the oversized space of this issue isn't quite enough to neatly tie up all the dangling plot threads — but regardless of its idiosyncrasies, Fantastic Four #587 shows that it has some heart to go along with its clockwork-precise story design.
Of course, outside of the death scene — which, yeah, is kind of an artificial speed boost for this story, considering the cache this casualty holds in Marvel lore — there's some nice moments to all the shock and awe going on in this book. I think the moment that will be really underrated here is a moment between Susan Storm and the Sub-Mariner, those shore-crossed lovers since the Silver Age — without getting into too much detail here, Hickman takes their relationship and really puts a spin on it that I've never quite seen before.
The others get some nice screen time, as well. Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm in particular get to share some powerful moments, and even Franklin Richards gets his moment in the sun. In a lot of ways, it's the emotional beats that get the real spotlight of this last issue, rather than all the crazy high-concept traps that the Four have found themselves in. And you know what? That's how it should be. And through it all, even though you know it won't last forever, that death sequence, well, it's exactly how this character should go out. "A billion to one... you think I'm afraid of that? You think I'm afraid of that?!" The last line — well, I won't spoil it. But it's a killer.
I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Steve Epting. While design-wise, he isn't quite as bold as Dale Eaglesham — or even Epting's previous work in Captain America, which had costumes to help provide contrast — the name of the game with Epting is consistency. His characters don't go all over the place, and his lighting in particular is really effective. And it goes without saying that the death sequence where Epting really cranks into high gear — seeing a lone hero standing up against a force of nature, screaming defiantly till the end — that's where Epting's real strengths are. Give him some mood, some emotion, and you'll see Epting deliver a knockout performance. Those last few pages are easily worth the price of admission alone.
But that said, there are some hiccups to this book as well — namely, because there have been three plots going on simultaneously (as well as a Ben-Grimm-turning-human subplot), I can't say that Hickman necessarily nailed the dismount with all of these plots. The most difficult one for me had to have been his resolution for Galactus and Nu-Earth. Part of the issue might be because of the visual similarities between Nu-Earth and the Negative Zone-infested Baxter Building — but I think the real issue for me was that the exposition felt a little shaky, and Reed Richards himself didn't seem to get the emotional beat that everyone else did. But that said, maybe that's for the best — he's always been the star of Hickman's run. Time to share the spotlight.
Will this book conquer some of the cynicism about comic book deaths? Hardly — it's difficult to imagine taking this property off the board for too long, and there are plenty who will be able to argue (and argue rightly) that a death is cheap drama. But I'd argue that this book isn't exploitation for exploitation's sake, and, if anything, is still a fitting, if temporary, send-off for one of Marvel's oldest superheroes. It might not be perfect — it might not even be original, as the body count in superhero comics keeps climbing — but there's a part of me that still feels something for Marvel's first family. And that's what makes this issue Fantastic.
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Vertigo
Review by David Pepose
New York isn't just a place — ask anyone who's ever lived there, and they'll tell you it's a state of mind. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, that concrete jungle of 24-7 florescent lightning, that dirty monument of fast times and broken dreams. It's a prize, a calling, an entity in and of itself. It's the Big Apple — everyone wants to take a bite.
Brian Wood knows about the power of location. Oftentimes, his best work — whether it's Local, or DMZ, or his latest with the New York Five — delves into the relationship between habitat and habitator, about the effects a place can have on a person. But the real question is this — can this book transcend its obvious stylishness, and get to the level of real resonance with readers?
After reading this issue, I don't know — although I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. This book will almost assuredly be for a niche audience, a group that looks to the cache of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly rather than a particular high concept like "war zone correspondent in bombed-out Manhattan." It looks great, and the characters are really fully formed, almost to the part of instinctiveness. In certain ways, tonally, Wood evokes shades of Phonogram or Forgetless, focusing on personal problems and growth rather than earth-shaking catastrophes. And the name captions? Probably the best part of the story, bringing just a hint of whimsy to an otherwise fairly serious read.
Now, a lot of the three-dimensionality of those characters comes from Ryan Kelly. Kelly brings an incredibly fluid linework to this black-and-white artwork, really evoking the indie comics scene with the wild, reckless, shadowy vibe that is New York rebellion at its finest. While occasionally there's a slight degree of sameness to the women — at least as far as body types and frames go — Kelly adds in some individual flair to a lot of the characters, giving one person deep cheekbones and curly hair, while others get dreadlocks and eyebrow piercings.
But — and there is a but — the thing that this book doesn't necessarily answer is: Where's it all going to go from here? We've met a number of the New York Five, and while their problems are all apparent, there doesn't seem to be too much binding their stories together yet (other than, y'know, they're within the confines of the same book). That's not to say that this sort of structure can't work — it actually reminds me a bit of Reservoir Dogs or Go, with the various cast having various problems — but since this series comes out piecemeal, there's a very real question of whether any of these stories really goes far enough to justify a second issue.
Ultimately, that last question will have to be answered by you. There is plenty of character to both Wood and Kelly's work, and to say that this book is absolutely gorgeous is probably an understatement. But there will be people who also call The New York Five self-indulgent, and it's hard to argue that point — it's sort of like a date where one person is talking so much about themselves that you miss the after-dinner movie. If you fall in love with the characters, then it's a match made in heaven. If it isn't... well, you can always admire the skyline.