Best Shots Extra: FANTASTIC FOUR, ACTION COMICS, ECHOES

Hickman On FANTASTIC FOUR #587

Hickman On FANTASTIC FOUR #587
Hickman On FANTASTIC FOUR #587
 

Fantastic Four #587

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Pencils by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Mike Perkins and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Zack Kotzer

I understand comics need to sell, and I understand that a comic to essentially become more of a noisemaker than a story efficiently transforms the product into its own advertisement.

I remember one morning years ago, waking up just after the conclusion of the Civil War saga had relatively wrapped up, the front page of the Toronto Star’s entertainment section bannering the death of Captain America. I then immediately dashed right back upstairs to make sure I hadn’t somehow missed the last few pages of Civil War’s conclusion, but no. Such a death, even mainstream newspaper worthy fictional death, did not happen at the end of Marvel’s current cataclysm. It actually snuck under it into a follow-up, into an unsuspecting issue of Captain America. That was sort of cool, and probably why it felt fairly devastating during what we thought to be the calm after the storm.

But that was then.

We open with each of the Fantastic Four finding themselves in various scenarios of peril. Sue is stuck underwater with strange bedfellows, Reed is trying to spare a world from the wrath of Galactus, Ben is without powers and Jonny’s got a bit of an insect problem. I will take a moment to commend how coherently this done. There is certainly a lot going on and a larger cast of active characters than any drama should ever need, but surprisingly it’s no migraine, and that means something given their use of the ever-alienating Nu-World.

I think a lot of thanks deserves to go to Steve Epting for making crowded rooms appear to have some wiggle room, and Jonathan Hickman’s juggling act. I just liked that, if this is to be a conclusion of gravity, it has that ‘end boss’ vibe where major threats and issues of the past half-decade are all compiling and clawing their way into the already stressful world of the Richard’s household, even if it isn’t in unison.

Now I will condemn what exactly this all is, no matter how coherent.

It’s a guessing game. It’s nice that each is handled with decent pacing, but what they are doing is fairly shameless. The point of this story is not to engage yourself with the situation at hand, it’s to have you constantly placing your bets based on the odds the story is fixing. It’s closest comparable form of narrative is murder mystery dinner theatre, where new rounds of incriminating evidence asks you to casually re-evaluate who’s got blood on their hands in between the second act and the main course. It is almost cute the how many times the pendulum swings in such a short issue, and depending how quickly you take it in there’s a chance that the bulk of the actual narrative can all go on in your imagination. And then it comes, the conclusion that will be "talked about" and force Reed Richards to re-embroider the uniforms.

Above I mentioned how well executed the Steve Rogers death was, it was startling and it sent shockwaves in the Marvel universe across already torn relationships and burdened consciences. And then he came back almost as quickly as he left us and things mostly returned to the status quo. Comic readers are pretty skeptical to deaths, we deserve to be. At least Batman R.I.P. left a fun cryptic trial of breadcrumbs to reaffirm what we all already knew. This? This here? This isn’t even trying. Comic readers know even the autopsy doesn’t guarantee fatality, and the "fall" you witness here isn’t even so much an ending but the moment before you hear, “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.” Deaths sell comics, I guess, but how morbid must we be to fall for even the spectacle, attraction of a fictional character’s marketed demise? Why can’t good stories sell comics?

 

Action Comics #897

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Pete Woods and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Want to delve inside the mind of a maniac? Action Comics will trump: how about two of them?

Paul Cornell knows exactly how to turn, in order to make sense out of the senselessness that is the Joker. Even though there's not much in the way of action in Action Comics #897, it's hard to take issue with it -- this meeting of the minds shows there's plenty of depth to plumb out of the deadliest villains of the DCU.

But before I go too deeply with Paul Cornell, I first have to give some major kudos to Pete Woods. This is the best issue of Action Comics he's drawn yet, with the Joker getting some really lush inking that absolutely makes him steal every page. There's some real acting to Lex Luthor's interrogation of the Clown Prince of Crime, and Woods really punches up every sneer, every sigh, every moment of self-recrimination. If you thought the Joker was just a bunch of giggles, think again -- Woods has brought some surprising humanity to the worst of the worst.

Yet you also have to recognize that Woods has got some great material to work with. Paul Cornell is so efficient with this script that you could have ended this issue without the two-page postscript -- the conversation between Lex and the Joker feels that substantial. There is a hint of that Mark Hamill voice to the Joker's character, but as I said before, there's also some real pathos that Cornell injects that I never saw in the Batman Animated Series. "My only 'freedom,'" Joker says. 'would be to feel like you. Like the world could be made right."

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom -- Cornell gets a wicked laugh at his protagonist's expense, showing just how flawed Lex's reason for being is with a quick few panels. And something particularly subtle about this book are the clues that Cornell is beginning to leave along the way -- that perhaps Lex's quest isn't as on the up-and-up as he would like to believe, and that maybe, jut maybe, those closest to him might have agendas of their own.

Perhaps it's just me, but I feel like Action Comics is one of those books that gets a lot of fanfare from critics, but doesn't quite get that same sort of spotlight as the more heavily-marketed books on the market. In a lot of ways, even with the Blackest Night fallout fueling this book, Action doesn't feel like it fits in the mold of Brightest Day, or really any other crossover material. But that's okay -- this book tells a single story hinged on just the intrinsic value of a methodical monster matching wits with his anarchic opposite.

 

Echoes #2

Written by Josh Hales Fialkov

Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

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"I'm very disappointed in you, Brian."

Brian Cohn is not having the best of weeks.

Having recently found out his father was a serial killer, one who targeted children no less, by discovering a chest full of his "handiwork". Dolls made from bone and flesh of his victims, surrounded by a pile of left over bones. To make matters worst, Brian's schizophrenia is acting up since he's gone off-schedule with taking his medication. When a young girl goes missing, Brian falls into a downward spiral of self-doubt and almost loathing. Could he have killed that girl and not know it?

The story continues to build with Josh Hales Fialkov's solid pacing, and adding more and more tension with each passing page. Brian is portrayed at being vulnerable and unstable, and you can sense the horror he's going through. His relationship with his wife suffers as he feels his father taunting him from beyond. We see Brian going through a routine that occupies his mind, but the realization of what his father has done still lingers in his mind.

Rahsan Ekedal's inkwashed pages are just terrific. Capturing the madness of Brian's state could have been handled differently, but the gray tones here, fit the horror of it all quite well. The "conversation" between Brian and his "father" is something dreadful, but Ekedal shies away from going overboard and dives into just right.

It ends on another cliffhanger, and I'm hoping Fialkov avoids clichés later on. He's done a great job constructing a conventional horror story, and Echoes has me entangled in its macabre.

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