Best Shots Advance Reviews: FANTASTIC 4, X-FORCE, IRON MAN


Fantastic Four #2

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer, Mark Morales, Paul Mounts, and Wil Quintana

Letters by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

Matt Fraction's Fantastic Four is a keen example of the kind of relaunch that an initiative like Marvel NOW! should be about. The strength of this title is, undoubtedly, Fraction's keen grasp on what makes the F4 work, and his ability to lay that out on the page so that anyone, even the uninitiated, can walk right in and get it. While this issue's inextricable tie to it's sister title, FF raises a small red flag in terms of either title's ability to stand on its own feet, the meat of this issue really is about the Richards family, and their impending interstellar road trip.

One thing that's obvious about Fantastic Four #2 is that this is the last chance, presumably for a long time, that Matt Fraction is going to have a chance to write the F4 interacting not just with the stand-ins hired to replace them for the four minutes they intend to be gone from Earth, but with their own world, and its environs. As such, we're treated to an almost whirlwind tour of places like Yancy Street, where the Thing, in his own endearing way, entrusts protection of the block to his hated foes the Yancy Street gang, and the various rooms and features of the Baxter Building. It's almost disappointing that characters like Ben Grimm and She-Hulk won't have more opportunities to interact, since Fraction has such an obvious affection for their rivalry, which is as friendly as the one Ben shares with Shulkie's cousin, Bruce Banner, is contentious. Indeed, there's a rapport between the F4 and their surrogates that's so fun to read that there's almost a danger that, next issue when they're lightyears apart, some of the dynamics of this title could be lost.

That's the only real flaw in this issue. Matt Fraction has so expertly established the relationships at play between the F4, their students, their world, and their surrogates that, when it's all separate, he's going to have to work hard to keep the Richards family from feeling claustrophobic in the insular world of their space-RV. It is a little odd that some developments, like the actual addition of Johnny's girlfriend Darla to the roster of the surrogate F4 would happen here, and not in FF, since both titles, while obviously connected, are on a path to tell vastly separate stories, but in a way, splitting these scenes between Fantastic Four and FF means that both books can move a little faster. Fantastic Four is right on the cusp; while the real action has yet to take place, Fraction has done a bang up job of establishing a theme, a threat, and a mission for this title. With the story that's been established, this is exactly the point where things have to start actually happening, and, indeed, Ant-Man's countdown on the last page of the issue, as the F4 finally depart, builds anticipation for exactly that.

Fantastic Four is a smartly constructed title. Matt Fraction skews towards the classic in this primary title, leaving a lot of his weirdness over in FF, but there's still a sense of the Richards family as the heart of a universe full of bizarre and outlandish phenomena, whether its Ant-Man traipsing around in a sub-cellular environment of unstable molecules, or just the incalculably odd students of the Future Foundation lined up to meet their new faculty. Mark Bagley handles it all with aplomb, as well. While his Ben Grimm lacks a little charm, Bagley injects the rest of the cast with personality aplenty, especially Sue Storm and Medusa, whose bemused facial expressions speak volumes. There are two inkers on this issue, with Bagley's usual inker, Mark Farmer, sharing duties with Mark Morales. While the untrained eye will find hard to notice, there are some stylistic differences between the two inkers that actually come through on the page. Morales's inks are a little more crisp and clean, and actually fare better than Farmer's at translating the character in Bagley's lines.

While Fantastic Four #2 isn't quite the slam-dunk that the first issue was, Matt Fraction's momentum is undeniable. In a way, Fantastic Four feels far more emblematic of the Marvel NOW! mission statement than any of its supposed flagship titles; appropriate, considering the team's history and traditional role with the publisher, but in a way disheartening that some of the other titles haven't been able to capture the spark of re-focusing, re-establishing, and, in some ways, re-introducing the titles and characters we all know and love. Coming off a landmark run by Jonathan Hickman means that Fantastic Four has a high bar to reach. Fortunately, Matt Fraction seems to be headed, like the F4, up, up, and away.


Cable and X-Force #1

Written by Dennis Hopeless

Art by Salvador Larocca and Frank D'Armata

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Click here for preview

If you thought Cable alone was confusing… wait until you read Cable and X-Force. It's weird that Dennis Hopeless has not one, but two #1 issues out this week, and while I got a kick out of Avengers Arena, this ancillary X-title has just plain left me cold.

The thing about the writing of Cable and X-Force — and to Dennis Hopeless's credit, it's not the thing that really hobbles this book — is that unlike many of the other Marvel NOW! titles, it takes for granted that we already know all the characters involved. If you don't know about Cable's adoption of the mutant messiah Hope, or his death, resurrection, remission of his lethal techno-organic virus… this book isn't going to mean a lot to you. If you don't know about Domino, or Doctor Nemesis, or Forge, or Havok's role with the Uncanny Avengers, same thing. Why these people join with Cable is pretty much undetermined other than by writer fiat.

Hopeless's script is pretty much just forward momentum, with only Hope getting a modicum of characterization. But if you're looking to get a primer on Cable's status quo, or figure out what his goals are (not to mention why we should like the guy), the answers aren't forthcoming here. Not only that, but the stakes feel a bit muddy here — the Uncanny Avengers, for example, get totally clowned thanks to Havok, while the incident that actually makes Cable and X-Force into fugitives isn't even mentioned in dialogue. Havok may say it all looks bad, but unless you've been reading the interviews for this book, it's kind of hard to tell what exactly we're looking at here.

And that is as good a time as any to talk about the art. In certain ways, it feels like Hopeless was trying to corner the market on the same niche Thunderbolts was aiming for, an action-packed, morally gray team book with characters fighting from the shadows. Yet with that in mind… Salvador Larocca is not the right artist for this book.

For book that's supposed to be dark, these characters look awfully bright, even with colorist Frank D'Armata trying his damnedest to bring the energy down with muted greens and oranges. But Larocca's compositions here are really questionable, with his endless letterbox panels and his disregard for actually introducing characters visually. Forge, for example, only gets introduced five panels into a full-on conversation, while Hope doesn't even get a full body shot in her introduction. Every shot feels distant, and only one page of Domino falling through an elevator shaft has any energy to it. To be honest, I feel that with a different, more dynamic artist, this book could have still had some real kick to it, but in Larocca's hands, every character looks plastic and emotionless.

And that's ultimately too bad. Cable and X-Force had the odds stacked against it from the get-go, with an unfamiliar writer on the masthead to the C-list X-Men characters populating the book (not to mention a second X-Force book on the docket from Sam Humphries and Ron Garney), but the mismatch with the creative team really dooms this book from the outset. There's nothing to bring us up to speed on this team, other than the fact that somebody wants to put a team together, and the artwork — particularly with those gross orange jumpsuits — doesn't make you want to stick around to find out. Hopeless can write a decent script, as Avengers Arena can attest, but Cable and X-Force is already in need of a new direction, stat.


Iron Man #4

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Guru EFX

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Click here for preview

I really want to like Kieron Gillen's Iron Man. His inaugural issue was impressive, mainly in terms of his grasp of Tony Stark. He skewed Stark's characterization close to Matt Fraction's, but there was an air of poetry to his musings on technology and legacy. Unfortunately, every issue since the first has progressively gone downhill. It may be due to the absolutely breakneck pace at which the issues are being released, or it may come down to the "done in one" format not quite working for this title, but there's something that's just not working about Iron Man, and issue #4 is the perfect example of why.

For starters, seeing Tony Stark having to confront his own technology is old hat. Is there an Iron Man comic that has launched in the last decade that didn't center its first arc around that premise? Seeing Tony hunt down a new iteration of corrupted Extremis every two weeks is getting to feel more like a sitcom or a dry procedural than anything. Think "CSI: Marvel" without the mystery. This issue sees Tony confronting Extremis yet again, and while this time he's forced to make an almost impossible choice, I fear that the done-in-one, or more aptly, done-and-gone nature of this title means that he's not gonna have to deal with his decisions, at least not for a while. Its frustrating to see Kieron Gillen introducing concepts with so much potential, none moreso than the central idea around this issue's villains, and not developing them at all. If there were more continuity between these issues, or more anticipation to see what may come of each new threat, then the episodic nature of the book might work. Instead, it feels like each issue is the seed of a story that isn't being told.

Further, Greg Land is kind of a mess. I honestly enjoy his work a lot of the time, and a title like Iron Man, in which he's drawing things like Iron Man's armor and Tony Stark's inventions that are more conceptual seems like a great fit, but he's been inconsistent at best. This issue sees the potentially thrilling environment of Paris's catacombs reduced to squares and shadows, and the issue's central threat rendered more like a slumber party than a coven of cultists. His Pepper Potts is also less than charming, and her nagging Gal Friday shtick isn't doing her any favors as a credible supporting character, either.

What should be an essential component of the post Marvel NOW! landscape is rapidly becoming inessential. For as bleeding edge as his tech seems to be, Tony Stark is having a desperately difficult time finding a way to feel modern and exciting. Gillen and Land seem like a dream team for this title, and indeed, their introduction of a new threat and a new toy for Iron Man in every issue shows they've got ideas to spare, but right now it seems less like they're painting a picture, and more like they're just slapping colors onto a canvas, trying to find the element that's going to tie it all together. Maybe there's a long game in place for Iron Man, but waiting for a credible theme to crop up through all of the rapid fire story beats and missed opportunities is seeming less and less like a worthy pastime. 

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