Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fantastic Four: Unthinkable

By Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, Casey Jones, Paul Mounts, Chris Eliopoulus, Rus Wooton, and Paolo Rivera
Published by Marvel; $17.99 US/$29.00 CAN
Collects Fantastic Four #67-#70, #500-#502

I had mixed feelings about picking up Unthinkable. I started my floppy-fast shortly after the Waid/Wieringo run began, the return of Doctor Doom enjoyed some nice buzz when it came out in single issues, and so initially I was looking forward to the trade. The fact that the trade quickly disappeared from the relatively comprehensive Marvel/DC graphic novel shelves at my local comic shop and – at least whenever I’ve remembered to check – has since failed to reappear, further convinced me it was worth tracking down. But then I managed to get a copy of Rising Storm – the trade collecting the final Waid/Wieringo FF issues – and was pretty under-whelmed.

Unthinkable manages to live up to its name in more ways than one, not the least of which being that it’s the only collection of issues from the FF’s home title that I now consider essential to my collection.

The first chapter is perhaps the most impressive, following Doctor Doom – sans armor or any other technological enhancements, save a simple metal mask covering his face – through a Georgia tourist trap as he hops from one fortune teller to the next in search of his wayward lover, Valeria. The story ends with a grisly and wonderfully executed surprise, made that much more effective by Waid’s ability to humanize Doom (I’d imagine his past work on Empire served him well while working on Unthinkable). Even though I’ve never been a big FF fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for Doom (it was the only thing that made me regret trading off the largely disappointing Essential Super-Villain Team-Up a few weeks ago), and Waid handles him just the way I like him: quietly menacing at times, while occasionally belting out the traditional, booming decrees and threats that should always end with “I AM DOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The second chapter opens with the same relatively light-hearted tone the Waid/Wieringo run presented its reader before Unthinkable, with Ben and Johnny locked in their constant war of practical jokes, and it almost feels like the entire pre-Unthinkable run was so light just to knock readers off-balance once Doom came back to the playground. I can’t claim to be an avid FF reader, but I’ve seen good chunks of the book, and I’ve never seen it get as dark as it does in this collection. The characters endure the kind of violent torture that’s only a few drops of blood away from your average mature readers superhero series, and while I’ve yet to test it by reading subsequent trades, by the end of the story it feels like the emotional aftershocks will keep coming.

In particular, Franklin goes to the kind of dark place you always imagine he would “really” go to, but never has. I’ve never felt it was overly important to give readers of a superhero comic book a story that shows what would “really” happen (because, duh, radiation doesn’t “really” give you super powers, it “really” makes you bleed out of every hole in your body and die), but Franklin’s always pushed the limits of my patience with the kind of it’s-just-a-comic-book mentality I’ve assumed to excuse what would be unacceptable in another fictional medium. It’s always bothered me that with all Franklin’s been through he’s never suffered anything close to the kind of trauma any child would experience from events not nearly as bizarre and devastating as he’s witnessed. Like I said before, I haven’t read tons of FF, but just off the top of my head I can think of stories like Onslaught and Heroes Reborn: The Return in which Franklin was put in a position that would drive any kid his age completely bugfuck. In Unthinkable, we finally see Franklin suffer the chilling after-effects of his parent’s lifestyle. We never know exactly what Franklin endures while under the care of the demons who lend Doom his magical might, but Waid uses a wonderful device in the penultimate chapter of the trade – involving a discussion between Reed, Sue, and Franklin’s therapist – to be non-specific enough to keep the book kid-friendly, while planting seeds in the darker adult minds. My only complaint with this aspect of the story is that, while it’s made clear that Frankin’s trauma lasts until after Unthinkable, there’s a specific symptom of his trauma that’s “cured” by a speech from Ben, and it comes off as just a little too easy.

While I hate giving away well-executed jokes in my reviews, I’m finding it difficult to not produce what is now one of my favorite lines ever in a superhero comic book. It actually made me laugh out loud, which is rare, even with books that are genuinely hilarious cover-to-cover. I won’t reveal the context, but I think the line all on its own is enough:

“This had better not involve Davy Crockett again. You’ve already given that man too much trouble.”


I don’t know why, that just killed me.

Overall, a surprisingly great read. Almost all the FF stories that have ever managed to capture my interest have been mini-series like Big in Japan and Unstable Molecules. Unthinkable is a welcome exception.

2 comments:

SanctumSanctorumComix said...

I really liked this storyline, but have to call shenanigans on one thing.

SPOILER ALERT!!!
DO NOT READ THIS SPOILER IF YOU ARE GOING TO READ THIS STORY IN THE FUTURE.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
SPOILER IS HERE!
.
OK...that should clear out anyone who doesn't want their nerd-inity deflowered.

DOCTOR STRANGE giving Reed a crash course in magic was COOL, UNTIL he made it seem as if ANYONE could do it in
"3 EZ STEPS".

And that "I know nothing, and thusly am empowered" mystic ray-gun was LAME!

Cool to see Reed finally admit he knows nothing about something, but to have it be a way to defeat Doom like that was Capital "W" - Wrong.


.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Aaaand we're Back
.
OK. To anyone who didn't read that SPOILER, we can now go back to the program - already in progress.


So THAT's why Reed should NEVER chew or swallow gum.
It's cannibalistic.


~P~
P-TOR

Michileen Martin said...

Yeah, I don't think I can disagree with that. I liked Unthinkable as a whole but yeah, that, er, gum-chewing, was pretty lame.

It would've been better if Waid had more issues for the story and could've come up with something a little bit better than, gum.