Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#8 - FANTASTIC FOUR: THREE (#583-587)

Welcome to another edition of Comic Book Clash: where heroes & villains clash for supremacy. Which gets to TEAM BOOK MONTH. Last week, we started our current war between the Dynamo 5 vs. The Fantastic Four. Well, it is time. Time to tell, the final storyline with Marvel’s First Family with the original team.  Ladies and Gentleman, COMIC BOOK CLASH gives you our review of “THREE”


     Honestly, I really don’t see how or why I have to do it for THIS TEAM. But for those of you who are not too familiar with the Fantastic Four’s original, I will sum it up. Reed Richards with his best friend, Ben Grimm; piloted an experimental rocket ship alongside Susan Storm and her little brother, Johnny Storm. They take the rocket through some cosmic rays and crash back on Earth. When they get out, Reed is all stretchy. Johnny is able to light himself on fire and even fly. Sue is able to go invisible and Ben . .. transforms into orange bricks.
    Thus the Fantastic Four was born. And much have they done in their team together. They have crossed dimensions, planets and time itself. They have fought off Reed’s rival and old college buddy, Victor Von Doom, now Dr. Doom; time and time again cause . . . well Dr. Doom has a hard time not being right all the time and feels that he’s the smartest of all. They have fought all sorts of threats . . . from subterran monarchs, to planet eating demi gods. The Fantastic Four has run the gambit. But not just as a team but as a family. And while their membership has shifted over the years, the Fantastic Four, at its core have always been Reed, Sue, Johnny & Ben. Now, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and The Thing have been working with the next generation as they take care of not only Reed and Sue’s children, Franklin and Valeria Richards; but also some mole men children, Dragon Man and a child cloned from FF enemy, The Wizard. Alex Power, former member of the Power Pack & New Warriors , has been acting as babysitter and close friend to Franklin. And now, let us begin getting into . . .”THREE.”


            THREE opens when a shot of the Fantastic Four in the Negative Zone, fending off a small invasion group. Then cuts right back to the Baxter Building where Valeria Richards goes into the air ducts and finds herself in a private lab that was hidden from everyone, including them. Valeria laughs off her dad’s security, stating they need better security and that she, a 4 year old girl, will upgrade it. For those of you who don’t know, Valeria is 4 years old and she is as smart as Reed already. Come to find out, Reed built a machine called a Bridge that he promised Sue that he would not rebuild; and Valeria found it and go information it its use and how Reed met a bunch of other Reed Richards who want to solve EVERYTHING. Um . . .Reed, that’s a bit . . . okay, that is VERY ambitious. And you are hiding from your family, including your wife, a machine that you swore you would NEVER rebuild. Val is right: Sue is gonna kill you.
            Then we get a shot of Doom in Latveria, his country that he rules with an iron fist. And we find that he is not is usual meglomanical self. No. Come to find out, Doom is preparing to leave his throne. He mentions Kristoff Vernard, who is actually Doom’s adopted son that he exiled only to find Val teleporting into his throne room. Doom asks why she showed up when Val tells him of the machine that Reed built with a nonchalant manner that Dr. Doom is a family member. She even calls him Uncle Doom. WHAT?! Come to find out, Valeria Richards had a little adventure through the Bridge, meeting the alternate Reeds in the council and finding that Reed made a WRONG choice. Supposedly, Val thinks that her dad made the wrong choice in sticking with his family and personal happiness over the good of the world. So Val says that she notices that Doom isn’t quite himself; revealing she figured out that Doom has Brain Damage. Val poses that if Doom helps her dad, she will find a way to restore Doom to the way he was. Doom agrees.
            The Fantastic Four returns victorious while The Thing has an enlarged cranium due to the radition given off from this one area of the Negative Zone. They stop the invasion and the fight over this one city in the Negative Zone and return; where all the children, including Val are waiting. Johnny makes fun of the Things head for a bit as Val smiles saying that nothing has happened. The first part of THREE ends with Silver Surfer hovering over something and saying “Unacceptable.” The final panel shows us the corpse of Galactus. Wait . . .WHAT?! Hold on! WHAT?! Galactus is dead?!
            The next issue with Thing’s head finally going back to normal self . . . for The Thing. Ben joins Johnny, Dragon Man, Alex and the mole boys for breakfast asking where Reed, Sue and the kids are. They are on the roof; sending off Sue who took on a diplomatic mission. Reed asks if she wants help and Sue says she’ll handle it. Back at breakfast, the mole men and the clone of the Wizard, named Bentley, cooked up a potion that will make Ben human again for a week; stating that it will only work one week a year. Just want to point out that the kids are all part of what Reed started called The Future Foundation. Hmm . . . wonder why I think that name is important for later? Ben takes the potion and after Johnny makes him worried that it made the Thing look worse; a mirror confirms that Ben has turned back into a human. After Ben is ready to beat Johnny up, Johnny points out that this is a great time to have some fun. After which, we see Johnny and Ben through a montage of different things going on; a baseball game, a card game only to come to the park and get into a fist fight: with the new Yancy Street Gang. Why do I say new? Cause they are all in suits and are former investment bankers. Wow. Economy has really hit us hard.
            Sue enters Utopia, greeted by Cyclops and Emma Frost. After a warm greeting from Cyclops and a chilling one from Emma, Namor comes to welcomes her; stating why he doesn’t wait for many, he’ll wait forever for her. Wow Namor. Still wanting Susan after . . . dear god, its been 50 years. Namor tells he looks forward to work with her to forge a new union between New Atlantis, which he rules and old Atlantis, ancient undersea races that recently reemerged.
            While Ben went to see Alicia, Reed was investigating a bleed in space when he gets visited by Silver Surfer, who says he knows that the Fantastic Four was with the Galactus corpse. And Silver Surfer is NOT happy. Yet as Reed is about to explain what happened, Silver Surfer that HE wants answers . . . pointing upward. Then we see Galactus teleport in, alive. Wait WHAT? Galactus is Dead? Now he’s not? WHAT?!
            Ben and Johnny drive home to see Galactus teleport in. Johnny flames on while he leaves Ben with the car. Galactus asks for the explanation behind the doppelganger that is buried on Earth. Reed explained that the corpse is from an alternate future where Galactus was killed. The corpse ended up on this universe after that one was destroyed. Out of respect, Reed buried the corpse. The people responsible for killing him were brought into this universe and are on an artificial Earth. Galactus decides that he needs more answers, so he, Silver Surfer and Reed go to this artifical Earth. Johnny arrives in time to be told that he and Ben will have to look after the kids.
            Sue is arguing back and forth with Andromeda as she comes up with ideas and compromises so that all Atlantaeans, old and new, can live peacefully in the sea. Andromeda protest but is silenced by Namor. Namor has Andromeda leave, stating that she thinks Sue is steering him to a bad choice. Sue explains she is working on doing right for everyone.
Back with Galactus and Reed, Galactus explains that he knows that Franklin has his powers back. Johnny and Ben tell the Future Foundation a story then send them off to bed. Then the two talk about if they want children of their own. We cut to a being called The Anti-Priest, who wears an insignia of a minus symbol inside a circle on his head, stands in front of a group as he gave a speech about taking their choice and that they will live forever. They reveal themselves to be bug people who are loyal to Annihilus. The plan is for them to attack the Baxter building tomorrow and unless a Second Annihilation Wave on Earth. And as a point of reference, the last Annihilation wave destroyed a slew of planets, nearly decimated the Skulls to extinction; crippled the Kree and killed every Xandrian in existence. And they plan to unleash that on Earth.
Sue meets with representatives of Old Atlantis and Namor as they work out a treaty. Andromeda issues a small amount of area in the sea for all the Old Atlantaeans while Namor’s kingdom emcompasses the rest of the ocean. The Old Atantaean King states how unfair their issue is when Namor gets out of his chair. He then throws a trident to the king’s main guard then proceeds to kill the king in the gut; stating that Atlantis will be ruled by one king and one king only . . . him! Then we get Namor, Andromeda and his soldiers surrounded in the hall but then his own army attacks the site of the conference. Sue figured that his was Namor’s plan the whole time. Sue creates a force field to hold off Namor’s army, causing a stand off.
Reed and Galactus are joined by Alyssa, who is now sporting a new robotic body in which her consciousness is housed, and Ted. They travel to the artificial Earth, called Nu-World. When they get there, Reed explains how Galactus’s future self died then established Nu-World. Galactus’s hunger takes over him and he decides that he will eat the planet and its inhabitants. Reed says he needs to save who he can and come up with some kind of resolution. Sue holds the force field with some strain as blood trickles down her nose. Namor tries to convince her that his course is best and that the Old Atlantaeans will sacrifice her as per their old customs of the past.
Reed, Ted and Alyssa travel to the center of Nu-World to find the inhabitants’ minds all within the mind of Natalie X. They run into Lightwave and Natalie X. Not really sure who they are but they chat as Lightwave reveal that he’s not hear to eat Nu-World . . . but to destroy it. They end up moving Natalie X, Lightwave and themselves through a portal as Galactus destroys Nu-World.
Sue ends up talking to the Old Atlantaeans alone, finding that they have admitted that they had a barbaric past but want to build something new and are peaceful. And since their king was killed and his heir is far too young, they name Sue their new Queen. Sue excepts and goes to Namor, asking one last time that they will end their fighting. Namor tells her he will not stop and that she will heed him. Sue states that he will honor their deal and that no war will happen, for the Old Atlantaeans are under her protection. Namor grabs her as she turns away. Sue then beats Namor to the ground.
Sue: Honor the deal, Namor. I’m done asking nicely.
Namor: YOU DARE!
Sue: YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I DO. IN case you missed it, these are my people now. I RULE HERE. And I am a Queen that bows to NO king.
Namor stares at her for a moment then merely says: God, You are Magnificent.
Sue rolls her eyes and declares their new treaty stands.

Finally, we get to Johnny and Ben’s part in the storyline. As they go back to look after the kids in the Baxter Building, Bug people teleport in to get at the portal it has to the Negative Zone. Johnny, Ben, Alex, Franklin, Valeria and the rest of the Future Foundation fend off the bug soldiers, defeating them long enough to realize that they did open the portal to go through to prepare Annihilus’s Second Annihilation Wave. Val points out that the only way to shut down the portal so that they do not come through from the Negative zone to Earth for good is to take care of the systems in the other side of the portal because the bug boys were about to lock the portal open from their side. While they are over run, Val takes a pipe and knocks out fellow Future Foundation member, Leech. With Leech down, Franklin’s powers are unleashed as he, Ben, Johnny and Alex take down as many of the bug soldiers as they can as they cross into the Negative Zone.
The Future Foundation fight alongside Ben, who is still human at this point, and Johnny in the Negative Zone, against the better judgements of Ben and Johnny; yet Val points out that she, Bentley and some of the others can help them and that the Avengers would Never get there in time.As they battle the armies of Annihilus, Bentley notices that the Annhilation Wave was coming. Val confirms that the controls are locked, as per Reed’s specs. They try to come up with ways of being able to close the portal after they go back; but it comes down to a horrifying truth . . . someone has to manually put up shields to keep out the Annhilation Wave and close the portal from the Negative Zone. Someone is gonna have to stay behind.
Ben, hold a gun, tells Johnny to take the kids and that he’ll do it. He thanked Johnny for the best week he’s had in a long time and that he doesn’t want to be owing him. Johnny turns to the Future Foundation, begging that is there another way. With a minute before the Annhilation Wave hits, Val sadly answers No.
Johnny: Okay. That settles it then.
Johnny then kicks Ben hard in his stomach and throws him through the portal after the Future Foundation has all crossed over the portal. Johnny puts up the shield.
Ben bangs at the shield: You Stupid, Dumb . . . Open this back up! Open it!
Val: We can’t. There’s no time left! If he’s going to activate the shield it has to be now.
Franklin: I could make more time.
Ben: No. That’s Not . . . That’s . .. Val. Just tell him how to work the Thing.
Val tells her uncle how to operate the console and states that her father would have built a back door. She murmurs to her uncle that they’ll be back. Johnny engages the locks. Ben begins to slam his fists against the shield, screaming No over and over again as the Annihilation Wave begins to strife their position. Johnny watches. ..
Johnny: Unbelievable.
Ben stops hitting the shield as Johnny reaches out his hand.
Johnny: You don’t wish it any more than I do.
Ben puts his hand up with Johnny’s for a moment. Johnny breaks off to turn around.
Johnny: So this is it.
Blasts at either side of him as the Annihilation wave comes into view.
Johnny: A billion to one. You think I’m a afraid of that? YOU THINK I’M AFRAID OF THAT? FLAME ON!
Johnny is now surrounded by Annihilus’s forces. Ben watches as the portal begins to close. Annihilus himself coming ever closer.
Ben: Oh God. John . . .
A splash page shows Johnny Storm . . . engulfed by hordes and hordes  of Annihilus’s soldiers, barely able to be seen by the swarm.
Finally Ben bows his head as Franklin and Valeria Richard are held at either side of The Thing in utter silence as the final page was in black with 3 in the classic blue and white Fantastic Four symbol with only these words, ending the issue and the storyline:
The Last Stand of Johnny Storm.


            Ok. When I first picked out this bout and this storyline to review, I was a bit unsure of how to go about it. But both this and Dynamo 5 had to deal with major issues and changes that come about because of them. Both families had to deal with changes with their youngest team member.
            Now with the Fantastic Four, I will say this. When Reed “supposedly” died, there was no real sense of finality in his death. Even with the two years without Reed and the additions of Ant Man and Namor, the Fantastic Four seemed to get this sense that they will always come back together. This . . . this on the other hand had finality to it. The lead up was still somewhat surprising, even with all the press that a member of the Fantastic Four was going to die. If you had no clue that someone was going to die, you would definitely would have been surprised. Even with that, kudos to Jonathan Hickman for producing one of the best Marvel death’s since Jean Grey died . . . back in New X-Men #150. Johnny’s death was very well done. It brought me back to that moment with Jean in New X-Men. It brought me back to watching Angel’s first season and watching Doyle die. A character that we care about and got somewhat attached to dying like a hero. Johnny got that in spades. Just as a death of a major Marvel character, his death seemed to have more resonance than Captain America Steve Rogers did. Sure. He was assassinated after a major storyline just after it ended. Steve Rogers was about to go to jail. Johnny died sacrificing himself to save the world and humanity from being decimated by Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave. I am praying that Marvel keeps him dead. Seriously, it would cheapen his sacrifice if he was resurrected. I know it will come down to what fans want in the end but still, I doubt anything could top the way Johnny Storm died during this storyline.
            As for THREE itself, Hickman gave readers a plethora of Fantastic Four stables and weaved several stories that ran together and built what the team and family will become. At first, I figure that Hickman doing this would have made things very convoluted and hard to read. As I read the storyline, I felt how important each story was in their own way and represented so much of what the Fantastic Four was. In many ways, Three was a final love letter from Jonathan Hickman. This was the last hurrah.
            Hickman gave each character a very distinct and interesting voice. From Reed to Johnny to every member of the Future Foundation, Hickman crafted characters that resonated with readers. Every character was identifiable and had a depth thanks to Hickman’s characterization. He had no problem running the Fantastic Four gambit. And honestly, it was done very, very well. Not a single one of the characters felt they were out of character. He added to them a lot during the storyline. For all the immature infighting between Ben and Johnny, they both produced an air of maturity that showed that while they are who they are . . .they have evolved as people. Reed produced himself in a fashion that was still the famous scientist he always was but a man of honor and family. The most gripping characterizations were Sue and Valeria Richards. The two females of the Richards Clan were strong, brave and honestly took little bull from anyone. Sue went toe to toe with Namor, ready to do what she had to in order to win. Val did what she felt she had to in order to secure the future. Val may have her father’s intellect but she definitely has her mother’s spirit. Hickman really showed up the world of the Fantastic Four for the last time through the eyes of this family that seeming was evolving.
            Steve Epting has been a good artist in the past. But his pencils for the storyline were dark and rich. Full of life and danger while still giving everyone a regal look and feel. Doom felt menacing but matched his lessened status thanks to his brain damage in subtle ways. Epting really put his heart into this storyline and it shows with near-flawless work for the entire 5 parter. Everyone had a distinct look. Emotion was carried over extremely well through just the art of Epting alone. First example is when Johnny was teasing Ben after he had taken the portion and turned back into a human. Nothing had to be explained. All of it, without reading the words, told a story and gave us the emotion of the characters.
Epting continued this by truly capturing all kinds of aspects of the characters in THREE: Sue’s strength. Reed’s worry. Johnny’s determination. Ben’s utter sorrow. The last 7 pages of art in Fantastic Four #587 are some of the most hauntingly beautiful and sad in comic book history. The last 3 panels by Epting are burned into my memory for life. That is how powerful this story was drawn. Epting’s tour de force was beautifully done for this storyline. Kudos to inks by Rick Magyar, Mike Perkins and Epting himself throughout the storyline to really flesh out the characters and give us a visually appealing story without having to be told anything. And Paul Mounts did a spectacular job in coloring the story, letting the inks held the shadows and colorfully gave us the emotions and looks of the characters and places they were in. Nothing looked out of place and every place seemed wondrously real.
The press for Three was huge and I will say that Hickman and Epting deliever. There may be a lot for new readers to kinda shake their head about but Hickman is great about just giving us what we need while still treating readers with respect. Epting’s art really gave us a beautiful depiction of the final days of the Fantastic Four. And that is what this is. The final Fantastic Four adventure. At least for the time being. No one knows what the future holds but Hickman’s storyline gave respect to all that came before him while establishing the evolution.

And with Johnny’s final, brave farewell, I give Fantastic Four’s Three a World Heavyweight title Contenders spot. I tried hard to find something bad about this story but honestly, there was nothing really bad about it.

This makes Fantastic Four the winners of their bout with Dynamo 5. Unless you have a different opinion. Feel free to vote on who you think will win and the winner will advance to the tournament this summer.

Thank is all for this week. Til next time! 

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