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Old man, look at my life: Graeme looks at the Last story, 8/29.

Graeme McMillan

I keep on seeing people online complaining about THE LAST FANTASTIC FOUR STORY. That it’s not respectful to the characters, or that the story is kind of dumb. That the dialogue is melodramatic and over-written, or that the Watcher looks like he’s been gaining some weight recently. And to all of those people, I have just one thing to say:

Stan Lee is eighty-five years old. We’re lucky that the entire book wasn’t more of a drooling incontinent mess, much like Who Wants To Be A Super-Hero?.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a good book in any objective reading. All of the above criticisms are true – the dialogue in particular has moments where you’re convinced that editor Tom Brevoort was too scared of Stan and his legacy to actually, you know, fix things (The back of the book reprints what looks like Stan’s initial pitch, and parts of that made it verbatim into the finished book) – but there’s some kind of weird charm to it nonetheless. As he’s grown older, Stan’s lost the ability to mix the melodrama and sarcasm that created the initial Marvel formula, and both sides have grown stronger and more at odds with each other, but that just makes it more interesting (and amusing) to read his writing, in a way. There’s something funny about seeing heroes appearing and announcing things like “The true test of a warrior is fighting when there seems to be no hope!” “There is ever hope whilst hope endures!” and “What better way to die than to do so for a cause!”, as the Avengers do in a single panel – it’s so straight-laced and upright that it reads impossibly sarcastic – but at the same time, Lee still manages to get the characters right when it counts – the scene where Reed Richards tells the Thing to go see Alicia when they think all is lost may be corny as all hell, but… it feels right in a way that JMS’s FF run never did, for example (His Doctor Doom is also awesome: “How dare anyone try to destroy the human race – – before I can conquer it!”).

Similarly, in a book which starts with the FF complaining that they’re not getting rich from their adventures, the heroes still manage to act like heroes – fighting against impossible odds, even though they know it’s useless, coming up with extreme solutions to extreme problems, and so on, with Lee’s “they may be schmucks but they’ll be there where it counts” idea turned up to 11 but still potent. Maybe John Romita Jr.’s art – which is, outside of the context of the story it’s illustrating, very good, although Scott Hanna’s inks don’t mesh with it as well as Klaus Janson’s, over on World War Hulk. Morry Hollowell’s colors are great, though – adds to the problem for some readers, playing what’s essentially a comedy too straight, making it look like a regular Marvel Comic, instead of whatever it really is, but I can’t help but feel that to dismiss this book out of hand without acknowledging its (admittedly off-kilter) charms is to miss out on a strangely Okay book…

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