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Pairings #1 (of ??): Jeff Looks at Blackest Night, Fantastic Four

Jeff Lester

As I mentioned the other day, I got to Comix Experience yesterday for the first time in a month–well, over a month, obviously, because so many of the books I follow had two issues waiting for me. So while I’m gonna try and pass this off on you as a study of “trends” or “pairings” or some similar “horseshit,” don’t be fooled: it’s just because I read two issues of something at once and can’t quite disentangle my impression of one from the other.

Behind the jump: Blackest Night issues #5 and #6, Fantastic Four #573 and #574.

BLACKEST NIGHT #5 and #6: It’d be great if 2010 ended up being the Year I Learned To Quit Worrying and Love Geoff Johns because there’s some stuff in here that’s really, really smart. But I’m not sure it’s going to happen because there’s also some stuff in here that’s really, really stupid. And not in that great “hey, zombie shark!” kind of way. No. I mean, on page four of issue #5, Green Lantern says, “The rainbow rodeo’s locked and loaded, Ganthet. So where’d this big, bad black lantern go?” Or when zombie Jean Loring grabs Mera and says, “Let’s take a trip, ‘Little Mermaid.’ Under the sea.” When I read those lines, I may have actually pulled a muscle from cringing so hard.

At six issues in, Blackest Night is feeling the strain of being the most awesome thing ever–awful dialogue, endless exposition (so much so, I’m reminded of exercises in foreign language primers, if the people therein were more interested in Batman’s desecrated skull than where to get a newspaper) and cramped, panicked storytelling. Ivan Reis’ confident art has been reduced to page-long panels piled each upon each, into which every character must bend at knees, hips, and shoulders just to fit. Even the full page spreads–as regular and as monotonous as a horn sample in a hiphop song–have a half-dozen people (or an undead spacefaring cast of thousands) packed together as uncomfortably as the subjects of any wedding party photo. As a result, though it’s supposed to be a dark, lightning-paced romp, it’s not much fun to read. It’s less like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and more like Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, if you know what I mean.

And that’s especially frustrating because Johns has some really interesting stuff going on–Nekron as the reason behind the resurrection of all these DC heavy-hitters is an elegant spin on DC’s continuity, and a great way to raise the stakes as nearly all the heroes become his pawns with little more than a turn of the page. When I was a kid, I would’ve given my left arm for a big crossover event that dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s of continuity while giving us plenty of spectacle–like Steve Englehart’s run on Avengers allowed to rampage across all titles–and I don’t know if I’ll ever get closer than Blackest Night. (Come to think of it, nobody really loved Englehart’s dialogue, either.)

But, like I said, it’s cramped and not particularly fun and just when I start to enjoy myself, something like “The rainbow rodeo’s locked and loaded” comes along. It’s OK, I guess, but it should be freakin’ awesome.

FANTASTIC FOUR #573 and #574: Ai-yi-yi. I really, really hope Neil Edwards and Andrew Currie do not have access to the Internet because I would not want them to read what I have to say next. But, honestly: their artwork in these two issues is so flat, trite, and ugly, it makes Don Heck look like Moebius. I feel for them, Edwards and Currie, because I too believe children to be inhuman and vaguely potato-headed creatures barely able to recognizably mimic common feelings and emotions. However, since society requires us to pretend that children are, in essence, just like us, I have little choice but to judge E & C as terrible artists rather than subversive revolutionaries for a greater truth.

Though, to be fair, the adults all look horrible too, like someone had decided to craft a Fantastic Four Tijuana Bible using Brian Hitch’s previous run as guidance but the tertiary syphillis affected the artist’s eyesight early and they didn’t get further than the desperate sharpie-on-paper-lunch-bag look achieved here.

Consequently, I can’t tell if Hickman’s writing is sub-par or merely poisoned by the awful art. After all, I thought the first two issues of his run were a bit bald-faced in their formula, but exceedingly competent and enjoyable. The third and climactic issue of his ‘Crisis On Infinite Reeds’ story, however, was shockingly inept–the protagonist and writer literally turned their backs and walked away from the whole scenario, ethical quandries and all–so it’s entirely possible these two issues would be underwhelming even if Jack Kirby returned from beyond the grave just to draw them. After all, in #573, Ben, Johnny, Val, and Franklin return to Millar and Hitch’s Nu-World and a lot of ethical quandries are bandied about before the Hulk’s kid smashes a woman’s head right off her body, and our heroes are able to head home.

And in #574, Franklin’s interminable birthday party is interrupted by a walking, talking teaser for Hickman’s upcoming storylines about whom, after disappearing, the FF show absolutely no interest in pursuing or thinking about ever again.

If Hickman’s intention is to bring America’s First Superpowered Family into the age of the modern SUV (“Fuck everyone else as long as we get home okay”), he’s absolutely succeeded. But I think it’s more likely he has his eyes on the prize of doing BIG! EXCITING! SPECTACLE! and can’t quite nail down his pacing. I’d hoped for a little better than what we’ve seen so far, and have my fingers crossed things will come together better–and the art team gets replaced–since I want to see such ambition succeed (and lord, do I love the restoration of the book’s old logo). But this was disappointing sub-OK stuff to me.

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