Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #7 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

It's been a few issues since I've talked about the covers to these comics. Art Adams is the primary cover artist, and his detailed art style really works with this cover. This cover does a fantastic job of getting me excited about this issue. The Thing, wielding a sword, riding a dinosaur, clutching a pretty girl. It promises a Conan-esque swords-and-sorcery romp, and the idea of putting the Thing in this genre, with his humour and ability to puncture the po-faced nature of the genre, really attracts me.

Of course, this is a Brian Michael Bendis Guardians of the Galaxy comic, so the contents of the book don't really bear much of a resemblance to the cover. We have a Rocket Raccoon/Thing solo adventure, with the two of them rescuing some people from the Badoon. As with the preceding issue, not much time is spent on why the two heroes are on the planet in the first place. We open with Rocket captured by the Badoon, but Bendis is far more interested in his take on Rocket's banter than he is in providing a reason for him to be in the situation that he's in.

When it comes to focusing on The Thing, I'm conflicted by this issue. He gets a great entrance, leaping from low orbit and landing with enough force to send the Badoon into disarray, and Bendis writes him with an easy relaxation, like a lot of the worries of his time on the Fantastic Four have been lifted and he can just enjoy messing around in space. I rather like this version of the Thing, it's a characterisation that works for me and one that syncs with his new situation.

I'm less enamoured by the story element that sees Ben fall for an alien and sort-of-get married. I think there's a good story to be had out of taking his relaxed attitude further, realising that a lot of his relationship hangups don't apply in space, but everything happens so quickly (literally, the entire scope of this comic doesn't cover more than about an hour, at most) that it feels really hollow. I struggle to believe that Ben would accept this situation without a moment of reflecting on what has come before, and it feels like deeper characterisation has been sacrificed for a not-particularly-interesting story.

Valerio Schiti's artwork continues in the same vein as before. His faces have a weird angular nature to them that definitely shouldn't be present for The Thing. His body acting is exaggerated and, at one point, completely at odds with the script. Rocket cries out 'Mazel too!' before admitting that he has no idea what it means, he only knows it from Kitty, whilst the art puts him in a pose like he's doing an impression of Larry David.

With The Thing taking the spotlight for the first time since the first issue, I was hoping for a good look at how Bendis feels that he fits in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. I can't help feel, however, that this is a huge missed opportunity.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #7 was 45th on the sales charts for March 2016, a fall of 16 places. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 40123, a fall of approx. 8207, or 20%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #6 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy 6.jpg

There is a huge disconnect between the end of the first arc and the start of of this new story, Galaxy's Most Wanted. We left off with the team reunited but on the run from the Spartax empire. We pick up here with Peter and Kitty off on their own, taking part in an infuriatingly undefined secret mission on a Badoon planet, and generally being very bad at keeping any sort of low profile.

The writing tries to frame the lack of subtlety as a result of Peter and Kitty trying to reconnect following their infuriatingly undefined post-Secret Wars breakup. Said reconnection focuses on how much Kitty thinks Peter has grown up by taking on responsibility (briefly) for Spartax, whilst Peter mocks Kitty's ability to choose her own outfits. Considering that Valerio Schiti decides to give Kitty 13 visible pouches in one panel, this criticism has a point, but mocking Kitty's outfits are fightin' words, and ones that would no go unanswered if this were a more focused X-Men blog.

Schiti continues to be problematic as an artist. A double-page reveal of the prison plant manages to only feature three defined prisoners, and shows some issues with perspective and distance when it comes to some featureless aliens hanging in cages in the distance. There's some very strange pacing on the penultimate page, where Star Lord is knocked out. Kitty turns around in concern, then there's a very small black panel, before Peter opens his eyes, having been transported to another planet and thrown in a gladiatorial arena. Because neither creator sticks with Peter as the POV character, it seems like he comes around after a few seconds, rather than what can be assumed to be several hours.

My biggest problem with this comic is that it just isn't the Guardians of the Galaxy story I was expecting off the back of the first arc. The team should be together, on the run, with half the galaxy trying to hunt them down. They should be trying to seek refuge, to shake their pursuers, not infiltrating prison planets with the subtlety of Captain Marvel's Civil War II characterisation.

Even worse, the concurrently-released issue of Star Lord also featured both he and Kitty trying to deal with their break-up, which begs the question: Just who thought there was a market for two separate, contradictory takes on this not-particularly-well-loved-match-up at the same time?

Much like the rest of this comic, this remains infuriatingly undefined.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #6 was 29th on the sales charts for March 2016, a rise of  places. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 48330, a rise of approx. 7749, or 16%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 Review

I made a mistake last time I reviewed an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, assuming that it was the conclusion to the first story arc. I was wrong - this is the conclusion, such as it is. We get answers as to who Yotat is, we get a status quo reset for Star Lord, and we get Hala wrapped up and removed from the book.

It all feels a bit unsatisfying, mostly because this is issue is a prime example of Bendis-by-numbers. Nothing’s especially bad, but there’s very little that really stands out in this issue. Yotat, much like Hala, is taken down by lots of punching, not by any particular plan or combination of the unique skills of the Guardians. I guess having four bruisers on the team - Drax, Gamora, Venom and the Thing - means that there’ll be more brawling than previously seen in the book, but it’s the obvious way to resolve a conflict. Yotat also doesn’t have a particularly interesting reason to be the second villain in this arc. He’s billed as the Destroyer of Destroyers, but he’s revealed to actually be a crime lord on Knowhere, using his muscle to intimidate people into submission. He wants to kill Drax because Drax once kicked him in the back. This isn’t a particularly strong motivation, and keeps what could have been an interesting and major character as a minor annoyance.

Bendis continues to struggle with characterisation in the book. Peter and Kitty’s marital issues have been lost in the fighting, with the two of them interacting as if nothing had happened. In one scene, Drax shifts from declaring that the existence of street-vendor glark is proof that there is a higher being to the overly-literal characterisation from the movie. At least Venom finally gets to do something, contributing to one of the fight scenes in a way that impacts the narrative, rather than standing in the background of the panels.

A high point of the issue comes with the appearance of the Knowhere Corps, comprising former GotG team-members Moondragon, Mantis, Bug, Cosmo and… er… Considering the overuse of captions in the book (there’s a weak joke about Kitty’s reliability as a narrator that’s set up in the captions), the lack of notes introducing these characters to the reader is unforgiveable. It was very nice to see some of my favourite Guardians back on-panel, and there’s clearly some tension between the two teams that I hope will lead into future stories, but if you were reading this book based on your enjoyment of the film, you’d struggle to recognise anyone beyond Cosmo.

Valerio Schiti’s artwork continues to be Valerio Schiti’s artwork. It’s fine, but the lack of detail in the art is starting to become an issue. The opening double-page splash relies too much on the colorist to fill in the space, whilst any figure not in the forefront of the panel is sketched out with a surprising lack of detail. I really don’t like his Thing, who appears to have a lean and angular face, and his characters tend to pose in place rather than give the feeling that they’ve been caught in the middle of a moment of action. The choreography of the fights lacks the fluidity of earlier issues, and the moment where Drax and Thing take down Yotat seems particularly unlikely - Ben punches whilst Drax delivers a roundhouse kick, at the same time, to the same face.

This arc has not been a good read. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on consequences for the Guardians. They were involved in the destruction of Halaa, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother anyone. Peter Quill is deposed as Emperor of Spartax, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother him. Peter and Kitty have broken up, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother them. Ben’s lost his closest friends, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother him. Venom’s barely in the book, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother Bendis. With the final page promising a larger role in the future for Annihilus and the Brood, perhaps the next arc will bring better things for the cosmic side of Marvel.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #5 was 37th on the sales charts for February 2016, a fall of 2 places. Sales in North America were estimated to be 40,581, a fall of 5645, or 12.2%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

It's finally time to take a look at the second issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, the post-Secret Wars home of Ben Grimm. You can tell it's the home of Ben Grimm, as one of the four double-page splashes throughout this book is devoted to a pretty gorgeous shot of the Thing punching Hala, the mysterious female figure from the end of the previous issue, whilst shouting 'It's Clobberin' Time'. And, fair's fair, it's a very good double-page splash.

Also being fair, it's just about the only thing that Ben does in this issue, apart from accidentally wander into a poorly-written discussion about whether or not it's OK to refer to a super-powered Kree warrior as a 'broad'. He's probably the third most prominent member of the Guardians of the Galaxy in this issue, after Kitty and Star Lord. Gamora spends the entire issue unconscious, Rocket talks a lot but does very little, Groot gets one line (go on, guess what it is), Venom gets hurled around a bit, and Drax holds a staff.

This isn't a book that's interested in being a team book. One of the key elements of the success of the Abnett & Lanning version of the team was that every character had their own motivations and plots which brought them into the team; the idea of the team was secondary to the characters own desires. In this book, everyone's here present because the film makes you think that they have to be, and there's no attempt to do anything with any character other than have them get knocked about whilst the Hala plot develops.

Not that it develops all that much. We discover that she's a survivor of the destruction of the Kree Homeworld, and she's very powerful. She wants to destroy both Spartax and Earth to get revenge on the people who destroyed Hala - the Guardians themselves, under the leadership of Peter Quill. She beats up the Guardians a little, kidnaps Peter, and reveals her plans to him. That's it, nothing more. No subplots receive any mention at all - the Kitty/Peter tension from the first issue is not referred to all -  and nobody seems to be at all concerned for Gamora or Groot, ostensibly two of the most powerful people in the galaxy and close members of the team for a number of years now, are taken down by the big bad threat. And once again, you could remove Venom from this book and nobody would notice.

In the latter years of his Avengers run, Bendis became notorious for throwing characters onto the team then doing next-to-nothing with them. Storm, Daredevil, The Thing all turned up, took part in AvX, but contributed very little to the Avengers as a team. It's frustrating to see the same problems arise in this book so quickly, especially when the film did such a good job of getting the team in place without ever feeling contrived or lazy.

Despite the lack of plot in this issue, it looks great - Valerio Schiti has a great line in action, and effectively sells the scale of the devastation of the planet of Hala. With the script leaning into his strengths, rather than trying to tease subtle character humour, this issue works a lot better than the last on an artistic front. There is, however, an unusual structural decision which places 7 double-page spreads and splashes into the front of the book, followed by 6 single pages. It really throws off the rhythm of the book, and doesn't correspond with the pacing of the plot at all.

To conclude, this isn't a terrible issue, but I found it wanting on a number of levels, including plotting, pacing, and characterisation. Still, it looked good.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #2 was 39th on the sales charts for November 2015, a drop of 30 places.. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 51,960, a drop of approx. 66,000, or 58%. 

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) #1

Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) #1

Ah, comic reviews. We tried this a few years ago, back when the Matt Fraction Fantastic Four and FF series launched. They weren't particularly enjoyable to write, and they never seemed to fit too well with the focus the site had back then. A few years later, and the idea of checking in with a member of the Fantastic Four in the post-Secret Wars universe seemed to be a more attractive prospect. So, we put this new feature in as a Patreon milestone goal. Our supporters then backed us to that milestone, and here we are.

The conclusion to Secret Wars handily removed Reed, Sue and the Future Foundation from the Marvel Universe, setting them up to recreate the Multiverse. Johnny Storm joined the Inhumans books, as well as appearing in Uncanny Avengers, whilst Ben Grimm found himself in outer space, a member of Brian Michael Bendis's Guardians of the Galaxy.

As has been mentioned on the podcast, I really couldn't care about the ongoing efforts to make the Inhumans a central, viable concept in the Marvel Universe, which is why I'll be focusing these reviews on the Guardians of the Galaxy series. It's an uneasy compromise, as many years of reading Bendis's Avengers comics have left me exceedingly sceptical when it comes to his writing of team books. I'm also a huge fan of the Abnett and Lanning version of the book, especially the characters that never made it past the end of The Thanos Imperative into the Marvel NOW title, namely Mantis, Adam Warlock, Nova and Cosmo.

(I need to mention this at the top of the review, because I do have a bias against this title for these reasons. I'm open to being surprised by the book as it develops - I've only read the first issue - but I'm entering with low expectations.)

The basic plot of this issue has the Guardians - Kitty Pryde as Star Lord, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Venom and The Thing - steal something from the Chitauri, realise that they don't know what they've stolen, then take it to Spartax to show off to former Star Lord-turned-reluctant-galactic-emperor Peter Quill. Before any questions can be answered, a badly beaten Gamora arrives, followed by a mysterious figure called Hala.

It probably won't surprise seasoned Bendis readers to discover that not a lot happens in this issue. Nominally, we're supposed to be concerned with the never-mentioned eight-month gap between the end of Secret Wars and the start of this issue, in which Ben has moved out to space, and Kitty had become Star Lord in the absence of her partner. Following a brief prologue with Annihilus, we open with Ben and his internal monologue, and the warning bells are ringing rather loudly at this point.

The Thing has an exceedingly recognisable voice. He is gruff, full of heart, prone to exaggeration and, most notably, he has an accent. It can be overplayed at times, but his is one of the most identifiable in comics. It's puzzling why Bendis, one mis-used everlovin' aside, never attempts to capture that voice and let Ben be Ben. The same can be said of Drax, whose most notable contribution to the comic is a ridiculous run-on sentence that is completely at odds with any portrayal of the character in comics or film prior to the Bendis era.

It's only Rocket Raccoon who gets to have any form of individual expression in the book, with written dialect, affectations and accents. (of course, there is Groot, but we all know his deal). Venom all-but disappears after the splash page introducing the team, and Kitty suffers from confused motivations - she seems positively enthusiastic at the thought of visiting Peter on Spartax, only to give him the cold shoulder as soon as they meet.

The page where Kitty persuades Rocket to go to Spartax is particularly troubling from an artistic perspective. The gimmick is that she nudges Rocket with her expressions, letting him come to the reluctant conclusion that she is right. It's really let down by Valerio Schiti's artwork, which chooses to have Kitty act out some elaborate, exaggerated pantomime. It's the kind of comedy that former GotG guest-artist Kevin Maguire would have excelled at, nuanced expressions playing out across the page as Rocket's realisation dawns. Instead, it's played far too broadly.

Elsewhere, Schiti's artwork, with colours from Richard Isanove, works much better. He's got a good line in space action, working well with the space-snakes from The Avengers movie. Some of the storytelling could be clearer - I'm not sure how Kitty went from some weird ballet moves in space to blasting through the Chitauri snake at high speed - but there are a lot of great visuals at play in this book.

I want to finish by returning to Ben's internal monologue at the start of the issue. A key point of his monologue, which is framed as his reasoning for joining the team in the aftermath of Secret Wars, is that he's finally made it out into space. I struggle with taking this angle with Ben. He's made it out into space many times, including four times in the first two years and an extended period in the Matt Fraction run. Maybe this is a hint that the new history of the Marvel Universe features a lot less of the Fantastic Four than before, but at the moment, it's a big sticking point.

This isn't a particularly bad issue, for all the time I've spent focusing on the things that didn't work for me. At the same time, this isn't a particularly engaging issue. The tease with Annihilus at the start of the issue works really well for me - I'm a huge, unapologetic Annihilus fan - whilst the rest of the issue chugs along without ever really getting me involved in what's going on. Hopefully things will pick up with the second issue, with the Chitauri artifact becoming more than the very obivous MacGuffin it currently is.

So, the Guardians of the Galaxy have arrived in the All-New, All-Different Marvel NOW era. I'll be coming back in a couple of weeks to look at issue 2, then we'll be running weekly reviews until we catch up with publication.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #1 was 9th on the sales charts for November 2015, the 5th-highest ANAD launch. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 118,000. The credits page lists 7 different covers for this issue, which has a notable impact on the number of copies sold.

A final note about the comments. I have no idea if there will be any or not - this is the first original content being published on the new website outside of the podcast - but please try to keep the comments spoiler-free for future issues. I'd really like to be able to take each one on its own terms!

The Fantasticast: 2015 In Review - Part IV

With only a few hours to go until the end of 2015, we're taking a look back at 2015 in the life of The Fantasticast. On Monday, we covered January-March, on Tuesday we covered April-June, and yesterday we took a look at July-September. Today, we're focusing on October-December, which features a lot of Roy Thomas...

October

We started October, and Roy Thomas's tenure as Fantastic Four writer, looking back to the origins of the series, with Fantastic Four #126 - The Way It Began. This issue retold the origin of the team, with a few updates, to launch the next couple of issues worth of stories. To celebrate 100 episodes since he took over the podcast cover design, we invited Sam Savage back to help us look at this issue. We also had some fun playing an excerpt from the Power Records adaptation of this issue.

It didn't come as much of a surprise to us that, after recapping the origin, Roy Thomas chose to feature the Mole Man heavily in Fantastic Four #127 - Where The Sun Dares Not Shine. And not just the Mole Man - Tyrannus and Kala as well. Don't worry if you've not heard of Kala, she's obscure even by 1970s Marvel standards!

Fantastic Four #128 - Death In A Dark And Lonely Place was the subject of our landmark 150th episode. The cracks are beginning to show in the previously happy Richards marriage, thanks to Roy's insistence on writing Reed without any form of subtlety at all. There's also some underground shenanigans with more betrayal in one page than at a Stark wedding.

The furious Femizon from the future, Thundra, made her debut in Fantastic Four #129 - The Frightful Four Plus One, becoming the latest person to fill the fourth slot on the Frightful Four. Roy's mission to break the classic team apart continues, as marital strife becomes the first challenge the Fantastic Four can't overcome. Well, it's actually the next issue. Or the one after. It's become rather difficult to recall what happened in the issues we only read a couple of months ago...

Thundra and the Frightful Four battle their way to the heart of the FF in Fantastic Four #130 - Battleground: The Baxter Building. With the team seemingly broken apart and defeated, can the combined force of Franklin and Sue Richards save the day? What unthinkable consequences will their actions bring? And has Steve just nicked the copy text from the original post to beef up the word count for this episode?

November

Marvel Team-Up #6 - As Those Who Will Not See saw the Thing team up with Spider-Man to tackle both the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker. Rather unexpectedly, this issue revealed the origin of the Puppet Master and how he came to be Alicia's stepmother, in a sympathetic and engrossing flashback. Shame about the rest of the issue... Our cover artist Michael Georgiou returned to the show to investigate this comic.

One plot line that's been bubbling away for a few issues is Johnny wanting to reunite with Crystal, going so far as to invade the Great Refuge to get back with her. Fantastic Four #131 - Revolt In Paradise, drawn by fill-in artist Ross Andru, revealed that Crystal has been shacking up with Quicksilver, and is a member of a hierarchy that created a slave race and systematically oppressed them for thousands of years. Hard to work out which is worse...

The confused story of slavery in the Great Refuge concludes in Fantastic Four #132 - Omega The Ultimate Enemy, as does Roy Thomas's first run as FF writer. Relationship statuses change, creative teams change, costumes change, this issue is all about change. And, in one very brief moment, this issue is also about Black Bolt's Coffee Shop, but you'll have to listen to the episode to find out why.

One of our favourite issues of the year closed out November, as we looked at Fantastic Four #133 - Thundra At Dawn. With phenomenal guest art from DC legend Ramona Fradon, this wonderful one-shot issue sees Thundra call out Ben Grimm for a punch-up on New Year's Eve. The artwork is superb, and have I mentioned the great art? A highly-recommended issue of the Fantastic Four, and the first for new writer Gerry Conway.

December

Our year of covering the Fantastic Four closed with a two-part story that featured the return of Gregory Gideon as the villain. Yes, the return of Gideon. You remember him, right? Anyway, he returned in Fantastic Four #134 - A Dragon Stalks The Skies. We invited Resurrections: An Adam Warlock And Thanos Podcast host Al Sedano onto the show for this episode, which turned out to be rather fortuitous, as we also had to look at Jim Starlin's first issue of Captain Marvel, which also featured an early Thanos appearance. On top of this, we also looked at Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #9, where Cage went after Doctor Doom for a $200 bill.

Fantastic Four #135 - The Eternity Machine was our final Fantastic Four issue of the year. It also featured Gregory Gideon, which immediately biased us against it. 

Finally, we closed out the year with Marvel Team-Up #10 - Time Bomb!, in which Spider-Man teamed up with the Human Torch to defeat time-travelling missiles launched by Kang The Conqueror and Zarrko The Tomorrow Man. Despite the run of Marvel Team-Up issues covered this year being rather low in quality, our enthusiasm for Marvel Two-In-One, arriving early in 2016, has not been dampened!

Well, that wraps up our look back at the year in podcasting. We'll be back tomorrow to launch 2016 with some huge news, and we can't wait for that!

The Fantasticast: 2015 In Review - Part III

As we trudge ever-closer to the end of 2015, we're taking a look back at this past year in the life of The Fantasticast. On Monday, we covered January-March, and yesterday we covered April-June. Today, we're focusing on July-September. We had two Fantastic Four movies to cover, did a whole bunch of Fan-Splaining, and started our regular Marvel Team-Up coverage...

July

 

July started with our first-ever fill-in issue, Fantastic Four #119 - Three Stood Together. Roy Thomas provided his first Fantastic Four script, a neat and effective tale of racism, intolerance, and a thinly-veiled apartheid-era South Africa analogue. The cover format had recently changed, but this was also the first appearance of the new Fantastic Four logo and, thanks to our designer Sam, our own new logo. Just in time for some special episodes...

After a few months away, Stan Lee returned to the FF with Fantastic Four #120 - The Horror That Walks On Air. Stan's final run on the FF isn't a high point, and this story gets underway with a limp retread of the first appearance of the Silver Surfer. And, with our special episodes just around the corner, our decision to start a four-part story just before taking a few weeks off shows that our ability to plan ahead is, as always, impeccable.

Despite the movie turning out to be terrible, we decided to celebrate its release with a series of special episodes, kicking off with Steve And Andy Fan-'Splain The FF Part 1. Taking more than a little inspiration from Rachel And Miles X-Plain The X-Men, we decided to run through the first 51 issues and 3 annuals of the Fantastic Four in just under an hour. It was something a bit different for us, and we hope that it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Our second special episode was Steve And Andy Fan-'Splain The FF Part 2, bringing our recap of every Fantastic Four issue covered on the show up to date. In just under an hour, we rattled through Fantastic Four #52-120, along with annuals #4-6. Huge thanks go to our designer Sam Savage for these wonderful covers, and to Michael Bailey of From Crisis To Crisis for counting slowly and clearly for us.

August

Our final special episode was our commentary on the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie, produced by Roger Corman. It's not a great movie, but history is unlikely to judge this the worst Fantastic Four film. The film featured some phenomenal glove-acting, a terribly-animated Human Torch, and we added some more fun to the mix by turning Youtube's automatic subtitling feature.

After much anticipation, we finally got to start our coverage of Marvel's 1970s team-up comics with Marvel Team-Up #1 - Have Yourself A Sandman Little Christmas by Roy Thomas and Ross Andru. We also took this as the excuse to invite back onto the show Avengers Inspirations host Jon M. Wilson, as the show has taken so much inspiration from Jon's former show Amazing Spider-Man Classics.

It's at about this time that the Fantastic Four movie was released into cinemas, to some of the worst reviews seen since After Earth. Steve got to see the movie just before release, and managed to get his conflicted, angry thoughts in order to produce a midweek minisode, reviewing the film. After a very long time away from the core FF title, we returned for Fantastic Four #121 - The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret Of Gabriel. It's another Stan Lee runaround issue, frantically looking to fill time until the glorious final splash page by John Buscema. Sadly, at the end of everything, it turns out that the secret of Gabriel was neither that mysterious, nor particularly mind-blowing...

Fantastic Four #122 - Galactus Unleashed turned out to be one of most physical confrontations between the Fantastic Four and the World-Eater seen in comics. Making Galactus someone that the team can take on in combat may remove some of his mystique, but it lends itself to some great artwork from John Buscema. After two issues of very streamlined storytelling, Stan Lee remembers that he's Stan Lee and splits the team up to give greater story possibilities.

Our final episode in a very busy month looked at Marvel Team-Up #2 - And Spidey Makes Four. The Frightful Four are invading the Baxter Building, and only the Human Torch and the Amazing Spider-Man can do anything about it. Assuming, that is, that Spidey can shake off his brainwashing and stop fighting as part of the Frightful Four! We also brought along Cinematic Universe co-host James Hunt to take a look at this packed issue.

September

September was all about bidding farewell to Stan Lee as regular writer of the Fantastic Four. We kicked off with the conclusion to his latest Galactus story in Fantastic Four #123 - This World Enslaved, featuring a return of our favourite FF guest-star - Richard M. Nixon. We also had a brief peek at Captain America and Falcon #150, and a longer look at Incredible Hulk #152, the prelude to the Trial of the Incredible Hulk.

Fantastic Four #124 - The Return of the Monster was the start of Stan Lee's final story for the FF. It's fair to say that wasn't a huge clamour for the return of the Monster from the Lost Lagoon, which led (in this issue) to a lot of running around for no real reason at all. We also spent some time looking at Incredible Hulk #153, in which the Fantastic Four find themselves participating in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and Reed faces a moral quandry.

Morbius, The Living Vampire was the villain for Marvel Team-Up #3 - The Power To Purge, in which Spidey and the Torch teamed up, attended lectures, drank tea, and took on the not-quite-undead. Continuing our theme of teaming up with other podcasters, we invited Stacey Taylor of Stacey's Pop Culture Parlour onto the show to help make sense of this issue. Spoilers: We didn't. And we still don't really know what an enzyme vampire actually is...

This is it - Stan Lee's final issue of the Fantastic Four as regular writer. What a shame we couldn't get something a little better than Fantastic Four #127 - The Monster's Secret. With more running around and a rushed, nonsensical conclusion, this certainly isn't a good example of Stan's writing. Bidding farewell to our Fearless Leader, we also took a little bit of time to compare and contrast Stan's return to the book with his return of Amazing Spider-Man.

Well, we're nearly there. Check back tomorrow for the final episodes of 2015, and then come back on Friday for an exciting announcement about the future of the podcast.

The Fantasticast: 2015 In Review - Part II

As we trudge ever-closer to the end of 2015, we're taking a look back at 2015 in the life of The Fantasticast. Yesterday, we covered January-March. Today, we're focusing on April-June, as we moved closer to the release of the Fantastic Four movie, and a lot of people started to pay attention to what we do.

April

We started April with a feeling of deja vu, as we covered Fantastic Four #108 - The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man. Why? Well, Fantastic Four #108 saw the unfinished Jack Kirby artwork for a rejected issue of the Fantastic Four repurposed and enhanced to provide the origin of Janus the Nega-Man. This led to an unusual episode, where a lot of the visuals had already been covered by us (Fantastic Four - The Lost Adventure), but the context (and Stan's scripting) was new.

No prizes for guessing who the villain in Fantastic Four #109 - Death In The Negative Zone was! To celebrate the return of Annihilus, we invited Chris Thompson, host of Orbital Comics In Conversation, to join us for this episode and the next. Chris is a fantastic podcaster, and his interviews are some of the best in comics podcasting. He's also a huge FF fan and, as an extra bonus, works at my local comics shop. We had a lot of fun looking at this issue and the general craziness that comes with any return to the Negative Zone.

May

After a few weeks off for personal reasons, we returned in May with our coverage of Fantastic Four #110 - One From Four Leaves Three. We also invited Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics In Conversation to return to help us finish off this episode. Thankfully, by this point, Janus the Nega-Man had left the story, never to return*. Instead, we got to have more fun with Annihilus and Agatha Harkness. Fans of Steve's singing (We're not sure you actually exist) will be pleased to know that this is the episode to feature his version of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt theme.

*Janus returns. This knowledge haunts us all.

A plot line that had technically be running through the last few issues finally came to the fore in Fantastic Four #111 - The Think -- Amok!. With Ben Grimm turned against the Fantastic Four - and humanity itself - the remaining team members scramble to contain his rampaging. As well as this, we had a rare solo appearance for Sue Richards, in Sub-Mariner #38, and we started our brief, erratic cover of the Kree-Skrull War with a peek at Avengers #89.

100 issues after their first battle, the Hulk returns to battle the Thing in Fantastic Four #112 - Battle of the Behemoths. As might be expected, this is a big action issue, with plenty of punching, statue destroying, and hurling of carousels. Oh, and the Thing dies at the end. Yeah, spoilers for that one.

Fantastic Four #113 - The Power of the Over-Mind was the first appearance of the super-villain Over-Mind. And if your response to that question is 'Who?' then you're  not alone. It seems fairly certain that neither Stan Lee of John Buscema quite knew who or what the Over-Mind was when they created him, as it would take until the final issue in this story for the Over-Mind to present a consistent and credible threat to the team. Oh, and the Thing gets resurrected at the start. Yeah, spoilers for that one.

The Over-Mind story continued in Fantastic Four #114 - But Who Shall Stop The Over-Mind? With the population of New York turned against the Fantastic Four by the power of the Over-Mind, the team must scramble to return to the Baxter Building, and to discover more about their foe, a task made harder by the Over-Mind's ability to remove memories of his existence from them. We also checked in with the Kree-Skrull War in Avengers #92, where the team make appearances in court to defend Captain Marvel.

June

June kicked off with a new writer for the Fantastic Four, as Archie Goodwin arrived for a short run on the book. His first task was to create an origin for the Over-Mind, which became the focus of Fantastic Four #115 - The Secret Of The Eternals. To delve into this, we invited W. Blaine Dowler of the Unofficial 75 Greatest Marvels Podcast to come on the show. Sorry about that Blaine - we should have found a better issue for you! Also, the Eternals in this issue have nothing to do with the Jack Kirby Eternals from later in the 1970s, just to be clear.

Doctor Doom - in charge of the Fantastic Four? That can only mean one thing - it's Fantastic Four #116 - The Alien... The Ally... The Armageddon! In an oversized issue, the Over-Mind finally presents a credible threat to the team, and only the assistance of Doctor Doom can save them. We also took some time with Avengers #93, another oversized issue, which guest-starred the Skrull cows from way back in Fantastic Four #2.

The short-lived flirtation of oversized issues left a feature-length story to be spread across two issues, which is probably why Fantastic Four #117 - The Flame And The Quest felt so unsatisfying as an issue. It sort-of-but-not-really brought Crystal back to the Fantastic Four, and committed one of the cardinal sins of any Marvel comic - it featured Diablo as the villain. We also had a detailed look at Sub-Mariner #44, and a far briefer look at Avengers #94.

June closed out with our coverage of Fantastic Four #118 - Thunder In The Ruins. This was Archie Goodwin's final issue, and although the conclusion to the Diablo/Crystal story was about as good as you might expect, the final five pages of this story turned out to be something rather different. The Thing and Lockjaw briefly visited an alternate universe - Earth A - where Reed Richards had been the one to be turned into the Thing by the cosmic rays.

We'll be back to take a look at July-September tomorrow, as we revisit our first dealings with Marvel Two-In-One, the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie, the Josh Trank (and others) Fantastic Four movie, and a whole heap of fan-splaining!

The Fantasticast: 2015 In Review - Part I

We've got a handful of days between now and the end of the year, so this felt like a good time to stop and reflect on what has been a crazy year for The Fantasticast. Over the next few days, we'll be looking back at 2015. The comics, the episodes, the guest-hosts, the ripping-off-of other podcasts!

January

It seems like such a long time ago, but at the start of 2015, we were still covering Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's classic run on The Fantastic Four. We started January with Fantastic Four #98 - Mystery On The Moon. Produced to celebrate the 1969 moon landing, this issue wilfully ignores established continuity, and earned Marvel a letter from NASA pointing out that they were perfectly capable of landing on the moon without any fancy-schmancy superheroes lending a hand, thank you very much. Did I say NASA? I must have meant J. Jonah Jameson...

The last few issue of Stan and Jack's collaboration on the Fantastic Four were not their best work together, and Fantastic Four #99 - The Torch Goes Wild is a particularly strong example of how out-of-sync the two creators were. We also took a brief peek at Silver Surfer #17, and had some fun answering the 1970 Marvel Readers' Survey. Most likely because we really didn't want to talk about this comic...

We our first major milestone with Fantastic Four #100 - The Long Journey Home. This was the first big Marvel anniversary celebration. I think it's fair to say that they learned a few lessons from this one, such as 'how not to do an anniversary celebration comic'. We learned, after the recording, that this comic had originally been planed to be an annual-sized issue, which accounts for some of the problems with this one. But not all...

Late January saw the release of the first full-length Fantastic Four trailer, and we sat down to give our thoughts on it for a Midweek Minisode. It's worth remembering that there was a point when one of us still hoped that this film wouldn't be terrible...

Finally, we finished January with a late resurgence of quality, when we covered Fantastic Four #101 - Bedlam In The Baxter Building. This issue featured The Maggia, the organised crime syndicate who definitely aren't the Mafia, and a real sense of danger and fun, which is more than can be said for the Inhumans feature in Amazing Adventures #1, which we also covered.

February

February saw us welcome our first guest-host as Micheal Leyland of Heykids Comics joined us to bid farewell to Jack Kirby. Together, we covered Fantastic Four #102 - The Strength Of The Sub-Mariner, the first of a three-part story that would require some significant help to finish off. We also took a look at the Inhumans feature in Amazing Adventures #2.

Things took a brief diversion, as we took an episode to review the achievements of one of the greatest runs of comics - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four. As well as our own thoughts and critiques, we also solicited feedback from our listeners for a bumper episode. And, to wrap things up, we also took a look at the 2008 one-shot Fantastic Four - The Lost Adventure, which recreated a rejected Fantastic Four comic from Jack Kirby's incomplete artwork.

Fantastic Four #103 - At War With Atlantis saw the first appearance of short-term Fantastic Four penciler John Romita Sr. Picking up another artist's plot and running with it is not a great situation, but Romita managed to bring focus, pace, and Richard M. Nixon to the story. We also took a brief look at Sub-Mariner #30 and Fantastic Four Annual #8, for those keeping track of Namor's solo title, or reprints.

Stan Lee and John Romita concluded the first continuing FF story in over a year with Fantastic Four #104 - Our World -- Enslaved! Handily, Roy Thomas mirrored this invasion of New York with one of his own in Avengers #82, which afforded us the opportunity to compare Lee and Thomas's approaches to similar plots. We also had a look at Sub-Mariner #31.

March

March kicked off with our coverage of Fantastic Four #105 - The Monster In The Streets, the first post-Kirby issue and the first signs that the book would be able to continue without one of the major creative forces that brought the title into being. Despite the editorial shenanigans that suddenly removed Crystal from the book, this was a surprisingly strong issue, considering that it came at a time of great change.

The post Lee/Kirby era continued with Fantastic Four #106 - The Monster's Secret. I recall rather enjoying this issue at the time, but details of what happened or why I enjoyed it escape me eight months later. The show-notes suggest that Andy and I had a disagreement during the recording, but again, I forget about what. I suspect Andy hasn't, though - he tells me he's tattooed my transgression on his arm so that he will always be reminded of it. Unless he's wearing a jumper.

Fantastic Four #107 - And Now - The Thing! marked the debut of regular Fantastic Four penciller John Buscema. Unfortunately, it was also the first of four issues to feature the villain Janus, one of the more underwhelming adversaries of the Fantastic Four that we would encounter this year. Come for the artwork, stay for the spelling mistakes and the consequences of said spelling mistakes.

We'll be back tomorrow to take a look at what happened to the show in April, May and June!

Review: Fantastic Four #2

Fantastic Four #2 We're one month and two issues into the relaunch of the Fantastic Four franchise relaunch. The replacement team has yet to be completed, and the team they are replacing have yet to leave Earth. Can a decent story rise out of the extended setup and character moments? Read on!

The second issue of the Marvel NOW Fantastic Four continues very much in the same vein as the first. Which is to say that there are some lovely character moments, some great art, but very little in terms of actual development. In fact, by the end of this issue, we are still to move beyond the initial pitch for the series.

In terms of structure, this issue feels closer to FF #1 than it does to Fantastic Four #1. Matt Fraction writes with an alarming economy, refusing to let any scene stretch beyond two pages. An incredible amount happens in these 24 pages, as the team set their affairs in order and bond with their replacements in the run-up to their departure.

In many ways, having an extended setup is uncommon in comics today. The New 52 started with 52 bangs – most big, some small, a few rather wet – and Marvel have been treating the majority of the NOW books to date as big events. To have three issues dedicated to setting up a new status quo is a rare luxury, and Fraction is making the most of this. However, by the end of the issue, my reaction was one of impatience to move into something new, to see what happens on this voyage in space that was promised way back in the initial announcements for the series.

Putting this aside, there is a lot to like about this issue. I love the silliness of Ben’s edict to the Yancy Street Gang. There’s something very appropriate – almost retro – about the repeated use of the word ‘dummies’, and this whole scene tickled me. Less effective was the Thing/She-Hulk workout scene, which didn’t seem to develop either character or their relationship from what we’d seen in FF. The Reed/Scott scene went some way to addressing the issue of why Reed isn’t talking to his family about their condition. Darla finally gets a chance to be more than a punchline, and the read of her character from this issue shows that she may get to fill the role of heart/moral compass in the FF title.

Mark Bagley’s art continues to impress, despite Mark Farmer sharing inking duties Mark Morales. The line detail that I enjoyed so much is still present, but Morales’ inks seem to fit Bagley’s faces a little more. The colours from Paul Mounts and Wil Quintana also superb.

With the dialoguing and art working so well, it’s just a shame that the plotting has not been as fast-paced as the rapid-fire scene changes would lead you to believe. Still, as the tentacles creeping into view on the preview of nest issue’s cover would lead us to believe, things are about to pick up.

Writer: Matt Fraction, Penciler: Mark Bagley, Inkers: Mark Farmer and Mark Morales, Colorists: Paul Mounts with Wil Quintana, Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles, Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas, Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch, Cover Artists: Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer and Paul Mounts

Review: FF #1

FF #1 The solicitation for FF was surprising in many ways.

Surprising in that the FF title was continuing beyond what many thought was a natural ending point with the departure of Jonathan Hickman. Surprising in the makeup of the new team. And very surprising in the announcement of art team beyond compare, Michael and Laura Allred.

And now that we have the first issue of this title, we can see that it is not only the most surprising title of Marvel NOW so far, but also the best.

The issue is neatly divided into two separate plot strands. In the first, the Fantastic Four head to recruit their replacement for four minutes – the previously announced Ant Man, Medusa, She-Hulk and Miss Thing (just don’t call her that yet – it’s pretty clear that at this stage, she has no idea what’s about to happen). In the second, the wide and varied cast of the Future Foundation introduce themselves to the reader and to Scott Lang.

Matt Fraction is on top form with both of these plot threads. He neatly captures Scott Lang’s pain at his recent loss without overplaying it (and an AR extra takes us through the death of  his daughter if you missed it), and gives Sue and Medusa a wonderful conversation about motherhood in the worlds in which they inhabit.

An even better job is done with the Future Foundation itself, an organisation whose numbers have been growing for nearly three years. It currently comprises 14 members, most of whom will be completely unfamiliar to readers not intimately acquainted with the Hickman years. But in a wonderful series of one-pagers (which need to be reread once you’ve finished the issue), Fraction manages to bring all readers up to speed with who these characters are and why the Future Foundation is important.

But what takes this issue to the top of the Marvel NOW must-read list is the artwork of Michael Allred, coloured by Laura Allred. Their art is a great fit for the title, celebrating the weird, grotesque and fantastical elements of the Foundation and the wider Marvel universe.

Michael Allred is a wonderful cartoonist as well as one of the industry’s most exciting artists, and his command of facial and body acting is on a par with Kevin Maguire’s. Each Foundation page is a joy to look at, from the disinterest of Dragon Man to the fooling around of Franklin Richards, from the awkward nervousness of Onome to the subtle nervousness of Leech, conveyed only in his shifting eyes.

Laura Allred’s colouring is, as always, superb, working with the artwork to create a visual identity for the book that is unlike anything else being published in Marvel today.

Between this title and Fantastic Four, the First Family and Foundation have had a superb launch in Marvel NOW. It looks like Fantastic Four fans are in for some great comics.

Writer: Matt Fraction, Artist and Cover: Michael Allred, Colour Artist: Laura Allred, Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles, Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas, Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch

Review: Fantastic Four #1

The age of the Hickman is over.

Marvel NOW has arrived.

Matt Fraction comes to the book, fresh from his lengthy and lauded run on Iron Man, and critical darling The Defenders. Mark Bagley arrives from the disappointing Avengers Assemble title.

With the shadow of the most impressive writer on the book in a decade cast across this relaunch, can Fraction and Bagley provide a fresh, interesting and fun take on the First Family of Marvel comics, or will this new number one sink under the weight of expectations?

Read on!

Well, the good news is that this is a really strong first issue, full of fun, light on action but heavy on character, and setting up not only the main thrust of this title but justifying the existence of companion title FF.

The premise is simple: Reed's body is starting to fall apart, and it's possible that the same will happen to Sue, Johnny and Ben. Unable to find a cure in the known universe, he decides to take his family into the unknown universe, handily returning mere seconds after leaving thanks to some convenient time technology. Just to be safe, he decides to recruit a new team, just in case...

The first thing that struck me on reading this book was the vein of humour that ran throughout, whether it was the dark humour of the mombots in the opening scene, the bickering whilst the team battled against the dinosaur, or the hilarious 'dummy-off' between Ben and the Yancy Street Gang. There were times where the scale of the plots and the reality-endangering consequences of Hickman's run made for some dark reading, and it's refreshing to see that Fraction has remembered that 'fun' is a key component of the Fantastic Four.

The next thing is how great Mark Bagley's art looks in this book. Like many people, I immediately associate Bagley with Ultimate Spider-Man. Over the years, his other projects (Trinity, Justice League of America, Avengers Assemble) have been distinctly underwhelming. Not so here. The addition of Mark Farmer's inks lifts Bagley's pencils, providing a more detailed line that I'm used to seeing, without losing what makes his art so distinctive, such as his unique and expressive faces.

There were a couple of elements that stuck out for me. New character Darla Deering is given short shrift, getting to function as the silent straight man to Johnny's attempts at providing a date. Reed being dishonest to his family is a well-trodden plotline, and there is a general feeling that the colourful extended cast of characters introduced by Hickman during his run is going to brushed to the side.

But of all the Marvel NOW number ones released so far, this has been the most enjoyable, growing organically from what has come before without immediately putting it in a box yet standing on its own at the same time.

With the promise of some gorgeous Michael and Laura Allred artwork and the unexpected-but-welcome 'Continued In FF #1' caption at the end of the issue, I can't wait to see what we're going to get in two week's time.

Writer: Matt Fraction, Penciler: Mark Bagley, Inker: Mark Farmer, Colorist: Paul Mounts, Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles, Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas, Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch, Cover Artists: Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer, Paul Mounts

$3.99