Open Mike Night - Fantastic Four #645 & Team America #12

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Fantastic Four #645

Written by: James Robinson
Penciled by: Leonard Kirk
Inked by: Karl Kesel with Scott Hanna
Colored by: Jesus Aburtov and Israel Silva
Lettered by: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by: Leonard Kirk

Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $5.99

Maillaro: Okay….after reading this, I have a HUGE question….did Jim Hammond survive?  And if not...why did no one care??  This really bugged me for a long time after reading this issue…

Weaver: The art was chaotic, but I thought from the dialog that Johnny pushed him out before he left.  You can’t kill off Jim Hammond...well, not permanently.  

Maillaro: Yeah, I went back later and checked it out, and you are right.  Johnny pushed him out a while back.  He just never showed up again, which confused me.

Weaver: This issue didn’t feel like the final issue.  Sure, the ongoing plot is tied up, but it appears that the Fantastic Four are ready to go on being fantastic, perhaps with renewed energy.  To me, the only indication that it was a landmark was that nearly every supporting character from Fantastic Four ever shows up for at least a panel or two, with the notable exceptions of basically everyone that was a short term member of the group (Crystal, Medusa, Luke Cage, She-Hulk, Ant-Man).

Maillaro: Yeah, this was purely a sales gimmick.  The Fantastic Four are stronger and more together than they have been in a very long time.  They will likely have their own series again by the end of the year if this is their current status quo.   

Throughout James Robinson’s run, the Fantastic Four’s lives have become A Series of Unfortunate Events.  In the last few issues, we find out this was all orchestrated by some guy who had a crush on Sue in college, and is now calling himself the Quiet Man.  

One thing that really surprised me about this whole story was that they created a new villain to screw with the Fantastic Four.  I kept waiting for the SHOCK REVELATION that Doom was behind it all along.  But that never came, and I think this story was much better for that.  

Weaver: I agree, I was expecting Quiet Man to be some known quantity.  Doom would make the most sense, but there were other possibilities.  But speaking of Quiet Man and Doom and hey, Namor shows up in here too so let’s throw him in...how is it that everyone that has every encountered Sue harbors this long term single minded desire to be with her?  I mean, yeah, she’s attractive and nice and smart and everything, but dude, there needs to be a service like AA for people infatuated with Sue.  Reed should set one up.

One thing about the huge amount of characters in this is that I feel some of them were lost to some degree.  We see Avengers, and there’s an odd moment where Scarlet Witch gets a few panels to talk herself up...but it doesn’t give us much close up of anyone else.  I did like Wanda’s line about having enough problems with being responsible for things that actually were her fault, but it wasn’t so good that it was worth the amount of panel time devoted to her.  Other characters like the Salem Seven are total side points that appear in one panel.  As much as I support including characters, you have to give them something.

Maillaro: I think the biggest problem was that they wanted a HUGE page count without actually using the pages to tell the story.  We got like 4 useless backup stories after the main story...which literally showed us nothing of any value.   They could have used those stories to expand a lot more on the characters who showed up.  I especially loved when the Frightful Four decided to help and be heroes just this one time (which built up brilliantly from a conversation Wizard and his clone Bentley had a few issues ago).  And then we never see them again.  What a waste.

Speaking of old Fantastic Four villains, I did like the use of Psycho Man in this issue too.  When he basically took control of Quiet Man’s plan and blowing it up to dangerous proportions, that tied everything up to FF history nicely.

OH!  And I was very amused that Quiet Man seemed to have copied his plan from Syndrome in The Incredibles.  I’m going to start a lot of shit...frame someone else...and then swoop in to save the day myself!  What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

I also wonder if there is a gentleman’s agreement writers have to take when they take over Fantastic Four... “You are allowed to blow things up as crazy as you want...but by the end, you need to put it all back to status quo the way you found it for the next creative team.”  Like you said, this was hyped as the LAST ISSUE OF FANTASTIC FOUR...and...uhm...I couldn’t tell you why this would be the last issue of any comic.  It was just a solid end to a solid arc.  Nothing more...nothing else.

Weaver: I was distinctly thinking of the Frightful Four as well with that comment.  I was kind of impressed with them being there, with Wizard talking about Bentley, and then...poof.  They don’t even appear at the end in order to be thanked or anything.  And there’s the cliffhanger of Quiet Man still being out there, able to disguise his form however he wishes so he’s hard to track.

The back-up stories weren’t totally value-less, they all gave a snapshot of the four main characters individually, some more interesting than others.  Speaking of snapshots, the best part of any of them was two random girls getting a selfie with Thing while he’s hauling trash off the streets.  Carrying tons of concrete and cars, and still mugs for the camera.

Psycho Man was used well here.  I normally don’t care much for him, but he was a credible threat, and just upped the ante on everything when he took over Quiet Man’s plan.  Too bad that mere moments after that, the comic went from being focused to guest star-o-rama.

Maillaro: Yeah, I will concede, the backups were not bad at all.  They picked real good creative teams, and the stories were mostly just fun glimpses at who these characters are.  I just didn’t like that they just felt like a cheap way to pad the book. This wasn’t an annual or an anniversary issue, it’s supposed to be the last frickin’ issue of the Fantastic Four.  They probably wouldn’t have even bothered me if I didn’t feel like there was a lot more than could have been said in the main story.  

Weaver: And yet...backups that are tossed in to pad page count are usually so bad that having four good ones was kind of refreshing.  I’m okay with them.  If they went with a cheap way to pad, they would have done much more of the “What’s your favorite Fantastic Four cover?” that they already wasted a few pages on.

I feel like this could have been broken into two issues and worked better, but that Robinson knew he needed the plot wrap up in the final issue, so the pacing kind of had to be bad.  But there’s a difference between being at an awkward plot moment and so having to have a lot happen in one issue on the one hand, and needlessly throwing in guest spots that just confuse your issue on the other hand.  In a lot of classic comics, when they wanted to say, “And all the other heroes were also doing stuff,” they tend to confine it to one or two montage pages.  This comic should have done that.

So it’s hard for me to accurately grade the writing here.  What I liked, I really liked, but there was just a lot of stuff that didn’t flow right.  I’m going to give it a 3.  The art was generally good, although it was sometimes hard to distinguish people in crowd scenes, so I’ll go a 4 on that.

Maillaro: I am going to go a little higher on the writing.  I thought it did a real good job bringing this arc to an end.  I don’t particularly like the way this comic was set up or marketed, but I don’t want to punish the creative team for that.   4 for the story.  4 for the art.  


Team America #12

Written by: J. Shooter and D. Perlin
Art by: D. Perlin and V. Colletta
Colored by: B. Sharen
Lettered by: D. Albers

Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $1.00

Maillaro:  So, yeah...Team America.  Not even sure where to start on this one.  Team America are five men whose parents were exposed to some kind of mutagenic substance by HYDRA...for shits and giggles.  When these men grew up, they were all mutants (though they had no idea until the last issue of this series) and they formed a motorcycle team who happened to fight crime on the side.  Their mutant power is that together they are able to create the ultimate motorcycle warrior “The Marauder” by project psychic energy on to someone else.   

 

 

A Hydra section leader has been assigned to destroy them, but has failed miserably, so she is supposed to be executed.  Actually, I will say, I found her story to be interesting.   This was the first time I had really seen a Hydra grunt given a detailed backstory and personality.  That was the saving grace of this issue.  If you got rid of Team America, you might have had a decent comic here.

Weaver: The main reason I picked this is the cover, which tells us Team America is over…”BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT.”  I love this cover for that reason, since it’s such a passive aggressive use of an often-used comic saying.

Team America was a toy tie-in comic that was pretty doomed from the start, and not even a Ghost Rider appearance could save it.  Basically, a company had made a bunch of motorcycle toys originally supposed to be Evel Knievel branded, but before they made it to market, Knievel was arrested for assault, stemming from a confrontation over a book that painted him as a chronic domestic abuser and drug addict.  So...not really easy to market to parents or kids anymore.  So after rebranding, they threw it to Marvel in the hopes that they could make the characters actually be something other than names on an action figure box.

The Hydra leader’s story was really good.  Actually, by far the best part of the book.  I liked how many other Hydra agents were on personal terms with her and didn’t want anything bad to happen, which set up her eventual escape with her family.  I’ve also never seen a story that delved into why the hell someone would join Hydra, that was neat to see.

Maillaro:  That is the one cool part about series like this.  Because of the fact that so few eyes are on it, they can get away with telling stories you don’t get to see anyplace else.  It was funny that when we started talking about reviewing this book, you had said something like “They end up fighting Hydra...because why not?”  But in the end, Hydra ended up being the only good part about this comic.

I also was very amused that they ended on a slight cliffhanger.  As the team all goes their separate ways, a new Marauder appears clad in black, ready to...uhm...do whatever crime-fighting mental projections do.  As if anyone really cared all that much to see them again.  

Although, oddly enough, the characters would come back a few times later on, according to Wiki.  Though they tend to get called the Thunderiders...which is an even worse name than Team America.  I kept waiting for puppets to show up.  America, Fuck yeah!

Weaver: They actually end up at Xavier’s school because hey, mutants.  That amuses me way more than it should.  Oh, and Thing briefly joins them, which also amuses me way more than it should.

The thing that was weird to me about the ending is that most of the main characters had a pretty solid reason for leaving.  Lobo is just done with white bread America, Honcho wants to go back to the CIA, Wrench is getting married, and Cowboy...just needs to go do...something?  Because reasons?  I felt that at that point, the writer needed Reddy to be the only one that wanted to continue, and had no rational way to make it happen.

It’s semi traditional for a canceled comic to get its plot lines tied up in another comic in order to segue the few readers it had over to something new.  

Maillaro: See also “Rider, Richard.”

Weaver: For that reason, the new Marauder just kind of being there didn’t surprise me.  Although it did make me wonder who would think that people reading a toy tie in motorcycle comic would transition to any Marvel comic that was not Ghost Rider.

Maillaro: Did Ghost Rider even have a title at this time?  I know there was a long period of time in the 80’s where he didn’t Just a quick look at Wiki suggests his series might have ended JUST before he appeared in Team America.  

Team America basically belongs in the scrapheap with NFL Superpro, and other really bad ideas that came out of attempts at cross-marketing.  BUT, I will say that I can’t quite blame Marvel for trying.  Their Star Wars, G.I. Joe and Rom comics were far better and more successful than anyone could have possibly conceived.  Hell, Rom is so important to Marvel history that they have made a few attempts at including his world while dodging the licensing issue.  Someone from Rom’s world was even a major part of the Annihilators (sort of Marvel’s hardcore cosmic asskickers).  

Weaver: Pretty sure the Dire Wraiths from Rom end up in a few other comics long after that title was over, and they had to just dance around where exactly they came from.

Maillaro: Team America is not the worst comic I’ve ever read...but it is something that just does not need to exist.  For scores...I don’t even know where to go. Writing 2.5...pretty much ONLY because of the Hydra stuff.   The art was fine...nothing offensive, but nothing all that memorable either.  3.5/5

Weaver: You could tell the artistic team cared a lot more about the Hydra plot than whatever they were actually supposed to care about, which is vaguely hilarious because that’s how I felt reading it too.  I’ll actually go a 2 with the writing, because while the Hydra stuff was more like a 4, it underscored just how mailed in the rest of the story was.  The art gets the 3.5 “not memorable for being good or being bad”, just like you gave it.

Maillaro: By the way, thanks for this one.  It is a book I had only barely heard of, and it was actually a lot of fun to read it.  Not for the right reasons, mind you, but still fun.


Maillaro: Next week...we kind of have another elephant in the room...Secret Wars is starting.  I will admit, I am not particularly looking forward to that all that much. Hickman’s mainstream work just has never excited me at all.

Weaver: I really don’t want to review Secret Wars...but I think we kind of have to.  I can’t decide on a specific tie in issue, but I want to use one of the Secret Wars II issues that featured the Beyonder depressed and wanting to become just a normal guy.  I’ll look through a few and let you know.

Maillaro: Next week should be entertaining at least.  Open Mike Night - Reluctant Reviews!

Weaver: Well, at least emo Beyonder will be fun.

Maillaro: Just to let the readers in on what to expect, one of the major threads of Secret Wars was that in order to try and buy happiness, Beyond turns a building to gold...which causes the building to collapse...and causes horrible problems with the Marvel universe’s economy.  This comes up time and again over and over again throughout Secret Wars 2.  Spidey even steals a gold notebook to try and fix his own financial woes.  

Weaver: Yay free money.  Actually, that whole plot was more or less the only thing I liked about Secret Wars II, which is why I picked it and not something that was more Secret Warsy.

Maillaro: And then you have his creepy stalkerish relationship with Dazzler....

Weaver: We’ve discussed Dazz’s appeal to cosmic entities already.  I figured that would be overkill.  Okay, until next time!

Final Scores

 

Maillaro – Story (out of 5)

Weaver – Story (out of 5)

Maillaro – Art (out of 5)

Weaver – Art (out of 5)

Fantastic Four  #645

4

3

4

4

Team America #12

2.5

2

3.5

3.5