Friday, March 19, 2004

Cover 2 Cover

Whether you liked the idea or not, I'm going to attempt it again, and keep doing so until I feel I've finally gotten it right.

Fantastic Four #511

First, the cover. While I like the "team picture," there's nothing here that hints at the story going on inside. Now, this is very common in comics today, and it disappoints me, but I suppose that's an argument for another time. My point, the covers nice, but nothing special. Not nearly as special as what's inside.

The first page is one of the things that I absolutely LOVE about this book. The Recap. Other books have it, but none are as simple or well designed as this one. For those that don't know what's been going on, here's the deal: Ben Grimm is dead, and it's all Reed's fault. The group splits and Reed becomes obsessed with reviving his friend, refusing to believe that he could actually be dead. Reed discovers the smallest, most faint sign of lifeinside the abandoned husk of the Thing and clings to that. He brings the group back together, modifies one of Doom's machines, and travels to Heaven to retrieve his friend.

Now, allow me a second to dredge up even more past and say that Waid should be commended on his usage of continuity here. The machine Reed uses a modified version of the machine Doom invented to try and contact his mother in the afterlife. Said machine eventually blew up in his face. Just a little side note, but it proves that Waid does indeed know his FF, or at least researches his work enough so that no one could tell if he didn't.

Upon arriving in heaven the three are met with obstacl upon obstacle, but keep venturing forward until they find Ben. Now Ben it seems has been welcomed into the afterlife by his brother, but the only thing stopping him from Heaven is a door. A door designed by Reed himself. So, not only is Reed responsible for his death, but now he's keeping him from his place in Heaven.

This brings us up to speed. Ben telling Reed that the reason all of this is happening is because Reed won't let Ben die is something that's hard (for Reed) to accept, and rightfully so. Waid makes these characters more realistic than anytone else out there ever could. We feel Reed's dismay at the news. To hear your best friend tell you that he has to let you go, that he has to let you die? Heartbreaking, and that's exactly the way it feels.

Sue's reaction that they came all the way to heaven for nothing? Spot on. Reed's emotional distance at the fact that he can't save his friend? Brilliantly accurate. Johnny's reaction? Anger. Who wouldn't be angry? Ben has been a constant thorn in John Storm's side, but despite all the ribbing, he was never an unwelcome one.

Johnnny's anger spreads like the fire that he is and soon it's out of control. Ben watches as his friends go at eachothers throats, with Reed going as far as actually punching a restrained Johnny. Now, if that isn't anger, I don't know what is. Their emotional trauma spreads to the atmosphere and eventually it begins to crumble beneath their feet.

The reasoning behind this was understandable. The afterlife that Ben has come to would be one of peace and love, and here three people have brought hatred and anger with them, all of them unable to let their friend go. Not unbelievable in the least.

Reed breaks down, admitting to himself and everyone else that he is the reason Ben died and that Johnny is afraid that he'll be next. Now, Reed saying this seems more like he's admitting to himself that he's afraid he'll kill his family, not that his family is afraid that he'll kill them.

Reed's anger turns self destructive and as he slowly falls to his self-imposed doom. Now, maybe it's just me, but this part seemed a little weird. Not in a bad way though. Reed's little tantrum seemed more like a pitty party than anything else. As if it had become more about saving himself as opposed to saving Ben. Like he realized he'd done all of this out of selfishness, and not out of love. Which may have been exactly the feeling Waid was going for. I hope it was.

Immediately the tables are turned and Johnny tries to save Reed, and Ben is convinced that salvation lies behind the locked door. Waid's ability to do this next part convincingly proves once again how great a writer he is. As Ben tries to solve the puzzle of the door he discovers that like everything else, it's not what it seems.

Behind all the fancy gizmo's the door is noting but solid rock. Solid orange rock. Ben, and not Reed, has been the person holding Ben back. What could become quite confusing is explained with relative ease.

Ben saves the day by convincing Reed that it wasn't his fault, which is funny because they came to save him, and he saved Reed. In turn, Ben realizes he's not ready to die, that it isn't his time. With a seemingly happy ending, the family comes together, and without a word of apology, all is forgiven. And really, isn't that how family is?

The next part is really interesting. Reed, ever the curious one, still wants to solve the mystery of the door. Again, Waid's characterizations are spot on. After beign faced with so much, Reeds mind is still thinking about that door. And why not? It's the key to reaching God and Heaven. Who wouldn't want to unlock it?

However, Danny (Ben's brother) makes them an offer, to stay. To stay, and the rest of the family will be brought along as well. After all, they have saved the world, and the universe, many times, a life in Heaven is deserving, isn't it? The answers to all your questions, peaceful eternity with your loved ones, isn't that what everyone wants?

The answer, at least for the Fantastic Four, is no. No, it's not the destination that they live for, it's the journey. Danny's response? "Good Answer."

The next part had the opportunith to become a little "Matrix-like" but once again Waid pulls it off without a hitch. The question was a test, and the prize is a chance meeting with the maker himself.

Now, one could argue that this is just a riff on Byrne's old She-Hulk, in that it makes the characters themselves aware of the fact that they are characters in a book. However, anyone with any belief in a higher being can believe what happens here. If there is a God (I believe there is) then aren't we all just characters in his book? Aren't we the idea in the back of his head that just wouldn't go away? And if the FF had a God, what would he look like? Well, Jack Kirby of course.

Some may find this a bit too far fetched, but not me. I think Waid's nod to Kirby's contribution to this universe has been one long coming. Stan Lee often gets credit for the creation of everything he touched, and rarely do the artists get noticed. Not here. Here, Kirby is God, and Lee is simply referred to as his "collaborator." Brilliance.

The humor is excellent here, and honestly I was laughing out loud. There's alot of philosophy contained in the last few pages, and probably too much for me to get into, but all of it is great. The mystery of life, why we exist, why we do the things we do, why we are where we are, it can all be a bit too much to think about, but Waid handles it masterfully.

Ironically enough, I have ignored 'Ringo's art, focusing on the story, and for that I apologize. But, hey, it's 'Ringo, did you expect it to be anything but excellent?

Anyway, "God" telling the group that "we're all our own story tellers." was a touching moment, as was Reed's face being returned to normal. The end though, that was just heartfelt. "God" gives the group a souvenir, a happy ending.

Again, Waid's ability to make you feel attached to these fictional characters is astonishing, and there's no better artist for the job than 'Ringo. I wish I could've delved further into the philosophy, but I risk being even more boring, and doing nothing but confusing others. This book is astounding, and likely the best thing you'll see from the House of (Bad) Ideas this year. An original take on a concept that has been run into the ground. Now, someone please tell me, why was it ever a good idea to fire Mark Waid?


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