A Breath of Fresh Air

I tend to catch up on most of my television on Netflix these days. I pick one of the many series from my “to-watch” list (it’s embarrassingly long) based on what I’m in the mood for and how many seasons the show lasted. If I like it, I’ll watch episode after episode. I inhale them the same way I do a bag of popcorn – I love the stuff and don’t eat it delicately. The negative part about this is that when you’re not watching from week to week, the formulas become obvious. The repetition of certain words stick out like sore thumbs. An actor’s subtle accent becomes a focusing point. You don’t always notice these nuances when you have six days or months between episodes, but when you mainline them, it changes the way you view the series.

I sort of do the same with comics.

My superhero comic background still has a ton of gaps, but I’m filling it in. I’m going slowly, sure, but I’m making progress. I read a stack of trades from different creators and various periods in time about any given character in a month. There’s nothing like reading a few Green Lantern trades to make you memorize the oath and to make you annoyed at how many times they point out that the ring doesn’t work against the color yellow. Like every time Hal fights someone.

Reading comics this way is the same as watching a season of a TV series in a week. I’m reading comics that were released with a week or two weeks or a month between issues in short time span. Occasionally I’m reading the run of an entire creator in a day. You notice every time a fact is repeated, when the same plot ploy is used again, and you spot patterns. I don’t know that I’d pick them up with time and life between each release.

Even though I’ve been adoring all the Fantastic Four stories I’ve read so far – the first ten or so issues and a lot of John Byrne among others – there were some similarities I felt like were just go to solutions. The Thing and Johnny have almost the same conversation on a regular basis. I’m not saying it’s not funny when Johnny pranks him because it usually is, but it’s not fresh. Doom intimidates me, but I don’t see enough of his motivations to fear and respect him the way I know I should (given how others talk about Doom).

None of it is bad or poorly written, it’s just a lot of covering ground that has been trodden on again and again.

That thought was in the back of my head and then kicked me in the face when I started in on the Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, and Karl Kesel run on Fantastic Four. I sat down intending to read a single issue and barely moved until I closed volume 1, around 12 or 13 issues later. I couldn’t pull myself away from this fresh spin on the F.F. It wasn’t so radical as to change the nature of the characters who have been around for decades. No, it was a new spin that felt as natural as Johnny flaming on. I think it’s impressive anytime a creative team can reveal something new about familiar faces without going completely off the tracks. And I think it’s rare.

Though I could just hug the entire book to my chest and flail about all the stories I liked, a few points in particular stick in my head (and will for a while). They emphasized the adventuring spirit. That’s the F.F.’s primary function. They are not like the Avengers; their primary goal is not to defeat all the villains around the world. If they come across trouble or accidentally bring it to the Earth, they handle it and are entirely capable of doing so, but they don’t go seeking it. They explore, and they push forward to find new technologies and resources that Reed can use in inventions and genius devices. That dynamic sets them apart from other heroes.

I absolutely loved how Waid explored the F.F. members as celebrities. The corporation hires a specialist to examine their popularity and how to make it rise, and on the surface, it doesn’t make sense. Why does the smartest guy in the world care about his public image? Reed explains to his daughter Val that this is his way of attempting to make up for destroying the normal lives of his dear friends. It’s easy to forget that Reed lives with that guilt – easy for us. He believes that if he can make the team celebrities and public figures who are admired and loved, well, it’s not the same as being regular humans, but maybe it takes away some of the sting.

Finally, I’m not going to forget the story about Doom and Valeria anytime soon. I know Doom is bad news. I get it, and I’ve seen examples of his twisted personality… but never more so than when he hunted down his first love. I was intrigued and bewildered – did Doom have a soft spot? Was he going to let go of his ambitions and make a play at redemption? I knew it wasn’t him and would go against all I’ve read about him, but everyone can change, right? I didn’t see the ending coming. That issue made me understand why Doom is dangerous and why he is so formidable.

I could go on about this run because so many panels made me pause and nod or shake my head. It’s a joy to see characters revitalized without being rebooted, and I wish it happened more often.

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Welcoming the Future, Treasuring the Past.