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COVERING COMICS: THE BEST COMIC COVERS OF 3/11/15

Welcome to Covering Comics! This is a new column that you could see here weekly from here on out, covering the best comic book covers of the week. While there are tons of great stories for us to all enjoy every week, sometimes a good cover goes unappreciated. Here are five stand-out covers from the week of March 11, 2015.

 

 

 

COVER OF THE WEEK: Ninjak #1 by Marguerite Sauvage

 

 

Ninjak #1 came with a lot of variant covers this week, but this one by Marguerite Sauvage definitely steals the show. Everything from the line-work to the colors are nothing short of amazing. Why doesn’t she have more work in comics yet?

 


 

 

Vampirella #10 by Jenny Frison

 

I’m going to be honest; almost every cover by Jenny Frison is going to make its way into this column. Her characters all look exceptional. This cover featuring Vampirella is stellar, and just screams style.

 


 

Batman Eternal by #49 Cliff Chiang

 

Cliff Chiang’s Batman Eternal #49 cover makes me wish Wonder Woman was still drawn by this guy. His art is the perfect blend of fun and cleanliness. It brings me back to a time when comics were guaranteed to be fun and not gritty.

 


 

 

Howard the Duck #1 by Chip Zdarsky

 

Chip, how do you keep coming up with such amazing ideas? This variant for Howard the Duck #1 is adorable. Everyone had a book with a cover somewhat like this one, right?

 


 

 

Southern Cross #1 by Becky Cloonan

 

Becky Cloonan may not be doing the interiors of this series, but she at least graces us with her art on the covers of Southern Cross.  If this series can get as good as her covers, this series will be a home run.

 

What covers did you like the most this week? Feel free to answer in the comments below!







teaser trailer for the new Fantastic Four movie. This article isn't necessarily a review of the video, but of the four greatest runs of one of Marvel's crowning jewels.

Before the Avengers/X-Men/Spider-Man/Thor/Iron Man/Daredevil, the Fantastic Four ushered in Marvel's creative explosion during the 60's. They are Marvel's First Family. And that's truly the important thing. Unlike other super teams, the Fantastic Four were literally a family. The dynamics between each character have been deeply explored. The FF were cutting edge and where the most science fiction centered comic book franchise. The spirit of exploration, family, and adventure are always going to be the cornerstone of the Fantastic Four.

The title has been pushed aside by the company in recent years in favor of promoting Marvel Cinematic Universe properties. However, they are one the greatest franchises in the industry and they deserve some love. I've left some writers off this list. Some had bad runs, and others were just short of making this list.

 

4) John Byrne: Fantastic Four Vol. 1 # 232-295, Annual 17-19 (1981-1986)

 

John Byrne is a forgotten man in comic book history. Don’t get me wrong, most comic buffs will know his name and can tell you some of his notable works include Man of Steel (the 1986 Superman reboot) and a collaboration with Chris Claremont during the height of his legendary X-Men run. However, this writer/artist doesn’t get enough credit for his extensive and consistently great bibliography. The other three writers on this list have runs that tend to cast Galactus-sized shadows over Byrne’s run. Personally, it’s easy to see why. There is a lot of weird s**t that happens in these 64 issues.  I'll get it out of the way quick, here's the most controversial scene Byrne wrote:

   

To Byrne's credit, this was not the only time Reed pulled something like this. Dude has issues. At least the man was faithful to Richard's character.

 

That scene aside, Byrne's arc is A LOT of fun to read. In his own words, he stated that he wanted "to turn the clock back ... get back and see fresh what it was that made the book great at its inception." And he succeeded, presenting a brevy of entertaining science fiction stories perfectly mixed with  family drama and Byrne's trademark feel-good vibe. But there are also some rather heavy issues that are dealt with as well. While the dialogue has aged rather poorly and has very little subtlety, the stories and the emotions they carry are still relevant. And Byrne's distinctive artwork is stellar-his pencils are crisp and his design of the first family's uniforms are the best in franchise history. Look at these beauties:

   

Instead of simply copying the Lee/Kirby formula and writing epic and wacky stories about shape-shifting aliens and silver surfers who wanted to conquer Earth every month , Byrne took a much more grounded route. Many of the stories put the epic (or strange) sci-fi element in the background, and shifted the spotlight onto the character relationships and not-so subtle commentary by Byrne that makes each issue very 80's-esque (but in a good way). This resulted in one of the most unique, and fun comic book runs of all time.

 

The first story of note is #236, which was the 20th anniversary issue and the first of many to have a "Twilight Zone" feel to it. I won't give too much away, but it is very similar to Alan Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything" Superman story. There is a cheesy but heartfelt scene between Ben and Alicia, that ranks among my all-time favorite FF  moments.

 

Byrne had a tendency to" make guest appearances" in his comics

 

Byrne had an underrated knack for having overarching story lines that would show up in different arcs as well. In issue #244, Reed and the team fight Galactus, but save his life after the big G falls to fatigue. Galactus makes Frankie Raye his new herald, Nova. Reed's decision would come back to haunt him in #262, a classic issue called "The Trial of Reed Richards." In this masterpiece, we see John Byrne meet Uatu and the FF (He was meta before Grant Morrison made it cool), we get a recap of Galactus' origin, and a really cool idea about the different ways Galactus is seen by alien races.

 

 It's the subtle ideas that make Byrne's run so special.

The ending of the story is very epic, and gives a tragic yet insightful look at Galactus' role in the grand scheme of the Marvel Universe. Reed also gets a good portion of the spotlight, as we see him less as a scientist and more as the humanitarian he truly can be at times.

 

In 1984, after the events of the first Secret Wars crossover, She-Hulk replaced the Thing (who decided to remain on the alien planet of Battleworld, where he had control over his transformation). Very quickly, she became the most interesting character in the magazine and won over even the most hardcore Thing fans. Her sassy/witty and upbeat persona was a surprisingly refreshing change from The Thing, and her induction was easily the most notable feature of Bryne's run. The issue in which she's introduced is told through the first-person perspective of Paste-Pot Pete (Yes. There's a villain named Paste-Pot Pete), as he tries to infiltrate the Baxter Building (Spoiler alert: he fails). The same year the FF traveled through time, and meet up with Reed's long-lost time and reality hopping father. However, the same year would bring one of the important issues in the history of the world's greatest magazine.

   

"Fantastic Four #267" is arguably THE watershed moment of Byrne's run. And the most controversial. Sue was at the end of a very difficult pregnancy, with his powers causing problems that threatened both her and her unborn child. Despite the consultation of several elite radiologists, Reed is unable to find treatment for his wife. After being suggested by Walter Langkowski, Bruce Banner, and Michael Morbius, Reed sets out to find Dr. Otto Octavius. What follows is a traditional hero and villain fight which is actually really cool. Byrne really demonstrates Reed's powers, which shine during his fight with Doc Ock. However, the final panel of this issue is rather striking when reading it for the first time. Spoiler Alert- It's not a happy ending.

 

Other highlights include: Kristoff Vernard's attacking the First Family and launching the Baxter Building into space, this cover, Johnny Storm's crisis of faith, the return of Jean Grey, the FF versus Hitler (I'm not even joking), and the blossoming of the Johnny Storm and  "Alicia Masters" relationship.

   

This was just such a unique collection of 60 stories, and it's not mentioned enough. The writing is a little on the nose and there are some cheesy elements to the stories, but that's what makes is so great. Byrne's run may be outdated, but that's what makes it so unique. The magazine suffered from a lack of creativity at the time, and Byrne ushered in it's renaissance. Sure, the writers between him and Lee were able to create decent cosmic science fiction stories with some family drama, but who couldn't. Byrne brought the book back to it's roots, and while he may not have produced any epic or unique aesthetics to it, the magazine was relevant once again because it was daring to be different. In the spirit of Lee and Kirby's original vision, the Fantastic Four comic was just unique. It may not have the epic scale or excellent writing of future runs, but Byrne's great run is definitely special.

 

Memorable Issues: 232, 236, 243-244, 245, 247, 262, 265, 267, 275, 278-279, 285, and 292

 
 

 

3) Mark Waid: Fantastic Four Vol. 3 60-70, Vol.1 500-524 (2002-2005)

Let me just get this out of the way real quick: I'm the biggest Mark Waid fan on this planet. I'll try not to gush over him too much, but it's damn near impossible not to. "Kingdom Come," his Flash run (pun intended), and his ongoing Daredevil run are absolutely legendary. His "Fantastic Four" run with the late Mike Wieringo is no exception. Waid's "Fantastic Four" succeeds at fleshing out the main cast far better than any run before and after it.  It doesn't have the grand scale of Hickman's saga, the distinct flair of the Byrne era, and the industry changing stories of the Lee/Kirby run. However, it is the one that feels the most personal.

 

Waid's first issue is the single best. It's the perfect comic book. It's funny, interesting, well drawn, well written, and has an appropriate dose of action. Nothing wrong with it, but there isnt anything truly special about it. Until the last scene.

     

Absolutely perfect. Waid is the master of reconstruction, creating characters with the perfect blend of idealism and seriousness, that they almost do come to life. All four members of the team are perfectly distinct from each other. They aren't exaggerated caricatures, but complex (and lovable) people with the perfect balance of morality and darkness. I know I'm focusing on the great characterization and character development, and those terms can be seen as overused cliches to describe why a work of fiction has merit, but it's hard not to. The Fantastic Four have never had personalities so unbelievably realistic and well fleshed out.

   

Reed is a man at odds with himself; his public persona masks his regret over the origin of the FF, while his confidence in science clashes with the unexplainable powers from Doom's magic. Sue is a badass; no doubts about it. She's quietly confident and allows everyone to play their roles , but absolutely unleashes her power in a big way when her family is threatened. Johnny is written like the most typical twenty-something year old kid, which is who it should be. He does carry an air of unfiltered smug, but it only serves to hid his insecurity about his maturity and usefulness. Waid is very subtle at showing Johnny's insecurities, almost like someone would show them in real life. But Waid really excels at developing Benjamin Grimm. The Thing is more accepting of his fate, and provides guidance for everyone else. And is the wisest person on the team. He is literally and figuratively: The rock of the Fantastic Four.

   

The first major story arc of this run is "Unthinkable," and in a way it's the first act of a rather large story arc involving Dr. Doom tearing the team apart.  Waid casts Doom as a purely evil megalomaniac obsessed with power, and without remorse. This is Doom at his darkest and most sinister. He uses Valeria Richards to infiltrate an attack on the FF at the Baxter building which results in the kids being kidnapped. The team is in a state panic, following Doom to Latveria. Despite their best efforts, Doom easily takes care of them, and tortures them using each others powers against them. Waid is known for his silver-age approach to stories, but when he brings a serious element to his stories, you get twisted characters like Doom. Reed, with the help from Dr. Strange, manages to use Doom's magic against him and throw him into Hell. However, Doom leaves both emotional and physical scars, as Reed is a broken man with an unfix-able facial scar. This story pushes the Fantastic Four to their limits, and is an absolute blast to read.

   

The following few issues deal with the fallout from Doom's attack. Franklin's experience in Hell have left him in a state  of shock. Waid doesn't hold back when showing the psychological damage on each member. It is brutal and far too realistic in it's sense of depression. There is a scene between Ben and Franklin, which is an absolutely beautiful tear-jerker of a life lesson. Afterwards, Reed and FF take over  Latveria in Doom's place. We see Reed at his most desperate, and it's shocking to see such a consistently collected character on the verge of a mental breakdown. Apart from Nick Fury showing up, very little in story happens until the third act. Reed attempts to get rid of Doom's spirit once and for all, and locks himself in an impenetrable dome which would contain the both of them for the rest of their days. However, everything goes south when the rest of the team get involved.

   

The third arc of this saga can be described in six words: The Fantastic Four go to heaven. Not another dimension, "Heaven" itself. Reed believes that Ben's spirit is in Heaven and is desperate enough to take his team there. There's not much to spoil, but Waid's interpretation of Heaven is very interesting and it turns out that God looks a lot like Jack Kirby. It's not a very complex story but it is a lovely tribute to the greatest comic book artist of all time and the revolutionary franchise he created.

 

Afterwards, the team suffers from a bout of bad publicity, because of their invasion of Latveria. So bad in fact, even Spider-Man has a higher public approval rating than them. This leads to Johnny seeking Spider-Man's help in improving his image. It also gives me an excuse to post an image which makes me laugh every time I see it: Spider-Man in the Thing's trench coat.

   

It's really stupid, but it makes me laugh every time. Torch and Spider-Man have a classic team up and fight Hydro-Man. Simple premise, but great execution (the Mark Waid method). The next story arc involves the Frightful Four, and it's not bad, but nothing truly remarkable. The final story involves Galactus attempting to devour Earth for the 65438th time (Just give up Galen), and Johnny becoming his herald. Galactus becomes human and tries to experience life in New York City. Turns out that he's probably more of a Boston guy, but he does decide to spare humanity. It's a neat idea to make Galactus human, and it gives the world-eater an actual personality.

 

Waid's run is the quintessential Fantastic Four run. It includes all the classic elements, such as : psychedelic science-fiction, family drama, and the perfectly subtle amount of humor that this book needs. Wieringo's art perfectly compliments Waid's story telling. With inks from long time FF creator Karl Kessell, 'Ringo is able to capture both light  and twisted moments from this run. His facial expressions are only second to Gary Frank's, and  he's one of the only artists who can actually draw children properly (It's a bigger deal than you think).

 

Memorable Issues: #60, 68-513, 520-524

 
 

2) Jonathan Hickman: Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #1-5, Vol.1 570–588/600–611, FF Vol.1 1-23

 

Everyone has heard about this run. Whenever a new reader tries to get into the Fantastic Four, the first thing someone will say is "Have you read the stuff by Hickman yet?" Without fail. It's frequently listed as one of the best runs in the industry from the last few years. It's also a colossal story that is a part of Hickman's massive Marvel run. Hickman is the unparalleled master of the long run, and he'll plant obscure seeds in comics that bloom in later titles. Right now, he probably has the chart the size of a wall that details his interconnected Marvel saga all the way from his Secret Warriors title to his gigantic Avengers run. He plants so many plot threads that it makes Geoff Johns blush. His beauty of his run on Fantastic Four and FF, is that it can still be enjoyed without reading any of his other stuff. Blogger Bell (itsbloggerintime) made a list of asinine number of plot points in the first few issues of the Dale Eaglesham period:

 

-A Council of Reed Richards’ from multiple universes striving together to Solve Everything. -An army of mentally neutered Doctor Dooms lurking underneath the auspices of said Council (surely that can’t go well?) -The advanced passage of time taking place on back-up Earth “Nu-World” and the fates of the New Defenders that live there. -Future versions of Reed and Sue’s children Valeria and Franklin meddling with their past to better their future, working alongside their grandfather, a time-displaced Nathaniel Richards. -Ben Grimm idolized by Moloid children he rescued from the City of the High Evolutionary, which has now reached the surface of Earth. -Susan Richards is Earth’s envoy to the tribe of Old Atlaneans, who have similarly brought their city above Earth’s crust. -Johnny Storm unwittingly allowing Annihulus to take control of the expanded N-Zone prison city. -A tribe of Inhumans from other parts of the Universe settling on the moon with the intention of bringing their city ship to Earth. -Reed Richards forming a think-tank with the genius young minds of the Marvel Universe – their first goal? Curing Ben Grimm of his rock-like Thing state.

 

Wow. This is all in the first few issues. All of these threads are intricately woven together, and form a massive story. And it did something that hadn't happened in a long time, it made the franchise financially and creatively relevant again. Everyone was reading and talking about this book. The first half of Hickman's arc is mainly setup for his "3" and Future Foundation stuff, but it's a blast to read. He incorporates elements from every era of the Fantastic Four. It really feels like the "true successor" to the Lee/Kirby stories. The closest comparison I can make to another comic run, is Grant Morrison's Batman. In both runs, everything that could happen, happens.

 

Hickman only increases the scale of his stories. The Future Foundation is the most significant peace of legacy that Hickman makes on the franchise. A think tank of young kids come together to create crazy sci-fi scenarios. For the first time in years, the Fantastic Four moved forward. The FF are dead, long live the FF. All the threads from the first arc of Hickman's run now start to converge. Members from the council of Reeds go rogue, leading Reed to invite villains to symposium on how to take him down. It's a very interesting arc. Johnny is replaced by Spider-Man, and Doom actually joins the team. It's pretty radical. Johnny returns by November of 2011 (50th anniversary of the FF), and we begin the third arc of Hickman's run.  Oh yeah and we get this:

   

So after that, there isn't much of note. We have a heartbreaking moment when Reed goes into the future and finds out something: Since Ben can only be a human once a year, he ages incredibly slowly and outlives everyone he knows for hundreds of millions of years. It's a look a the more depressing aspect of the Fantastic Four's immortality. It's also a demonstration of the importance of the Thing. He's their symbol and their heart. The Thing will always be there.

 

Hickman was a god-send for Marvel, and this is the book where he blossomed and attracted the mainstream spotlight. His "Fantastic Four" run is a blend of politics, science fiction, and state-of-the-art story telling. There's not much I can say without writing a thesis about how great this run is. The artists don't do anything remarkable, but Dale Eaglesham's 60's influenced pencils, and Epting's basic art all math up with Hickman's scripts and plots. If you haven't read it, why are you reading this? GO READ IT!

 
   

1) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby: Vol.1 #1–114, 120–125, Annual #1–6 (1961–72)

 

It was hard picking between this run and Hickman's run for the first spot. There was constantly flip flop for this position. Hickman's was more intricately written,  with better dialogue and characterization. But it didn't do what the inaugural run on the magazine did. Hickman's run was great, but Lee and Kirby was fantastic (I had to. I'm not sorry). This book saved Marvel Comics. It was the genesis of the Marvel era of comics. Everything significant Marvel has accomplished (including the Cinematic Universe) was built on the bedrock of the inaugural run of the World's Greatest Comics Magazine. The world would be a different place without this masterpiece of a run written by two of the most hallowed names among comic-book fans. This is one of the greatest comic book runs of all time, and the foundation upon which all FF stories were built on. These hundred plus issues serve as the basis for which writers are still building their stories upon, over 40 years later. Never has a run been so definitive and complete, that any other writer who would follow would never truly be able to bring a completely unique perspective and twist to the title. And it all started on a golf course (Thank DC Comics for this Marvel fans. Always be grateful).

   

The first few issues were smash hits. Readers had never seen protagonists who were so "flawed." The Fantastic Four argued just as often as they worked together. The Thing looked, sometimes acted, and was treated like a villain. The first two issues took place in the fictional Central City, California (No Barry Allen here). By the third story, the Fantastic Four were in New York with uniforms and resources. Unlike other heroes, they had public identities. The Fantastic Four were a monstrous success. The title was Marvel's first great success of the Silver Age, and their most important ever.

   

In issue #4, we were re-introduced to Namor the Sub-Mariner. Namor was a well known golden age hero, but he was quickly becoming a well-known Fantastic Four supporting cast member. In issue # 5, the world was introduced to Marvel's greatest super-villian. Dr. Doom was an instant fan-favorite, and the first true nemesis of the team. Lee and Kirby would try and put him everywhere they could. It was obvious they were big fans of the character. Other rogues such as Puppet Master, Mole Man, Annihilus, and many more were introduced.

     

When the book hit it's creative peak, so did Marvel's Silver Age. I consider the mid to late 60's to be the pinnacle of Marvel's Silver Age. The magazine was firing on all cylinders, and produced it's most legendary tales during that period. Reed and Sue were married in Annual #3, their son Franklin was born in Annual #6, and the Inhumans appeared in issue #45. Then in 1966, the Galactus trilogy was written. Easily the greatest Fantastic Four story ever written, and it likely won't ever be topped. The story starts by wrapping up the Inhumans saga, and giving us the world premiere of the Silver Surfer and Galactus. The buildup is incredible. This was the biggest comic story written at the time, with a heavy atmosphere of dread and finality. Galactus comes to consume Earth, but thanks to the help of the Watcher and the Silver Surfer, the FF save the day. There are very few words that can accurately describe the quality of this story. The Surfer would become a great character in his own right, and would soon get his own title written by Lee and drawn by Kirby.

   

If there was only one Fantastic Four story that you have to read, it's this one. You can also read the condensed version of the tale in Kurt Busiek's "Marvels" mini-series. Issue 3 is a spectacular issue, with Busiek providing the perspective of an everyday man during Galactus' invasion, and Alex Ross provides breath-taking artwork to complement Busiek's tribute.

   

The issue that followed the Galactus trilogy (#51) is the classic "This Man...This Monster" issue. Beautifully drawn by Jack Kirby, this story is a character study of The Thing. The writing and the plot are very dated, but the dilemma that eats away ate Ben Grimm will always stay with the reader.

  Fantastic Four Vol 1 51    

Marvel Comics was "born" in November of 1961 when Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands. Lee and Kirby would publish this book together for almost a decade. They changed the comic book industry. Never had a comic book with so much continuity and complexity been released before. Lee's classic plots with Kirby's dynamic and unbelievable dramatic art, combined to create the Fantastic Four run that all future runs will forever be measured against. And the greatest thing about it is that is still relevant today. Some aspects may be outdated, but this book has left a titanic legacy. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run will always be admired and adored, just like the Fantastic Four themselves.

 

Memorable Issues: All of them.

   

Fox's Fantastic Four reboot is set to hit theaters on August 7th.  Be sure to check these runs out before then!

">Top 4 Fantastic Four Runs