Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #3 Review

Writer: Roberto Aguirre Sacasa
Penciller: Barry Kitson

The limited series chronicling the adventures of Ben, Johnny, Franklin and Valeria in the Negative Zone has finally concluded, and overall it has been a very mixed series. The story is almost completely uninspired: The Human Torch, the Thing and the two Richards children are trapped in the Negative Zone and must escape. They find their way to a prison and are rescued by the Tinkerer. In the meantime, Lyja betrays them, then betrays the Skrulls and we find out a bit about what happened to her in the meantime.

The overall plot arc is actually very boring. For three issues, the four of them basically fight off large animals. First it was bugs and then it was bats. The Negative Zone itself is presented as incredibly boring, with simply floating rocks on a generic starscape. They don't even encounter Annihilus, who is usually a staple in Negative Zone stories. Even if he is currently dead (it's hard to keep track), shouldn't there at least be someone in the Negative Zone worth fighting who can utter a sentence? As a plot arc, the story is terribly uninspired. If this is the Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four story, why not put the rescue of Susan Storm or Reed Richards in it? Presumably those things will happen at some point, and this would seem to be the suitable book for it. Instead we get some fights with oversized vermin.

On the other hand, there are a lot of nice human touches in this story. One of the best things about the Fantastic Four is that it really feels like a family. There really aren't any other popular books that even come close to that feeling. Part of the reason the Thing has always been the emotional centre of the book is that he's the one member who isn't either a spouse, sibling or parent of another member, and he is always a little insecure about where he stands. A lot of those human touches come across very well in this story. The bickering between the Thing and the Human Torch comes across as genuinely light-hearted. Kids are usually written terribly in comics, but Franklin and Valeria come across as very realistic children, who manage to be cute without being sappy. The way that they don't panic when attacked by bats is quite amusing, as presumably bats aren't scary if you fought Doctor Doom last week. They turn everything into a game, and the Thing has the good sense to play along as panicking the children could be terribly dangerous.

The part with the Tinkerer is quite interesting. At the end of the day, he's a family man like everyone else. I love that he wants to get revenge, and can stand up to the Thing and the Human Torch, but completely breaks down in the face of a crying little girl. It really did accentuate the "family" feel of the book to make the primary motivations of everyone in the book be caring about their family members.

The Tinkerer section added a new element of sinisterness to the Civil War as well. He was rounded up without due process because he used to be a meta human. This little tidbit makes me think the Regristration Act's days are numbered, as Marvel has presumably given up all pretension that there could be any legitimate debate about the Act, whose exact contents shifts wildly from author to author depending on who is writing the book. Now it just seems to be an overarching metaphor for fascism or Guantanamo Bay or whatever else it is that authors dislike about the Bush administration. I guess the debate ended with the surrender of Captain America, but it is interesting to see the issue shift from debate to heavy-handed political metaphor.

Of course, the big story of this limited series is the return of Lyja. She always comes up in "Top Ten Dangling Threads" lists along with Spider Man's baby. She was Johnny's wife and later girlfriend (since he didn't actually intend to marry her when she was disguised as Alicia Masters), but completely vanished without a trace after the Onslaught story. No matter how mediocre this book, her return would redeem it. Erm, except, she isn't returning, as she decides to stay in the Negative Zone, presumably for another eleven years. But at least we got to see some resolution here.

Unfortunately, the resolution isn't very interesting. She decided to live as a human being, and the Human Torch never bothered to call her after he got back from Counter-Earth. I guess a lot of breakups happen that way, when people just don't bother to call each other after some awkward event, but it came across here as very immature behaviour on the part of both characters. Her actions seem very odd as well. To protect the Fantastic Four, she kidnapped the Invisible Woman and sucked the Baxter Building into the Negative Zone. That seems like an odd approach given that she could presumably have prevented the destruction of the Baxter Building by, I don't know, warning them? Moral dilemma stories only work when a third option isn't glaringly obvious.

Overall, this book really captures the tone of the Fantastic Four, but revolves around a very boring story. The big return was nice to see, but mismanaged. Overall, this story was a real disappointment.

C+

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