Chris' Comics Corner
Chris' Comics Corner
Thundersnow is making the lights flicker. I love you all so much that I'm writing this column instead of watching all the cable I can before the inevitable brown out hits our block, and my housemates and I are forced to amuse ourselves with what promises to be the world's longest ever game of Marco Polo. So here we go.

Fantastic Four #587
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Johnathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting

Johnathan Hickman has a plan.

In a week where I bought over ten titles, this was the big one. So big, that it shipped a day early. So big that The AP and Marvel's "brilliant" (what's the point of shipping the issue in a sealed black bag if you're going to spoil it in a press release before the stores open?) PR department. So big that even though I guessed correctly who would die at the end of the ominously titled '3' story arc, I still found myself reading the issue on the edge of my seat.

If you had told me years ago that the most foreboding and tense title on the stands would be Fantastic Four, I would have laughed in your face. I'm a big fan of these characters (especially since Mark Waid's run), but those are not words that I readily associate with this title. And if you had told me that the title could do this while still maintaining the sense of dysfunctional family and daring adventure that has been the lifeblood of this title since the very beginning, I would have laughed until I cried.

The concluding chapter of '3' saw most of the family separated from each other and facing dire crises with millions of lives and whole worlds at stake. It is to the credit of this creative team that each character seemed to be in genuine peril. The actual death sequence is handled so well that even the harshest critic of deaths in comics will be forced to acknowledge its resonance. The hero's end is fitting, heroic, and beyond tragic. And if that final page doesn't just rip your heart out, I would suggest paying some sort of shaman to tell you where your soul got off to.

When Marvel announced that Dale Eaglesham would be stepping off this title, I was crushed, but now I feel like only Steve Epting could have drawn this arc, and only Steve Epting can illustrate the adventures of these characters going forward. His art is dark, but filled with wonder. His characters are gritty, but expressive and warm. He is a masterful storyteller and he should be applauded as a detail man on the level of Bryan Hitch. If you don't believe me, just look at the pages where Johnny, Ben, and the Future Foundation are facing off against the Annihilation Wave and be amazed.

Hickman himself realizes what an asset he has at his disposal. There is no unnecessary dialogue on the issue's final few pages. He lets his creative partner do the lion's share of the work. What little dialogue there is in this sequence is necessary, nuanced, and says volumes in just a few carefully chosen words.

Hickman's Fantastic Four is a masters class in intricate planning and thematic storytelling. It wasn't readily apparent at first but now it is clear, there has been no "throw away" issue, no 'throw away" sequence, no "throw away" cameo, everything, EVERYTHING has mattered, has been a part of Hickman's grand and masterful design. Hickman's run has drawn on these characters entire rich history, reignited the sense of wonder, excitement, and exploration that seemed to disappear from the title years ago, and injected an unprecedented level of darkness and tension into the book. And as a result, Marvel's first family has been painfully pushed to the top of the list of comic's highest quality titles.

This issue was a tragic. It was the end of one of Marvel's first super heroes. It was the end of the Fantastic Four. Everything has changed. And I for one can't wait to see what happens next. Because Johnathan Hickman has a plan.

Grade: A

Captain America #614
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Butch Guice

I hate to say it, but I've been a little disappointed by this title recently. The "Trial of Captain America" arc has been decidedly lacking in trial as of late. And maybe I'm in the minority here, but I would really have preferred to see the court room drama play out in full. Instead, Sin, the new Red Skull, forces Cap to make a choice that brings the actual trial to a an abrupt close and damns his chances of being legally absolved of the crimes he committed while brainwashed to be a Soviet Super Agent. The issue, isn't so much bad as it is disappointing, eschewing a tense legal drama in favor of what Im sure will be an excellent fight scene, but lets face it, for super hero comics, it's business as usual.

Grade: B-

Teen Titans #91
Publisher: DC
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Nicola Scott

Ever since Geoff Johns left this title, the book had been in creative upheaval. It seemed like every few issues the team roster changed, or a new writer came on board with a "bold new direction." All of these directions seemed to miss two key concepts. This title should be fun, and these characters should want to be around each other. By embracing these two simple principles, J.T. Krul has achieved a quality 180 and put this title back on track to the heights it achieved under Johns.

This issue sees the team (one that is thankfully once again boasting an A-List roster: Superboy, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Raven, Ravager, and Damien Wayne's Robin. This group actually FEELS like the Teen Titans.) facing off against a trio of high school students who have been altered by a mysterious new adversary. However one of the empowered students, the one who was most ostracized and beaten down in high school has decided he's had enough, and goes berserk.

The idea of a high school outcast snapping and lashing out at his tormentors is well tread ground that is often handled in a really cheesy manner, however J.T. Krul sticks the landing, making the antagonist believable and more importantly doesn't force you to roll your eyes every time the character speaks. I like that Kid Flash and Raven were instrumental to achieving victory. Bart has really grown as a character, and J.T. Krul is emphasizing how much of an asset someone with a photographic memory who can read at super speed can be. And the scene where Raven cuts loose really emphasizes the vast darkness within her and the power she wields. I also really like the budding friendship between Ravager and Damien Wayne as these two really are two peas in a pod.

There's also a very nicely handled moment at the end of the issue where Superboy and Wonder Girl make a decision about their relationship. Teen romance in comics is often handled with a healthy dose of melodrama and very little rationality. However here, while both characters want different things, there both have mature and understandable motivations. The fact that they react to the break up sad, but amicably makes them more likable as protagonists and invests me more in the characters than an overblown fight followed by issues and issues of pouting and pining ever would.

Nicola Scott is fast becoming one of the best artists in DC's stable, and I'm terrified she's going to be pulled off this book in favor of a more high profile assignment. Her style is clean, expressive, and adds flourishes of body language that add whole layers to the scenes. I'm specifically referencing a scene from last issue where several characters were fiddling with their costumes before entering battle. This detail humanizes the characters and reminds us that even as super heroes they still struggle with the same insecurities all teens have (I think we can all remember being young and stressing over making sure an outfit looked just right. Or was that just me?).

With the first story arc concluding this month, I can safely say that after years of uncertainty and painful creative missteps, this title is finally in good hands, and I for one hope that we have many more stories to look forward to from this top notch creative team.

Grade: B+

Where Do We Go From Here?

I had a hard time deciding what to write about for this feature this week. A lot has happened recently that I could write about: Joe Quesada stepping down as EIC of Marvel, the announcement that for the first time in over a decade the flagship X-Title would be written by someone who is not a "big name writer", or even DC's Iconic Cover Initiative. Some of these things, especially Joe Quesada's legacy, I fully intend on addressing in time. However when I really sat down to start writing, I realized that the thing that was most weighing on my mind was the closing of Wizard Magazine.

Wizard Magazine was the most mainstream source of print comics journalism in existence. Comics journalism is an odd mix of real journalism, hype, and propaganda. And for many years Wizard Magazine was the go to source for it.

Sure I stopped reading the magazine a long time ago. It's expensive and over time the coverage left more and more to be desired. I could get better comics news faster from websites like Newsarama.com and ComicBookResources.com.

However Wizard played an essential part in shaping my tastes as a young comics reader. It always pushed me to try new books and helped me to keep tabs on those I wasn't able to afford.

To this day I enjoy looking back at my old copies of Wizard, especially the Summer, or New Year preview issues, to remind me what were the hot titles of the time, and what who were the most anticipated creative teams. I like to read what was being said about certain title and reflect on whether these books lived up to the hype or fell flat in the execution. Wizard is a condensed record of some of my fondest comics memories.

The Magazine will continue in a digital format, but that's really not the point. With the death of the print edition, at least for now, there really is nothing else like what Wizard was. Maybe that isn't a bad thing, as the magazine was really in decline near the end. However the nostalgic in me will miss being able to hold that thick, glossy collection of hyperbole and insider information in my hands.

Or maybe I'm reacting to something else entirely. As more and more titles are being offered in digital format, is the end of Wizard a portent of the death of physical comics in favor of cheaper digital versions? Only time will tell.

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