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Marvel Knights 4 #8
posted January 22, 2007
 

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Creators: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Jim Muniz, Mark Morales
Publishing Information: Marvel, comic book, 32 pages, September 2004, $2.99
Ordering Numbers:

After years of reading superhero comic books with elements of soap opera, Marvel Knights 4 #8 didn't strike me as totally looped out and weird until I was about three-quarters of the way through it. This isn't a superhero story with a few bits of daytime drama for flair and/or churn; it's a straight-up soap opera with superhero actors. Apparently the Fantastic Four lost all their money and were forced to get jobs, a plot element that kind of feels unreal even within the comics, where it's kind of an item of faith. It's as if you expect someone in the comic to object and the other characters to cover their ears and go "Na na na na na na" until that person leaves. This is a bit odd in that the leap of faith moment with superhero comics usually isn't a domestic plot point, and the added burden gives the whole enterprise a fragile, skittish bearing.

Anyway: jobs. Johnny Storm is a fireman, so you know we're going to get a 9/11-related lesson, and we do, which is fine, while Susan Storm is a schoolteacher who gets hit on by Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner because of her doing work beneath her or something (I'm actually sort of amazed she could become accredited). Reed Richards seems slightly depressed, shows up and hits the Sub-Mariner for macking on his wife. This might be very satisfying after an almost-entire issue of talking heads except 1) the Sub-Mariner doesn't seem like much of a marriage threat when he's drawn this unattractively -- he looks like a random 1948 gangster movie extra instead of a guy so pleased with his appearance he shows up to fistfights in his Speedo, 2) Reed continues to babble while he throws down, and 3) the climax of the fight has to wait an issue, I guess because this issue was too stuffed with, well, absolutely nothing of consequence. I don't know where The Thing is, and I'm scared to re-open the book to see if I just skipped his pages, but I'm guessing he's working construction or with kids or something instead of his entertaining sometimes-job in the Lee-Kirby days: pro wrestling.

This isn't a horrible comic, I guess. Aguirre-Sacasa writes decent enough scene-to-scene dialog, which makes sense given he's a playwright, and there's obviously some affection for the characters on display. But it seems to me a terribly wrongheaded work. Marvel in the 1960s showed that domestic drama works well as an element introduced to work against the fantasy excess of the superhero sub-genre. Gamma-irradiated superheroics becomes a Pandora's Box when it comes to shoving those characters all the way into a slightly more realistic framework. You start having to make stuff up, make excuses for something to work the way you're having it work.

In the end, I just don't get it. There's no reason Edgar Rice Burroughs couldn't have stuffed Tarzan or John Carter of Mars into something like an Odets play, but why the hell would he have wanted to? The Indianapolis Colts are supposedly a close unit a lot like a family but I don't want to see them having Thanksgiving dinner or shopping for school clothes or putting in a pellet stove; I want to see them play football. What you're left with Marvel Knights 4 #8 is a comic that appeals to superhero fans of such a specific, hardcore nature they love the characters even when they're only allowed to act like half of themselves.