Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

October 13, 2014

Go, Read: Carla Hoffman On The Fantastic Four

imageThe writer Carla Hoffman has a piece up here on the latest plans to cancel/change/reconfigure/whatever the Fantastic Four comic book, which after NYCC looks like a big-event cancellation and limbo, at least for a little while. Hoffman analyzes the rhetoric around such moves, describes the recent incarnations of that property, engages with the rumor that this is some sort of spiteful act to not publicize the not-Marvel-Studios movie version and recalls the fondly-remember Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo run from several years back now.

That Marvel's had some difficulty selling the Fantastic Four comic books shouldn't be news. Stunt issues aside, it's been that way for a while. This happens to Marvel every now and then: for a long time it was Thor that was kind of a sales stinker to the point he was basically dropped from the line and perhaps most famously the X-Men were made to make costume-less guest appearances in comics for a few years until the "all-new, all-different" era began. While the writers I've encountered on this subject seem to be citing a fondly remembered Jonathan Hickman-written run as proof that the title has had trouble gaining traction in recent years in a sustained fashion -- with that theory then confirmed by a pair of Matt Fraction-written efforts that also failed to ignite the title for an extended period of time -- my hunch is that the title's eyebrow-raising performance streak stretches back to the Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch run that (at least roughly) preceded Hickman's. But heck, take them all together. That's a lot of A-list superhero talent for only periodic flashes of returned interest.

All of those writers and their artistic collaborators seemed to get certain things old fans might think of as "right" about those characters, such as the emphasis on Mr. Fantastic as a prime Marvel Universe alpha dog: the smartest man in the world in an indestructible body. Many of the adventures are grand and cosmic, which is something that comic does well. Dr. Doom remains a primetime primary super-villain, both monster and mad scientist, who ratchets up the stakes by walking in the room. In fact, I'm not sure I really have a theory as to why none of these runs have hit hard with fans. If I had to guess, I'd maybe go with a level of exhaustion for that title in its positive formulation, while a negative formulation doesn't begin with enough people caring about the title and its characters in order to find dismay at the status quo being tossed out the window. There seems a disconnect in that people evince a Hank Pym level of concern when Mr. Fantastic or The Thing fool around at being bad guys rather than a Captain America or Iron Man or even Cyclops level of concern. It's hard for me to judge, though: as a reader, I feel like everything is diminishing returns after Jack Kirby left the title. Leaving that set of issues aside, I'm not sure we have a lot of models in pop culture for managing an ongoing creative effort for 50-plus years without some downtime becoming necessary. I might put them away for a while, too, until a better model comes along, or the current one fits better into the overall creative landscape.
posted 12:15 am PST | Permalink

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