The Fantastic Four: Five thoughts on the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine

The Fantastic Four #1

A couple months back, the comic shop up the street from me put a large selection of silver age (1961-1970) Marvel comics up for sale, including a large number of Fantastic Four issues from that era. I became quite nostalgic as Fantastic Four was my favorite comic as a kid, and the title whose back issues I sought out the most. My goal was to one day own every issue of Fantastic Four! Seeing those old FFs at the shop brought back memories of the days of hunting down back issues at shops and comic cons, so I pulled out my old, hand-made checklist and thought, “why not?” And off hunting I went!

More on the outcome of that hunt later, but ever since, I’ve had the FF on my mind. Why has Fantastic Four been my favorite comic for 30 years? A few thoughts…

  1. The Fantastic Four—scientist Reed Richards, his fiancee Sue Storm and her kid brother Johnny, and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm, are a family, not just a random collection of super-heroes. They have interpersonal conflicts whose roots extend well beyond the first issue of their comic, where they got their powers; they have a shared history. None of them have adventures in solo titles, with the odd exception, and even then, not very successfully—they work best when they’re together.
  2. Their shared goal isn’t to defend the weak or innocent, or to stop criminals or threats other heroes can’t handle—it’s “to help mankind.” Much loftier than your usual super-hero!
  3. In fact they’re not even really traditional super-heroes; they’re explorers, adventurers. Or as Mark Waid dubbed them, “imaginauts”—the places they explore and things they discover are only limited by the writers’ imaginations. They also don’t have secret identities, which, nowadays isn’t that unique, but in 1961 and when I discovered them in the ‘80s, was definitely unusual.
  4. Because they’re not traditional super-heroes, their stories have a much more science fiction-y flavor to them than action adventure. They make contact with alien races, travel through time, discover new universes and dimensions, invent new technologies and devices. Their headquarters and vehicles are like something out of Star Trek.
  5. They live “real lives” – again, all comics do this now, but it used to be a big deal that the FF lived in New York City, that Reed and Sue got engaged, married, and had a kid and then a miscarriage and finally a second kid, that Johnny had his heart broken by Crystal and that Alicia Masters left Ben (for Johnny!). The status quo changed, often, in the first 100 issues or so—less so, after, as the demands of serialized storytelling over decades took its toll, but still. You felt this family growing older (slowly!) together.

People cite the reasons above and others when talking about what makes the Fantastic Four distinct from other super-hero teams, and while they’re all true to an extent, it’s really the combination of them all together that makes them work; the whole is greater than the sum and all of that.

I have many more thoughts on the FF rattling around my head these days—more to come!

I know what’s real: Blade Runner 2049 is good

I’ll save some spoiler-ific thoughts for later but for now, I’ll just say that you should see this movie. It is really, really good. If you enjoyed Blade Runner at all, if you like science fiction, if you like any of Denis Villeneuve’s previous work, if you like film that are visually interesting and stories that are well-plotted—you can’t go wrong.

People used to movies moving at breakneck speed will complain that Blade Runner 2049 is slow, and long. These people either do not know, or have forgotten, how to watch movies. Just because it seems like nothing is happening doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, nothing to watch. And in this film in particular, there is so much to see. Every time the movie slows down it’s an opportunity for you to take in this world and the incredible visuals that Villeneuve and Cinematographer Roger Deakins have created.

Go and see this movie.

Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

Thanksgiving weekend often means spending a lot of time in the car, driving to see family, running errands, etc. Great time to catch up on some podcasts! Finally got around to listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History and it’s excellent. We’re 8 episodes through the first season. The 8th episode, “Blame Game,” was probably the most interesting so far:

In the summer and fall of 2009, hundreds of Toyota owners came forward with an alarming allegation: Their cars were suddenly and uncontrollably accelerating. Toyota was forced to recall 10 million vehicles, pay a fine of more than $1 billion, and settle countless lawsuits. The consensus was that there was something badly wrong with the world’s most popular cars. Except that there wasn’t.

I definitely recommend the series as a whole, but this episode in particular is a fascinating look at bias, media manipulation and Occam’s Razor, all with a Mythbusters-kinda flair to it.

Episodes 4-5-6 are also interesting. These episodes are about the state of higher education in America and whether America is capitalizing on all of its available talent—or mostly just its already rich and privileged talent. (You can guess the answer.) It’s also a (worthy) pet cause of Gladwell’s.

The episodes are excellent and well worth listening to; they’re scary, too, in just how slanted higher ed is towards serving those who don’t need a helping hand and ignoring (or at best, unable to effectively lift up) those who need it the most.

But here’s my one nitpick: they’re more of a look at present-day status rather than a look back. I feel like they diverged from the show’s mandate: “to re-examine something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and ask whether we got it right the first time.”

Like I said—the episodes are good, and important. But they definitely have a different feel to the others.

If you’ve got some time to spend in the car today, check out Revisionist History.