This book collects two mini-series related to the House of M crossover event – Fantastic Four: House of M 1 – 3 and Iron Man: House of M 1 – 3. The creative team on the Fantastic Four series are all new to me – it was written by John Layman with pencils by Scott Eaton and inks by Don Hillsman. The Iron Man series was written by Greg Pak, whose work I know from the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk books, and the art was by another unknown to me Pat Lee.
The Fantastic Four story actually stars the Fearsome Four, a mystically powered team led by Victor von Doom with only Ben Grimm as the It surviving Reed Richards space mission to examine cosmic rays. Doom is allowed to rule Latveria under the global mutant superiority but finds himself at the beck and call of Magneto. His vanity will not allow this and he directs his scientific research to the problem of how to rid the world of the House of Magnus and install himself as world ruler only to find his plans scuppered by the one person for whom he has utter contempt.
In the Iron Man story, Tony Stark is a successful entrepreneur and competitor in Sapien Death Match – an arena sport where he battles with other humans in mechanical suits – however he finds himself constantly overshadowed, in all his pursuits, by his father. Searching for Henry Pym, a rogue scientist who was researching the mutant genome while in Stark’s employ, Stark uses a new mechanical suit that he developed in secret. He traces Pym to a hideout of the human resistance but soon finds himself in a battle with a sapien hunting sentinel controlled by his father. When Pym is revealed as a terrorist who has planted a number of devices targeted at mutants only, Stark must decide between being his own man and the future seemingly mapped out for him by his father.
For a world that is supposed to give the heroes their dreams come true neither Victor von Doom or Tony Stark are particularly happy with their lot – though this could be seen as some dormant, nagging sense that something is not right. The stories are both fine in themselves without really adding much to the central story.
Pat Lee’s art in the Iron Man story is quite strange. There is a lot of it that contains sentinels, armoured humans and other mecha and this is all really good but when it comes to the depiction of the people it just does not do it for me.
Stop him, sir? Perhaps I wasn’t clear. […] No one has ever stopped him.
This book collects issues 1 – 5 of the Marvel mini-series. It was written by J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of the great Babylon 5 who now seems to have moved into comics writing with stints on Marvel characters such as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Thor and DC characters such as Wonder Woman and Superman as well as creating his own titles such as Rising Stars. The art was by Tommy Lee Edwards who has also worked on various Marvel and DC titles.
This is an alternative history of the Marvel universe. The premise is that the doctor who was due to administer the super-soldier serum to Steve Rogers is assassinated by a Nazi fifth columnist before he can do it. A soldier who was protecting him, Ben Parker, is also killed and these two deaths have a rippling effect that fundamentally changes the course of some of the characters in the Marvel universe. So as no one else can administer the serum Steve Rogers volunteers instead for the army’s back up plan the Iron Man project. With no father figure after the death of his parents, Peter Parker becomes a disaffected youth and wanders into the testing range just as the gamma bomb is to be tested becoming the Hulk. Reed Richards delays his space mission to look after the health of Steve Rogers but when the mission takes finally takes place it is sabotaged and he is the only survivor and becomes the head of SHIELD. Bruce Banner, wracked with guilt at the fate of Peter Parker, tries to find a cure and is bitten by an irradiated spider. And finally when Galactus turns up with the Silver Surfer there is no Fantastic Four to thwart him and so it falls to all the superheroes and villains to do their bit in the struggle to save Earth. And it falls to the most despised of these to turn the tide.
An interesting story from Straczynski with a fresh look at some old characters. Of course he is selective in how the effects of that one bullet ripple through time and there are holes in the plot you could drive a bus through at times – such as how did a surly teenager manage to find himself in the middle of a military testing range. But if you can put that aside it is an entertaining ride with cameo shots of lots of different Marvel heroes and villains, in the climatic battle, that I have not seen for a long time such as Tigra, the Scorpion and Cloak and Dagger to name a few. I have to say that I was not a great fan of the art on this one – it comes across as very crude at times – which surprises and disappoints me as Edwards has some lovely examples of his work on his web site.
A downside to reading comic book collections from the library is that they often don’t have full runs of titles. Particularly annoying is when then only have one volume of a two volume story in the system. Anyway I have had to jump from volume 5 of the Ultimate Fantastic Four to volume 7 – collecting Ultimate Fantastic Four #33-38.
In this collection a group of aliens, known as Seed Nineteen, on the run from a skirmish in a war in a galaxy far, far away crash land on Earth and run into the Fantastic Four. The two teams fight before joining forces against Seed Nineteen’s enemy led by the Ultimate universe version of Thanos.
This collection is notable for me because it is the first time I have read anything by Mike Carey outside of his work for Vertigo – Faker, Crossing Midnight, The Unwritten, Hellblazer and Lucifer. I was curious to see how a writer that I have always associated with fantasy or supernatural stories – he also writes a series of supernatural novels – would get on with a superhero story. I have to say that I enjoyed it very much as it had a strong sci-fi/space opera element that you don’t get in many superhero books. Also the revelation for me was the beautiful artwork by Pasqual Ferry. I have not seen or heard of this artist before but I want to find more. I think his work would suit a more fantasy/supernatural themed book – apparently he is (or is about) to take over on Thor which could be amazing.
So an interesting sci-fi tinged story combined with great art means that this is probably a book I will look to buy sometime in the future. I also hope someone returned to answer the open plot points raised in the story concerning Reed and Thanos. Great stuff.
Another book from the library and another Fantastic Four collection – this volume collects Ultimate Fantastic Four #21-26. This time it is set in the Marvel Ultimate universe – which seems to be a parallel universe to the normal Marvel universe (haven’t these guys learnt anything from DC’s various multiverse crises?). The Ultimate universe gives creators the chance to play with characters so that they are familiar to readers of the regular but subtly different enough that they can be reinvented.
The first three chapters deal with Reed Richards contacting yet another parallel Earth and connecting with that Earth’s older version of himself. However he crosses dimensions to find himself in a superhero zombie apocalypse version of Earth. He hooks up with the last unchanged superhero – Magneto – who is, ironically, protecting a last pocket of humanity from the zombies. The remaining three chapters tell of the return of Sue and Johnny’s mother from the dead; the discovery and exploration of Atlantis and the release of Namor – with chaos ensuing.
I enjoyed this collection. The Fantastic Four in the Ultimate universe have gone right back to their roots and are portrayed as a young team of heroes again. Mark Millar’s script was action and emotion packed with subtle touches of humour along the way. It did suffer slightly because I was joining the story in the middle of a run and so had to fill in some of the details of the history of character exchanges for myself. However, there was enough in it to make me want to read more of the series.
The next few books that I will be reading have been borrowed from the local library. This one is a collection of a six part mini-series of the same name. I was looking forward to it as it was written by Ed Brubaker who wrote an excellent Daredevil collection that I read recently. This is a retelling of the origin story of Doctor Doom and probably suffers a little bit because of that as it must limit the creativity of the storytelling to a certain degree.
I am familiar with Doctor Doom’s origin story from the Fantastic Four annual #2 as reprinted in the book Bring on the Bad Guys. The Brubaker story stays remarkably close to the plot of the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby story – the 10 or 12 page story being retold in the first four chapters of the book. Brubaker expands the story, in part, by making more of Doom’s mother’s life as a sorceress. He uses this to give Doom more of an interest in magic and how it can be combined with technology and expands on his quest to breach the nether worlds and rescue his mother. The last two chapters give an account of how Doom returns to Latveria and takes control of the country.
This was an entertaining read as I am not a big fan of the Fantastic Four, and hadn’t read many of their comics, so the story was fresh to me – it has probably been 30 years since I read the original story before today. I don’t know if it would appeal to long term fans of the Fantastic Four as much – I know that I sometimes get fed up of endless retellings of the origins of characters that I am familiar with. It wasn’t as good as the Brubaker Daredevil stories that I have read so was a slight disappointment to me.