Wednesday, August 03, 2005

FF Visionaries: George Perez Is A Tricky Trade

I like George Perez; I like the Fantastic Four; and (as my Essential Howard the Duck and Essential Tomb of Dracula volumes can verify) I have a bit of nostalgia for '70s Marvel. Therefore, you'd think I wouldn't complain about Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Perez (Volume 1). I liked it fine, but I have a few problems with how it was put together.

FFVGPv1 reprints Fantastic Four #s 164-67, 170, 176-78, and 184-86 (covering November '75-September '77). These stories include fights with the former Marvel Boy, the Hulk, the Frightful Four, and Salem's Seven. However, as you might discern from the omitted issues, there's just enough left out -- without any explanation except footnotes -- that it requires some extra brainpower on the part of the reader.

The cuts also have a weird kind of synchronicity. First, FF #167 ends with the Thing once again restored to his human form, with next issue promising "The Replacement!" This turns out to be Luke Cage, who evidently fought the FF for two issues before it was revealed that he was mind-controlled by the Puppet Master. However, when #170 opens, Reed is presenting Ben with his ultra-realistic Thing suit, which will allow Ben to be big and rocky on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Thus, because the Visionaries trade skips from #167 to #170, it goes from "Who will replace the Thing?" to "Ben Grimm in a Thing suit is the replacement!"

Even more hinky is the jump from the last page of #170 to the first of #176. Ben ends #170 with a half-page full-face closeup, thinking about how the Thing-suit might just allow him to live a normal life and marry Alicia. The caption reads "Next ish: 'But First -- A Word From Our Golden Gorilla!'" So then, #176 begins with an almost-identical full-page closeup of the Thing, ranting about how he's an "orange-scaled monster again -- for real!" Apparently the intervening issues (#s 171-75) told a hum-dinger of a story set on Counter-Earth, featuring a titanic battle between Galactus and the High Evolutionary during which Ben got Thingified. Sure would have liked to have seen that, even if some mook like John Buscema had drawn it.

Anyway, when the FF gets back to Earth, the Frightful Four are there waiting, and that battle ends up with the evil Reed from Counter-Earth secretly taking Good Reed's place and making it look like Good Reed sent Evil Reed into the Negative Zone with only his Speedos (Reedos?) to protect him. (Good Reed was also powerless for some reason.) Now that's a cliffhanger, but #184 begins with everybody in Reed's lab and Thundra and Sue helping "Reedo" away from the Negative Zone portal. Do what now? This caption is supposed to help:

What's Going On Here Department: Well, as near as we can figure it, the battle of the Baxter Building is over; Counter-Earth's Reed Richards -- alias the Brute -- is lost somewhere in the Negative Zone; and the Mad Thinker has departed for points unknown...

Now, I remember at least one of those missing issues from my misspent youth, probably because I didn't know how a powerless Reed could use only those shorts to get away from Annihilus. Reading the lead-up to that arc was probably the only time I've ever gotten excited over seeing Reed in his underwear, because I thought I'd get to see that story in all its Perezian splendor. Nope, not yet.

Of course, I realize Marvel made these cuts because (a) they're trying to save space and keep costs down and (b) the point of the book is to show off Perez's art, and he didn't draw those other issues, so (c) if you want to read 'em, wait for the Essential volume or look in the back-issue bins. That's fine. However, some text pages would have helped make the transitions a lot less jarring.

Furthermore, to those who say Marvel is just putting out a quick-and-dirty paperback to capitalize on both the FF's and Perez's popularity, I'll point out the reprinted text page from FF #176 where Roy Thomas explains the origin of the Impossible Man story -- a bit of behind-the-scenes information that has almost nothing to do with George Perez beyond his happening to be the issue's artist. (Was the name of the book FF Visionaries: Roy Thomas?) If Marvel's paperback people can take the time to make sure Roy the Boy's essay is included, they can type up quick synopses of the narrative gaps.

Finally, looking at the cover-gallery page, I noticed even from thumbnails that it looked like Jack Kirby was doing FF covers around this time -- and sure enough, a quick trip to GCD confirmed it. Accordingly, bigger cover reproductions would have been nice. Just another reason to seek out those back issues, I guess.

Not that I didn't like the book. I think it shows Perez really coming into his own in terms of design, layout, and details. His Reed is angrier and more muscular than others, but that's actually kind of close to the original Kirby model. Perez's Johnny Storm has some unfortunate Bo Duke hair, and some clothes that could probably survive flaming-on even without unstable molecules, but it was the '70s, after all....

So bring on Vol. 2, Marvel -- just keep us readers in mind, okay?


Jim Roeg said...

You said it, Tom! I've been obsessing about the issues in this trade over on my own blog for about a month now and have been really annoyed by the design choices. The "Visionaries" concept is fine, but come on Marvel, surely you guys know that comics art ain't just to look at, but actually tells a story! Blurbs filling in the missing issues are a bare minimum, and I agree about the covers too, Tom. I'd have been willing to fork out an extra couple of bucks for full page covers. It's always weird when a company produces a product like this that is simultaneously lavish (nice paper) and shoddy (what you said).

Tom Bondurant said...

Glad to hear from you, Jim! It gives me the opportunity to direct people to your own excellent analyses.

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks Tom! You are very kind. Or am I just shamelessly sneaky...?!

Tom Bondurant said...

Just being neighborly!

Tim S said...

That is very odd publishing indeed. Whatever happened to obsessive completeness?