Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Fantastic Force #1

Fantastic Force #1, "Legacy," Cover Date November 1994
Written by Tom Brevoort and Mike Kanterovich, pencils by Dante Bastianoni, inks by Ralph Cabrera.

I mentioned in a previous review how 1993 saw Marvel publishing nearly 100 titles a month to begin the year. In 1994, Tom DeFalco, the writer of Fantastic Four and editor since 1987 was "promoted" to Senior Vice President (he resigned, but continued on as a writer of Amazing Spider-Man), and the convenience of one editor was replaced by the convenience of five editors, splitting the books into editorial "families": X-Men (Bob Harras), Spider-Man (Bob Budiansky), Marvel Edge, the "grim-n-gritty" division (Bobbi Chase), Marvel "Classic" (Mark Gruenwald), and "General Entertainment" (Carl Potts). I'm not sure who edited the "Ultraverse" books after Marvel purchased Malibu around this time. Now each editor had the fun of trying to increase already inflated numbers, so every comic became a "franchise" that required at least 2-3 comics per month. Fantastic Four hadn't been a top seller since the early part of John Byrne's run, but now, in the span of a few years, we were given spin-off titles Fantastic Four Unlimited (a tri-monthly publication even more unnecessary than X-Men and Spider-Man Unlimited), Fantastic Four Unplugged (a $.99 comic that was still a rip-off at that price), and "Fantastic Force," a spin-off team that originally appeared in DeFalco and Paul Ryan's Fantastic Four run. And this is the first issue!

Fantastic Force 1 Huntara
Huntara 1, Desk 0.

We begin Fantastic Force with close-ups of various photographs of the Fantastic Four, along with a headline "FF Call it Quits" as teenage Franklin Richards (aka Psi-Lord) angsts over the dissolution of his family. His reverie is interrupted when Huntara, a large woman in armor that is definitely not based on Big Barda, smashes the desk and all the photos Franklin was looking at. The two go over the recent events of FF that led to their apparent dissolution with Black Panther in the background. Panther introduces the duo to Vibraxas, a Wakandan with "vibrational powers" who is extremely rude to Franklin and Huntara. When a robot seems to have the upper-hand on Vibraxas, Huntara cuts it in two at the torso. Vibraxas responds by saying how insulted he is that Huntara embarrassed him before his liege. It would've been way less embarrassing if the robot just knocked him unconscious, I guess. On his way out, Vibraxas runs into Devlor, a teenage Inhuman with the ability to turn into a giant monkey-man with super strength. Vibraxas continues to be very unpleasant, almost leading to a fight, before Franklin tells Devlor he showed potential against the "Dark Raider," one of the million variations on "evil Reed Richards" the Fantastic Four have fought over the years.

Fantastic Force Huntara Vibraxas
He talks pretty tough for somebody with powers and a name so similar to "Vibe."

In the meantime, a figure shadowed by a trenchcoat reads the newspaper at a newspaper stand, noting that his "hated foe" the Black Panther was scheduled to give a talk to the United Nations. After wrinkling up the paper, he blasts the newspaper stand. It's obvious we're dealing with Klaw, the master of sound, but that does raise the question of how he manages to read a newspaper standing up with one hand and one weird sonic gun hand.

Devlor Fantastic Force

Back at the Panther's hotel, Devlvor watches the Wizard of Oz and orders room service while Huntara tries and fails to convince Franklin to come back to "Elsewhen," the weird sci-fi/fantasy dimension she calls home. Franklin's not convinced, as he feels a kinship with earth, and also betrayed Huntara's relative "Warlord Kargul" by assisting the Fantastic Four against the aforementioned Dark Raider. Their argument is interrupted as Franklin notices a rumbling in the hotel and is such a nerd he recognizes a "concussive sonic blast." I guess growing up in the Baxter Building has given Franklin plenty of experience hearing weird super-power explosions.

Fantastic Force Klaw Vibraxas
Not cool, Klaw.

Elsewhere in the hotel, Klaw easily disposes of T'Challa's secret service, and calmly swats away Vibraxas when he promises to avenge the Black Panther's dead father with a dismissive sonic backhand. Vibraxas gets so mad at being dismissed he blows up the ground that he was also standing on, sending both figures hurtling down... one floor. Klaw grabs Vibraxas and calls him a "whelp" when Huntara and Franklin appear. Huntara charges Klaw, while Franklin presses a button that makes his "psycho-armor" appear from "sub-space."

Fantastic Force Huntara Klaw
Huntara's costume in action.

A nervous Devlor hides behind a wall, unwilling to join the battle, until Franklin is disoriented by a vertigo effect and Klaw plans on killing him. Devlor leaps into action, and is promptly launched out of the hotel. He falls to impending... injury until Franklin saves him. He lectures Devlor for rushing in without a plan, and telepathically communicates with everyone with everybody in the fight that he has a plan. I assume Black Panther has been microwaving popcorn for the past three minutes and has no idea anything is amiss.

Fantastic Force Black Panther Klaw
It's a Wakandan tradition to punch dudes in the jaw with weird metal knuckles.

Their master plan is to distract Klaw, who makes a sonic yak attack Devlor, then tries to blast Franklin, as Vibraxas sneaks up on him and disrupts his sound form. Unfortunately, the feedback leaves all the heroes dazed, and Klaw goes to make his escape, when the Black Panther shows up in vibranium hand-units he made just for punching out Klaw. Who's comic is this, anyway?

Fantastic Force 1 Vibraxas
Can't wait to see this guy get punched.
As the villain is led away, Vibraxas acts like he single-handedly took out Claw, and Panther scolds him by reminding him it was a team effort. Franklin offers the rest a chance to join a new team. Devlor jumps at the chance, and Huntara signs on with reluctance, but Vibraxas calls them peons and says he won't join them, when's the next plane to Wakanda. Panther clearly wants to unload this guy, so he says he has "much to learn" and commands him to hang out with these kids as... Fantastic Force!


This is another comic that feels like it needs to be packaged with the Handbook to the Marvel Universe to make any sense out of anything. It's a spin-off of Fantastic Four, but other than Franklin Richards, who is a teen, everyone else is either a complete unknown or a character that only readers of the past year or so of FF stories would recognize (Huntara appeared as a well-meaning villain in her first appearances). Worse, instead of an easy to explain backstory, each character has insanely convoluted backstories (except Vibraxas), so most of the issue is spent explaining who's who.

As for who these characters are, we're clearly starting with pretty big cliches with the hope that they'll be more fully realized after we get years of Fantastic Force stories and grow to love all these characters. Huntara is Big Barda re-envisioned for the 90's, complete with an armored costume that barely covers her ass and an impressive vocabulary. She is probably the most like an Image character on the team, as she'd fit right in with Zealot of the WildC.A.T.S. Devlor has an alter-ego as a wussy teen who turns into a big hulking monster, and an effort is made to make him the character kids should identify with, but he's still an Inhuman, so really, he should be as much a "fish out of water" as the rest of these guys. I mean didn't he grow up in the hidden city of Attilan, living in a community where everyone has crazy powers? Vibraxas is portrayed as a colossal jerk, putting noted Marvel jerks Quicksilver and U.S. Agent to shame. I mean I don't recall Quicksilver coming off racist about being a mutant or a gypsy (probably because those two classes get persecuted a lot), but Vibraxas's dismissive attitude off non-Wakandans seems to have some racial overtones. Maybe I'm just reading that in after Klaw called him "boy," which is more insulting than "whelp" or "cur" or the other generic villain terms Klaw uses on everyone else throughout the issue. Anyway the point is Vibraxas is an over-the-top scumbag and along with Huntara is clearly going to be my favorite on this team, as long as every issue isn't built around him learning a lesson. Franklin is the de-facto "leader," although we don't really know a whole lot about his character. He seems wholly different than the perpetual 5-year-old, and frankly, that's great. I hate "perpetually five" Franklin. For a cool theory on perpetually five Franklin, check this site out. It's a bit out there at points, but I think it makes some great points.

My other problem with this first issue is that there's too much of a focus on the Black Panther. The team only exists because of him, he names them, he basically forces one member to join, and the big conclusion is him saving the team from a Black Panther villain after the rest of the team looks like scrubs. I don't mind playing up that these are inexperienced kids (except Huntara), so they kind of suck, but combining that with African Batman looking over their shoulder and getting them out of jams makes it seem like we'd all be better off reading a Black Panther comic with these dudes as back-up. Somehow, despite publishing 100 books a month, Black Panther didn't have his own series at this point, even though Night Thrasher did. Maybe if Black Panther had a vibranium skateboard he could've carried his own book?

Dante Bastianoni's pencils are pretty strong. He was an almost complete-unknown in America, as he had penciled a few issues of the Italian sci-fi/spy comic "Nathan Never," but not much of anything published in America. His figures are actually pretty strong, and he manages some cool-looking stuff, especially using Klaw's weird "Kirby dot" mouth. The layouts are more functional than stylized, but that's probably more a result of the writers and editors restraining Bastianoni- I get the feeling he could do better if he wasn't forced to stick to traditional lay-outs illustrating dry exposition scenes. Honestly I expected worse from a Fantastic Four spin-off.

On the other hand, the writing is just about as bad as I would expect, as the "hook" in this book appears to be Vibraxas being a jerk and fleeting glimpses of Huntara's butt. We're not given a new villain, all the characters are difficult to explain, and everyone speaks in hokey "comic book" dialogue that was already hugely out of date in 1994, especially when you consider this is supposed to be a book in the "Teen Titans" or "New Warriors" tradition. And yet zero pizzas are eaten! Are we sure these guys are teens? Or are Devlor's mysterious "meat discs" his code for pizza?

Editorial goofs: the bullpen bulletin hypes this issue, but gets Devlor's name wrong, incorrectly calling him "Giganto," the name of several Marvel monsters including the cover monster from issue 1 of the original Fantastic Four. As Devlor can't turn into a giant, I think this is just a mistake, not a last-minute change to his name, but who can tell with Marvel editorial in 1994?

90's Fashion: Franklin has a weird head-band that he wears at all times. In combat, Franklin summons his "psycho armor," which comes complete with spiked shoulder pads. Huntara also has spiked shoulder pads, a pouch belt, and a gun holster that I don't believe I've seen her use. Despite her armored chest and arms, her lower body is protected by a skirt. Vibraxas has a costume that has tubes connecting from the side of his abdomen to his thigh, along with gold-plated... torso pads(?) and prominent shoulder pads. Devlor has perhaps the least 90's costume, with nothing but a belt with pouches on it; other then that, his design is very Jack Kirby 70's-influenced. The cover is also a holo-foil wrap-around, the most 90's gimmick cover of them all!


  1. Or are Devlor's mysterious "meat discs" his code for pizza?

    I assume they're meant to be hamburgers, which (Wendy's aside) could charitably be considered meat discs, at least as far as the hamburger patty itself is concerned?

    1. Yes, I suppose that would make more sense. Like I said, the book does a pretty poor job of writing for teenagers. Full credit to Fabian Nicieza for making sure to establish that the New Warriors enjoyed pizza. It helped me identify with them as a pre-teen who also enjoyed pizza.