Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Fantastic Force #15

Fantastic Force #15, Cover Date January 1996
Written by Tom Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich, Penciled by Dante Bastianoni, Inked by Steve Montano

Fantastic Force 15 Cover Vibraxas

Some time ago, I reviewed Fantastic Force #1, and found it to be almost as mediocre as you’d expect a Fantastic Four spin-off circa 1994. Well, because it was the 90’s, the book has lasted all the way to issue #15, a mark that would be the equivalent of 2-3 trade paperbacks in today’s market, aka more than twice as long as a series like this would/should last. Let’s check in on all our favorites: Psi-Lord, Devlor, Vibraxas, and the rest, and see what exciting new adventures they’re up to this month!

Fantastic Force 15, She-Hulk, Human Torch, Vibravore

We begin as the team (and Black Panther, She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot) reacts to waves of sound by having weird distorted anatomy, as they are bombarded by a “relentless vibrational barrage.” A one-hundred foot tall monster formed out of Wakanda’s vibranium mound is shouting down buildings in the Panther’s Wakandan home. “Councilman N’Kano” says that the mount is the “fruits of our vibrasurge” research, and Vibraxas realizes that there are people, potentially including his mother, caught in the creature, which he calls the “Vibravore,” because of his rash actions.

Team member(?) Human Torch jumps into the fray, saying he doesn’t care why the monster is around, just so long as he stops it. Black Panther calls in the Wakandan air force, but the Vibravore (a name everyone immediately starts using) shrugs off Johnny’s attacks and those of the air force, zapping them out of the sky with a sound roar. Johnny and Franklin save the pilots, but aren’t able to damage the monster.

FF15 She-Hulk Devlor
How is this any faster?
Meanwhile, She-Hulk sees the Wakandan Consulate collapsing, and, reasoning that “they don’t have time to make it there on foot,” throws Devlor at the problem. Uh, why not, like, jump, She-Hulk? We get incredibly overwrought narration as Devlor holds on: “A heart rumbles piteously within a heaving bosom as limits of endurance are reached . . . and surpassed!” Come on, now. Fortunately, She-Hulk shows up to help Devlor before the building falls over. While the two of them hold onto the building, Wyatt Wingfoot (it would really help if these characters were named at some point in the issue) saves some kids. Devlor shows he’s the height of 90’s wit by saying he’s “fine . . . not!” after the building collapses.

What are you even talking about, Fantastic Force?
Vibraxas tries to free someone from the Vibravore, but they get sucked back in. Psi-Lord thinks the process that created the monster “might not be irreversible.” I guess in Psi-Lord’s dimension nobody told him not to use double negatives. Human Torch tries to blast the monster, but seems to fuel it. The Councilman says Black Panther has to do whatever it takes to destroy the monster, but Vibraxas says he won’t lose his mother a second time. Panther ignores his snotty little buddy, and authorizes lethal force.

Franklin, however, has other ideas. He links up the team, using She-Hulk as a semi-conductor, then links Vibraxas up to an amplification tower, finally having the Human Torch blast the creature at a frequency that’s synced up to Vibraxas. The resulting explosion reduces the creature to rocks and surprisingly buff people, but Vibraxas’s mom is dead. Vibraxas wonders if this is what it means to be a “hero.”

Later, Vibraxas is cleared by a tribunal for murder charges (for what, I have no idea), but Wakanda decides to pull the plug on financing Fantastic Force. Vibraxas predictably throws a fit, calling the tribunal “sanctimonious hypocrites.” The Councilman says Vibraxas was partially at fault for the monster that recently rampaged around town, but Vibraxas says that was an accident, and responds to the ruling by literally tearing a big piece off his green shirt, as he’s so disgusted by Wakandan colors he doesn’t want to wear them. Meanwhile Devlor starts freaking out, as stegosaurus spikes grow out of his back. To be continued?!


Wow, sometimes a book like this will unexpectedly find its footing after a year or so and figure out what the artist enjoys and what sorts of stories these characters fit into. This book has gotten a lot worse. From the odd pacing to the bad dialogue to the forgettable characters to the forgetting to explain what’s going on to the bad art, this book is awful in basically every way.

Keep in mind that in late 1995, a fan reading this book is not given access to Wikipedia or any other source explaining who these unnamed characters are, or what’s going on, or why. You want to know what made the “Vibravore”? Check out last month’s issue, on sale now! Readers today tend to scoff at the levels of exposition classic comics dedicated to explaining where they were in a story, but they did that because sometimes a reader picks a book up off the rack because it has a cool cover, and that reader needs a minimum amount of information (my favorite part about those old recaps is they gave artists a chance to be creative in visually conveying old information). That’s generally done today by first page recaps, and additional information isn’t hard to find, but a 1995 reader that isn’t a big FF fan had to be pretty lost. As an adult I know who Wyatt Wingfoot is and why he’s hanging around She-Hulk, but in 1995 I had no idea: I hadn’t read any of her solo series, and didn’t really follow any of the Hulk titles, and no one ever uses his full name. Even if I had read Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four and had seen Wyatt Wingfoot, I don’t know that I’d recognize him. This is the sort of thing Bill Jemas was talking about when he said he had an Ivy League education and couldn’t follow monthly comics; only an obsessive Fantastic Force superfan knows what the heck is going on. The Marvel Appendix says that Vibraxas was tried for the inadvertent murder of a gang member who tried to shoot him way back in FF#6, with his second trial in Wakanda being what brought him back to his homeland in the first place. Wait, what? That’s an awful story idea, and why are we paying off the storyline NINE issues later? And I guess Human Torch is on the team and Huntara is gone? I guess it’s good that there’s no permanent status quo, but I am so lost.

The writing is generally terrible. While the idea of fighting a big monster ain’t so bad, we’re really not told enough about the monster for it to be anything but a generic thing for the team to easily defeat. Throughout, we’re given incredibly overwritten, thesaurus-y dialogue and captions from the teen cast that is just not in keeping with how anyone has ever spoken. I’m not really given any insight into anyone except Vibraxas, the least likeable character in the book, and it’s not like his characterization is all that great. Also the name “Vibravore” is so stupid and terrible. Does it eat vibrations?

Art-wise, the book has taken a major step backwards. I was on record as enjoying Dante Bastianoni’s pencils, as he had clean lines and looked like a fill-in Conan artist, which I think is a compliment. Here, I’m not sure if it’s the inker, or the art assist from Pino Rinaldi, but this book is full of oddly posed, impossibly proportioned monsters, and I don’t mean just the Vibravore. Part of it is that Marvel’s house style at the time is truly fugly art, as the old Sal Buscema by way of Jack Kirby house style has been replaced with cartoonishly absurd muscle-men that look like a bad version of Erik Larsen. I’m not sure why this was the accepted house-style in 1996, but I guess it’s no worse than the lazy manga style that became increasingly popular in the late 90’s.

In all, this is a pretty dreadful book by this point. I remember my local comic shop had plenty of issues of the last few months of Fantastic Force, and I hope they were eventually able to find a quarter bin home. Honestly, a quarter might've been asking too much.

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