Needs More Explosions
Fantastic Four: Imaginauts, The Goon: Rough Stuff
Whew. I don't know about you, but all the drama in last month's column has left
me a little exhausted. I might need a getaway. Perhaps I should relax with some
family . . . Fantastic family!
There are few people who can do the Fantastic Four right. Though the new movies
were diverting, a 21st century summer formula blockbuster can't capture the FF.
They belong to the monster comics and pulp science fiction magazines of the 40s,
50s and 60s. To understand the Fantastic Four's origin, you have to go back to the
days when a space race with the Russians was a hot topic, when an apocalyptic fate
seemed right around the corner, and when explorers and scientists were pure
American heroes rather than objects of controversy. Mark Waid, writer of
Imaginauts, says in his "manifesto" printed in the end of the book that "this series
is and always has been insanely reverent to 1967." He's right. It's hard not to be.
This is the comic book that ushered in Marvel comics, giving superheroes new life.
And yet it's never quite worked in the decades since it was king. Too much has
changed and the FF have stayed the same, riding on a forty-year-old formula of the
Thing's torment, the Human Torch's cockiness, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible
Woman's marital squabbles, and a lot of odd-looking scenery-chewing villains.
If I were to read writer Waid's manifesto first, I might not go through Imaginauts.
It seems like he's setting himself an impossible task: to take a comic that was once
so original that it revolutionized a medium and do something new with it.
Lucky for me I read Imaginauts first and saw that, yes, Waid's money and mouth
are at one. Between a battle against a living algebra expression, the Thing
fumigating the house for alien bugs, and Reed's famous "unstable molecule"
formula spreading through a whole building, turning it to goo, this collection can
make you laugh just at its sheer inventiveness.
And this FF is thoroughly modern. After a discussion about the Human Torch's
irresponsibility, the Invisible Woman gives him a job with the financial wing of
their licensing division. Just as much time is spent on the Invisible Woman
handling the group's PR as Mister Fantastic's whiz-bang inventions. The Thing,
rather than complaining about being a monster, serves as the confidant for the rest
of the group, as a big rocky sounding board.
Wieringo's art perfectly compliments the stories. Any fans of The Incredibles only
have to read this comic to see where the inspiration for that film came from. The
four are cute, clean and expressive. They bounce across the panels. Yet the Thing's
simple cute face belies his elephantine strength as his rocky fist comes flying off
the page. The Human Torch's big bright eyes somehow go with the sheets of flame
coming from his hands. At one point a villain tears away the Thing's armor plates
and dissolved the Invisible Woman's hand, only kept together by her force-fields,
and the pain in their expressions is as dynamic as the action. The comic is not
afraid to get gritty, but the art helps it keep its light tone.
Imaginauts is a perfect example of the potential of the medium. This is a story that
is caught between zip-bang animation and real-life drama.
The one-liners are great. During an attack on a celebrity party, Johnny Storm takes
to the sky and shouts, "Protect the supermodels!" Or there's the Thing's reaction to
Reed's shrinking ray, intended to help him hunt down alien bugs in the air ducts.
"No. It's old, it's creepy and it makes me itch." The Human Torch gets knocked
into a hair salon and sets off the sprinklers, leading to a whole panel of reactions
that get worse and worse. "My dress!" "My laptop!" "This haircut cost me two
hundred dollars!" "Today's my wedding!"
Although they've left the title, their work on the comic is still the best in years and
available in trade paperback. Sadly, Wieringo died in August of 2007 and won't be
able to revisit them. It's fitting that for a eulogy, Marvel published one of
Wieringo's FF sketches, drawn about the time he left the book. His line-perfect,
expressive FF were waving goodbye to the artist as he strode off.
As for The Goon, well, let's start by saying that comics editors are much like
science fiction editors. They are obsessed with twelve-year-old boys.
I didn't mean it that way. Shame on you. I mean that not only are they still reading
and working with the kinds of stories that excited them as a twelve-year-old, most
of them are concerned about what interests that audience right now. They try to put
themselves in the place of these twelve-year-olds wondering whether to drop some
change on a comic. Would they like the hero? Would they relate to him (or her)
(actually, it's mostly him)? Would they leave the Wii alone to read about him?
So occasionally a comics creator makes a comics that appears to have been written
by a twelve-year-old. That's where The Goon comes in.
This is a comic for people who like Popeye or Looney Tunes cartoons, or who
think a pie in the face is about the most hilarious thing thought up by man. It did
make me laugh with sheer randomness. In the first issue, the Goon fights an army
of mobster zombies, punches through dozens of rats the size of dogs, and then
disembowels a giant zombie chimp. He also faces Joey the Ball, a midget who got
his arm stuck in a bowling ball as a child, and as a result, has a giant right arm with
the ball still attached, which he uses to bean all those who offend him. All this time
the Goon is accompanied by his peanut-headed little sidekick, Franky, whose
habits include running over people he thinks are wearing "evil pants." In the
second chapter, "Fishy Pete" shows up to terrify our hero, a giant fish-man who
tortures the Goon by singing endless shanties. That is, until the Goon cuts his fishy
arms and legs off with an angry-eyed chainsaw named Mickey. Eventually we get
a reprieve as the Goon relates how a belly dancer made him a man at the age of
When I was twelve, I made myself what I thought was the most humorous book of
stories I could imagine, about a runaway concoction from Dr. Doolittle's lab that
killed the good Doctor and ate all his animal pals, then proceeded to wreak havoc
through a thinly veiled version of the DC Universe. If my idea sounds brilliant and
hilarious to you, you'd better read The Goon. If, however, you want some dumb
"drama" and "character" with your giant zombie chimps, chainsaw fights, midget
bowlers and belly dancers, better read something besides The Goon.
Speaking of attracting new readers, this lovely Internet Magazine will soon be
reprinting old stories for free. For all the love I give comics, short stories are a
beautiful medium that is currently unappreciated. If you love IGMS, tell a friend
about the great short stories and have them take a look. We'll be reprinting one of
Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker stories, and a piece by Eric James Stone, the
hottest new science fiction writer around.
Next issue: Bang. Slam. Gouge! Electrify! Welcome to the world of Mike Allred's
Madman, where a reanimated corpse hero just wants some love, but has to fight for
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth