Fantastic Four 2099 #1
The story, as far as I can make heads or tails of this thing, is that in some possible future of what we know as the Marvel Universe, something happens to all the super-heroes that we know and they die off or disappear. In their wake, the world falls into one of those dark, dismal, disgusting, gritty, grimy, grungy dystopias of which modern science fiction is so nauseatingly fond, and the whole thing seems to be ruled by Dr. Doom.
Now, bearing in mind what we know of the way Dr. Doom runs Latveria in the present-day Marvel Universe in mainstream continuity, how likely is it that a future world run by Dr. Doom would be in this condition? Isn’t it much more likely that a dystopian future ruled by Earth’s greatest villain would be a clean, shiny, materially prosperous and abundant, beautiful and physically comfortable dictatorship with a well-fed, well-educated, well-groomed populace, forced to be happy under Doom’s iron rule on pain of “the ultimate punishment?” Did the architects of this 2099 world take into account that what they had created bore no resemblance to any kind of world that Doom would create or any world that he would want to rule? Of course not, because comic book and science fiction writers today LOVE their dark, dismal, disgusting, gritty, grimy, grungy dystopias. So already we’re coming into this with a setting that is not only sleazy and wretched, but something totally at odds with anything that we know Dr. Doom would want to be responsible for. But I’m digressing; let’s get to the story—Lord, such as it is.
It seems that in this world, after whatever the hell happened to The Fantastic Four and their friends, one HERBIE robot was left behind and has been trying to create another Fantastic Four—as if this vile, wretched world is one that deserves an FF. It engages the services of a cyborg/cowgirl/bounty hunter-type character named Venture to round up the people that it’s looking for. Venture finds the four people that the HERBIE wants. One of them, a woman named Andie Mugh, can morph into a stretchable metallic form. Another, Sian Cortez, is a hulking sort of woman whose body can become an inferno of energy. There’s her daughter, Bela, who is a quartz-like mineral girl and is being held captive by what appear to be a lot of corrupt, Taliban-like Thor worshippers who want to execute her just for being different. How charming; it could be an X-Men story. And finally, there’s a boy with invisibility powers; he seems to have no name other than “Boy.”
Well, Venture and the other three rescue Bela from the Norse Taliban, and off they all go to see HERBIE. For less than comprehensible reasons, when they are all together with the robot—which claims that it has been doing all this because Valeria Richards, Reed and Sue’s daughter, wanted it to (and this goes totally unexplained)—Andie, Sean, and Bela all have some violent reaction to their own or each other’s powers. Their powers kill the lot of them horribly, and the HERBIE plaintively explains that it used cosmic rays to mutate them, but some flaw in the process caused the lethal reaction. Despondently, HERBIE then slaughters the shocked Venture and “Boy,” and grieves for its failure. The End.
All of which leaves me shaking my head in revulsion and loathing, wondering what in the name of hell kind of Fantastic Four story THIS is supposed to be. Does this Karla Pacheco person actually know anything about The FF? What was she trying to accomplish?
I thought I was disgusted when that Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa person, who was plucked out of off-Broadway playwriting by some Marvel talent scout, was practically hired off the street to write a Fantastic Four book, and he did it as some kind of domestic drama in which The FF lost all their money because an accountant made off with their money (don’t get me started) and they all had to get mundane jobs. I won’t even go into that because I have only so much spleen to vent. That travesty was spread out over many issues; this one is concentrated into a single one-off, and the only positive thing I have to say about it is that the fact that it’s done-in-one spares us the pain of having it go into successive months.
Is The Fantastic Four really that hard for people to understand? Let’s go over this. They are a close-knit, familial group of superhuman adventurers. Their mission is guided and informed by a scientific vision. It’s not unlike Star Trek. They explore unknown places, on Earth and elsewhere. They discover new things and new beings. Driven by the positive and humane values of science, they work not only to protect the world from the evils, the villains, and the monsters that they find along the way, but to help make the world worth protecting and saving. Their stories are filled with high adventure and a genuine sense of wonder, awe, and fun. They’re not cartoony, childish, and frivolous; they’re just very intelligent and fun to read, with a sense of danger and jeopardy that may threaten the future of humanity, Earth, or even the universe. But even more astounding than the adventures of The Fantastic Four are those occasions when people don’t seem to get it! And it’s really not hard!
See, the trouble with this whole thing is that it starts out immediately on the wrong foot. As you may know from my other reviews, I find it offensive when people treat The Fantastic Four as an afterthought or treat it as something marginal and irrelevant, to be omitted and left out of things. In all honesty, I wish they had left The FF and Dr. Doom as well out of this 2099 business, because they don’t belong here. The scientifically humane vision of The FF just does not work, does not fit, does not belong in a dystopian context. What I want to know is why Marvel did not create a “2099” world more along the lines of the world in the movie Tomorrowland (a Disney property, incidentally, belonging to the people who own Marvel and The FF). In that kind of world a “Fantastic Four” fits seamlessly; that is the kind of world that Reed Richards would want to create! Why must every damn vision of the future be dark, dismal, disgusting, gritty, grimy, grungy, and dystopian? If that is really the only kind of tomorrow that storytellers today can see awaiting mankind, it is a sad indictment of the state of our culture. I know things are not looking good for the future in reality right now, and I’m not even going to try to address the political reasons for it; but if our storytellers are not capable of imagining anything better for the future, we’re in even worse trouble than we seem to be. Everything good begins with imagination—which is another part of what The Fantastic Four is about!
Beyond all that, the characters are just not inspiring, which I guess is to be expected of the kind of setting in which this story takes place. Not one of them made me want to bond with them or know anything more about them; I didn’t even enjoy having to look at them. So it’s just as well that at the end they’re all dead except for the neurotic HERBIE, whose backstory and motives are not given to us in their entirety. Reading this whole thing made me want to know what the point of the whole thing was supposed to be, except to extract $4.99 from people for a comic book with the name “Fantastic Four” on it. (And I’m grateful that I did not pay to see this, because my comic book dealer doesn’t do refunds.)
Listen, if you want to read a futuristic Fantastic Four story that is worthy of the name, here’s what you do. Go on eBay and find a set of the four issues of a miniseries called Fantastic Four: Big Town by Steve Englehart and Mike McKone. Or even better, go over to Amazon or to any retailer, online or physical, where you can find the miniseries Fantastic Four: The End by Alan Davis. They’ll give you the real stuff and you’ll have a good time reading them. But this Fantastic Four 2099 book? I’ll put it to you in Monty Python terms. This is a comic book with a message and the message is BEWARE. It’s not a comic book for reading; it’s a comic book for walking past in the store and avoiding.
This is one of the most dismal experiences I have ever had reading any comic book. A world that I didn't like visiting, characters I didn't like meeting and didn't care about, and an overall dark and nihilistic worldview combined to make me wish I hadn't taken on the task of reviewing this thing. I will make every effort to forget that I ever saw it. But it won't be easy.
Fantastic Four 2099 #1: Fantastically BAD
Writing - 1/101/10
Storyline - 1/101/10
Art - 3.5/103.5/10
Color - 3.5/103.5/10
Cover Art - 1/101/10
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