Wednesday, July 8, 2015

'Fantastic Four vs. X-Men' is a classic story

Whenever I read a story written by Chris Claremont, I know I'm getting quality storytelling.

The 1987 four-issue limited series THE FANTASTIC FOUR VS. THE X-MEN is a quality read that stands the test of time. Claremont handles the writing duties and the art is by Jon Bogdanove with inks by Terry Austin, a master of the art.

The FF at this time includes She-Hulk, so it's more like the Fantastic Five since Ben Grimm also is a member. A chance encounter in a library with attorney Jennifer Walters, who is defending Magneto (who in this era of Marvel Comics serves on the side of angels), brings She-Hulk back into the FF fold. 

Magneto implores FF leader Reed Richards to use a device of his creation to get Kitty Pryde (calling herself Shadowcat at this point) re-integrated into her real body.

Pryde has been locked in her phasing mode from a previous X-MEN story (UNCANNY X-MEN No. 312 and the "Mutant Massacre" storyline, specifically). She exists as a living ghost in a tube that keeps her body and ghost-form from drifting away.

(Why the teen is naked is anybody's guess. As is why a fire caused during a fight between Magneto and the Human Torch destroys She-Hulk's business attire, leaving her partially clothed. And why does Sue Richards' FF costume get shredded spontaneously when she creates an invisible bubble in a fit of rage? 

The naked or half-nude trend continues when Rogue's clothes get blasted off her during one of the battles between the Fantastic Four and X-Men. Then-editor Ann Nocenti addresses this tendency for the female superheroes to be naked in her foreword for this 1990 trade paperback, but her explanation left me scratching my head. Basically, she didn't have a problem with it. Anyway …!)

Needless to say, Pryde's fate isn't looking good. The young teen and her teammates approach the situation as if her death is inevitable.

To make an uneasy situation even more tense, Richards is riddled with self-doubt over his wife's discovery of the journal he kept before the eventual FF took their fateful space trip and their bodies were riddled with cosmic rays. Richards wonders how he couldn't have realized that radiation exposure was a possibility. The FF don't trust Magneto and Doctor Doom steps in with the claim he can help save Pryde with improvements on Richards' machine when the FF leader refused.

As you can tell if you read my reviews on Cary's Comics Craze, that's quite a bit more rehashing of the plot than I normally do. But it's a necessary evil to give you enough context to review this classic story.

The limited series is a page-turner. Although it's a quick read and there's some sketchy sexism by the creative team (who gets Pryde, Sue Richards and Rogue all buck naked in different scenarios), this is one great story.

I've read THE FANTASTIC FOUR VS. THE X-MEN several times since it was published and I've enjoyed it every single time.

The trust-mistrust surrounding Doom and Magneto is at the core of Claremont's story. It's been an essential part of Marvel's history and the always stellar Claremont steps up to the plate with delivering another killer tale. He may drift into cliche with the superhero vs. superhero fisticuffs and misunderstandings, but it's fun.

Equally at the heart of THE FANTASTIC FOUR VS. THE X-MEN is Reed Richards struggling with a serious lack of self-confidence and second-guessing himself — which is quite unusual for the brilliant scientist. His tortured soul tears at the FF, especially his relationship with his wife.

Just as Richards is hit with self-doubt, Pryde struggles with her seemingly pending death. Little Franklin Richards is having nightmare-ish visions of the entire scenario, yet is a sympathetic listening ear for the dying Pryde. (But again, why does the toddler need to encounter a naked teen girl — even if she is in ghost form?) Add in the complications surrounding Doom and Magneto and this story is ripe with drama.

Bogdanove's art hits all the right emotions in Claremont's story.

The artist shows the pain in Reed Richard's and Pryde's expressions and body language. Each character looks like they are being put through an emotional ringer. It's obvious Sue Richards is upset about what her usually confident husband is going through and she empathizes over her son's visions. Pryde's shoulders slump and the sides of her mouth drop — all symbolic of a depressed person awatiting her death — which the teen X-Man clearly is.

Fairly recently I bought the 1990 trade at a rock-bottom price. It didn't matter that I already had each issue, the $5 price tag and the quality of this story was too good to pass up.

 Fans should be able to find each issue fairly cheap at conventions. It's worth the look. Happy hunting! Grade: A

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