Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Definitive takes on my favorite comic book characters: Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man

It's part 5 of my definitive takes on my favorite comic book characters (i.e. super heroes — male and female as well as superhero groups). And I'm finally out of the first four letters of the alphabet!

FANTASTIC FOUR by John Byrne: The writer-artist maintains the legacy and spirit of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation, yet takes everything much further and in turn, makes the Fantastic Four more interesting than ever. Byrne has a real knack for revealing just how emotionally close these four people are and how much they mean to each other without ever going into melodrama.

Byrne’s greatest accomplishment isn’t just giving Sue (Storm) Richards the more appropriate name of Invisible Woman (instead of the more demeaning Invisible Girl); it's the sense of self that goes with the new identity for her to be her own woman and not just Reed’s wife. After all, for decades, Richards was treated as a mindless underling who had been ordered to do this and that — by her overbearing husband.

Writer-artist John Byrne renamed
Sue Storm the Invisble Woman —
but gave her a horrendous hairstyle.
A savvy reader will realize Byrne characterizes Invisible Woman as the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four. Her new name resonates with the raw power Richards has (plus the sense of entitlement to accompany it); the Invisible Woman saves the FF's bacon as often as her brainy husband does during Byrne's five-year run.
In April 1984, She-Hulk joined the FF (issue 265) and remained on the roster for several years. The move came with a lot of flack from fans. But to be honest, Byrne's take on Jennifer Walters made me like the character. Along with renaming Richards the Invisible Woman, including She-Hulk in the FF was one of many controversial things Byrne did with the title, including tweaking the color scheme and modernizing the team's uniforms.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what’s more impressive: Byrne’s always skillful and gorgeous artwork or his insightful, yet fun-to-read storytelling skills. Either way, his five-year run on FANTASTIC FOUR remains enjoyable reading to this day and pushed the FF to the forefront of the Marvel Universe in the mid-1980s.

Hulk/Bruce Banner by actor Mark Ruffalo: It took two solo films with entirely different vibes (both of which misfired!) bef0re an ensemble film with a third actor playing both roles for Hollywood to nail the joy and humore of the rage-monster. Ruffalo’s Banner is a brilliant scientist who is obviously afraid of the danger of transforming into the Hulk.

As the monster, Ruffalo’s Hulk (whose face closely resembles the actor, thanks to special effects masters with an attention to detail) delivers plenty of mayhem, a saving leap for Iron Man and of course, the most hysterical lines in “Marvel’s The Avengers.”

Iron Man/Tony Stark in 1977-’85 comic books by various creative teams: Writers Bill Mantlo, David Michelinie and Dennis O’Neil keep Iron Man and Tony Stark busy with a fascinating rush of menacing villains, equally ruthless business competitors, gorgeous and seductive woman and most significantly, “the demon in the bottle.”

Say what you will about Stark’s porno-like mustache and his leisure suits, but thanks to artists Bob Layton, John Romita Jr. and Luke McDonnell, Stark and Iron Man never looked better. What’s most impressive is how smooth the transition in storytelling is when going from writer to the next.

Iron Man/Stark by actor Robert Downey Jr.: Stark always has been a charming ladies’ man and a tinkerer, but Downey pulls a Christian Bale by making the billionaire industrialist even more charismatic and flamboyant — not to mention, creative. Just how influential is Downey's take on Stark? Each subsequent characterization and delivery of dialogue in the comics and animated series has been based on Downey's snarky performance.

Downey’s Iron Man is an alpha male among alpha males. He and Marvel Studios not only shoot a B-list character (at least to the general public) into the stratosphere of pop culture awareness, the first “Iron Man” film lays the foundation for a generation of juggernaut superhero blockbusters.

You may have missed the first several installments of my series on "definitive takes on my favorite comic book characters." But not to worry, here's a rundown:

We're more than halfway through, so keep checking back for future installments!

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