by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer
Fantastic Four Annual
Written by James Robinson, Art by Tom Grummett
Published: December 2014
I hate annuals. I remember years ago when I was a kid my old Transformers comics had yearly annuals. What made those so infuriating was that you would by a huge book solely to get a few pages which concluded the ongoing story from the regular comics. The rest of those books, which were hardbacks at that point, were filled with reprints, adverts and silly quizzes as well as rehashed histories of the major characters, normally written by people who knew less about the characters than the readers did.
Fortunately the modern annuals are not like this. They are a normal comic, printed the same way as all other books, but with a few extra pages and costing a £/$ more for their trouble. Often this book has nothing to do with the ongoing storyline being a standalone tale often involving a peripheral character or a throw away situation. With the exception of the Deadpool annual this year featuring Madcap I have found them all utterly pointless and irrelevant. The last Wolverine annual had me reaching for the virtual shredder and wishing the guy had died a few months early, it would have saved me £3.99 and a wasted 20 minutes as I watched Logan and Kitty bumble around in the woods scaring the locals.
To be honest, given the recent track record I might as well never buy them; more expensive for a tiny amount more pages, irrelevant to the ongoing plot, stand in artist and random writer. Is it even worth me continuing this review? Well unsurprisingly given that build up, yes it is, because other than the slightly higher cost none of those things are true about this book. While it is not intrinsic to the ongoing plot, it is highly relevant and involves a major character; the writer and artist gave not been pulled out of remedial school and can in fact create a decent narrative; but most important of all, reading it did not waste my time in any way.
I have joked in the past that there are no villains in the Marvel universe anymore, merely heroes on slightly different moral grounds. While that is not entirely true and there are still people like Zemo and the Red Skull plotting in the background, most of the ‘bad guys’ are people with believable goals that in other circumstances might well be honourable and decent. Look at the current drama in Avengers; is Steve or Tony right? Depending on your point of view one of them is the ‘bad guy’ and the other the hero*. However what is not often the case is a hero becoming a villain and for the purposes of this I do not mean Magneto who strays back and forth more often than even a genius like Beast can count. No what I mean is one of the big name heroes going flat out bad guy and levelling a city because they felt like it, endangering women and children and not caring one bit.
Sue Storm has pretty much lost the plot and understandably so. Her husband has practically abandoned her in his attempts to save the world with the Illuminati, her brother is a worthless, powerless drunk, Ben is in prison for killing his father-in-law and to top it all off, the Avengers have taken away her children as she is not fit to be a mother. All accept one who is in the strangely kind hands of a seemingly beneficent Dr. Doom. Realising that she is the only one Sue can get to she takes a jet and flies to Latveria intent on ‘rescuing’ her daughter.
Unsurprisingly this goes rather badly. The brattish 3 year old, Valeria, with a vocabulary of a pedant and the appearance of primordial achrondroplast unsurprisingly does not want to go home. She is living every little girl’s dream of being a princess including medieval jousts and LMDs to do her dirty work for her. So when her dishevelled mother is brought down by Latveria’s air defences the little brat defies her mother and starts what is for me the greatest display of unchecked power I have ever seen in a comic. Susan Storm has often been described as one of the most powerful people on planet earth and yet for decades she played fourth fiddle to a guy made of rock, one that burnt and one that was a bit floppy.
The final 10 pages of this comic are the greatest bit of role reversal I have ever seen. With Axis coming up a lot of characters are going to have a change of heart and switch sides, but this comic got here first. This is what happens when a super-powered hero goes bad and it is truly terrifying. I reviewed DC’s Injustice Gods Among Us recently and it has a very similar theme, the difference being it is set in an alternate reality whereas this is happening for real in the 616 universe. I do not want to give away too much because it is very much worth reading, but I cannot stress enough how impressive it is.
This book is not perfect and it does suffer terribly from the awful set up that the current Fantastic Four series has. All the events that lead to this moment are stupid and the way the team has fallen apart is laughable at best, however if you take all of that at face value then this is the logical conclusion. I say logical, but for me it fails on one level, Sue stopped. If it was my child then she would never have been allowed to leave in the first place (but that is the fault of the series, not of this comic) and if I were in this position then there would not have been a building left standing in Latveria, nor a shred of skin or metal on Doom’s broken body. But then perhaps Sue is a hero at heart?
* And anyone with a brain can see that Steve is wrong…