Fantastic Silver Screen

The youngest of my four cousins, about ten years older than I, briefly collected comic books during the ‘70s. His favorite was The Fantastic Four. Whenever we'd visit their family for the holidays, and I'd be bored, my aunt let me read his old issues. It was one of the first sparks that led me to collecting comics of my own by the time I was in high school, a habit I didn't break until after college, and an interest I'll probably maintain at the very least an awareness of for the rest of my life.

I personally didn't see the appeal of the FF at first. Perhaps it was the hype. The cover of every issue boasted “The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!” above the logo. I wasn't sure it was, and the teams I favored were The Avengers and the X-men. I will say that The Thing has always been one of my favorite Marvel characters, and I'd put him in my top three alongside Beast and Spider-man. Monsters, outcasts, and/or nerds rank high for me; go figure. I also think The Thing's real name, “Ben Grimm”, is one of the best names in comics.

Eventually the team grew on me. They could be a little bit campy at times, then swing too far into melodrama. There was an attempt to modernize them in the nineties, a period during which their arch-nemesis Doctor Doom had blown himself up apparently, killing team leader Reed Richards in the process and taking his hated rival down as a final act of defiance. Reed's widow, Sue, at the time sporting a skimpier costume closer to something one of the female X-men would wear, took charge of the team, refusing to believe Reed was really gone. After about two years, our time, she was proven right. The storylines during this period actually weren't that bad, but they didn't fit The Fantastic Four. They're not the X-men, nor are they Avengers(although technically, 3/4 of them were on the Avengers team at some point, but that's another story). As Tobey Maguire's character aptly muses in The Ice Storm, the FF are first and foremost a family. It's part classic science fiction, and part superhero adventure, but really it works best as a blend of sitcoms and soap operas set against a backdrop of those other genres.

I guess that's why I enjoyed the first movie. The ending was a little rushed, and they unfortunately butchered Doom, the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe. But what they got right was the family dynamic, the unique personalities and the way the four related to each other. The friendly rivalry between the Thing and the Torch was particularly spot-on, lifted right out of the comics.

Next year, the team returns to the big screen in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. As with the first film, I wasn't planning on getting my hopes up. Adapting the origin of The Silver Surfer from issues #48-50 in the mid-'60s is certainly an ambitious undertaking. I can understand why the Surfer wouldn't get his own movie, since his comic origins were so closely tied to the FF. Norrin Radd of the planet Zenn-La made a deal with Galactus, the devourer of worlds. Galactus spared his planet, but Norrin became his herald, and was granted the power cosmic as Galactus turned him into the Silver Surfer. With his new ability to soar the cosmos and control energy, he sought out worlds, uninhabited ones, for his new master to sate his appetite.

The arrangement worked out fine until the fateful day when Galactus was depleted of energy, and the nearest world that suited his needs was Earth. The Surfer was faced with a difficult choice, and eventually was swayed into helping the Fantastic Four against Galactus. For his betrayal, Galactus allowed him to keep his powers but fashioned a barrier around the Earth that he couldn't penetrate. The world would be his prison, and he'd roam the galaxy no more. Eventually Marvel let him out when he got his own series in the ‘90s, one that was quite successful thanks to major crossovers such as Infinity Gauntlet. It was around this time that the character became another of my favorites.

The other day, B13 sent me a link to the first trailer for the new film. I must have watched it about fifteen times by now. The beginning is a little light, focusing on the wedding of Reed and Sue, one of the better stories found in my cousin's collection of comics. Blink and you'll miss Brian Posehn marrying the couple, casting that earned the film major geek points. There's a sitcom-esque quip from the Torch about his tux right before Reed sends him to investigate the streak of light overhead, the newly-arrived Surfer. The moment Johnny shouts his trademark cry of “FLAME ON!”, it's all action. Insanely good, T1000 on a flying surfboard action at times looked like comic panels from my childhood were moving on my screen. The teaser trailer is better than the first film already, and if the rest of the movie is that good, with that proportion of humor and action, then I think I'm in for a treat next year. I can't imagine how they'll adapt Galactus though; I think a literal translation of his costume with the giant helmet might look stupid on an actor. Maybe it won't follow the comic arc at all.

It's really great how far special effects have progressed, and how comic book movies can now look this good. Between this movie, Spider-man 3, and Ghost Rider, 2007 could be a very good year for Marvel.


Blogger Darrell said...

I can't help but worry about the prospect of Galactus on the silver screen. I'm a big fan of the character and I enjoy his complexity (he's not a bad guy, he just is what he is), but I worry that he'll just seem like a big goofy giant with a weird hat in the movie. Unless they change him entirely, which is even worse.

12/29/2006 7:41 AM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

Ghost Rider? I thought Ghost Rider came out in 2006, like in March or something. I could have sworn I saw it advertised...

12/29/2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger Kev said...

I haven't seen FF1 yet, but FF2 from the trailer alone looks excellent.

12/29/2006 10:20 AM  
Blogger Otis said...

That trailer was great! I can't wait.

12/29/2006 9:53 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow said...

Fantastic Four Annual #3, the original "Reed and Sue get married" story, was the comic book that started my lifelong obsession, way back in the mid-'60s. My copy was a hand-me-down (from a cousing, no less) with the cover missing, if I recall correctly.

I still have a soft spot for the FF to this day. I wasn't a big fan of the first movie, but the new trailer looks interesting.

12/30/2006 3:45 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

I think what I liked about that issue was the appearance of Matt Murdock and all the other Marvel heroes, keeping an eye on NYC and making sure the wedding went off with the only hitch it was supposed to go off with. I think that was the first time I read a story with so many characters teaming up.

12/30/2006 4:40 PM  

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