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Fantastic Four #537

Posted: Tuesday, May 2, 2006
By: Dave Wallace



ďThe Hammer Falls: Part twoĒ

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Mike McKone (p), Andy Lanning, Cam Smith, Kris Justice (i), Paul Mounts (colours)

Publisher: Marvel Comics


Spoiler Warning: Itís going to be difficult to discuss my reaction to this issue without giving away full plot details, so please read the issue first if you donít want to be spoiled.

Review: Hot on the heels of an issue that had the impact of its final scene completely undermined by its own spoilerific cover, this monthís Fantastic Four brings us another mismatch of cover and content. This time, however, itís the content of the issue which betrays the promise of the cover image, as a completely misleading visual which shows Dr. Doom holding the Hammer of Thor aloft over the beaten bodies of the Fantastic Four gives way to a story which presents Doom and his robot army take on the FF and lose, failing to lift the Hammer of Thor, which remains stuck in a crater in Oklahoma at the issueís end. Still, youíve got to hand it to Marvelís marketing department for coming up with a great gimmick to sell these two issues, as Iím sure the promise of a Civil War tie-in (which is Ė for the moment at least - tenuous) and a Dr. Doom who wields Thorís hammer (which never happens) convinced a lot of people to buy these issues who wouldnít have looked at them twice if theyíd known how the story was really going to turn out.

JMS is obviously the go-to guy for these Civil War build-up issues, but he fares less well here than he did in his Amazing Spider-Man tie-in arc. Making such a thin story interesting is a tall order, and although Straczynski does his best to wring some drama and intrigue out of the story, thereís no disguising the fact that it basically exists only to move Dr. Doom out of limbo (both literally and figuratively) and get Thorís inevitable return to the Marvel Universe underway. As villains go, Doom is one of the easiest and most fun to root for, and itís difficult not to feel a little excited as he takes on the legions of hell itself in an extended flashback. His eventual return to the land of the living is, as many predicted, closely linked with Thorís recent demise and the return of his hammer to earth, although Victorís angry rejection of the unattainable prize at the issueís end does suggest that the two stories may not be destined to remain intertwined for much longer.

JMS writes Doom well, capturing the right mixture of regal grandeur, raw power and commanding presence that makes the character such a joy to read. Heís the closest thing that the Marvel Universe has to Darth Vader, and the writer employs him as such, showing how his fearsome reputation facilitates his easy return to Latveria as his lackeys quake in their boots, and providing him with nifty escape (in a very Star-Wars-esque shuttle) at the end of the issue. The writer also inserts a couple of great comedy moments for The Thing which made me smile, but solid characterisation and a couple of nice moments aside, thereís just not enough content here to make the issue worth picking up for anyone except FF or Thor fans.

Mike McKone & co. do their best to make the book as good-looking as possible, handling subtle visual elements like the close-ups on Doomís eyes which frame his hellish flashback with ease, and giving the scenes detailing the Doctorís escape a manic, fiery energy which serves the story well. McKone contributes some neat action scenes to the book, including a disturbing image of Reed stretching his hand through a Doombot, and some effective visuals of raw power such as Johnny Stormís fiery blast and the ďbeaconĒ which is emitted by Thorís hammer when Doom attempts to pick it up. Itís traditional super-hero action, but itís executed pretty well.

Ultimately though, the more enjoyable elements of the issue canít salvage the fact that the FF are almost bit-players in their own book here, making no impact whatsoever on Doomís plans and Ė save for some empty combat with a group of robots Ė seeming condemned to act only as spectators as the action progresses, whilst a final unnecessary coda hints even more blatantly that we donít have long to wait for the return of Thor. Itís a marginally more satisfying issue than the one which preceded it, but itís a close call: ultimately, this two-part story stands as more of a testament to Marvelís canny marketing strategy than to the storytellers involved, and only time will tell whether itís even an essential read if you want the full Civil War story.



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