Writer: Steve Niles
Artists: Leonard Kirk(p), Kris Justice(i), Lee Louridge(c)
Steve Niles isn't known for fluffy bunny stories. He's known for blood curdling horror, and the fan base he's amassed likely will be disappointed in his debut for Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four. As an example of the horror genre, this story makes for a favorable Fantastic Four tale, which is actually a good thing.
Niles opens the book with the FF racing forward to contain a fire. The Torch always used to do this, so there is a precedent. Niles splits the team into twos. Reed and Sue naturally go together in the Fantasticar, and the Torch rockets the Thing into the air. There's actually a lot being shown in these pages that's not being said. I'm impressed by Niles' faith in the reader's intellect to figure out how Johnny can carry a heavyweight like the Thing. He hints at the science in the fiction with hilarious, characteristic dialogue from the Thing, and let me just say that Nate Peikos' distinctive speech balloons are a fantastic touch: brick-like for the Thing, afire for the Torch.
Niles quickly establishes the FF as a family when Reed and Sue catch up to Johnny and Ben, who naturally get into trouble, however well meaning the intent. I don't know whether it was Niles or Leonard Kirk who thought of having Sue twit the Torch's head ala' Homer and Bart, but it's a brilliant example of visual characterization that immediately displays to the reader their relationship.
Niles cuts to the chase during this scene. Thunderbolt Ross has a problem and asks for the FF's help. The FF cut loose to California, and again Niles through the dialogue shows that he comprehends what makes these characters tick. The repartee captures the essence of Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny.
Ross explains that the Hulk has been destroying the Army's new planes, and he wants the Green Goliath stopped. He immediately wants Reed to confab with Bruce Banner. Again, Niles identifies himself as a superior writer. From this scene we can conclude that Ross doesn't know Banner and the Hulk are one. Niles simultaneously prepares for Ben's deduction, also a response stemming from his own nature. He does this in what seems to be a little character moment. Just a little bit that slips under the reader's radar and sets that reader up for a surprise that exemplifies Ben as more than just brawn.
Credit must also be given to Kirk and Justice. They have an interesting take on Ben that stays true to the quintessential design but strays from the exact model. How they animate the characters is more fascinating. Ben for instance looks quite involved when investigating a bowl of mints. The Torch is so bored with the technobabble that he starts to amuse himself by creating smoke rings.
Their depiction of character with regard to plot is especially stunning. The Hulk looks fierce when smashing through a plane, and any thought that the Hulk may be a robot or a Skrull leaves ones thoughts. After watching the Kirk/Justice/Louridge Hulk, there is no doubt in the reader's mind. That is the Hulk.
While the Hulk makes a violent guest appearance, Niles takes the story in directions far from the obvious ones. The hilarious chest puffing confrontation between the Hulk and the Thing appear to foreshadow a big ol slugfest, but Niles uses it to beat out a humorous comeuppance for one of the characters. Niles, Kirk, Justice and Louridge rather than going for the big crater producing fight, craft a tactical exercise suiting the FF. This outcome though isn't the only diversion from trope. Like Templeton does in this week's Marvel Adventures: Avengers, Niles banks on the intelligence of the characters and takes advantage of the newness of this particular continuity to arrive at thoroughly enjoyable and sensible ending.
I didn't know Niles was writing Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four. The title just happens to be on my subscription list. While I knew the Agents of Atlas art team would of course render an excellent job, I became somewhat nervous upon noting who wrote the story. As I became engrossed in "The Hulk" I discovered a writer capable of infusing wit and charm. Niles knows who the FF are. He knows how they are supposed to interact, and he knows how to kick off a beginning, maintain an exciting middle and come to a thrilling end.
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