Monday, July 19, 2010

George Perez July: Fantastic Four Annual #14

Fantastic Four Annual #14 (1979)
George Perez/Marv Wolfman-Perez/Keith Pollard/Pablo Marcos

Doug: If it's the middle of July, then we must be heading toward the homestretch of our George Perez extravaganza. After a couple of weeks of Avengers, it off to see what he was doing in the pages of Fantastic Four as the 1970's drew to a close.

Karen: I know most people don't think of Perez' FF work immediately but he really brought some needed vitality to the book. I recall being much more interested in the FF and picking it up on a regular basis when Perez came aboard.

Doug: After a comment from regular BAB reader Edo Bosnar, I tried to edit my start of this post using a more-appreciative eye and an open mind. I'm talking about the inks of Pablo Marcos. Generally, I don't care for him; I didn't care for him back in '79 and I can usually spot his work here in '10 (even without my bifocals!). I might even take you up on a bet that I could pick out the pages in this book that were inked by Keith Pollard and those inked by Marcos. He often has a heavy line that, coupled with the printing techniques available in days of yore sometimes makes the page appear muddy. In addition, his faces sometimes are too square-jawed and harsh-looking. Here are a few samples --

Doug: It's a matter of opinion, but give me Joe Sinnott on the FF anytime. I know that Karen addressed this same issue last Monday, so I don't mean to bring you all down by dragging it through the muck again -- I just feel very strongly about it. Next week's review of X-Men Annual #3 has Terry Austin on the inks; here's hoping for some sunshine!

Karen: Same here -you all know how I feel about these inks! Let's move on.

Doug: OK, I'm alright now. Just needed to vent on that a bit. Overall, this story is sort of a dud. It's a long tale with not a lot of payoff at the end. In effect, it's just a longer version of the debut of Salem's Seven from back in FF #'s 185-186. I guess I don't know where to cast the sideways glance -- at co-author and -artist Perez, or at co-author Marv Wolfman. At any rate, it's a weak story.

Karen: Agreed. This was one of those reviews I really drug my feet on because I knew I was not going to be all that thrilled with the story! Still, we're doing Perez annuals, so....

Doug: The FF is in a tussle with the Sandman as the book begins. Apparently ol' Flint Marko had been messing with Alicia and then decided to knock off a bank. Benjy and the rest of the FF swooped in, and flat-out teamworked him into submission. It was nice to see, as the FF should always outclass a stiff like the Sandman. After he's put down, the team retires to the Baxter Building, where governess and creepy-witch Agatha Harkness invites the team to a vacation in her old stomping grounds, New Salem, Colorado.

Karen: I agree with Ben: I'd rather go to Disneyworld! Seriously, the FF decides to take a break and they go to a town of witches? Another reason I refuse to believe that Reed Richards is the smartest man on the planet.
Doug: New Salem is a "quaint" Gothic-looking burg nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains. It's cloaked by magic, but suddenly appears when Agatha does a Bewitched nose-wiggle. The team hops out of their Jeep and greets some of the locals. Of course Johnny is drawn to the prettiest girl in town, who happens to be a "succubus" (don't think that I didn't giggle at that when I was 13 years old) and has been known to drain men's souls. While we see the FF getting acclimated to their new surroundings, we also see that there are those among the populace beginning to stir, those who recognize the Four and begin to set a plan into motion.

Karen: I think the characterization is dead-on, particularly Ben. The scene with Johnny is perfect. Perez also gets to display his skill at world-design here, with the gothic-looking New Salem.
Doug: When evening falls, Agatha leads the village in a ritual of renewal, but that's when our subversive friends show themselves to truly be Salem's Seven. You guessed it -- big battle goes down, we see enough of the baddies to understand each of their powers, and the FF gets whupped. Little Franklin runs away into the desert, and then comes back the following morning to discover that all of the witches are still screwed up. You see, Agatha's little bad boy Nicholas got his rump handed to him in FF #186 and now he's trying to get amongst the living. No dice (yet). Franklin screams out that he wants him mommy and daddy and in the process unleashes a mental bolt that breaks the spell. Agatha comforts him, and then tells him they'll go find his parents.

Karen: Ah yes, the all-powerful Franklin Richards. We were always getting these scenes in the 70s and 80s where Franklin would get upset and he'd perform some incredible act of power. In fact, he seemed to have the potential to alter reality much along the way that the Scarlet Witch is currently portrayed (and which is inconsistent with her past, but let's not go there now). The 'Days of Future Past' story line in X-Men showed us an adult Franklin who had learned to control his gifts. I'm not sure what the current view is of Franklin, and I suppose we'll never actually have him grow up in the mainstream books. But he was like a little deus ex machina just waiting to be used back in these years.
Doug: Overall Perez's art is really good. The storytelling is solid, the figures look great, everything you'd expect from him even at this stage of his career. The only complaint I have is an aerial shot of the Baxter Building, and the scale is all off. It's just drawn as way less square footage than it should really have. But that's a small gripe, as the rest of the story looks pretty good.
Doug: As Salem's Seven attempt to make the conduit to get Nicky Scratch back on Earth, they cast a spell that begins to push all humans out of NYC (seriously? That's almost as dumb as that old Marvel Team-Up when Hercules towed Manhattan Island on his back...) and we get the obligatory guest-shots of Spidey, the Defenders, and the Avengers. Cross-marketing, I suppose. In the end, the FF turn bad, turn good, and Agatha Harkness proves that she's a way-better witch than N. Scratch is a warlock, and even a disembodied one at that. All's well that ends well, I say!

Karen: Didn't Agatha Harkness seem insanely powerful in this book? She seemed on the same level as Dr. Strange. I never got the impression before that she was anywhere near that potent. While it's well written and drawn, this issue really did nothing for me. I don't care to see the FF involved in magic -I know, super-powers, super-science, magic , what's the difference? I don't know, but it just rubs me the wrong way. And Salem's Seven just didn't do it for me. Sorry folks, but I'm ready for next Monday's entry: Perez and X-Men!


Edo Bosnar said...

Since I've been sort of called out, I guess I have to respond; actually, there's no point in re-hashing the merits of the art, I guess we can agree to disagree, but I rather liked it.
As for the issue as a whole, I really enjoyed it then, & still did when I read it much later. For me it was what an annual should be - a longer, done-in-one story that sort of refers to the main title but isn't necessarily tied to any ongoing storyline, with lots of over-the-top action. I agree that the FF work better with more "sciency"-type stories, but it's fun to have them involved in some mystical stuff now and then - and where better to do so than in an annual? So I have to say, while I can see where your criticisms are coming from, I still rank this among my top 10 favorite annuals of that period.

Doug said...

Edo --

I didn't mean to call you out; truth be told, I (and I think I can speak for Karen) have really appreciated your "dissenting opinion" on our little excursion into the Perez annuals. I really did look at this book a second and third time, and I want to thank you for that. My first impression was "Good god, I had forgotten how much I hated Pablo Marcos' inks!" But after your take on Avengers Annual #8, I went back through both books and decided that maybe it was just the faces; perhaps some or most of my disdain may lie with the printing techniques of the mid-70's. So don't think that there was any hostility directed your way -- contrarily, I consider myself in your debt.

I like your overall opinion of what an annual should be. I think Marvel had perhaps a better handle on these the first time around. I'd point to Avengers Annual #1, FF Annual #6, and DD Annual #1 as some really fun Silver Age "book-length" stories. It seemed that when this format was revived in the 1970's (while I looked forward to them) they too often seemed to be places where maybe some filler-material (you know, file stories for the dreaded deadline doom) or new or re-tread aritsts came to rest. I just never found this go-round of annuals to be as good as those first few years. Of course, there are exceptions -- bad ones then, and good ones in the '70's.

At any rate, I want to thank you again for all of your comments. Karen and I hoped we might stimulate a little conversation here and there, and you've certainly been a big part of that.



Edo Bosnar said...

Sorry if I gave you the impression I'm taking this all too seriously - actually my tongue was pretty firmly in my cheek when I said I felt "called out". Sometimes it's kind of hard to convey a humorous stance or sarcasm in blog comments.
As for annuals, god, I loved them when I was a kid - Marvel's annuals especially. As you both noted in a post somewhere before, annuals (& giant sizes and other specials) usually came out during the summer, so it was just one more thing to look forward in addition to the extra leisure time for reading...

J.A. Morris said...

I just re-read this the other day,in the Perez FF 'Visionaries' collection tpb.

I agree about Marcos' inking,but even with a better inker this story isn't very good.
The FF themselves are barely conscious for the whole issue. And Agatha and Franklin aren't interesting enough to carry an issue,especially a double sized annual. Franklin has always been an annoying character and got more annoying after this issue("Unca Ben",anyone?). It seems like none of the writers ever knew what to do with him,other than sending him away with Harkness or breaking bad on villains. He works best in the recent "Son of a Genius" one-shots.

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