Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Fantastic Four 242

Fantastic Four #242 (May 1982)"Terrax the Untamed"
story and art by John Byrne
Karen: We're finally getting around to a late Bronze Age favorite of many -John Byrne's writer/artist run on Marvel's oldest super-hero book, Fantastic Four. This will be a three part review of what we thought was one of the most memorable stories of his run. Byrne not only wrote and drew the book, but he inked it as well. I have to say I am not a fan of his inking his own work. It looks somewhat muddy to me, particularly after years of seeing him inked by Terry Austin over in X-Men. Still, the art is well done, if a bit thick.
Doug: Of course, as I've been saying during our last few Side-by-Side posts, the early '80's was my self-imposed exile from comics. While I caught Byrne's first run as artist on the FF, I didn't get the bulk of his writer-artist period until a few years after the fact. I agree that the art looks a bit muddy here, but I'd also say it could be due in part to the coloring and paper quality. Marvel was running a lot of full-color ads in this time, and that may have been somewhat of a contributing factor to the look of a given book. But yeah -- I'd prefer Terry Austin, or Joe Sinnott. We've commented often that Sinnott held the book together through many great pencillers.

Karen: Our story starts in the r
eaches of space, with a meteor storm moving at breakneck speed. We see that one large rock is under the control of Terrax, a herald of Galactus and a very nasty guy.

Doug: This opening scene was nicely rendered, but the obvious need for heavy blacks may have gotten us started with our "muddy" complaints. No Kirby Krackle here, though...

Karen: We then see the Richards family taking down the Christmas tree after New Year's. Sue comments on what a beautiful tree it is. Reed then shows her that it is one of his inventions, which causes her to go into a huff. Reed, of course, is cluele
ss as to why Sue is upset. But the real kicker is the discovery that Franklin may be getting his powers back. Since the kid may have unlimited potential, his parents are fairly concerned.

Doug: The one thing I've always loved about Byrne's writing, although admittedly it can become a fault, is his seeding of subplots. We don't get that sort of writing today, as all stories are mandated to be six issues long. Gotta sell those trade paperb

Karen: Meanwhile (or as Byrne writes in the caption, "Elsewhere
"), the Thing is walking around Central Park when he is accosted by some young toughs. Since he's wrapped up in a coat and hat they don't recognize him 'til they've ticked him off. Now really, the guy is like 5 feet wide? That doesn't strike them as odd? Anyway, he rolls them up in a giant snowball and then Alicia shows up. This segment and the one with Reed and Sue really felt very Lee/Kirby era style, which I presume Byrne was aiming for, so he succeeded.

Doug: One word -- characterization. The scenes you speak of serve only to let us in on the lives and mannerisms and relationships of these great characters.

Karen: Else-elsewhere, Johnny and his girlfriend Frankie Ray -also
a human torch -are at their friend Julie's play rehearsal. Julie and her fellow actor are spouting lines out of Elfquest, an independent comic some of you might remember. Everything's just swell until the sky suddenly starts looking like a twisted crossword grid. The two torches flame on and head off to check it out.

Doug: I totally did not know the Elfquest angle. How do you know that? Did it strike you as somewhat of a throwback that right after this scene, and again a bit after that, that Frankie
was handled by Byrne as Stan would have handled a female character 15 years earlier?
Karen: Oh, I was an Elfquest fan back in the day, and that's a pretty famous scene. As for Frankie, honestly, I felt like both she and especially Sue were pulled right from circa 1967. These definitely were not Claremont women! At least She-Hulk, when she showed up, seemed more modern.

Karen: The Thing has returned to the Baxter Building when the two torches come flying in, telling everyone to duck. Suddenly Terrax arrives
and a slug fest ensues.There's a nice panel that covers the bottom of two pages, when Ben punches Terrax through three buildings.

Doug: This scene is really exciting, due in no small part to Byrne's panel lay-outs. Just prior to Ben's belting Terrax across town, the former herald gives Ben a major-league beatdown... literally!

Karen: But Terrax is no lightweight. He quickly recovers and positions himself atop the World Trade Center (Boy does that age this book or what?). He begins sending out waves of force, using his powers over earth to actually rip a chunk of Manhattan loose. For whatever reason, Mr. Fantastic has the Invisible Woman use her power to turn the energy visible -not sure why that was important. We get some cameo shots of Peter Parker, Thor, Iron Man, and Daredevil, all stunned by what's happening. Thor and Iron Man g
et a little more time, as they work together to free people trapped by the damage. Spidey attempts to latch on to the floating city but his webs won't stick to the force field surrounding it.

Doug: The WTC. Yep -- quite ironic, as we were writing this post in the couple of days surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. Bookend events to mark the time of our lives. But back to the funnybook, the web with which Terrax engulfed Manhattan had a similar vibe to the various cloaking efforts the Watcher made to protect the Earth from the Silver Surfer's inaugural arrival to our planet. I really enjoyed the guest appearances of Thor and IM, and even of Spidey. DD's inclusion was questionable. I'll add that I thought the cameo box on the cover was detracting from the rest of the art. Oh, and I love that corner box! This was during the time when Byrne used a different look for the corner of each issue. A nice touch...

Karen: Reed, Ben, and Johnny put on space suits (Reed has a hunch they'll need them) and go to confront Terrax, leaving Frankie to protect the helpless Sue, whose use of her power has weakened her. Now that definitely sounds like a Lee/Kirby wo
man -utterly helpless and weak from using her powers! Hoo boy....

Doug: True confession time -- I seriously had not read ahead when I started to add my comments to yours. Guess we both felt the same way about Frankie's handling! Two-plus years of collaboration will do that to critics, I guess!

Karen: Well, we probably agree more often than not -Siskel and Ebert we ain't! When our trio of heroes reach Terrax they discover that he has moved the city into space, where they see Galactus' ship. Terrax tells them that his master's power is at its lowest ebb. Turns out the rocky faced bad guy wants the FF to take out Galactus!

Doug: Nothing like a suicide mission, huh?

Karen: A pretty good set-up to the story to come. I did fe
el that some of the characterizations were a bit too much of a throwback to the 60s, but there's no denying that Byrne understands the team and its dynamics. He also conveyed events of a grand scale quite well.

Doug: I wholeheartedly agree with you. This one seems to exude "epic" right from this first chapter -- I'm looking forward to the next two issues!


Edo Bosnar said...

This was truly an epic story - and a great follow-up to the last good FF story prior to Byrne's takeover: that space opera story that sprawled over ten issues of the title a few years earlier.
And although I agree with you about some of Byrne's characterizations vis-a-vis women, at the time these were coming out I was too young to pick up on it and I just ate these stories up. Byrne turned FF into my favorite title for a while. (And I have to respectfully disagree about the art: I still think it looks absolutely, well, fantastic.)
One other thing: I don't think the appearance of the WTC dates these issues so much as Frankie's friend Julie, or at least the way she dressed. I don't have these issues any more, but I seem to recall that in most of her appearances she either wore leg-warmers or Daisy Dukes.

Doug said...

I would not dispute Byrne's line work -- figurally, it's great. And although Sinnott has (for some) a heavy line, it's got a polished look to it. Upon further review I'll stick to my "muddy" comments, but I'll add that the coloring in the issue may be partly to blame. Saying that, I do think the use of zipatone for Terrax's skin, as shown in the last panel, gives off a look I don't find attractive, even set against the white or light gray background.

But I'd never quibble that Byrne is one of the masters -- I just prefer him when partnered with someone who brings out the best in him.


J.A. Morris said...

I think the art looks good but not great here,his inking of himself improved around the 250s, the Negative Zone story. But he was never as good as Austin.

Karen wrote:
"There's a nice panel that covers the bottom of two pages, when Ben punches Terrax through three buildings."

Byrne was great at that at this time. There's a similar scene in #249, where Gladiator punches Ben through 5 or 6 cars.
And yes,you're correct about the Lee-Kirby-Byrne women, it gets old.

William said...

Drool. This issue was the beginning of one of my favorite stories. This was also the first Byrne written and drawn FF issue that I actually picked up. Back in the days before the internet, or even mags like Wizard, it wasn't as easy to get information on what was going on in comics. So, I didn't even notice that Byrne was doing the FF until this issue caught my eye. (I then quickly proceeded to pick up all the back issues to catch up). Unfortunately I sold off most my original issues of this series back in the early 90's, (except for this 3 part story and the 2 parter where they fight Gladiator). However, I have since replaced all of them with the eight trades that reprint the entire run. In fact, I have recently been rereading them from the beginning and I am currently up to volume 4. So, coincidently, I just finished this story not too long ago.

I make no secret that I am a huge Byrne fan, and I love his art (no matter who's inking it). That said, I did prefer the days when Austin inked him as well, but this was still beautiful work.

On a side note, one of my personal favorite single comic issues is Marvel Two-In-One #50. In that story the Thing travels back in time and ends up getting in a fight with his younger (and angrier) self. Byrne both wrote and drew that issue and that was the first time I realized that he could write almost as good as he draws. In that story I loved his rendition of the lumpy version of the Thing, and I thought it was really cool that Ben was looking like that again at the time of this story. Bottom line this issue is all kinds of awesome, and I can't wait for the next two parts of this review.

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