Thursday, September 07, 2006

FANTASTIC FOUR #290 Marvel Comics, 1986


One could make a compelling argument that the villains in DC Comics are better than the villains in Marvel Comics, or visa versa. I don’t know whose Rogue’s Gallery is better. How can you decide when you have to factor in cats like The Joker and Dr. Doom? I mean, The Joker is a bona fide cultural icon, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in my decades of comic book reading, it is that Doom reigns supreme. It's a tough call.

I will save the debate as to the relative merits of DC and Marvel villains for another day and instead focus on one area of villaindom where Marvel clearly reigns supreme: The Ranting Powerhouse.

Marvel has a ton of these guys: Mr. Hyde, Abomination, The Wrecker, The Executioner, Rhino, Terrax, even The Hulk… These are individuals who throw cars down city streets while screaming about how they are the strongest of all or how their power is supreme or how all will bow before them.

Fantastic Four #290 features not one but TWO Ranting Powerhouses: Blastaar and Annihilus. You cannot get better villain names than Blastaar and Annihilus. Except for Dr. Doom.

Take a look at my man Annihilus. Gaze upon his beauty and despair:

This guy has all the classic traits of a Ranting Powerhouse. He refers to himself in third person. He's enamored with his own power. He brags and is prone to wildly hyperbolic statements. Annihilus also speaks VERY LOUDLY. The only thing he is missing is a mountain of smoldering skulls to pose on or a mini-van to hurl.

It may not look it, but Ranting Powerhouses like Annihilus are very concerned with brand identity. They have a certain image to maintain and cultivate in order for them to be successful at what they do. Annihilus is all about annihilating things, so the Annihilus brand reflects that. He has a monstrous, intimidating appearance that communicates, "I am dangerous. Look out." Annihilus reinforces his brand by a) annihilating things, and b) raving maniacally. If nobody is afraid of a Ranting Powerhouse, he's doing something horribly wrong. As long as Annihilus stays focused and maintains his brand behavior consistently, the Annihilus brand is effective.

Observe:

Now that is effective word-of-mouth image marketing. The Invisible Woman has prior experience with Annihilus and knows that his behaviour is consistent with his brand image - he annihilates things. She communicates this to She-Hulk, but little does she know that she is quoting literally from the Annihilus press release: "...he lives only to destroy, to annihilate..." She-Hulk's first impression of the Annihilus brand is exactly as desired.

None other than Reed Richards himself is also caught up in the Annihilus hype:

If that isn't brand reinforcement, I don't know what is. That image should be on Annihilus's website and on his business cards, it's perfect.

Okay, jeez, enough of that joke. That went on for a while, didn't it? Sometimes I don't know when to stop.

I realized that in all my excitement about Annihilus, I neglected to get a decent scan of Blastaar, which is a pity because he is kind of cute in a Tasmanian Devil way. He looks like the biker dad of Animal from The Muppet Show. Look, there he is cowering at the bottom of the panel:

I don't know that I have ever talked about John Byrne's lengthy run on Fantastic Four. I came to them late and collected and read the back issues. When I worked in a comic book store in college, I was responsible for sifting through all of our backstock and culling books that would never sell at back issue prices or that we had way too many of. I decided that we had way, way too many of the Byrne Fantastic Four comics so I put them in the quarter bins at the end of my shift, and then I bought them all at a massive discount and I was happy.

Boy, was I happy.

This might sound blasphemous, but to me, John Byrne's version of FF is THE definitive version, the classic model. I had only a fleeting exposure to the characters when I was growing up, so to me, this IS the Fantastic Four. I could do a whole week on just the Byrne issues; he wrote and drew a ton of great FF stories that expanded on but remained faithful to Stan & Jack's original model. You could tell Byrne held the characters in a certain reverance and was really engaged in making the book, which was likely a lifelong dream of his. Sure, the book started to lose steam towards the end, but for my money Byrne had a great run on the book.

One of things I like about Byrne's earlier work is that he teamed up with some great inkers. I really prefer seeing Byrne's pencils inked by somebody other than himself; I think it forces him to do tighter pencil work. This issue is inked by affable Al Gordon, who does a decent job with all the cosmic stuff and spaceships...

Now that is some cool shit right there.

I wasn't so crazy about Gordon's inking when it came to faces and hair. I'm not sure what it is, perhaps Gordon's style is not organic enough or he doesn't use a heavy enough line - somehow his faces look off. Of course, he had the unenviable task of inking the Frightful Haircut version of The Invisible Woman in FF #290:

Here's a tip for all you ladies out there who are considering going down to SuperCuts with their brothers to get matching haircuts: don't. It is not flattering. Look at her - no wonder she's pissed, she must have caught her reflection in a shiny surface and seen her hair! She Hulk is laughing her ass off in the background and Conan O'Brien back there doesn't look happy either.

Well, that's all for today. What? What do you mean, "what's the comic book about?" You got a couple of cheap gags, now you want a plot synopsis, too?

True believer, if I told you the terrifying tale of fright and fury found in Fantastic Four #290, the pillars of your tiny world would be rocked and you'd react just like Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. :

'Nuff said! Excelsior!!!

41 comments:

Duoae said...

Now, i only own 5 "comic books" and all of them are collections... but i really enjoy reading your site as i've always been a fan of (of course) Batman, Spiderman, Xmen and Iron Man - not so much the FF or others that are considered popular - but when you mentioned Blastarr it immediately reminded me of the cross-over book i have of "Blink" during the whole other-dimension of the Xmen saga where Blastarr and Annihilus are at odds with each other and *Spoiler alert!*

Blastarr has changed Annihilus into a "weak" but good guy.... who falls in love with Blink and ultimately is so affected by this madness that i'm sure it must pop up later in his timeline.

ANyway onto my point Blastarr looks and acts a little tougher than the image you give, but it appears that his whole race of chimp-a-likes all look the same. The only really distinguishing feature he has from his hairy bretheren is that he talks in black rather than white bubbles :) Completely random and useless information, i know, but i was compelled to join in ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is brilliant. Now I just need to get a job writing mission statements for second-rate villains. "It's not working with paste for Peter. It's creating a living, breathing trap."

Cyn said...

Another good post, i actually like the fantastic four, which is nice, and it was nice to read up on another person's opinion. ^-^ I agree with you about The Invisible Woman's hair cut... that's just.... ugh... horrid... I think Annihilus is more sexy than that hair cut.. but I could be pushing it a bit. ^_^

Cyn

Anonymous said...

Oooh, panels from a time when Byrne was good. I miss that John Byrne.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Torch does look like Conan, doesn't he?

Anonymous said...

The Byrne run was great until the formerly lavel-headed Sue went nuts and became Malice.

Reno said...

BOB WIACEK. Best Byrne inker EVER.

Bully said...

JOHN WORKMAN. Best letterer, EVER.

Anonymous said...

Get job at comic book store. Put comics I want into quarter bin. Buy said comics at end of day.

That is the best idea I've heard all day.

Anonymous said...

Branding. Heh. Excellent. I like Annihilus--he is indeed one of the best of the Ranting Powerhouses. And considering that he's actually just a highly-mutated bug, his story has an Algeresque rags-to-riches quality that should be an inspiration to us all. Or not. But it would sure look good on that press release.

On the other hand, I can't hear him going on about his all-powerful "Cosmic Control Rod" without without wondering if he isn't really talking about his, um, Giant-Size Man-Thing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. but don't forget John did the Curling Iron from Space.

- Sleestak

Anonymous said...

Dave, thanks for giving props to Byrne's FF run. Although I enjoyed FF as a kid throughout the '70s (Salem's Seven-- HELL YEAH!!!) I really think that Byrne's run was the definitive take. In some ways, it's even better than the original Lee/Kirby, though I know that's a dangerously heretical remark to make.

And let's all remember that it was Byrne who upped Sue Storm from Girl to Invisible Woman (though I agree with Beta Ray Steve that the Malice run was a bit wank.)

And for what it's worth, I think that Byrne's art with Trevor Scott's inks on the new Atom book looks pretty damn good.

Mob said...

I remember Sue's awful haircut from this time period.

Yes indeed, back when Bryne was a reliable Brand himself.

Mike Haseloff said...

All hail Byrne's FF!

I really miss caring about the FF, but it's been a good long time since the title's really dragged me in without choice.

I'm not fooling for hammer wielding gauntlet covers!

I have been enjoying the Annihilus centric Annihilation storyline, though.

It's a well crafted cosmic tale about Annihilus destroying AND most importantly, ANNIHILATING!

Hmmm... I see your point about brand...

running42k said...

I like Burns stuff too. Great bit about the marketing image. Let me guess what kind of meetings you have been in this week.

And the Fury photo reminds me of a really shitty scotch called Sheep Dip.

David Campbell said...

Sheep Dip! My dad has a bottle of that - vile, peaty stuff.

Anonymous said...

You could have expanded on Blastaar! He was so over the top. His catch phrase was:

"I am Blastaar the Living Bomb-burst! And what ever I touch, I destroy!"

That still sticks with me 25 years later, so you know that his brand recognition is working!

Mark said...

I have to say I'd be disappointed if you didn't review the end of the story, especially the cover where Nick Fury is about to take out Hitler.

Still, ANNIHILUS! THE LIVING DEATH WHO WALKS!

Anonymous said...

I loved this run, up until the old guy/stuck in 1936 plot line.

And the cover of this issue is among my favorites: not only becasue of the way Reed is all twisty, but I'ze a sucker for the floating heads effect.

Anonymous said...

Although at times the art faltered, I agree you can rarely find a more kickass FF than Byrne's.

Annihilus is the new villain in Annihilation. What's great about him in this one is his motivation: "Our" universe is encroaching on his Negative zone, so... he responds by wiping out everything in the Marvel U that's not Earth or Shi'Ar. Fantastic!

call me jack... said...

heehee... thanks for the laugh dave! again I remind myself of my need for business cards.

Anonymous said...

Rather than enlarge the Reed-narrated panel, I read it straight from the post, leaving me to wonder what "the full, unbroiled power of the cosmic control rod" was.

Anonymous said...

Dave - really enjoy your blog! compile all these posts in a book two years from now - it'd be a smash.

Dan said...

Byrne's FF run kinda makes me sad, for a variety of reasons. It really was a pinnacle for the FF, and with a few very brief exceptions (Walt Simonson's kickass run, the good parts of Mark Waid's hot-and-cold stint), Marvel has handled the book like used toilet paper since then. This ought to be the flagship book that they're absolutely steering top-flight talent towards. But it's considered second-rate most of the time.

The other reason it makes me sad is that Byrne himself has descended so far into self-parody and near-lunacy since the glory days.

K.Fox, Jr. said...

The Awesomeness!!!!!!!!!!! That was funny, dude. Awesome. F'in A!!!

Anonymous said...

Current John Byrne sucks so hard that he has even sucked all the life out of the comics he ever did. This includes X-Men and FF.

I could almost look back on his FF with fond memories except for Johnny and Alicia getting married. I mean, ugh. I know the way they fixed it after he left (by making Alicia into a Skrull) sucked giant donkey dicks, but it was still better than Byrne's arbitrary manner of mucking it up in the first place.

(I can't believe I ever liked The Next Men. Maximum suckitude.)

Anonymous said...

Byrne seems to think that anyone who thinks that his run was The Best Ever (and/or Really Enjoyable) is a bit strange. Which make me think /he's/ a bit strange. (Or, really, kind of an asshole.)

I want more Dave Campbell On Doom. I really do.

Anonymous said...

I always feel kind of sorry for Blastarr; I mean, he's an okay villain, but he comes form the same universe as Annihilus, so the two of them are always going to be compared, and let's face it, Blastarr's just not as cool as the Living Death That Walks.

Speaking of, that's always struck me as a name on par with Deathstroke the Terminator.

I mean, it seems like you only need to be Deathstroke OR The Terminator.

In the same way, you could either be "The Living Death" or "The Death that Walks" but both seems kind of redundant, and like maybe you're trying to overcompensate for something.

I mean, are there other guys in the Negative Zone named "The Living Death That Slithers" and "The Dead Death That Walks" and he's trying to prevent confusion?

My favorite "Ranting Powerhouse" will always be Ultron. For a murderous robot he just seems so damn peppy.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, and Ultron has that whole 'glowing energy mouth' thing going, which I think makes anything he says even more dramatic. Plus you just know that he has built-in Ranting Speakers, with bass boost, even--I don't think any self-respecting robotic megalomaniac would be without them. The peppiness is probably just a software thing, though.

Another good name is Null the Living Darkness, because that's way scarier than all that non-living darkness.

Stuart Ian Burns said...

The problem I have with Gorton's inking is that it tends to make all of the characters look about the same facially -- as well as the haircuts, there are often moments in these issues when it's difficult to tell immediately if Sue or Johnny are speaking...

BIG said...

Wow. That really is a bad hair-don't on the invisible woman. Good thing she can make it invisible.

Looks like Conan O'Brien, which isn't so great on a dude, much less Sue.

Anonymous said...

Susan's 80's hair is hilarious. Is there a website anywhere that tracks hair cuts of super-heroes over the decade?

Anonymous said...

Was Byrne responsible for Black Canary having the same terrible haircut? She has it in Legends, which he drew...

James said...

Was Byrne responsible for Black Canary having the same terrible haircut? She has it in Legends, which he drew...

And Lois Lane has it in Man of Steel. Yeah, I see a pattern here.

Anonymous said...

Thinking about the Negative Zone and its inhabitants reminded me of Marvel Two-in-One #75, featuring the Thing & the Avengers against no less than Annihilus, Blastaar, and the Super-Adaptoid, plus the usual horde o' minions. Now that's an epic battle right there, no matter how you slice it. Plus it started out with one of those beer-drinking, cigar-smoking superhero poker games.

[SPOILER ALERT] As I recall, the Thing ended up beating the Super-Adaptoid all by himself by pulling one of those classic "Ben Grimm never quits as long as he's conscious" feats. The Adaptoid used the Vision's density powers to solidify its fists inside the Thing, but instead of passing out from the pain like everybody else does, Ben kept bludgeoning it until it shut down. Proving once again that Ben Grimm has more heart than almost anybody in the Marvel Universe. Good stuff.

Eric said...

really funny post, i've just discovered your blog -- and it's great! i myself am a fan of comics, but i rather a good graphin novel instead of a huge series of superhero strips (take v for vendetta versus wolverine -- i'll take v anytime).
my favourite all time villain remains the joker -- nothing beats vintage

Evan Waters said...

I just love Annihilus' goals- he wants to kill everybody and everything so that he'll never lose his power or die. You don't have to wonder what would happen if he conquered the world- he'd stand on the ruins, cackling for eternity.

Anonymous said...

hulkster writes: "This ought to be the flagship book that they're absolutely steering top-flight talent towards. But it's considered second-rate most of the time."

"top flight talent" isn't any guarantee. They could put JMS on it, and he'd probably make the FF into elemental totems or some similar mystic crap.

"Prestigious" talent isn't necessarily the best for a title. A rookie writer might well do a better job than an A-list writer who's busy with three other titles, and side projects.

Felix Pardalis said...

Damn, why didn't you give the plot? Now I'm gonna have to dig this issue out of my collection. Nice blog, btw; I came for Megaforce, stayed for Byrne's FF.

lazy_cg said...

they all looked extremely sunburned

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