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.
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!!!