I Want My Marvel NOW: Fantastic Four #1, Avengers Assemble #9, Thor #1, and the X-Men!

gp_ff

It was a huge day for Marvel NOW today, as six titles came out under the "reboot that isn't a reboot" banner - four all-new books and two jump-on issues of existing titles. You can read about the previous Marvel NOW releases here. To recap, until today, I liked Deadpool the most, and even after today's haul, A+X remains the least satisfying of the bunch. Fantastic Four is near and dear to my heart. This is the comic series that first got me interested in comics. I watched the old cartoon with HERBIE - even watched the teen Ben Grimm TV show, the one with the "Thing Ring" - and because of Fantastic Four, the first comic book artist and writer I ever followed was John Byrne, whose landmark run in the 1980s is still looked up to as the second most definitive run on the book after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I've checked in on the book now and again over the years, but the only time I've had it on my pull list recently was under the care of Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo.

The good news is that Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley's Fantastic Four feels more like the spiritual successor to Waid's run than anything I've read since. Fraction lays down a new direction - the team are going to slip out of time and space for a bit to teach their children practical lessons in inter-dimensional exploration (while Reed searches for a solution to a newly discovered physical problem he has; one that can't be solved on Earth), but the tone is highly reminiscent of Waid's. There's good-natured humor, comfortable characterization, and an air of anything-goes unpredictability that hints at future greatness.

gp_avass

Bagley seems to be trying something a little different with his art style. There are hints of Alan Davis (or Bryan Hitch by way of Alan Davis, who was obviously an influence on Hitch), but I'm not sure that those kind of larger open panels, with more detail, serve Bagley well. I'd almost rather see him swing the other direction - stripping away his linework to get down to efficient cartooning - but that's Monday morning quarterbacking on my part. Admittedly, I've never been a Bagley fan, though my opinion of his work has mellowed over the past twenty years (when he replaced Larsen on Amazing Spider-Man, I was one sad Spidey fan). He's a workhorse, and that's admirable.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Yes. I'm in. It'll be nice to read this Fantastic Four every month.

Avengers Assemble is the Avengers book that's supposed to best match the Avengers movie. The thinking here is that someone interested in the team can buy this book and get the characters they expect, behaving pretty much the same way that Joss Whedon made them behave in the blockbuster. It's the movie tie-in that isn't a movie tie-in. Brian Michael Bendis, already stretched thin writing two Avengers titles, always seemed like an odd choice for this series, and I was curious how Kelly Sue DeConnick (currently the fastest rising star in comics) would approach the book, knowing that she'd be adding a couple of characters from outside the movie roster (Spider-Woman and Capt. Marvel).

Well, she approached it like DeMatteis/Giffen's Justice League, which I don't think I've ever seen applied to Avengers before. The book's number one goal seems to be amusement, with adventure bringing up the rear. It's a very playful take on the team. DeConnick writes Tony Stark as Robert Downey Jr. straight-up, not even pretending not to (Gillen walks a finer line in the Iron Man monthly, reviewed here). If you're an Iron Man purist, you might wrinkle your nose, but if you love the Iron Man films, this is the Stark you know.

gp_thor

Heck, if you loved the Avengers movie, this is the book for you. DeConnick seems to be capturing an overall spirit of what she enjoyed about the film (the chemistry between the crew), not tied to servicing specific movie nods like making sure Black Widow or Hawkeye show up (they don't). Stefano Castelli is called on to do a variety of facial expressions more than big action (just like Kevin Maguire did on Justice League), and he's a better match with DeConnick's sensibilities than Dexter Soy is with her on Captain Marvel.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Yes, but not monthly. Not yet.  It's so, so close though. I think I need some reassurance from Marvel that this is a book they actually care about, not just a (well-written and entertaining) movie supplement. I need to know that this book is going places.

Thor: God of Thunder sort of shocked me with how good it is. It has the same doomed campfire tale feel as Conan comics have, and the art is really phenomenal. I love Jason Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men, and pretty much hated Aaron's Hulk, so I had no idea what to expect with this book. Aaron sets up the story of a mystery godkiller who has affected Thor's life across three different eras. The book eschews superheroics for hard fantasy, and benefits greatly because of it. Not all ice cream should be vanilla.

Dean White is giving Esad Ribic's art a beautiful painted feel, and the team is already indispensable to this title. Often, art this good can't be maintained on a month-to-month basis, and my one hope for the book is that it finds a way to always look this good as it continues. Aaron's writing is solid, but this is really a "perfect storm" book - where the art and the words work together to create an exemplary final package. One piece of it is not more important nor more impressive than the other.

gp_wanx

I can't believe I'll be buying a Thor book on a monthly basis, but there you have it.

I'd mentioned Wolverine and the X-Men as a book I already enjoy, but issue #19 is the first to bear the Marvel NOW name. What does that mean for new readers? The same thing it means for old readers, turns out. There's big shake-ups going on at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, and #19, while not a new direction, introduces new dynamics and fresh storylines for the future of the book. The gimmick here, if you haven't read it, is that Wolverine has started a school in Jean Grey's name to educate young mutants and let the kids be kids instead of X-Men-in-training. Wolverine is a presence in the title, but the book is really an ensemble piece, with Kitty Pryde and Beast sharing the spotlight with the eclectic student body.

#19 is literally packed with cameos from all across the Marvel Universe, heavy on the humor, and if you try this issue and don't like it, you're probably not going to like the series. Kitty's looking for a new teacher, Wolverine and Beast are assisting a comatose alien student, and something is simmering between Husk (who may be crazy) and Toad (who may be bitter). If you like your books fun, this is a fun one. I'd also recommend it to old fans of Generation X. The spirit of that book lives on in this one.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Yep! Month after month! Been reading since #1.

gp_allnew

Probably the most hyped book in the Marvel NOW launch is All-New X-Men #1, and it's the most traditionally X-Men flavored of the three X-books this week (which makes sense, as this one and Uncanny X-Men are the flagships of the X-brand). Bendis's first issue feels dense, which is a welcome change for that particular writer, and he's assisted by career-best artwork from Stuart Immonen (with inks by Wade Von Grawbadger).

In the aftermath of Avengers Vs. X-Men (AVX), Cyclops has distanced himself from Xavier's dream of a peaceful mutant/human cohabitation. Instead, he's allied with former villains White Queen and Magneto, and he's scooping up as many mutants as he can as part of a militant mutant agenda. The X-Men are, of course, concerned about Cyclops basically becoming the next Magneto, so Beast concocts a kooky plan that involves going back in time and bringing the Cyclops from the past to the the present day to talk some sense into his future self.

It's all sort of ridiculous in a big comic book way, but, damned if it isn't entertaining. Bendis only seems to operate under the desire to create definitive runs of whatever book he's working on (the success of those attempts can be argued), and while it's way too early to start throwing words like "definitive" around, you at least know that this is a writer with plans.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Yes, it's going on the pull list. I want to know what happens next.

X-Men Legacy #1 has an uphill battle ahead. I don't think anyone is a fan of Legion aka David Haller, the psycho son of Professor Charles Xavier, but if there is a fan out there, they're in luck. Legion has his own solo book now.

gp_xmenleg

And it's not bad, but it's not an easy sell. In the first issue, Legion's multiple personalities are being extinguished under the training of someone called Guru Merzah, until Legion gets a psychic vision of what Cyclops did to his father at the end of AVX, and all of his training goes out the window. This is the oddest book yet in the Marvel NOW launch, feeling far removed from the Marvel U, with just a dash of psychotronic Vertigo flavor. I'm not even sure how it got past the pitch stage, but kudos to the X-editors for taking a chance.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? No, but this is a book that deserves a shot. Writer Simon Spurrier's doing weird stuff in here, and I'm not sure how this series will sustain past 4 or 5 issues. The only way it could sustain is to get even weirder, and if that's where it goes, I could see this becoming a cult favorite. This has an audience. It isn't me, but I hope it finds its people.

NEXT WEEK: Rick Remender and John Romita Jr. on Captain America #1 and Mark Waid and Francis Leinil Yu on The Indestructible Hulk #1.