Friday, April 29, 2011

Hi, Crystal! My totally random appraisal of Fantastic Four #82

It's Fantastic Four #82 here to entertain us with jokes and repartee and perhaps some juggling and then some name-dropping anecdotes about meeting John and Yoko at a gallery opening, staying in a hotel suite next door to Mick and Bianca, guest-hosting The Tonight Show during the Carson Era before feuding with Johnny and being banned for life, growing a long beard and attempting to oil paint in the south of France...

Yes, Fantastic Four #82 has seen it and done it all. What a life it's lived! Oh, Fantastic Four #82! If only you'd finish those memoirs.

I've forgotten why I found these images from Fantastic Four #82. The story inside is titled "The Mark of-- The Madman!," which is pretty generic for something by Stan Lee. Little bombast, other than the exclamation point. Sue Richards has left the team and Crystal of the Inhumans has joined to replace her. We all know Sue as the Invisible Girl/Woman, with powers of invisibility. But what of Crystal? She can control the basic elements-- fire, air, earth and water. While invisibility has some obvious uses in terms of stealth and defense (especially Sue's famous invisible force fields), Crystal can move water and earth, combine elements to create weather. And she's stronger and more resilient than a normal human. Pretty useful as well. And yes, I know Sue later learned to use her invisible force field offensively as well. My point is, if you can't have one, the other will suffice.

I'm not sure I understand the whole "four elements" limitation. Why would her command of molecules stop merely with the ones that make up those particular things? Probably due to some literary reason haphazardly borrowed from Greek myth or something, but one wishes Stan Lee had thought through the implications of Crystal's powers. She might be more formidable than anyone-- including herself-- even suspects. Forgive me if some clever writer eventually worked this idea into Crystal's narrative. I haven't read a story with Crystal as a major player in it in years. But I do know Crystal also has a cool black headband.

Unfortunately, as a subject of Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans, Crystal isn't free to choose her own life. So despite the FF's kind membership offer, she has to run back to the Hidden Land to ask her monarch for permission. As for me, I prefer democracy. And since there's a madman promised in the story's title, of course the whole gang has to tangle with Maximus. This is a Fantastic Four issue from late in Stan's and Jack Kirby's run where they were recycling ideas that once seemed so fresh. Imagine how mindblowing the Inhumans were when they were introduced in Fantastic Four #45, "Among Us Hide... the Inhumans!"

Even the title is cooler, slightly ominous. Sinister, even! They're inhuman. They're among us. And they're hiding, no doubt for some nefarious purpose. Your neighbors might be one of them! Or a family member. This is why you must do as I do and call the Department of Homeland Security every day at 10pm and report any and all suspicious activity you might have observed in your workplace, your school, your church and even your very home.

Here we are, almost 40 issues later and the Inhumans are still having to deal with Maximus the Mad. This time he's got a gun that can hypnotize the entire earth and make slaves of everyone. In the next issue, it ends as lamely as you might imagine. Seems like Stan at the time was losing interest.

But Jack Kirby's art is still pretty sweet. Joe Sinnott is not my favorite Kirby inker, though.

Don't get me wrong. I like Sinnott's finishes a lot. They're super slick and they really pretty up Kirby's pencils. This is how comics tend to look in my mind when I'm making up my own (then when I try to draw them they look exactly like Alex Toth and Al Williamson got together and drew them holding pencils with their feet). It's just that I prefer the "purer" Kirby that resulted when Mike Royer inked him and followed his pencils more closely, without "fixing" things. I also love Chic Stone on Kirby. Stone-inked Kirby is a lot of visual fun, with thick contour lines around the characters and thinner interior lines for contrast-- not a lot of feathering or those zig-zag Kirby shadows Royer so ably brought out, but a funky, low-tech Kirby.

So it's more a matter of my own peculiar sense of what's appealing. If I had to rank Kirby inkers, I'd list Royer first, then Stone and then Sinnott. I believe Kirby once said he liked Wally Wood best among his inkers. I hate to disagree with the King, but I find too much Wood there and not enough Kirby. I'd rather see Wally Wood inks on Wally Wood pencils than an awkward melding of two different approaches to figure construction and lighting. Kirby's figures are more lit from within, they provide their own light. Not exactly conducive to Wood's "double lighting" feathered chiaroscuro work.

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