Winning Ticket, or, Secret Wars

secret wars

HAHAHAHAHA… WIPEOUT!!!

Even for a comic book event, writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic’s recent Marvel book Secret Wars is pretty big and bombastic. Basically every universe in the multiverse collides and is cobbled together into a single patchwork planet called Battleworld, made of the scraps of all of the dead universes. There’s a seemingly infinite horde of zombies, an omnipotent warlord and an army of Norse gods. Every one of the mini-series’ nine issues boasts at least one fist pump-worthy altercation between some combination of impossibly powerful denizens of the Marvel Universe.

Yet for all its scale and scope and rampant badassery Secret Wars really boils down to a story about what happens when one man’s ego is finally, conclusively placated.
I suspect we all have at least one hidden talent. One particular set of secret skills that we keep forever close to the chest because for whatever reason we’ve never gotten the opportunity to go full Taken and show them to the world. But if we did, if only we could, the world would be a different place.

For me it’s the lottery. I’ve never played the lottery. Never bought a ticket. But I suspect, no, I know that if, no, when, I finally break down and buy that Powerball ticket millions of beer tickets are as good as mine. I have talked myself out of buying a lottery ticket by reasoning that when I win it will be pretty unfair to the people who have played and lost religiously every time for years on end. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Dr. Doom’s secret special lottery skill is absolute rulership over the entire universe. It’s a goal he’s aspired to, and on some level even achieved if but for a moment, in the past and it’s a goal that’s wound up making him a de facto villain. But villain is such a narrow word. Sure Dr. Doom wants to rule the known universe, which I guess is frowned upon, but he also genuinely, deeply, truly believes that he is the man for the job. Where I secretly ponder what jackpot amount is right for me to finally pounce and show the world my statistic-defying scratcher prowess Dr. Doom plans the improvements he will make to the universe once the universe stops getting in his way.

In Secret Wars the universe finally steps aside.

Secret Wars is a story about what happens when someone taps Dr. Doom on the shoulder and puts the winning lotto ticket in his hand. Only Victor von Doom’s winning lottery ticket is nothing short of godhood, and its repercussions are vast and totally awesome.

Good comic book events are few and far between and Secret Wars is nothing short of great, due in no small part to the brilliant notion at its center that is at once entirely fantastical and utterly relatable.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 25, or, Where I Quit the Podcast, Then Decide Not to Quit the Podcast

Hey gang! I quit the podcast! Or at least I was going to. Luckily for you I talked myself out of it ON THIS VERY EPISODE. So lets talk my existential crisis, my War on Stuff, Godzilla, and a Springsteen betrayal.

This Week: Action Comics, Fantastic Four, Justice League Unlimited, Superman: Doomed, Superman/Wonder Woman, The Walking Dead

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 22, or, What Bonus Episodes?

The conclusion to last weeks’ Bonus and Bonus Bonus Episodes. Oh wait, I never put those up. Because they got weird. Real weird. But the conclusion to my Springsteen Dilemma nonetheless. And the end of All-Out War! And the further development of Food for Thought. Let’s talk adaptation folks.

This week: Aquaman, Batman Eternal, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Flash, Justice League United, Original Sin and The Walking Dead

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 16, or, It’s Been Awhile

Or at least it feels like it. Am I right? What’s it been, like a month? Look, I’m tired. As evident by the brilliant rambling present here. It may have been a great week for comics, but that didn’t stop me from talking about pretty much everything else I could think of. What do you want from me? I’m very tired.

This week: Batman, Black Widow, Fantastic Four, Hawkeye, Justice League of America, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Superior Spider-man, Superman/Wonder Woman and The Walking Dead.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 14, or, Deadlines/You’re Welcome

You are so welcome you don’t even know it. The audio for Episode 14 has been lost. Which I discovered as I went to upload Episode 14. So now I’ve recorded this instead. Which I guess is now, for history and all of time, Episode 14. I’m still on to Matt Fraction’s sinister plan, and I’ve got a very important question for Dan Slott and Spider-Man.

This week: Aquaman, Fantastic Four, Guadrians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye, Superior Spider-Man, The Wake, The Walking Dead

Fraction’s Fantastic, or, The Greatest Sitcom of 2013

When I think about my current favorite sitcoms my mind wanders to the likes of Suburgatory, Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn 99. But one of the best sitcoms of the last few years wasn’t even on television.

Queue theme song.

Queue theme song.

Writer Matt Fraction’s run on Fantastic Four and its sister book, Ff, was equal parts sincerity, hilarity and theoretical physics. But at the center of all of that Fraction’s run, which recently ended with the 16th issues of both series, is about family.

And superheroes and time travel and Doom. But mostly family.

Fantastic Four was never really my jam. As a fairly recent convert to comics my knowledge of Marvel’s First Family is based on what snips I’ve seen of the two live action movies. Which is to say that, to the best of my knowledge, the Fantastic Four franchise was just a fun way of implying Jessica Alba was naked in 2005.

Hawkeye, however, most assuredly is my jam. Because bow and arrows are my jam. And Matt Fraction is doing God’s work with his tales of the exploits of Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, a.k.a. Hawkeye and Hawkeye. Considering Fraction’s skill for crafting genuine characters, phenomenal dialogue and enthralling stories the least I could do was give Fantastic Four and Ff a shot. Even if, to my uninitiated eyes, the property wasn’t exactly cool.

Thank God I followed Fraction through that wormhole.

Trapped in a dinosaur. Classic sitcom.

Trapped in a dinosaur. As classic a sitcom beat as going on two dates simultaneously.

Fraction’s story begins with the Fantastic Four chilling in dinosaur times when Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards, is bitten by, go figure, a dinosaur. But the wound, one from which his traditionally floppy and hilarious body would quickly recover, doesn’t get any better. Looking into the phenomenon Richards discovers that he’s slowly dying. Which wasn’t exactly part of his game plan.

So he packs up the rest of the Fantastic Four, along with his two kids, and sets off on a journey through time and space, which he disguises as a fun field trip, to find a cure.

But the Earth can’t be left without a Fantastic Four, so replacements are chosen. Enter Ant Man Scott Lang, Medusa, She-Hulk and Miss Thing, the quadro that look after the young geniuses of the Future Foundation in the Four’s absence.

From there Fraction weaves a tale that tackles everything from the American Revolution and the very end of all time to childhood isolation and gender identity to straight up slap-stick time travel gags. And none of it ever feels forcer or disingenuous. In fact, quite the opposite. Fraction’s characters are extremely genuine. There are sarcastic quips here and there but the book itself remains earnest throughout, more concerned with fun than grit. It’s a marriage of science fiction superheroics and charming sitcom sensibilities that birth a story unlike anything else on shelves, particularly from the big two publishers.

Words cannot express how much I love this book.

Words cannot express how much I love this book.

As is the case with any great sitcom Fraction’s Fantastic saw creative changes towards the end. Much like Zach Braff departing Scrubs or Larry David leaving Seinfeld, during the final issues of Fantastic Four and Ff Fraction handed the reigns over to Karl Kesel and Lee Allred respectively.

I enjoyed Fraction’s Fantastic to the end, but with Fraction’s waning involvement the last handful of issues did feel different. Luckily, Fraction’s narrative foundation was strong enough that the two series’ respective finales were both enjoyable despite shake ups in the creative teams behind them.

At 32 issues (plus a phenomenal Age of Ultron tie-in) and just over a year in length Fraction’s Fantastic run was pretty brief, but with any luck its influence will live on.

It’s a story that’s not content with resting on the tropes of the genre, or even the medium. More than a superhero book or a science fiction story Matt Fraction’s work on Fantastic Four and Ff was charming and fun.

It had more in common with The Cosby Show than The Dark Knight. And it was fantastic because of it.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTION:

1. Can you say “fantastic” when referring to a Fantastic Four book, or is that kind of frowned upon?

 

For more comic book coverage, including Fantastic Four and Ff, check out the Pony Tricks Comic Cast here, on SoundCloud or on iTunes.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 8, or, Snubs n’ Flubs

PTCC8

Let’s talk snubs! Let’s talk flubs! What do either of those things mean? Let’s talk that too! I hop on the Soule Train, defend and offend Black Bolt and partake in some theoretical peeping in this weeks Pony Tricks Comic Cast.

This week: Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, The Superior Spider-Man, Superman Wonder Woman and Thunderbolts