Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Fantastic Four, Vol. 1
J. Michael Strazcynski and Mike McKone

It’s been sometime since I’ve read any graphic novels or even comics. I read Watchmen because I knew the movie was about to open. I’d previously enjoyed both of the V for Vendetta comic and movie, but I wish I’d read it before seeing it, so I wanted to this one the other way around.

Impressive, both the comic and the movie. Though the movie was largely just a moving version of the comic, apart from that great title sequence. So, I’ll ignore the movie and talk about the comic. This is really a graphic novel. It is a work of fiction telling a story using the core elements of characterisation, plot and pacing to drive the single, coherent piece to its conclusion, it just happens to tell this through pictures as well as words. It felt like more of a graphic novel than V: it is far more focused, the characterisation is better and the pace is well maintained. V had a tendency (common to all serial forms) to bog right down. For an Alan Moore work, Watchmen is also surprisingly low on violence. Sure, there are some pretty gruesome parts, but not too many — or they are well used.

There are some interesting experiments with alternative ways of telling parts of the story. One chapter is told entirely from the perspective of a character who does not perceive time as linear. But the jumping through time is well used and not confusing. There are also long sections of prose at the end of each chapter, these provide another angle on the main events. It creates this sense that as well as following the story you are also seeing history unfold. Above all else this is a highly ambiguous work — I am still not sure what I think of the ending. And that would be about the highest praise you could hope for.

Fresh from this success and inspired by another book I read shortly after Watchmen, I finally read the Fantastic Four book that I bought some time ago.

And oh boy was that a mistake.

This was bought when I realised that all the comics I was reading were from a certain niche of the market. I wanted to remain balanced and went looking for something from the traditional mainstream of comics. This was the first volume in a sub-series, was written by the highly respected J. Michael Strazcynski (he wrote the TV series Babylon 5, which I have never seen but is well-regarded in sci-fi circles,) how could I go wrong?

It went very wrong: the characters are childish, the plot predictable and laughable, even the artwork is disappointing – the female character almost never looks the same in any two panels. I read the entire thing — only an investment of 45 minutes or so — but by the end I was pretty disgusted. The most annoying thing is how much time is spent referring to past adventures. This is not because this story is part of some decades long arc, I am completely unfamiliar with previous stories but I could always understand the plot. Instead it felt like listening to that annoying friend of a friend down at the pub drone on and on about these great things that happened to him this one time. I am quite happily returning to my niche; I’ve dipped my toe in the mainstream and it’s polluted.

And to further reinforce that, I had a major comics success shortly afterwards. Comics are still firmly on my agenda.