December 20, 2009

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Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four: Silver Rage

Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Mike Wieringo and Wade VonGrawbadger
Marvel

[Note: I read this as it came out in single issues. Not sure if that changes the reading experience much on this particular title, but I like to mention it.]

First, a moment of silence for Ringo, who left us at an early age. He was never one of my favorite artists, but he worked on some great books over the years and with some really talented writers, such as Parker, Peter David, and Mark Waid. If this was his swan song, it was a nice way to go out.

In this series that I read as single issues, Spidey is swinging around when he runs into the Impossible Man, who needs his help. They rush to scene, where an alien is trying to take over the earth. When things are a bit too much for the old webslinger and Impy gets it in the face, Peter goes to the one family he knows can help--the Fantastic Four.

Soon we're off on a two-tiered adventure. While Reed looks for a way to stop the aliens, Spidey takes his place on the FF as they try to hold off the invasion. All may be lost unless two of Marvel's smartest heroes can work together--with a little help from their friends--to save the day.

This is everything Marvel used to be about, that's gotten lost in the Civil War and its aftermath. Civil War is telling great stories, but to me, this is what made Marvel unique. In this mini, each character does what they do best to save the day, and the fact that none of it would happen in the "real world" doesn't matter--this is a comic book. Props to Parker for finding a way to make it essential that Peter be involved--in team ups with the FF or other high-powered hitters, Spidey can sometimes be an afterthought. He also did a great job on the Peter-Johnny interaction, especially in book two.

Marvel used to do some minis that would be labeled, "Set before the events of.." and this is definitely one of those stories. I wouldn't mind seeing some other stuff from pre-Civil War, just as a reminder of what was, and probably will never be again. Am I too naive for modern comics? No, but that doesn't mean I can't like something that was straight out of the old Lee-Thomas playbook of the '70s, too.


I also thought the artwork meshed well with the story, something that's not always true with Wieringo. I think it's a bit of a stretch to ask him to draw demonic Doctor Doom, but the Impossible Man? A perfect fit. His exaggerated characters play well here, though it's possible I'm just changing my artistic tastes over time. (I did not care for his work on mid-90s Spider-Man at the time it was coming out, for instance.)

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four is perfect for all ages, but especially for those who don't think superhero stories always have to be so grim and gritty. Sometimes, you just need to reach into the Silver Age and find what was best about it. Parker, Wieringo, and VonGrawbadger do that here, and the result is one of the best comics featuring these characters since Spider-Man and the Human Torch. If you can find a copy of this one in trade, it's highly recommended.