So people sometimes get on me for being too critical. “You critic,” they say, “you don’t like anything and you hate all things and your soul is a black void, incapable of feeling joy.” And this is just not true! For example, I love funnel cake. Funnel cake is delicious, especially with whipped cream and strawberries.
Ultimate Fantastic Four is not funnel cake, but it is intellectually delicious in its own way. For those not in tune with the comics world, Ultimate Fantastic Four is a Fantastic Four comic set in the Ultimate version of the Marvel universe, which is supposedly like the regular Marvel universe except with all the baggage the original versions of the characters have with them, so the characters can have all-new adventures and be written about in fresh new ways.
In theory, anyway, that’s what’s supposed to happen. In reality, the Ultimate line has mostly been an excuse for pastiche stories of varying levels of quality, one step removed from bad issues of What If. “Hey, let’s do the Galactus story, except this time Galactus is a giant swarm of metal bugs and crap, and the Fantastic Four teams up with the Avengers! Excuse me, the Ultimates. My bad.” And that was one of the better Ultimate pastiche stories. You can’t go two issues without seeing Ultimate Whoever show up. It’s gotten so bad that when Robert Kirkman devoted most of an Ultimate X-Men arc to a new character called Magician, people kept wondering if he was the Ultimate Phoenix Force or the Ultimate Cosmic Cube or what have you. (In reality, he was just a mediocre demigod-type character, but at least Kirkman tried something new.)
Which is why Ultimate Fantastic Four is such a pleasure, because while Mike Carey’s run on the title is producing less glorious sales than Mark Millar’s run (wherein the latter had the dual advantage of fanboys needing to beat off to their monthly dose of Greg Land porn tracing and the amusing if pretty goddamned shameless tactic of the Marvel Zombieverse), Carey is writing high-gloss space opera with only the barest of nods to the fact that this is traditionally a Marvel comic book. Yes, he’s introduced Ultimate Thanos and Ultimate Ronan the Accuser and Ultimate Silver Surfer and Ultimate Psycho-Man; the point is that he’s doing these things the right way, by using the names as starting points and then doing whatever the fuck he wants with them.
Mike Carey understands: all you really need to take away from a new version of Thanos is that when he first shows up, he’ll be a bad guy. You don’t need to worry about all the crap Thanos comes with in his original version, because so what, it’s a new comic and that means new rules. And Mike Carey is really, really good at inventing new rules. And this works to great effect, because at heart, the Fantastic Four are explorers and adventurers, and that means they should be dealing with the new and unexpected on a constant basis – but for a very long time we’ve grown used to seeing the Fantastic Four doing the same old thing – fights with Dr. Doom and the Frightful Four and Galactus. (Even the Waid/Weiringo F4, probably the best, most fun run on the title in the last twenty-five years, had all three of those old saws, and at length to boot.)
But Mike Carey is throwing tesseract worlds and weird homages to the Forever People and artificial alien civilizations at us in every issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four, and it is glorious. And nobody really talks about Ultimate Fantastic Four, so I felt I should fill the gap.
Why the hell is it so goddamn hard to get proper collections of Doonesbury? Is this a deliberate decision by Garry Trudeau or what? Doonesbury is one of the most important comic strips of the last thirty years (I don’t see a whole lot of other comic strips winning Pulitzers), and the best thing about it is that it works in continuous narrative in a way that other “storytelling” strips like godawful Mary Worth and the like could only dream about. Really, the layers of story you get when you read years of Doonesbury at a time is almost unparalleled in comic strips, or even longer-form works for that matter. And unlike most long-running strips, Doonesbury has never gotten bad. The single weakest period of the strip (probably 1987-1989) was still reasonably good, and thirty years later, Trudeau still manages killer punchlines on a very regular basis.
(I admit that I’m writing this at a time when he’s trying an “Obama as the first black Kennedy” series of gags that just kind of sucks, but believe me, the Bezerkistan saga and Toggle’s accident in Iraq more than made up for it.)
So why is it such a pain in the ass for me to get that uninterrupted narrative in book form? Why is there no Fantagraphics collection of The Essential Doonesbury? No, instead we get the endless series of big, flat books, which waste page space on empty white and gray. (Seriously: the recent collections have three daily strips per page, on page stock that previously was used for four strips. These aren’t fucking paintings, Trudeau. Use the entire page.) If you want to save some bones or shelf space or both, and buy the larger collections, they inevitably leave out about a third of the strips or even more.
Now I know someone’s going to point out that The Bundled Doonesbury has the entire series up till about 1998 on a single CD-ROM. My counterargument is that I don’t want to read the strip on a CD-ROM. Especially that one, which has a slow, clunky interface one would have associated with, say, the mid-1990s Encarta offerings from Microsoft, except worse in every possible way.
I want a frigging big-ass completist series of hardcover books of Doonesbury, and I can’t believe I’m alone in this. So someone go get Fantagraphics on this, stat!
Over/under on Final Crisis sucking currently determined by who the villain is. If you’ve been reading Countdown, you know there are at present three major suspects.
IF IT IS DARKSEID: It will probably be good.
IF IT IS THE SOURCE: It’ll be weird, but it was Grant Morrison writing this in the first place, so.
IF IT IS SUPERMAN PRIME: I don’t care if Grant Morrison channels the spirits of Tolkien, Spillane, and Kerouac into one mad collective creative genius under his control. Nothing with Superman Prime in it is good. He actively detracts from any comic he shows up in because he is just that sad and lame. “What if Superman were crazy and evil” is not a horribly fresh concept to begin with in the first place, and “also what if he were a comic fanboy” does not make him particularly ironic or amusing.