Wednesday, April 6, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #17

"LEGACY"
Words and Pictures: John Byrne | Letterer: Jim Novak | Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Carl Potts | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
With thanks to Jim Salicrup, Tom DeFalco, and Al Milgrom

The Plot: In upstate New York, Sharon Selleck has car troubles and walks to the nearest town. She finds the citizens inhospitable, but manages to get a hotel room and a meal at the local diner, followed by a promise from the town mechanic to get her car fixed. But the next day the garage is closed, and Sharon finds herself stranded in an increasingly frightening town.

Sharon calls Julie Angel in New York but is cut off, then sneaks out of the hotel and leaves town, followed by a throng of citizens. She manages to hide from them and call the Fantastic Four from a phone booth, but the FF are unavailable and Sharon is grabbed before she can relay her plea for help to Roberta the robot receptionst.

The next day, Johnny visits Julie and learns Sharon could be in trouble. They return to the Baxter Building, where Reed plays the recording of Sharon’s panicked call from the night before. Reed pinpoints the call’s origin as King’s Crossing, New York, where the FF first encountered the Skrulls.

The team infiltrates King’s Crossing using subterfuge and Johnny rescues Sharon. Realizing the townspeople are infected with a Skrull virus, Reed restores them to normal with a counteragent. After making amends with the local sheriff, the Fantastic Four and Sharon head home.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: As noted last time, according to the Marvel Chronology Project, this issue takes place during the two days that elapsed between panels in FANTASTIC FOUR #257, to account for Reed’s appearance here despite his disappearance at the end of that previous issue. Johnny reinforces this chronology at one point as he recaps the events of the past few days.

We learn this issue that Sharon is the lead singer of a “shatterock” band called the Rolling Dead. She was on her way to a gig when the car (which she had borrowed from Julie) broke down.


The Fantastic Four first encountered the Skrulls in FF #2, which Sue recaps for Sharon:


Reed then realizes that the Skrulls he left in a field as cows began to produce something akin to milk, but which imbued anyone who ingested it with shapeshifting powers. The townspeople attempted to ply Sharon with their tainted dairy, but being lactose intolerant, she couldn’t keep it down.


Reed detects the Skrull influence on the locals using a scanner he constructed following the FF’s second battle with Super-Skrull in FF #32.

Reed states that the townspeople were tainted by the Skrulls for six years, meaning Byrne is adhering here to the “Seven Year” rule – everything which happened in the Marvel Universe since FANTASTIC FOUR #1, regardless of how long has passed in real time, is considered to have occurred over the span of seven years. Though I believe at some point those seven years became ten, which is a number I’m much more comfortable with.


Is It Clobberin' Time? It’s probably the best clobberin’ time yet, as Ben rhetorically asks, “Hey, kiddies, do you know what time it is?” before unleashing…


My Thoughts: It’s another one of those TWILIGHT ZONE-y stories for which Byrne like to use the FF as a vehicle, but I actually really liked this one. First off, given the extra page length of an annual, Byrne builds his story slowly. The first seventeen pages are dedicated entirely to Sharon and her plight, as the townspeople become progressively creepier and creepier to her. It really sets up an eerie atmosphere.


Then the FF come in, but the story doesn’t immediately go into straight-up superhero mode. Instead we get the group going “undercover” in King’s Crossing, which is something you don’t normally expect from this series. But when Byrne decides he’s going to go offbeat, he apparently goes all the way.


But eventually it’s action time, and as usual, Byrne shines there as well, going wild with a ton of creative looking Kirby-style monsters assaulting the Fantastic Four before Reed finally puts a stop to things. And on top of that, we get to see the new black-and-white costumes in full-out action for the first time. I will never understand how anyone can prefer the FF in blue. These uniforms are infinitely superior to the classic look, or any variation thereof.

The only nits I must pick are relatively minor: One, Sharon is spotted initially by a little boy who turns into a dog and follows her around town. The story makes it seem like this could be important, like maybe the boy will serve some role in freeing Sharon or helping the FF. But after that initial scene, we never see him again.


And two – slightly more egregious though it still doesn’t bug me all that much – the fate of King’s Crossing was basically caused by the FF when Reed planted those Skrulls in a nearby field years earlier. Yet when Reed explains to the police chief that the Skrull’s milk retarded their aging and they are no older now than they were when they first transformed, all is forgiven and the FF fly off into the sunset. It feels like a cheat.

But as I said, it doesn’t bother me that much. This is a fun story and a worthy use of the Annual’s double length.

5 comments:

  1. The happy end bit is totes cheating, but it gets redeemed by the pickup truck from page two taking the Skrull milk to a military base in the final panel of the story in true appropriate horror flick ending with the bookends bonus.

    The first half of course takes its cues from any amount of stranger in weird small town thrillers, but I personally was reminded in a good way of Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth. Little boy turning into a dog is perhaps closer to it than one of the average examples, at least. And I chuckled to see Tiny from the Sven Hassel books moonlighting on a milk ranch.

    The map of upstate NY seems to be accurately enough in line with the real world, which is always a plus. Sans of course King's Crossing. I had to go and check if they actually had named the place in FF #2. They hadn't, but they did make up for it perfectly by handing Skrull-impostering Reed the same highest medal of valor which the Skrull ambassador later on in MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #1 hands to the dying Captain Marvel. It all stands or falls by these little continuity things.

    Upstate NY certainly gets its share of action in Marvel books.

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    1. Yeah, I love the final panel of this issue, though I had trouble naturally working it into the above. It certainly does help to further the TWILIGHT ZONE/horror movie analogy.

      I don't know who Sven Hassel or Tiny are, and a Google search doesn't really return any pictures of a guy resembling this fellow. Shall I assume he's just a really big mountain of a man in the novels?

      Upstate New York (specifcally the Catskills) is also the home of Project Pegasus and the Jackal's secret lab in the Clone Saga, not to mention Doctor Doom's castle. I guess it must be the closest rural area to Manhattan familiar to Marvel's New York-based writers.

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    2. Gotta love not only NY, NY but also the rest of NY getting out-of-any-proportions presence on Marvel books.

      I didn't expect you would know the author who I believe is only well-known around the Baltic Sea area for his pseudo-biographical war books, but you assume right; the character Tiny is described in the novels to have a hulking figure and jet-black hair exactly like the one here.

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  2. I just want to say that I love when annuals are done by the book's usual creative team. Helps make them feel like w worthwhile, double-sized adventure, instead of the drawn out inventory stories they usually are.

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    1. I agree! At the very least an annual should have the same writer as the regular series. All those UNCANNY annuals from the eighties are looked back upon so fondly because they were written by Chris Claremont and drawn by really good artists. Somewhere around the late eighties, annuals became a stomping ground for novice creators to "try out" on books.

      Also, it's pretty impressive that of the three annuals published during his FF run, Byrne wrote and penciled/broke down two of them! (The middle one he only plotted, however, with a different scripter and artist producing the finished product.)

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