Fantastic Four #60 cover by Mike Wieringo, Rich Isanove, and Karl Kesel

Fantastic Four #60 – Pages 1 and 2

Reprinted (with minor modifications here and there) from the original on 28 June 2017 at ComicBookResources.com:

FANTASTIC FOUR #60

Mike Wieringo’s birthday is June 24th. It’s an annual observance for me to read one (or more) of his comics on that day every year and report back on it here in Pipeline.

This year, I only got through one issue. Even though I must have read it a half dozen times before, “Fantastic Four” #60 jumped out at me this year as an awesome piece of comics storytelling that deserved a full review.

Mark Waid scripted it.  Mike Wieringo drew it with Karl Kesel on inks.  Paul Mounts, as seemingly always, colored Ringo’s art, and Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne lettered it up. Tom Brevoort was the editor.  The whole series fell under the Joe Quesada/BIll Jemas era of Marvel, which would later lead to a very awkward moment that is outside the scope of this review.

I’ll be spending this week’s column reviewing the first two pages of the issue.

Two pages.  Here are my 1200 words on how good the opening to this issue is:

 

The Dark and Shadowy — Marketing Department?

— or —

Or “Lots of Little Things Add Up”

 

Mark Waid wanted to create a clean start with his run on the series, establishing the family, their adventurous nature, and some very specific character points that he outlined in an early memo.  That memo saw print in the back of the hardcover collection of the series, as well as the deluxe “Fantastic Four” #500 special edition.

He pulled most of that off in his first two pages.  It’s a great framing sequence that is obvious in what it’s trying to accomplish, but done with a sense of humor, a strong dash of character, and an introduction to the mystery of the issue.  Even better, it doesn’t tell you what the mystery is.  You’ll just get it later at the appropriate time.

Fantastic Four #60 Page 1 Panel 1

The first page features a darkened conference room, where suit-clad business folks sit around a table watching a slide show.  It’s a great visual, but Wieringo did a great job in using the window behind the speaker.  With those horizontal blinds just a crack open, it lets in light to help rim light the speaker around his arms and head, while also providing a contrast against which to place the silhouette.  It would just look murky if it was a solid black background behind a solid black person.

The projector in front of the speaker gives off enough light to show part of his body, but is isolated enough to keep his face and identity a secret.  It’s a natural tension for the reader who’s walking into the unknown here.

The blinds also give the scene a bit of a noir-ish feel, which is unexpected in a “Fantastic Four” adventure comic.  It’s an early fake out, since there’s nothing really noir-ish about the scene past this introductory staging.

 

How to Tell an Origin Story

The speaker is introducing the history of the Fantastic Four. It’s an origin recap story, but it works for three reasons:

First, it’s staged in an interesting and slightly ironic way.  It bounces back and forth from the speaker to the slides.   Those “slides” are really a projection of the comic sitting on top of the projector. I  finally realized that for the first time now, twelve years later.  I grew up with projectors only working with light shining through transparencies.  End of tangent.

The slides feature Mike Wieringo drawing in a style that morphs his own work just a tad closer to Jack Kirby’s 1960s style.  With the help of Paul Mounts’ faded newsprint-like colors, the pictures in the slideshow evoke the history of the title and the era.

It’s not done slavishly.  It’s not like Wieringo drew Kirby Krackle and square fingertips.  It’s a very soft, subtle tweak to his own style to show the influence.

Second, it’s telling the well-worn origin with a viewpoint that emphasizes Reed Richards’ failure.  That will be a key point to this issue and the series’ overall arc under Waid: Why did Reed invite this marketing team to come in?  Part of it is still his guilt over how his mistakes changed his friends’ lives in a way they may not have wanted.

Third, the little mystery of the shadowed figures keeps the reader’s mind in an open loop.  What should be a simple repetition of an already known story is instead initially cast in an unknown meeting room with characters who are as likely to be some odd accumulation of supervillains or an evil business cabal as they are creative marketing folks.

Waid’s script already takes well worn superhero comics storytelling cliches and plays with them, finding little tweaks that make the story interesting.  And we’re only on page one.  There’s no taking any single page of a comic book script for granted, and Waid is not doing that here.

He’s already transformed a talking heads scene into something visually interesting for the reader to look at and for the artist to draw.  I’m sure Mike Wieringo wouldn’t have been thrilled to start his run on “Fantastic Four” with two pages of people sitting around a table in suits and ties and talking to each other.

The first two pages include just as many drawings of the classic Fantastic Four as of the suits chatting.  Even then, the suits aren’t just sitting around a table blabbing; they’re starting off mysteriously in the shadows, with enough joining in the conversation to allow Wieringo not to just draw the same two heads talking back and forth at each other.

 

The Transition

Fantastic Four - man tosses comic book aside

The best trick to this, though, is the transition.  At the top of page two, the lights come back up.  In the next two panels, Waid brightens up the room, reveals a conference table surrounded by well-dressed professionals, and delivers the gag: this is a marketing agency that has been hired to boost the reputation of the Fantastic Four in the public’s mind.

And that’s done with two close-up panels of a hand.  We go from a series of panels at mid-range to two close-ups, as the speaker’s hand is now fully lit and tosses a “Fantastic Four” comic to the table, surrounded by other F4 tchochkes.  Then we look back up and zoom out to see everyone around the table in bright light.

This is all in Waid’s original script. Have to give him credit for that.  It’s a great transition.  You can see the movement in your head, keeping the page from being static with such a simple move — a hand taking a comic off an overhead projector and onto the table.

In addition to being an action, it also transitions the scene from dark to light, from single presenter to room full of people collaborating, from close-ups to wide angle.  It’s almost like a new scene just broke out in the middle of the current scene.

The little things like that add up. Waid knows what he’s doing.  He’s a student of the art of comics, and he knows to keep things moving.

Wieringo does his part, too, in carrying that action through.  Look at the position of the hand in both panels. It’s coming in from the left.  First, it’s pointing down to throw the comic down to the table.  In the next panel, it’s an open hand facing down and away, the comic making an impact on the table.  It’s almost, but not quite, a literal point of view shot for the reader.  Keeping the hand in roughly the same spot with the tight angle sells that motion.

 

The End (of Page 2)

Long story short, this sequence ends with the boss assigning Schertzer, the young kid with all the nervous energy, to the Fantastic Four account, and he is to go to New York City immediately to meet with them.

The page ends on a dramatic upshot of the boss giving Schertzer his new assignment.  Waid’s script describes the panel as being “TIGHT ON THE HEAD HONCHO, A MISCHEVOUS GLINT IN HIS EYE.”

I’m not entirely sure Wieringo sells me on “mischievous” here, but there’s something to that look that piqued my curiosity, so he still accomplished his mission.

Low angle shot looking up at a man

Oh, and check out the boss’  his hair.  There’s something I love about it.  It has a great shape, with the black areas working around the highlights coming from a light source above and to the left. Check out the shapes of those black areas.  They give the hair shape and volume. It doesn’t need all the feathering or small details to sell it.  It’s a great example of doing more with less.

 

Just the Beginning?

I could go on.

No, seriously, I have enough notes that I could analyze this whole issue scene-by-scene or page by page.  There’s a great artistic call-back near the end, Waid and Wieringo’s inspirations for Sue Storm, Reed’s guilt, Johnny’s lack of responsibility, the adventures into the unknown, Wieringo’s shadow definitions, a great triangular storytelling sequence that flows down a page, the Wright Bros’ unexpected cameo, square bubbles, proof that Reed Richards is a Mac user, a poke at 90s comics, and so much more.

And that’s all inside of 22 pages.

I hope we can get to it all someday….
 

The Analyis So Far

Here are the follow-up articles:

Part 2:

Fantastic Four #60, Page 2

“Fantastic Four” #10, Part 2

Part 3:

Fantastic Four #60 cover by Mike Wieringo, Rich Isanove, and Karl Kesel

Drawing in Three Dimensions with Mike Wieringo

Part 4:

Fantastic Four #60 Page 4 Panel 4

How To Introduce Characters By Action

 

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