Friday, 14 June 2013

The latest guest appearance

This month sees the release of Essential Wolverine volume 7 and within it is another guest appearance by Spider-Man from a much later era than any other, hence its own post. Without further ado...

Wolverine #148 written by Erik Larsen and drawn by Roger Cruz, reprinted in Essential Wolverine volume 7

Essential Wolverine may have only notched up seven volumes so far, despite being launched at the same time as Essential Spider-Man, but because Wolverine's solo series only began in 1988 the Essentials are now all the way up to 2000, the series that's reached further forward than any other (bar a solitary one-shot from 2001 reprinted in Essential Killraven). Issue #148 is part of the "Ages of Apocalypse" crossover and features an alternate take on the New Fantastic Four.

The New Fantastic Four was a brief-lived team that appeared in Fantastic Four #347-349. A renegade Skrull neutralised the original Fantastic Four but then found she was being pursued by other Skrulls and so assembled a team to deal with them. She picked Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk and the second Ghost Rider (Dan Ketch) - at a time when these four just happened to have the topselling solo Marvel titles. After their single mission they disbanded but were later reformed in Fantastic Four #374 when Spider-Man was seeking to help the Human Torch who was wanted by the police and defended by the original Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange advised him to call in other heroes to help. This second appearance was to promote the new Secret Defenders title, whose original premise was Doctor Strange assembling ad hoc teams of heroes for particular missions. The idea of the New Fantastic Four staying together after their first appearance was also the focus of an issue of the second What If? series. Meanwhile the "Ages of Apocalypse" was a follow-on from another X-Men crossover called "Apocalypse: The Twelve"; but all you need to now is that reality has been warped by the mutant Apocalypse and the individual chapters are set in various alternate realities. (The title invokes 1995's event "Age of Apocalypse" which was set in a changed reality but you don't need to know any more about that.) Whew, that's a lot of background!

This particular issue is set in a near future after many of the heroes were wiped out and the New Fantastic Four have regrouped to take the place of the dead old one. Both Spider-Man and Wolverine have dropped their masks, with the whole team now wearing Fantastic Four uniforms, and Peter and Mary Jane's daughter May is living with them in Four Freedoms Plaza (or whatever building was on the traditional site by then) and is now a toddler climbing the walls. This is a dark, gritty team for a dark world, with both Wolverine and Ghost Rider feeling out of place (though each doesn't realise the other has the same concerns) whilst the Hulk is unstable and cycling through his multiple personalities and the associated bodies. Spider-Man is drifting into a Reed Richards role of becoming ever more scientific (in tandem with Bruce Banner/Hulk, at least when the latter has a relevant personality), to the annoyance of Mary Jane. The team initially handles an attack by old Fantastic Four foes Annihilus and Blastaar, and the Harpy, the Hulk's wife transformed into a flying green monster. Then comes news that the US President Robert Kelly has been assassinated by Doctor Doom, seemingly returned from the dead. The team are briefly attacked by Doombots before going to Washington where they fight Doom who is revealed to be a deformed clone, created by the real foe, Arnim Zola, the Nazi geneticist. Suddenly they realise the fake Doom's armour is set to explode and Wolverine cripples Zola before the team make their escape. The four contemplate the ruins of the White House, wondering if that was the real Zola and whether any more Doom clones are about, then see the new President is Graydon Creed, even more extreme than Kelly. They wonder what the future holds...

However, the timelines were resolved before this world could be revisited. The New Fantastic Four have always been a concept that sounds great but is extremely difficult to pull off in practice because the four characters are such individualistic personalities even if they have been used in other tims. Here, though, they've been kept together by the dystopia around them. I'm not at all familiar with the second Ghost Rider but Wolverine and the Hulk seem pretty much in character. Spider-Man seems far more scientific than usual, though when this was published the regular titles showed him with a job at the Tri Corp Research Foundation (although due to everything else he wasn't actually spending much time there). It's never explained why he's revealed his identity to the world - there must be a more substantial reason than just so that he can look like a young Reed Richards - and he's not given a great deal of attention beyond showing glimpses of how he's fallen into the Reed role of not always remembering to spare time for his family. The story itself is petty packed and fast paced, having only a single issue to show everything, but works reasonably well. However even here there are signs the New Fantastic Four could fall apart and I doubt this team could ever work in the long-term in the regular reality.

(Apologies to those who were expecting another subject but the timing of this one crept up on me.)

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