Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four #544

Dwayne McDuffie begins to put his stamp on the Fantastic Four with Fantastic Four #544. Out goes Reed and Sue Richards. In comes Black Panther and Storm. Writers like to play with their favorite toys and that is probably what McDuffie is doing with the addition of Black Panther and Storm. I’m not a fan of this roster move. However, I’ll keep an open mind as I read this issue. Let’s hit this review.

Creative Team
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: Paul Pelletier
Inker: Rick Magyar

Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10.
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10.
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10.

Synopsis: We begin with some unseen cosmic power in deep space stating that it has obtained the Chrysalis. The cosmic power then senses someone coming. The cosmic power states that its machinations cannot be discovered yet. That it must hide until it has gained the strength to directly confront its enemy.

We see Stardust flying through this part of space. Stardust comments how she felt something odd. Stardust then sends her sensory impression of this area to a “sentinel.” The “sentinel” says that he is on his way. That it appears their quarry has cloaked his location.

We shift to the Baxter Building. Storm and Black Panther thank Reed for letting them stay at the Baxter Building since the Wakandan embassy was destroyed. We flashback to Reed and Black Panther sifting through the rubble of the Wakandan embassy. They find evidence of bombs planted in the embassy. Tony Stark, in his SHIELD uniform, approaches Black Panther and tells him that SHIELD will find out who is responsible.

Black Panther then gets up in Tony Stark’s face and says that if it was SHIELD or the US government behind the Wakandan embassy bombing then there will be dire consequences. Tony then acts like a bitch and says there is no need to make threats. (Ha! That was funny. Tony has a huge ego and is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. He wouldn’t even flinch.)

Tony then asks Reed to talk to him in private. Tony asks Reed to convince Black Panther to go back to Wakanda. That Black Panther will listen to Reed because he respects him. Reed refuses to help. First, Reed agrees with Black Panther about the militarization of super beings. Second, that Black Panther planted a transmitter on Tony a few minutes ago and he is probably listening to our conversation.

We see Black Panther in deed listening to the conversation. (Huh? Like Tony wouldn’t know he had a transmitter on him? Doesn’t the Extremis virus allow him to sense and tap into every type of communications technology in the world. He wouldn’t be alerted to transmitter being placed on him?)

We shift back to the Baxter Building. Black Panther says he knows that Tony isn’t behind the bombings. Storm counters that Tony was trying to use the bombings to his advantage. Black Panther responds that he would have done the same.

Sue says that someone is trying to kill Black Panther and Storm so they should stay at the Baxter Building where it is nice and secure.

We cut to a press conference. Black Panther says that his countries interests are best served by staying in New York and working with the U.N. on the fact that the United States’ policy of government control, over super beings is destabilizing the balance of power across the globe. That Black Panther will work with the U.N. to figure out a suitable solution.

Reed announces that he and Sue are taking some time off and that Black Panther and Storm will be taking their places on the Fantastic Four. This is evidenced by the fact that Thing and Human Torch are now wearing black Fantastic Four outfits to match Black Panther and Storm. (Oooookay.)

We cut to Black Panther’s servants moving all of his furniture and personal possessions into the Baxter Building. Thing mentions how Reed and Sue are going to be staying at a hotel on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Suddenly, Black Panther is alerted by one of his servants that Deathlok is at the Baxter Building and is requesting an audience. Thing and Black Panther meet with Deathlok who has been cured and is no longer a cyborg. He is back to his regular human form as an older black guy. Deathlok says he has a mystery for the Fantastic Four.

We shift to the Fantastic Four and Deathlok at a graveyard where there is a massive sinkhole at the site of the tombstone of a hero known as Gravity who dies saving Deathlock, the Wasp and Dr. Henry Pym from the Stranger. It was a big deal and even the Watcher showed up.

Black Panther’s sensors indicate that a black hole was in this location and caused this damage. But, that a black hole should never be able to form in this location. The Thing comments that it is a shame that the Watcher isn’t here so they could just ask him what happened. Storm says that is a great idea. Black Panther says he loves his wife. The Thing is stunned.

We cut to the Fantastic Four and Deathlock blasting off for the Watcher’s compound. They arrive at the Watcher’s base and are greeted by Uatu. Black Panther has Storm go and steal the Ultimate Nullifier that Uatu has in his base. Black Panther holds the Ultimate Nullifier and tells Uatu to talk or face the consequences.

Uatu reminds Black Panther that if he pulls the trigger then the Ultimate Nullifier will wipe both of them out of existence. And that will be a shame considering the astonishing destiny of the children Black Panther and Storm will someday have.

Uatu then mentally hooks the Fantastic Four into the Cyclopedia Unversum where the combined knowledge of ever Watcher is stored. The Thing then announces that he got the information that they wanted. Storm is stunned that the Thing found the information so fast. The Thing responds that he has good concentration.

The Thing says that Gravity’s body was stolen by some cosmic entity. The Thing has the coordinates to where the cosmic entity took the body. The Fantastic Four then blast off to that location.

The Fantastic Four arrive at the location of the cosmic entity and it is revealed to be none other than Epoch. She is the daughter of Eon. The Fantastic Four demand the return of Gravity’s body. Epoch tells them that she has plans much large than they can imagine and for them to leave immediately.

Epoch fires a couple of warning shots at the Fantastic Four. Epoch tells them to leave because her energy blasts are traceable and that if she is discovered by the Herald then “he” will not be far behind. That she is not yet prepared for such a confrontation. The Fantastic Four have no idea what Epoch is babbling about.

Suddenly, The Silver Surfer appears on the scene and says that Epoch was afraid of him finding her. End of issue.

Comments
The Good: Fantastic Four #544 was an average read. Having said that, McDuffie at least cranked out a readable issue unlike what JMS was doing on this title at the end of his run. I mean, this title was practically unreadable under JMS ever since the Civil War storyline started cranking up almost a year ago. McDuffie at least provides an issue, which while it may be nothing special, at least is a decent read.

McDuffie wastes no time kicking off his initial story arc on this title. This issue doesn’t have much fighting, but it moves fast. We hop from scene to scene at a quick pace. And even though I have some issues with the pacing of this issue, considering how long it takes some writers to get their story arc going, I appreciate McDuffie making a concerted effort to get his story arc off to a fast start.

McDuffie serves up some okay dialogue. It is nothing great, but it is definitely slightly above average. McDuffie has a good feel for Reed, Black Panther and The Thing and does the best job writing these three characters. It is a shame that Reed is leaving the team, because McDuffie has done a much better job with Reed’s character in the past couple of issues than JMS ever did on his run on this title.

McDuffie delivers a great hook ending. It is tough to beat the dramatic appearance of the Silver Surfer. I have always been a huge fan of the Silver Surfer. He is a total stud and I’m excited to see what McDuffie has in store for the Surfer.

Paul Pelletier supplies plenty of solid artwork in this issue. I don’ think this art is anything amazing, but it is certainly better than average. Pelletier does a good job bringing McDuffie’s story to life.

The Bad: I just don’t like the additions of Storm and Black Panther to the Fantastic Four. This is for various reasons. The main reason is that the only roster of the Fantastic Four that I have ever enjoyed is the one consisting of Human Torch, Thing, Reed and Sue. That’s it. I have never liked any of the other various combinations that have been thrown at the reader.

Another reason I don’t dig this roster change is that I simply despise the marriage of Storm and Black Panther. Marvel really forced these two together. It makes little sense and there is no chemistry between these two characters. It is like Marvel said hey we have one black African character in Black Panther and another in Storm. Let’s shoehorn the two together in a big marriage.

No thanks. Storm is a mutant. I have only ever seen her as a mutant. She fits perfectly in the world of the X-Men rather than Black Panther’s world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if Storm had to get married then I would have picked Wolverine. Those two characters have far more chemistry between the two of them than Storm and Black Panther could every hope to have.

And on top of it all, Marvel is now shoving this husband and wife team down our collective throat all over the Marvel Universe. And since I find their relationship and marriage to be lifeless and lacking anything even remotely interesting I don’t dig seeing them pop up all over the place.

And the reference about Storm and Black Panther having children of great destiny really depresses me. I always hoped that the marriage between Storm and Black Panther would be temporary and that Marvel would eventually wake up and split up these characters and return Storm to where she belongs with her X-Men. Unfortunately, this little teaser suggests otherwise. That really blows.

McDuffie wastes no time quickly shoving Black Panther into the spotlight. Black Panther is inserted as the de facto leader of the Fantastic Four and gets the limelight in every scene and receives a huge push as a tough guy who can intimidate Tony Stark, stand up and threaten the Watcher and still be as smart as Reed and figure out what happened to Gravity’s body.

This was my fear that McDuffie wouldn’t be able to resist shoving his favorite character into the spotlight on this title. I have never been a big Black Panther fan. A huge part of that is because of his horrible codename. What the hell is Marvel thinking with that codename?

A codename like Black Panther seems like Marvel decided since he is black and from Africa that the codename involving his skin color and an animal from Africa would be a great idea. And that is just terrible. A character should never have a codename that reflects his skin color. I would hate to see a Hispanic character with the word “brown” in his codename.

McDuffie doesn’t seem to have any clue what to do with the Human Torch. Johnny has zero personality at all in this issue. I’m curious to see if McDuffie is going to be able to write Johnny’s character properly.

McDuffie also wrote a pretty poor version of Uatu. The sense of humor and witty banter than McDuffie gave Uatu just didn’t work for me.

And I have no idea where McDuffie is going with the idea that the Super Hero Registration Act is causing a destabilization of power across the globe. I guess that McDuffie is saying that the Registration Act has given the U.S. government a much large and more powerful arsenal to wield as compared with other countries. So, that shifts all the power to America. So what? I don’t mean to be nasty, but, as an America, why would I be worried if my country suddenly became the biggest baddest bully on the block who had far more power than anyone else?

Now, maybe McDuffie is stating that the Registration Act is going to spur a meta human arms race and spur other countries to create their own nation metahuman forces. That is a different case. And it is basically the same issue that we currently face with the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Even though I appreciate McDuffie not wasting any time getting this story arc off to a fast start, I feel that McDuffie definitely rushed this issue. I felt like McDuffie was in a race to see how fast he could deliver this issue. I think that McDuffie could have spent a little more time fleshing out this story arc and allowing the events to unfold more organically over the course of two issues rather than jamming it all into one issue.

The scenes in space teasing the reader about a mysterious cosmic entity and the presence of a sentinel and a herald would have generated more intrigue with the reader if McDuffie hadn’t given us everything right at the beginning. It is important for a writer to build up some mystery and tension in order to increase the reader’s anticipation of what is going to happen next. McDuffie showed his cards too early by giving us too much with the first issue of this story arc.

The pacing of Fantastic Four #544 was odd. This issue had rather clumsy transitions between the various short scenes. This issue also cut back and forth too many times between short scenes and that made this a rather choppy read.

Overall: Fantastic Four #544 was an average read. As to be expected, McDuffie wasted no time quickly getting his favorite characters in place and in the spotlight. Honestly, I would have given this title the axe if it hadn’t been for the appearance of the Silver Surfer at the end of this issue. I’m willing to continue getting this title for as long as the Silver Surfer is in it.

If you are a big fan of the Silver Surfer and cosmic based storylines then you should definitely give McDuffie’s Fantastic Four a try. Also, if you are a fan of Black Panther and Storm then you will certainly enjoy what McDuffie is delivering on this title.

4 Comments

  1. Regarding Black Panther’s codename, it’s not really a codename in the superhero sense, it’s an ancestral title. As for why it was chosen, Lee and Kirby came up with it in the mid-60s.

    He isn’t named after the Black Panther movement, because the character predates the Black Panthers by a couple of years.

    Plenty of superheroes are named for animals, and a “black panther” is an animal; as for having “black” in his name, it was seen as an affirmative thing in the early years of the civil rights movement.

  2. The second explanation is that Marvel was making a social statement and named Black Panther after the Black Panther movement.

    Actually Rokk’s your mistaken, since the Black Panther Party was founded in October 1966 approximately four months after Marvel introduced T’Challa as Black Panther.

  3. But if we was’nt called the BLACK panther, how would you know he was black? All Black superheros have to have Black in their names. Black lighntning, Black Goliath. Luke Cage doesn’t, so he has to make up for it by being a living sterotype. His much hated “respect” Comment is nothing if you remember that his catch phrase yoused to be “Sweet Xmas”. If you don’t make people into sterotypes, you have to worry about character devlopment and plotting, and who needs that kind of work?

    Regarding the Black Panther Party. marvel actully changed his name to the black lepoard in the 70’s in order to distance the charcter with the movment. They even mentioned it in comic.

  4. Indeed. Look at the marriage of sotrm to Black Panther. If I were A writer, it would take years to establish chemsisty bettween characters, then have them grow and develope over time. And who’s to say that fans would even like the paring? By the time that was all done, some other slob would be on the title and get all the credit. It’s better to do the big event, and let some other guy write the fall out. That way, when people complaine, it’s always about HIS era, not yours.

    I should totally write comic books.

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