Maybe it's just the video games talking; maybe it's the fact that I have three unread issues of Marvel freaking Apes sitting on my desk, but I really do love Marvel Comics. Not everything about them, mind you--as you might guess, I go through periods where my love is on the down-swing, but there are a lot of things about the Marvel Universe that just hold a special little place in my heart. So, for the next few days, I'm going to wax a little poetic about the House of Ideas.
And where should I begin? Well, I've been playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance again recently. The first time I played through, my main team consisted of Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and Luke Cage, who occasionally got swapped out for the Thing (though I can't quite remember why). This time around, I've been playing a bit more with some of the in-continuity teams. The X-Men are fun, since there are so many combinations, and it's been neat to watch everyone mourning the death of Nightcrawler...even when he's in my party. I do wish Cyclops weren't such a wuss, but what else is new? The Classic Avengers are fun, especially since I already keep Cap and Thor in their original costumes, and Iron Man's classic armor has better boosts than any other early-unlockable suit. I was chomping at the bit halfway through the game so I could unlock Ghost Rider and build the New Fantastic Four team, which is sadly about as effective as it looks. I still need to get the Joe Fixit outfit for Hulk so I can complete the look. As soon as I unlock Silver Surfer, I'm going to put together an erstwhile Defenders team (aren't they all?). But more than anything, I keep coming back to the Fantastic Four. In my first play-through, it seemed like Thing was the only one with anything useful to contribute, but after playing with them a bit, I see what an incredible group they really are. Johnny's fire powers are all so good that I have trouble picking which ones to keep active; Sue's force field ability and "Unstoppable Force" skill make her nigh-invulnerable; Thing has a great set of upgrades and abilities. If there's a weak link, it's Mr. Fantastic, who still has some pretty devastating attacks. Maybe it's just because I rock the game's socks, but playing as the FF has given me quite a bit of insight into why four folks with relatively tame powers can be one of the most formidable forces in the Marvel Universe.
I'll admit that as a kid, I never really got into the team. I bought the title for a short time around Infinity War (with all the doppelgangers running around) and again when Reed was "dead" and Thing was wearing a mask, but they never caught my interest. The next time I regularly bought the World's Greatest Comic Magazine was during the Waid/Wieringo years--specifically, the storyline where Dr. Doom turns his ex-girlfriend into a suit of skin-armor. Contrary to how that sounds, the book was incredibly fun, and is among the best things I've ever read by Mark Waid. The thing about the Fantastic Four that I think tends to get lost in the shuffle is that the best stories, whether they take place in the Negative Zone or the suburbs, are ones that center around the interactions and relationships between the FF family members.
And that, I think, is why the FF is the only group in the Marvel Universe who can make a transition from New York street crime to global supervillainy, to space invasions and otherdimensional entities, and do it seamlessly. They are, quite literally, the close-knit family that can handle anything. When written poorly, the Fantastic Four are just another superteam; when written well, the Fantastic Four is totally unique among comic book superheroes.
And that's pretty fantastic.