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Superficial Saturdays #13 – ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 by Stuart Immonen

Comic: ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 Artist: Stuart Immonen

This will probably be an atypically long — and maybe atypically political — edition of Superficial Saturdays.

Which might be surprising given this unambiguously awesome cover of Sue Storm.

I like so many things about this cover; even though Sue’s force field power is generally depicted as a defensive weapon, we get to see some energy; and even though Sue is ostensibly “blocking” you can see that she’s getting angry and is probably winding up to kill someone to death (or you know, batter them with invisible force field balls or whatever).

The force field power is meant to be “invisible” and Immonen does a handsome job of it. We can both get the gist of the circular shield she is calling up at the same time we can see all the way through; ergo he accomplishes a pretty difficult task of conveying invisibility and invisible shield-dom, which, if you think about it, is not easy at all.

Further, Immonen’s depiction of Sue and her uniform are basically perfect. As Ultimate Sue Storm we are looking at a younger woman; and a generally young super-scientist. But per the essentially evergreen depiction of the classic Fantastic Four uniform, she is covered top to bottom; and it is a uniform. One of the things I’ve always loved about the FF is that they all wear the same thing (other than Ben Grimm) with generally little variation and it makes sense for their team and family aesthetic. Immonen’s fabric wrinkles are great and in particular how he deals with Sue’s breasts is basically perfect. Yes, this is a skin tight / form fitting uniform. Yes, there are a woman’s breasts under there. And yes, they are flattened to a degree by the uniform rather than jutting out ridiculously. Unstable molecules or no, that’s how fabric works.

Also my wife was walking by while I started writing this and said this would have been a hell of a shoe ad.

Regardless, it’s a hell of a cover.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 came out about a decade ago, and — at least cover-wise — it was awesome (I think you will agree). All the things that make sense / are awesome about the execution of this cover… I want you to hold those in your head while we dial back another ten years (a series of covers are kinda sorta the impetus of my writing this particular Superficial Saturdays).

To that end maybe the rest of this will be a mite unfair, because 1993 or so was a weird time for the comics industry.

It was spitting distance from the X-plosion of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee with their X-FORCE and [adjective-less] X-MEN launches circa 1990. It was also quite close to the Marvel exodus of superstars Liefeld, Lee, MacFarlane, Silvestri, and others for Image Comics. Marvel was on the wrong side of a talent drain and was clearly reacting to troubling market forces.

But I can’t say I particularly like some of those reactions.

To that end I want to highlight some FF stuff I didn’t like from that era. First let’s look at FANTASTIC FOUR #371.


FANTASTIC FOUR #371 featured red and / or white special embossed covers. I don’t know how you feel about the art on this cover but that’s about as good as it looked IRL. I wouldn’t, on its own merits, be picking any of the Paul Ryan era FF comics for Superficial Saturdays.

I’d rather focus on two elements of this comic book cover:


At the top we [still] have “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

When my old Comic Book Idol co-competitor Jonathan Hickman took over FANTASTIC FOUR from Mark Millar a few years ago, they didn’t let him run with that across the top. It was a big deal for Hickman to earn the banner back (and he of course put together one of the best runs of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, ever, and my personal favorite). Point being, that banner at the top is a big deal, or at least should be. It’s puffery to an extent; but really, Stan and Jack… John Byrne… Waid and Weiringo… It’s an awesome title to be in charge of. A dream job for a comics fan.

The other thing I want to point out on this cover is the $2.00 price tag. I mean good luck finding a $2.00 print comic book in 2014, but this was twenty years ago. The cover is… kind of shitty. They up-charged customers to $2.00 for that “embossed” shitty cover.

Let’s jump ahead to FANTASTIC FOUR #374.


As you can see the regular price for FANTASTIC FOUR at the time was about $1.25… So paying an extra 60% for that shitty embossed cover was a pure hype move.

The bigger thing about this is how the 1993 team dealt with Sue.


The peekaboo works for Power Girl. Maybe Ahsoka Tano. But a stylized peekaboo “4” on Sue [Richards] is just atrocious.

One of the iconic things about the Fantastic Four is that they all have the same uniform. They are a family and all match. Sure, when Johnny is on fire you can’t see his blues, and Ben is a giant pile of rocks so only wears the shorts, but Reed and Sue (and Reed and Sue and Johnny) are all meant to dress alike.

Maybe. Just maybe I get sexing the title up… But it doesn’t even make sense with Sue. Forget about the fact that she’s a married woman; and a mom; there are sexy married moms. But this uniform doesn’t just seem character- and age-inappropriate, it’s hideous. It’s insulting. This woman is a science adventurer who has stared down the fundamental forces of nature. She is the once and future queen of the seven seas. She can contain an exploding supernova sun with the power of her mind and can bend the behavior of the most intelligent creature in creation to her heart. Thigh highs and a peekaboo? It’s not just ugly / insulting / inappropriate… But a betrayal of the character.

Oh, and even though you have The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! in your hands, why not just reiterate the names of the characters on the cover? Obviously the New Fantastic Four angle with sales favorites Spider-Man, The Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine is a blatant grab for dollars based on those characters’ popularity… Why the hell would you replace “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” with their names? Are we somehow banking on increasing sales based on guest characters but somehow don’t think prospective buyers know their names?

I’d like to close this section with the next issue, an anniversary issue of sorts, FANTASTIC FOUR #375:


For a garish “holograhix prizm” readers get fleeced from $1.25 to $2.95 — more than 100% more than the usual price. I mean some special covers are things of beauty but this one wasn’t. It might be the worst of the three. But just four issues after the $2.00 “embossed” FANTASTIC FOUR #371? Argh.

They let us know this isn’t our parents’ comic magazine.

Not with peekaboo thigh-highs Sue front-and-center. Is this meant to be “bad”? “Bad” as in bad-girl as opposed to poorly executed? Overtly sexually exploitative? I mean if that’s the intended thrust… It isn’t even a good example of the form. Rather than dwell on whether or not we should have scantily clad superheroines at all (I think there are cases where it can be dealt with substantially better than with science-mom, like anything Emma Frost)… This cover just makes no sense.

If we are breaking Sue from the rest of the FF uniforms (you know, to show off her thighs)… Why are we covering her back up with a military jacket? Oh, all the FF match again! Except Reed doesn’t even have long sleeves! So they don’t!


Sue Storm can suffocate a god or rip a spaceship in half with her brain. What the hell does she need a gun for? Though I am really not sure if I hate the fact that they dressed her (and Reed, and kind-of Ben) like Cable more from the story-inconsistency standpoint, or the fact that they erased all her clothes only to cover her back up again, pointlessly.

Well, at least Sue had a good, in-story reason for the costume switch. Nobody wants to look like an old frump (you know like in the Immonen cover at the top):


Because on the page where you introduce your Leading Lady’s well-thought-out costume change, what you really want is a coloring error ON THE SAME PAGE that misses all the skin you are supposed to be showing off.


What Sally Saw, or “That One Time Law School Ruined My Personality”


The Spoiler Alert
The Summary
The Opinion
That One Time Law School Ruined My Personality
Waiting for Superman


This blog post largely concerns action from last week’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men, “Favors”.

The impetus for this post comes out of a faux controversy arising out of the aforementioned “Favors” … And a battle between the titanic wills of YT and the missus. If you haven’t seen “Favors” (but care) consider yourself spoiler-warned.


In “Favors” we are introduced to Mitchell Rosen, the son of Don Draper’s neighbors the Mrs. Sylvia and Dr. Arnold Rosen. Earlier in the season it was revealed that Don was having an extramarital affair with Mrs. Sylvia (played by onetime Freaks and Geeks star Linda Cardellini), which has since cooled.

Now I don’t possess an exhaustive understanding of the mechanics or politics of Vietnam-era military conscription, but it seems that Mitchell did something stupid to queer his draft-exempt status as a student, and has gone and gotten himself earmarked by Selective Service. Over the course of the episode, Don calls in favors various — including putting his agency’s relationship with its biggest client in an awkward position — to shield Mitchell from a harsh destiny in a wartorn southeast Asia.

Now unbeknownst to Don, his daughter Sally has met Mitchell in the apartment building lobby and decided he was the dreamiest. Sally’s stupid friend slipped a note into the Rosen apartment, which the young Sally understandably endeavored to recover in order to avoid adolescent embarrassment. By tricking the gullible door man to Don’s building — essentially stealing her way in and committing a B&E* — Sally enters the Rosens’ apartment to recover the love note, stumbles clumsily on her dad ucking-fay a stranger:

What Sally Saw

Eep! As a “thank you” for saving her son, Mrs. Rosen has rekindled the affair with Don; to what extent we don’t know, especially after Sally’s discovery.

Predictably — Sally runs off.

Don’s machinations are as we said successful and dreamy Mitchell gets uninvited to Vietnam; Don is proclaimed “the sweetest man” by his current wife Megan (not Sally’s mom, as that marriage ended at least in part by Don’s rampant infidelity from X-[wo]Man Emma Frost); and Sally curses him angrily, running off again.

The previous Mrs. Draper. Oops.

The Opinion:

Mrs. MichaelJ declared Don 100% culpable in “destroying” Sally Draper’s young mind (or at least innocence) as she got stuck finding her pops sticking it to some woman who wasn’t his wife.

For my part, I have a low opinion of infidelity. I am totally happy blaming Don for infidelity and a dozen other affronts to good family management and / or child rearing but I can’t see blaming him for What Sally Saw 100%. What if he were cheating on the moon? Is he supposed to predict his daughter stealing a rocket ship and happening upon them up there at the wrong moment, too?

Wifey got kind of hot and bothered over my defense of Draper and asked me to ask some of my friends. One of my best friends ranted and ranted at me the next day about Don’s culpability. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Is this about Don or your dad?” MY DAD OF COURSE! (Her dad was a cheater and she stopped speaking to him years ago.)

Before I got back to my desk at the office she had already called one of my co-workers RE: this. There was an IM waiting for me.


These womyn and their conspiracies!

Poor Don!

Look people — Like I said, I am perfectly fine blaming Don for whatever. Like I said, I have a poor opinion of infidelity. Clearly he was doing something wrong. Clearly he could have gotten caught by someone. But his daughter? In terms of What Sally Saw… I really don’t think you can blame poor Don 100%.

A few weeks ago, the team of YT, Josh Ravitz, and Thea Steele scrubbed out of a Team Limited tournament. With plenty of time on the afternoon I suggested we go see Iron Man 3. Thea didn’t want to. “Who can relate to an aloof, arrogant, billionaire who thinks he is better than everyone else?”

“Well he is smarter / richer / better than everyone else.”
-Things I didn’t actually say

“You’re right… Who?”
-Also something I didn’t say.

Don Draper — for whatever his other faults — is depicted on Mad Men as the greatest copywriter ever to walk into a client meeting. He is part pitchman, part hypnotist, and all Adonis. Don’s execution has been slipping in recent seasons, delegating to junior copywriters, getting embarrassingly drunk at public events, spacing out and disappearing for weeks at a time… But his combination of luck, audacity, and self-confidence have him and his succession of partnerships landing bigger business and building a more and more successful advertising firm. For all the failings in his personal life, Don is remarkably moral in a business context, using his influence to protect associates who are weaker than he is, and to reward the hard-working or talented lower on the totem pole… even if they are — gasp — women.

I have been accused by many of these women of siding with Don “all the time”.

I have in fact sided with Don x minus one times.

Every single Don-smashing opinion I had gotten to this point was from the fairer sex. Clearly they were all biased. Maybe a right-thinking person** could jibe with YT. I put it out to the Unstoppable Twitter Army.

Not trolling.


Monster! Osyp had Peggy beat by a week!

Could I be wrong? Had I been in the wrong from the first disagreement with K? I apologized to her.

But how did I get here?

That One Time Law School Ruined My Personality

If you’ve listened to the first episode of The Official Miser’s Guide*** you know that I was attending law school when I wrote Who’s the Beatdown?.

The principal way law school ruined my personality was accomplished by my Contracts professor on the first day; he introduced the idea that lawyers think differently from everyone else. Lawyers — especially by nature of having to advocate for villainous clients they “know” are in the wrong (and / or wrangling around the intellectual acrobatics of opposing lawyers) — have to imagine alternate universes while arguing seemingly contradictory things. They also often tend to think in the manner of the letter of the law, regardless of what regular (shall we say “right thinking”) folk might believe when presented the same set of circumstances, which can be alienating.

In my mind, Sally’s B&E was not a foreseeable intervening event by Don (it was in fact an actual crime); in a court of law he would almost certainly be absolved of the wrong of What Sally Saw regardless of the fact that he was responsible for an original wrong of ucking-fay not-his-wife.

The 1/3 lawyer in me sez: Poor Don. The criminal Sally had done this to herself.

But everybody else seems to disagree (except for Lan D. Ho — who blamed Sally’s stupid friend).

So that 1/3 lawyer in me thinks one way… maybe is “right”. But what does it mean if that 1/3 person is alone in the rational universe?

When I got my NLP certification****, I learned that the most powerful tool in human experience is rapport. Rapport can a superpower more powerful than — gasp — math. It is the quality that connects historic leaders, commission-crushing salesmen, and notorious Lotharios. Rapport, put simply, is the idea that people like to do things for people that they like; and that people like people who are like them.

So basically the opposite of alienating yourself while logically convinced you are right.

In the interest of superpowers (i.e. the cultivation of future influence), I decided to graciously scoop in every direction.

Firestarter: What do you think? You know, about What Sally Saw?

Waiting for Superman

On the subject of superpowers, ComiXology is having a crazy sale on Superman comics right now, no doubt in concert with this weekend’s release of Man of Steel (which I just got home from). Basically over 200 Superman comics at 50-75% off.

Some highlights:

Action Comics (2011-)
I’m currently binge-reading Grant Morrison’s whole run on the current Action Comics; when I wrote Teddy Card Game Asks About the New 52 I had only read the first of Morrison’s 18-issue run. I am on my second and even third readings of many of these stories in the current binge-read, and I have come to the conclusion that this is simply one of the most special runs in the history of superhero comics. Rags Morales is unbelievable, conveying mass, muscle, a visceral physicality in his everyman Superman; Grant is classic Grant with his huge ideas, time travel, Easter eggs, and cameos. You really get the idea that this was a labor of love and the literal capstone of his work on DC One Million, All-Star Superman, etc. If you aren’t going to sample any of the other stuff in the current ComiXology sale, I would heartily recommend the eight issues of Action Comics featured therein.

All-Star Superman
It’s been called the best Superman story ever told. I am certainly not going to disagree; as it is in fact my favorite Superman story ever. Grant’s ideas are bigger than ever, he has the A+ Frank Quitely as his playmate on visuals throughout. All-Star Superman starts with a trip to the sun, has irresistible forces up against immovable objects, mythical heroes and villains, and Lex Luthor at his absolute bestworst. Very much a Silver Age Superman story that makes sense even to modern comics audiences; which is another way of saying it brings out the best of what makes comics comics.

Kingdom Come
Mark Waid and Alex Ross in a genre-redefining four issue steal. I own all the originals from when they were original but at $.99 it is just stupid not to pad the old iPad (I did).

Secret Identity
Stuart Immonen has become one of the biggest stars in superhero pencils since his work on The New Avengers and other Marvel “event”-style books; Secret Identity showcases an Immonen from a decade ago; looking little like he does today (his cut-down style was developed largely on Warren Ellis’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.), but gorgeous nevertheless (just different-gorgeous). Rich instead of minimal. Really rich. Not quite the ROI on $4 that you would get with a Kingdom Come but still worth more than $4; thoroughly emotionally engaging comic book story IMO. And did I mention beautiful?

I mention this only because it includes my all-time favorite fight scene (Superman and Batman v. Captain Marvel and Hawkman, which I have written about multiple times before); also on sale.

I wish I could say I am a ComiXology affiliate or something, but I really just think you should get in on these steal-tacular Superman opportunities before 6/20.


* My legal opinion

** You know, with a penis

*** And if you haven’t listened to it, you can download the first episode of The Official Miser’s Guide for free here.

**** Substantially more useful than my legal training in basically every way.