Writer: Karl Kesel
Artists: Joe Dodd (p), Derek Fridolfs (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
After waking up and saving himself and the others from becoming spider food, we see Johnny discovers a slave city has been set up to contain the people who expressed their unhappiness with the Locust Project. After freeing this group, Johnny sends them all to the size-shifting machine to be returned to the regular size, while he acts as a distraction that will buy them the time they need. While Johnny's plan works, we see he's on the verge of being defeated when the head of the Locust Project decides to get rid of him by returning him to his normal size.
The book opens with a solid opening bit where we see Johnny is openly confronted by the idea that within the confines of the Fantastic Four his role isn't really all that well defined, as Reed's the brains, Ben's the brawn, and Sue's the heart, but Johnny's defined more by his negative qualities, like his tendency to impulsively rush into combat, or his inability to fully absorb a situation before he rushes to judgment. In fact if this book does nothing else I hope that it acts to strengthen the character as of the four members of the Fantastic Four Johnny has always been my least favorite, as of the four he's always been the least defined, and if not for his ever entertaining feud with Ben, I could easily see his place on the team being filled by almost any character in the Marvel Universe. Now this opening sequence is largely about setting up a premise that Johnny spends the rest of the issue trying to disprove, and for the most part the issue manages to present Johnny as a competent hero, even if his big plan succeeds largely because the head villain was presented as so slow on the uptake. In any event the issue does deliver the battle that I was making noise about in an earlier review, as Johnny does battle with a wasp rider in the middle of a rain storm, and it also delivers the exciting moment where we see Johnny's power is doused by a raindrop, and he stands powerless at the mercy of the villain as she advances on him with her Wasp's stinger poised to strike him down. Now the conclusion to this moment is a bit disappointing but I will credit Karl Kesel for realizing it made for an exciting moment.
Joe Dodd turns in a decent enough effort, as while the art doesn't deliver the same sense of energy that Skottie Young's work had, he does have a stronger grasp on the human form, and for the most part a better understanding when the art needs to take a step back to tell an element of the story in a clear, easy to follow manner, rather than going for another big impact visual. That's not to say there aren't some impressive visuals to be found in this issue, as Johnny's opening encounter with the spider is a great reveal shot, and the panel where we see the people blame Hugo for their current situation is well presented with their grasping arms through the bars. The art also manages to do a nice job on the battle, as Johnny's power looks fantastic, and while the move to the outdoors should've been better conveyed by the art, the rainstorm works quite well, as we see Johnny's flame is snuffed out by a single rain drop. I do have to say I was a bit disappointed by the big reveal shot of the slave city, as while the idea that it's a depressing place is conveyed, the level of detail on this shot simply isn't enough to justify a double page spread.
My biggest problem with this arc is that it seemed perfectly happy playing with the predictable plot elements that offer themselves up rather than making its own path. I mean we get the classic scene where we see what happens to the people who expressed their objections to the tyrannical rule, and the even more ominous fate that befalls the ones who actively opposed the iron fisted rule that this community is controlled by. We even have the scene where Johnny acts as the distraction that lures all the guards away from the size-switch platform, and my only reaction to the moment where the head villain comes to realize what Johnny has done is to openly wonder how she managed to attain any level of authority if she considers Johnny's plan to be clever. I mean her first thoughts should've been if Johnny is here kicking up a ruckus, and drawing attention to himself rather than making a beeline for the size-switch platform, than where are his friends, as it's a painfully obvious plan that no reasonably intelligent villain should fall for. There's also some odd moments that seem to occur for no better reason than it serves the story, like the scene where Johnny's battle suddenly moves outside so that he can be caught up in the rainstorm, or the equally silly revelation that the size-shift Platform is located outside. One also has to love that the villain's final act of villainy is to restore Johnny to his regular size, for no other reason than she must've realized there was only three pages left in the issue, and not enough story to support another chapter.
Rain, Rain Go Away:
Not the most imaginative of issues as Karl Kesel seems more interested in sticking to the conventional means of establishing the idea that Johnny's squaring off against an evil ruler than on making his own path, as we have the pit where her enemies are thrown to be consumed, and the slave population that is made up of the people that didn't display the proper degree of happiness. There's also a big battle that suffers from the lack of a climax, as right when Johnny looks to be on the ropes, we see the villain he's fighting suddenly decides to do something nice, as instead of killing him, she restores him to his proper size, so he can head off to have more adventures. Still there's enough exciting moments in this issue that the regular reader should be entertained, as the book opens with a nicely creepy revelation that Johnny and his friends are not the first people who have been tossed in the spider pit. There's also something to be said for the fact that the final battle is set within the confines of a rainstorm where a single drop can rob Johnny of his power. I also enjoyed the opening scene as it nicely spells out the idea that Johnny's place within the Fantastic Four is lacking a positive defining character element.
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