|Fantastic Four: ¡Isla De La Muerte!
By Tom Beland and Juan Doe
Marvel Comics – saddle-stitched, $3.99
SUPERHERO WORK WRITTEN BY independent comics creators sometimes has a perfunctory feel, as if, even if they don’t feel it’s beneath them, it doesn’t really interest them, and writing superheroes is simply the price they pay to fund their more personal work. Not so True Story, Swear To God’s Tom Beland, who is a long-time hero fan and has even included a few panels featuring characters from the Fantastic Four in True Story. His new Marvel one-shot, Fantastic Four: ¡Isla De La Muerte!, exudes a feeling of affection for the FF and carries over Beland’s light touch and humor from True Story.
¡Isla De La Muerte! finds Beland in familiar territory, as he devises a logical and amusing conceit to get the FF to his home of Puerto Rico (you can even spot Tom in a crowd scene). They’re there to sate their curiosity (couched in the language of concern) over why Ben (The Thing) spends three days a year on the island. Once there, they find themselves drafted to deal with the local problem of deaths attributed to El Chupacabras, the goatsucking urban legend that was in the popular consciousness during the ’90s.
From his first scene between Ben and Johnny (The Human Torch), Beland nails the team’s family dynamic, and the banter between the two is fluid and funny. All four get a moment or two and a few good lines each, plus Beland comes up with some uses for their powers that I hadn’t seen before, such as Sue (The Invisible Woman) using her force field to envelop Johnny’s head, drowning out his incessant chatter, and Reed (Mister Fantastic) tightening his skin to prevent mosquitoes from biting him.
However, despite the presence of the whole team, it’s Ben that really takes center stage. The story opens up a new part of his life that hadn’t been touched on before and one of the themes is the irony that, though he is the team’s toughest and strongest member, and in some ways the (pardon the expression) rock that anchors the team, the others often treat him like he’s “made of glass.” My favorite relationship within the team has long been the one between Ben and Sue, and Beland includes two very strong scenes between them in which they discuss how he fits within the team, Ben feeling as described above and Sue seeing him as an “oasis” in a life filled with egomaniacs. It’s moments like this that elevate ¡Isla De La Muerte! from rote superhero outing to genuine labor of love FF story. The only real, if minor, misstep in the story is a small disconnect in the plot, which could have been resolved with an additional line of dialogue.
The art by Juan Doe (his real name?) also captures an appropriate sense of whimsy, with smooth textures, rounded shapes and black-dot eyes on many characters. The cartooniness is a great fit for the story and keeps it of a piece with True Story, though it’s somewhat less effective on the occasions when a few too many lines creep onto faces. The chupacabras are menacing enough, but, like Bone’s rat creatures, also appealing enough to be sympathetic as the story requires. Doe does an excellent job of evoking the locale with convincing settings and an eye for detail.
As there’s no credited colorist, I assume that Doe is responsible for the coloring himself. It’s an integral part of the artwork, with many of the lines colored in and a lot of the textures completed by the coloring. The simulated wood grain and pulp texture that’s used throughout is also a nice touch. The colors pop nicely in most of the book, though at times they run together into a muddy sameness. I also found it distracting when individual objects had a bit too much texture, like the popcorn when Reed and Sue are watching a movie, drawing too much attention to a fairly unimportant element of the picture. The art works most of the time and I look forward to seeing more from Doe, especially as he works out these kinks over time.
Coming away from Fantastic Four: ¡Isla De La Muerte!, my main impression was that Beland clearly loves the characters and has a good handle on their personalities and relationships. It didn’t make me rethink the franchise and it’s hardly a high mark of the series, but it’s a fun story told with charm and obvious affection. It’s also clear that True Story, Swear to God is not a fluke and Beland excels at telling a story with wit and emotion. If this is an FF tryout book like Dwayne McDuffie’s 2006 Fantastic Four Special, my vote is to see more from Beland, maybe even with some of his own art (assuming it doesn’t interfere with True Story, of course).