Fantastic Four #537/Amazing Spider-Man #531
I think it’s fair to review these two comics together because they share two very important things. One, they are both written by J. Michael Straczynski, and two, they are both total “bureaucracy” issues. By bureaucracy, I mean that they are just dedicated to fixing up certain plot points to make future stories possible, they really do not exist for their own plots. Other “bureaucracy” comics include Green Lantern: Rebirth, that issue of Thor where Gruenwald and Macchio explained how Thor’s hammer could no longer travel through time, stuff like that.
Fantastic Four exists to A. Explain how Doctor Doom is back and B. Set-up Thor’s return later (likely during Civil War).
Amazing Spider-Man exists to set-up Civil War.
In both comics, there is a hint of an actual plot, with the Fantastic Four trying to keep Doctor Doom from getting a hold of Thor’s hammer, and in Amazing, Spider-Man fights the Titanium Man. But the hints are there only to distract you from the mountains and mountains of bureaucratic paperwork, like seeing exactly how Doom went from being stuck in hell, and why he no longer is wearing his costume made out of the flesh of his true love, and then the little end bit where a guy wearing a backpack with a “DB” is headed out to Oklahoma, where there is chaos ensuing around Thor’s hammer, which fell to Earth a few months ago, after the Ragnarok storyline in Thor, which ended with all the Asgardian gods dying.
What is striking to me about Fantastic Four is how JMS and artist Mike McKone (who I think does a better job on the flesh armor than Wieringo, who sorta made it look like Doom was wearing an old-timey football uniform than the flesh of a person) manage to sorta blow two scenes that would look really, really cool normally. The first is seeing Doom being unable to lift the hammer (a huge energy dispersal blocks this out) and the second is Thing being unable to lift the hammer. McKone DOES draw the latter in the comic, but it really does not come out that well.
That being said, I will give JMS credit for his portrayal of Doom. He has a nice bead on Doom, especially how quickly Doom is moving on to a new idea after he realizes he cannot possess Thor’s hammer. In addition, his explanation for Doom’s escape was good, as was the way he managed to tie it in with Thor’s hammer. But that’s not enough of a story to carry an issue, so I would give Fantastic Four a resounding “not recommended.”
Over in Amazing Spider-Man, JMS has a much better bead on the characters of Spider-Man and Iron Man, so the story reads smoother. Tyler Kirkham is not great, but he does not hurt the story, which is a good job. I was afraid he would get too stylized, and hurt the book, but he does not. He does a pretty good job (A quick word about the book’s cover – I don’t expect the covers to match the book, really, but it IS kinda funny how the covers to these two issues REALLY don’t match the books, as Doom doesn’t lift Thor’s hammer in the comic, and Captain America doesn’t even APPEAR in the issue at ALL. Not a big deal, but still pretty funny).
The annoying thing about the issue to me is that it only exists as “Civil War #-1.” It does not exist as anything BUT Civil War #-1, and even at that, it isn’t exactly compelling. The majority of the issue involves basically just repeating things we’ve already been told in interviews about Civil War, and most of it will very likely be REPEATED in Civil War – so why, exactly, was this TWO-ISSUE story necessary? Not recommended.