Overdue Comics Commentary: Fantastic Four: True Story
I know it's been far too long since I've last written anything comics-related, but I hope this isn't too untimely...
I greatly enjoyed Fantastic Four: True Story #1; the premise, if somewhat derivative (Cornell explicitly acknowledges his debt to Jasper Fforde, though I was also reminded of Woody Allen's short story The Kugelmass Episode), is no less entertaining and intriguing. I particularly enjoyed the deconstructed Thing-Torch squabble, reminiscent of the Neo-Futurists' short play "Title," which reduces a disastrous dinner date to its raw essentials ("Suggestive proposition." "Violent denial!")...though I doubt Cornell is familiar with the Neo-Futurists' work.
There was one bit that truly bothered me: When the FF encounter Dante Alighieri, and Johnny Storm's immediate reaction to his name is a Clerks reference. I already thought Cornell was overdoing Johnny's immaturity and ignorance just a bit, but this pushed my suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. Sure, I can believe that Johnny's never read the poem, I can buy that he doesn't really know what it's about...but I cannot believe that Johnny's never heard of Dante's Inferno.
Maybe it's just me, but it always takes me right out of a story when, for the sake of a gag, a character is suddenly ignorant of something that's part of the common cultural landscape. It's bothered me ever since I was a kid, and I saw an episode of the sitcom Alice in which Alice's son Tommy was studying King Lear for school. When Mel (the diner owner, played by Vic Tayback, for those of you too young to remember the series) heard him mention this assignment, Mel asked "King Lear? That a sequel to King Kong?" Even at the tender age of whenever-it-was, I was going "Oh, come on! Even Mel's not that dumb!" (It went even further later in the episode, when Tommy recited a speech from the play, and Mel commented "Boy, that Kong was one smart ape." Geez, I think Mel's figured out by now that not everyone with "King" in front of their name is a giant ape.)
This annoyed me so much that it has stayed with me to this day, far longer than any sitcom gag should remain in one's memory. Indeed, it bugged me so much that, years after the fact, I came up with a "shoulda said" gag that I think would have worked better. Imagine if Mel had said "King Lear? That about the guy who invented the jet plane?" It would have worked as a "Ha ha, Mel is ignorant" joke...but it would have been plausibly ignorant.