August 10th, 2011
for all that the Fantastic Four comics worked in the 1960s, I’m somehow not a big fan of placing the characters in the 1960s. That’s a nice picture and everything, I just don’t get a thrill out of seeing those characters “in their time” the way someone could surmise I might from my affection for the original Lee-Kirby run. What can I say? I’m complicated.
Actually, this makes perfect sense. There’s a huge difference between Lee and Kirby working on Fantastic Fourback in the sixties and somebody coming along forty-fifty years later and doing a pastiche or homage, drawing explicitily on our shared cultural conception of “the sixties”, like Alex Ross did with Marvels. In the latter case the pastichist is working in an aesthetic formula that has been retroactively defined as “sixties” and tries to adhere to this as best they can, working with a limited amount of both visual and storytelling cliches, at all times conscious of the desired impact on their readers. You can see that in the end product too: you get either the Leave it to Beaver/JFK Camelot, the Hippies and Summer of Love or the Vietnam/race riots/RFK version of the sixties.
Lee and Kirby had their own constraints of course, both unconscious and conscious ones (the comics code not being the least of them) but they lacked that creative straightjacket their modern day emulators willingly subject themselves to. They could evolve, while of necessity somebody like Alex Ross or Darwyn Cooke trying to place the Fantastic Four or the Silver Age DC characters in their own time has to remain static, consistent, recognisable.
For the reader, it’s the thrill of the familiar rather than the thrill of the new. Hence always disappointing and empty.