Today closes out our series on BAD COMICS I WROTE, delving into some of the dark corners of the 1990s for gems of awfulness. It's kind of amazing, given some of these stories, that any good Marvel comics at all were done during that period.
Today's final entry is FANTASTIC FORCE, a series with a dubious pedigree from start to finish.
The full story is fairly complicated, but FANTASTIC FORCE came about due to a bid to save FANTASTIC FOUR from being taken off the newsstand, and due to the panicked reaction to a rumor by a comic book columnist who had heard that the traditional FF book was going to be eliminated in favor of a newfangled X-FORCE-style FANTASTIC FORCE. After a lot of strange drama, Tom DeFalco decided to create a Fantastic Force team regardless. He started setting the seeds in his regular FF run, while another creative team which didn't include me was scheduled to begin work on the FANTASTIC FORCE monthly.
For whatever reason, that creative team, the editor and Tom D (who was editor in chief while the series was being conceived) couldn't come to a meeting-of-the-minds, and so the book found itself without a writer or an artist right atop its launch date. On the basis of a good showing I'd made on an issue of FANTASTIC FOUR UNLIMITED (which hadn't even shipped at that point), I was asked if I wanted to take on the series.
So I tried to wrap my head around the pieces I'd been given. The problem from my point of view was that the cast and set-up didn't really bear any resemblance to that of the core FF book--the characters came from there, sure, but where the FF were a middle class family at their heart, my guys were an artificially-aged Franklin Richards, a female barbarian chick from the future, a haughty Wakandan kid, and a big apelike Inhuman. So the approach I hit upon was to invert the classic Fantastic Four paradigm: whereas the FF were ordinary people who explored the extraordinary, the members of Fantastic Force would be extraordinary people from all across the glob and space and time who would explore modern day life in Manhattan.
Unfortunately, I ran into a problem, in that while the editor of the series agreed with this approach in principle, in practice he never allowed me to really get into it. One of the reasons for this is that Tom DeFalco had a theory that the earliest issues of a new series should all be single-issue stories. Tom didn't mean, however, that they shouldn't have subplots and links from one installment to the next, just that the A-plot of a given issue should resolve itself within that issue until the book had had time to find its stride. But the editor held to the letter of Tom's law rather than the spirit, and constantly made me cut subplot material that was intended to build over the course of time. (Every once in a while one of these sequences would make it into a given issue, but the subsequent pick-up in the following issue would be cut, leaving story fragments that really didn't go anywhere.)
And also, let's be honest: I wasn't good enough at building engaging characterizations at this point to be able to make this disparate cast come to life in the way that they should have.
Editorially, FANTASTIC FORCE was a low book on the totem pole of the two editors who handled it--the second editor gave it little thought, while the first editor constantly struggled with the direction and what he wanted, and wasn't great on his follow-through.
Case in point: FANTASTIC FORCE #3, which I've chosen to spotlight here. I wrote a first-draft plot for this issue, and the editor came back to me with some feedback that necessitated restructuring the story. However, when I turned up with the rewrite a few days later, I discovered that the forgetful editor had sent the previous draft of the plot to the artist, who'd already drawn two or three pages--pages that had been cut out of the new draft in order to make room for the changes the editor had requested. So now I had to go back into the story and find a way to re-incorporate the alerady-drawn pages (since they had been paid for, the editor wasn't about to eat them) and then strip out enough material to make room for them--all the while keeping the new stuff that the editor wanted in the book. The result is something of a mess--and to make matters worse, the final book was printed with pages wildly out of order, making the story even more difficult to follow.
Editorial lesson learned: have your stuff together and know what you're sending to an artist and in what form. And if you're at odds with your creative team constantly about the diection of a series, then you've got the wrong creative team.
More stuff next week.