The nicest thing about Christmas break is that it gives a comic book reader like myself plenty of time to catch up on so many books that I haven’t had the opportunity to check out over the past year.
I kid you not, but during my recent trip to my wife’s hometown in those fertile dairy-lands of Wisconsin, I read no less than 60 some issues of various random series from 2019 that were on my radar yet somehow escaped my all important read pile gaze. I mean it’s really cold in Wisconsin, and other than drinking some of that state’s wonderfully fine beer and eating copious amounts of Fish Fry and Cheese Curds, there’s not much else to do but snuggle under a warm blanket in front of roaring fire and polish of comic book after comic book on my handy E-reader.
Of course, given I only had one week left to review some of them here on gotstratosphere before they became last years’ news, I had to very picky when it came to exactly which book would make the cut and appear as my final read pile entry of 2019. With that said, I decided to cheat a bit by not only making this final review of this decade be on a Marvel book (given they are my “go to” comic purveyor) but also on a Fantastic Four book (which in someways has supplanted even Spider-Man as the comic characters I most relate with in my more mature years).
It didn’t hurt that the book was written by one of the legends of the comic book industry in Peter David, so that definitely peaked my interest. It also didn’t hurt that at least the first chapter of this 3 part story takes place in the Savage Land which is one of my favorite places in the Marvel Universe what with all the Dinosaurs and Shanna She Devils.
However, this was also billed as a “crossover” as well which has been another term for comic book poison with me as of late, so let’s see whether this book had what it took to overcome that particular shortfall.
10 Cent Synopsis:
After being exiled to Earth by his brother, the ultra-powerful elemental known as Prah’d’gul (which I’ll refer to has Prodigal for the rest of the article because it sounds better) is super pissed off! Wanting nothing more than to return to his home planet of Klordon and lay some fraternal whoop ass down on his bro-bro, he is manipulated by the chief of the Swamp People tribe of the Savage Land into raiding an old High Evolutionary outpost with promises of finding a spaceship there which he can hitch a ride back to his home planet.
Of course, this raid catches the attention of Ka-Zar, the Tarzan like protector of the Savage Land who in turn asks for the Fantastic Four to intervene given the high technological bric-a-brac this outpost contains. After a brief tussle, the FF assure Prodigal there is no fancy pants spaceship here, and offer to fly him home themselves. Of course, the FF’s hospitality is quickly taken advantage of by Prodigal who attempts to steal the spaceship for himself, only to find it self destruct stranding him in space.
That is until the Silver Surfer comes along and we get a flash back to when the Prodigal and the board rider fought while Surfer was Galactus’ herald. Feeling bad for the way Prodigal took a beat down in that earlier encounter, Surfer offers to fight Prodigal back to his home planet.
Only problem is by this time Prodigal’s brother has asked for the Guardians of the Galaxy’s protection just in case Prodigal ever came back, which is sure to lead to another incredible cosmic battle in the series conclusion!
So on the plus side, this isn’t really a “crossover”. It’s more akin to a Marvel Team Up or Two-In-One as it’s just a collection of 3 issues featuring this Prodigal character teaming up with other more established heroes in the Marvel Universe. Sort of the way that in pro wrestling you put up and coming talent immediately in a tag team, stable, or feud with the veterans to hopefully give that rookie some shine.
Also on the initial plus side, I was sort of excited when I first got a look at the Prodigal as he has a very similar design to the old Steve Gerber character, Omega the Unknown, so I was secretly excited that this was Marvel’s veiled attempt to bring that character back into the fold after so many years.
However, most of my hopes were dashed by the first encounter Prodigal has with some dinos after his crash landing in the Savage Land. You see, this is just yet another attempt by Marvel to give us some Supermanesque character given as I’ve pointed out more times than I can count on our podcast, it’s the one character they are desperately missing and they continue to trot out clone after clone trying to recreate.
Whether it’s Hyperion, Sentry, Blue Marvel, or a dozen others I could name if I wanted to, the 616 is littered with these Kal -El rejects all bucking to give Marvel what they have been missing without the Man of Steel. It again makes my blood boil that the original Captain Marvel ended up in the hands of DC Comics where his potential has been squandered for years, where as if he was at Marvel, he would be a “A list” all star….but I digress.
Yeah, I’m sure there are some out there that will give me grief by pointing out that technically Prodigal has a different power set from ol’ Supes given he can control elemental forces rather than being faster than a speeding bullet. Although that is true, they sure do seem to play up the fact that he’s from another planet and he zips around in cape, which is somewhat of a dead give away.
Besides, even the elemental power is somewhat of copycat move anyways, given that Marvel already has a elemental based super hero in their arsenal with the Inhuman, Crystal, but I guess she doesn’t count because she’s not a beefy cocksure braggart like we get with Prodigal.
And I guess that’s what my initial thoughts of this entire series boils down too. Although there’s some pretty nifty dialogue at times, and all the established mainstays of the Marvel universe are written well such as the FF, Surfer, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, its really hard not to get a massive “retread” feeling from this entire book. It’s like we’ve seen this all before and better I might add, despite Peter David’s attempts to punch things up a bit as a consulate professional ought to.
I guess the most original thing that comes out of the series is the fact that once Prodigal returns back to his home planet and is pretty much made out to be an unwanted pariah by his former people, he just decides to blow up the planet just to spite all those that pushed him aside. Talk about not taking rejection well. Sheesh!
But again, it’s a move that does elevate the character to a certain degree in that it takes major cajones to be that big of a jerk and yet still potentially be the hero of your own story I guess.
I also liked the scenes where he steals the FF’s spaceship only to hoisted with his own petard as it were when Reed reveals he rigs all the ships to explode without authorization, showing that Mr. Fantastic at least has a handle on security with these insane inventions he’s created, even if he can’t make cosmic ray shielding to save his life.
I will say though my favorite part of this series was…
…Issue 2 which features a fight between the Prodigal and the Silver Surfer from back when Surfer was still Galactus’ interstellar waiter serving up planets on a bun for him to nom on. Mainly this is because for some bizarre reason, I’m a huge fan of any comic in which the Silver Surfer throws down with another heavy hitter of the Marvel universe. Y’know one of those knockdown drag um’ out fights with big “KERCHOW” style hits that level mountains.
Whether it’s his gladiatorial battles with the Jolly Green Giant while he was the Silver Savage in Planet Hulk, or his planet crushing slobberknockers with Thanos, these titanic slug fests have been some of absolute favorite stories featuring the Surfer. This is mainly because it’s just sometimes awesome to see the raw power of some of these upper echelon characters from the 616.
However, my absolute favorite example of this has to be the Stan Lee/John Buscema produced battle between Silver Surfer and the Mighty Thor from the pages of issue #4 of the original Silver Surfer book back in late 60s. In fact, as I’ve said on the podcast, this is probably one of my favorite single issues of any comic book ever, just because of the majesty of how it’s presented.
Sure, it’s a pretty simple story in that the Surfer has been tricked by Loki into thinking Thor is a bad guy and thus he goes to Asgard to hammer the God of Thunder into submission. But that doesn’t take into account the gorgeous art work by John Buscema as Silver invades the Asgardian mead hall to settle up with Thor, nor Stan Lee’s picture perfect soap opera dialogue just oozing with grander and pomposity.
Plus you also actually get a second battle in the book as Surfer also locks horns with Loki as well, so it’s getting two heavy weight prize fights for the price of one.
Yeah…that’s all I could think of when I was reading that second issue of this series. Just how much I really love Silver Surfer issue #4 and how this book is almost an homage to that. For me that’s some pretty great company!
Look, despite what I said above about having major issues with the unoriginal idea of Prodigal and his complete likeness to the Last Son of Krypton, I’m not going to be completely rough on this series.
One nice thing is despite it being unoriginal, it was over quite quickly, which is not a bad thing in this current atmosphere of comic books stretching what could have been a simple story into a 12 part super arc. Indeed, as I’ve mentioned on the podcast, writing single issue stories (which is pretty much what this boils down to) is somewhat of a lost art, and Peter David shows that art isn’t lost on him.
As a result, this is a nice little “beginner” type story for a lot of causal comic book fans out there to read and digest over the course of an afternoon. No real need to know a ton about the backstory of some of the major guest stars such as the Fantastic Four, and even if you do, such as references to Ka-Zar’s son or the High Evolutionary’s cache of weapons in the Savage Land, Peter David excels at dropping in that editorial exposition with all the panache of the old “yellow” boxes that used to clue readers in to past events in older comics.
Hell, he even cuts to the quick when the Guardians of the Galaxy show up in issue 3 and only Star Lord and Groot are among the members of the team that normal audiences might recognize. He actually has one of the characters act as an audience surrogate for a second in saying “Who the hell are these other guys?!?” which I thought was a nice touch.
Yeah, overall this series does have a very 90s comic book feel to it and did remind me a lot of the same stories I used to read from Marvel back when I was a teenager. Especially those “origin” stories like from Darkhawk or something where immediately upon introducing a new hero you have him or her team up with established characters so that unsure readers will pick it up. So from a nostalgic perspective, it was hard not to enjoy the simplistic throwback style of the book.
But at same time, I expect more from a Peter David book. From his work on the Hulk to X-Factor to Aqua Man, he’s one of the best writers in the medium for the last 40 years. I’m not going to say this was a paint by numbers team up story, because that undercuts some of the great pacing and dialogue that does occur. However, it’s still painfully obvious that this is a comic book I’ve “read” several times before, and that there’s nothing new or out of the ordinary here.
Still though it’s got great art by Francesco Manna and that Silver Surfer/Prodigal fight is pretty bad ass so it’s not going to get a bad grade from me. It’s just not going to get higher than an average one either…