Thursday, October 04, 2007

Geek Assignment: John Byrne's Fantastic Four

I'm sure many (or perhaps all) of you can relate to this idea: You give yourself some kind of reading task, saying, "I'm going to read (or reread) all of X this Y," with X being some comic book title or novelist or whatever and Y being a finite amount of time (like "this week"). Just to see what happens. Maybe it's some OCD thing we have, but if you're like me, you do it all the time.

I call it the Geek Assignment. It's not something we're forced to do, and we sometimes abandon it before completion, but I know I give myself Geek Assignments all the time. Recently, some of my Geek Assignments have turned into projects. Several years ago, I decided to read every Grant Morrison comic, and I ended up getting a book out of just the first part of that task. Last year, I decided to read every Legion of Super-Heroes story, starting with the Archives and working through to the present, and I'm editing a book about the Legion now.

Most of my Geek Assignments are just for pure pleasure, though, and I never "do" anything with what I read. Sometimes it's reading the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut (one of my earliest, high school-age Geek Assignments), other times it's rereading the entire run of All-Star Squadron (a Geek Assignment that I've set aside for a while as I track down the final two missing issues). Vladimir Nabokov is a perpetual Geek Assignment, but since I started with the best stuff first: Lolita, Pnin, The Collected Stories, and then worked backwards from there, I'm finding myself less and less inclined to finish them all.

Recently, after reading Casanova, I've assigned myself all of Matt Fraction's work (completed), and after the Grove multi-volume Samuel Beckett collection was published, I decided to become a Beckett expert (failed--I've only read a few plays and some of his essays). I'm still in the midst of a war comic Geek Assignment, working my way through Sgt. Rock Archives and Showcase reprints of The Haunted Tank and The Unknown Soldier. I have, stacked on my nightstand, the (almost) entire collection of Moebius Blueberry graphic novels, but I haven't read past the first volume yet--another Geek Assignment on hold (largely due to coloring issues in the books, NOT because of the quality of the stories or Moebius's amazing artwork).

So, in the midst of these ongoing (and often delayed) Geek Assignments, I've decided to give myself another: reread all of John Byrne's Fantastic Four issues. "Reread" is probably not accurate--I would guess that I've only read about 30% of his run on the title, mostly from the Trial of Galactus collection and the last dozen single issues around the time of Secret Wars II. I don't know what I'll find. I may find that the comics are absolute trash, failures on every level. I might find that they are works of a singular genius at the top of his game. I'll probably find something in between.

Nevertheless, the Visionaries trades have been ordered. Byrne's entire Fantastic Four run is zooming across the country to my doorstep. And, to keep myself on task, I'll share my findings with you as I read each volume. Anyone want to play along?

(Also, post your past and present Geek Assignments in the comments--I want to see what everyone else is up to.)


Anonymous said...

I've assigned myself the task of reading as much, if not all, the works of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. I know this will get progressively harder as I hunt down Zenith and other 2000 A.D. material.

That assignment has led me to the auxilary assignment of reading as much Judge Dredd and other 2000 A.D. as I can find. I'm finding that many of my favorite writers and artists got started there and the pacing and energy of a lot of these stories are excellent!

Those are my 'major' assignments I'm working on.

Timothy Callahan said...

Hey turbo,

That's a good plan. 2000AD stuff is very difficult to get over here right now, but it's great, great stuff.

I have a bunch of extra 2000AD issues (mostly in beat up shape) from the time when I was putting together my Zenith collection. (I had to buy many lots off ebay--and I had some overlaps). If you're looking for certain issues, let me know.

Marc Caputo said...

I've had the "GA" concept for years - I call them "reading projects". My planners are full of them, many of them abandoned. I do this for TV on DVD and particular directors (Lee, Jarmusch, Coens) as well.

My recent comic book GAs are pretty varied and increasingly daunting:

Brubaker's indie work (Lowlife,

Chester Brown's work

Legion of Super-Heroes (Levitz' Baxter and up

"Emperor Joker"/Superman_Batman 1-25

I want to (eventually) school myself in post-COIE Superman (all titles and x-overs, minis, one-shots, etc.)

And the really big one, the one I'd love to do something with is a study of Majestic, Supreme, Hyperion and the Sentry to see how they stack up against each other, how they fare in perspective with Superman and how they reflect the time (comic book and "real", that is) they were created in as well as the company that created them.

Baker said...

I don't necessarily do it with comic books (I would love to read every issue of Iron Man seeing as it's my personal fav. story, seeing as a superhero alcholic is just great)...but I have set it upon myself to read all of Johnathan Letham's books and I started it in your class although he only has like 4 books to date and I'm on 3 right now, "Fortress of Solitude". I loved "Motherless Brooklyn" which is now being adapted into a film by Edward Norton, starring Edward Norton whom I find amazing. I've also read "Gun, With Occasional Music" which I found to be a great book, probably one of my favorite books for his ingenuity.

Elliott said...

When I do this it usually ends up as some form of torture. Currently I'm trying to find the last couple issues I need to complete runs of Kickers, Inc. and NFL Superpro so I can read all of them in a row. I'm on kind of a "football player-turned superhero" kick I guess.

I've also been slowly collecting all of the issues of the Spider-Man Clone Saga. I have no idea what kind of redeeming qualities this will have.

Anonymous said...

Reading the whole Cerebus could be a project equally worthwhile and disconcerting.

Just the other day I was browsing some issues of the High Society and Church And State runs and felt nostalgic for a time I didn't experience first-hand for a couple of reasons (being slightly too young, knowing not enough English). It all seems so innocent in retrospect: Deni Loubert reporting on Aardavark Vanaheim's latest business ventures, photos of a smiling Dave Sim with young fans who came from all over the world to see him (one picture shows Sim in London with an Austrian female fan), the enthusiastic letter pages, the beginnings of self-publishing, etc...and it all turned horribily sour for various, all too well-known reasons. But it must have been great to be a 15-year-old Cerebus fan in, say, 1982!

Timothy Callahan said...

I can relate to almost all of these GAs as well. I assigned myself Cerebus back when Jaka's story came out (that's when I started reading the monthlies--and by then Sim had done the phone book reprints). So I read everythin up through Melmoth, and then I got fed up with the monthly pace, figuring I'd wait for the collected series. I've lost interest since then.

Baker, good to hear from you! I assigned myself Lethem years ago, and I think you'll find a few treats still waiting for you. By the way, his first ever comic book series "Omega the Unknown" premiered this week!

Elliot, your Animal Man drawing is still sitting here--but I will send it soon! (And Ryan and I talked about Kickers Inc in a podcast segment but my computer crashed and we lost it--oh well)

Marc, you should do that Superman analogue research and write a book about it. I would read it.

And, yes, I've neglected my TV and movie geek assignments, but I've certainly done that as well!

Chad Nevett said...

I'm the process of reading all of Raymond Chandler's work. I've read three of his novels, one collection of short stories and am in the middle of another.

I also got the four-volume complete Beckett with the hopes of reading through it all since I've read a few plays and enjoyed them quite a bit. Yeah, I'm still stuck on his first novel.

And then there's my giant box of everything Philip K. Dick wrote... (Well, excluding some of the out of print "straight fiction" stuff he did.)

When I take trips home to visit my parents for a weekend, I tend to go with the idea in mind that I'll read some comic run since a lot of my trades and singles are still there. Last time, it was the Waid/Wieringo run on Fantastic Four.

Anonymous said...

I have done Geek Assignments for movies too, in particular the works Mario Bava, Hammer Studios, and Spaghetti Westerns.

Tim, I'll email you more about 2000 A.D. I'm definitely interested!

Matt Jacobson said...

About 2 years ago I gave myself the geek assignment of tracking down all of Peter Milligan's work, and my ongoing geek assignment has been tracking down all of Grant Morrison's work. Like a lot of others, I'm stuck at finding his british stuff, but I think I have virtually every american comic he's written.

Milligan's work has been especially fun, since I managed to get the entire run of Shade fairly cheap and it was 100% worth the money and time.

My on again, off again geek assignment is tracking down every Peter David comic ever; I go through phases on this one. My next assignment will probably be getting all of Fraction & Brubaker's stuff.

Steven Withrow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Withrow said...

I'm always assigning myself "continuing ed" in one subject or another:

Recent "courses":

*Read and make notes on all the collections and GNs published by Drawn & Quarterly. I'm about halfway through this one, and loving every minute of it -- Dupuy & Berberian, Seth, Jason Lutes, Adrian Tomine, Charles Burns, Joe Sacco, Michel Rabagliati...the list goes on and on!

*Reread every collaboration between Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Just finished this one. When JL/TS are on their game (especially in their Batman books and Superman For All Seasons), they're brilliant storytellers. Even their trippy, early-90s Challengers of the Unknown miniseries still holds up pretty well.

*Reread Jeff Smith's Bone in color in the Scholastic editions. A couple more volumes still to come. Steve Hamaker is a superb colorist -- it's hard to say which "version" is now my favorite.

DREAM PROJECT: Do an in-depth study of Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo and write a book exploring the series from a few different critical perspectives. (Still on the horizon.)

Marc Caputo said...

Re: Cerebus - I finally got into Cerebus as a monthly right as "Melmoth" was ending (and can I say, those may be the greatest covers of all time) and "Mothers and Daughters: Flight" was starting. Within 2 months, I had all the issues in phone books, reprints or singles. THAT was a time to be a fan - the rush of action in those issues was breathtaking. At their best, 52 and Countdown approach that feeling for me.

Of course, after that, at around 180-190, he sank the frackin' thing beyond salvage and limped the wreck to 300.

What a colossal heartbreak that was.

Matthew E said...

The one that comes to mind is the time I reread the Atari Force series to see if I could find anything interesting to say about it. This wasn't exactly a chore, as a) it's only 20 issues plus a special, and b) it was one of my favourites. Turns out I did have something to say about it, and got a pretty good blogpost out of it too.

Anonymous said...

If you are continuing your war comics GA try out:

Garth Ennis' two volume War Stories set, EC Comics' Two-Fisted Tales hardcovers, Pat Mills' Charley's War hardcovers, the first 13 issues of The 'Nam from Marvel with Michael Golden and John Severin, and the new Mammoth Book of War Comics edited by David Kendall.


Timothy Callahan said...

I actually own all that war stuff (except Charley's War)--and I bought the Ennis war comics in floppies and yeah--those are all part of some abstractly-conceived look at war comics that I will probably never finish. You know what else is on that war comic list--DMZ!

Anonymous said...

There's also Army @ Love by Rich Vietch and the old Marvel Semper Fi series with John Severin again.


alexf said...

I'm on a mammoth 2000 AD-related GA (much easier in the UK!), re-reading the lot in sort of random order. I might be able to help out if there are certain creators' work you're struggling to get hold of. I heartily recommend Pete Milligan's 'Bad Company' (althoguh you may also want to read John Wagner's 'Darkie's Mob' for some relevant background on that...)

My most longest running GA at the moment is to read one novel each of every literary detective - or at least, one of each in my parents' vast collection. Going back to visit them brings on new GAs all the time.

Thanks for giving this task a name, by the way - I've never really thought of one myself. Oh, and I hope you enjoy Byrne's FF. I think it holds up pretty well (not that I read it at the time, being all of 3 years old when he started...)