FANTASTIC FOUR: WHAT LIES BETWEEN, by Peter David
Continuing the Pocket line of novels featuring assorted Marvel heroes, we have the newest adventure of the Fantastic Four, as written by a man who knows the Marvel Universe better than most people ever should.
In this outing, our fantastic foursome find themselves pursuing several different tracks: The Thing wrestles with an unlikely friendship/romance that strikes him right where his ego and self-acceptance issues lie, while the Invisible Woman contemplates an unusual job offer, and Mister Fantastic and the Human Torch act as reluctant consultants to a company wishing to offer truly exotic vacations. All of these threads come together - more or less - when an ambitious scientist makes a fateful mistake. Can the Fantastic Four pull themselves together to stop the destruction of reality as we know it?
I'm of mixed opinions regarding this book. I wanted to like it, I really did. I like the Fantastic Four, and I'm a great fan of Peter David's work. He's always been an author who knows his material, and his experience with the Marvel Universe characters is top-notch. So why didn't this book work for me? Well, various reasons.
For one, and this might sound odd, but everyone was -too- talky. I'm used to Reed Richards delivering technobabble-laden monologues, but for some reason, it was disconcerting to see Ben, Sue, and Johnny likewise run off at the mouth (albeit with less technobabble.) For the most part, the voices just didn't sound right.
For another, the plotlines just didn't really seem to mesh as well as one might expect. You had half the team engaged in the A Plot, while Ben was off in the B Plot (which actually did feed into and off of the A Plot) and poor Sue's individual thread was a distant third in terms of priority. I never felt like the threads were part of a unified whole.
The choice of villains was ... unusual. One's a relatively minor FF villain, the other doesn't even belong to the FF at all (but even so, I'm surprised that A) No one recognized the influence of the first, and B) Not even Reed seemed to know who the second was, since Reed knows everything...) It's hard to see anyone getting overly excited about this pairing.
The last thing I'd like to complain about is the cover. It's, well... -dull-. Non-descript. You'd think a book about the Fantastic Four would have all four on the cover, not just the Human Torch. If you are going to feature one character, why not The Thing? (Okay, so the previous book, THE BAXTER EFFECT, had the Thing, and the first one, WAR ZONE, had all four... but in this case, the Thing had more prominence in the story than the Torch, if you ask me.) I just haven't been overly impressed with the covers to any of the books in the series.
So what's good about it? Well, the A Plot -is- suitably epic and fantastic for the characters in question. It's scientific adventure, with multiple dimensions at stake and some nice twists and turns that don't telegraph the story's surprises. Ben's storyline is a nice one, playing off of his own feelings of insecurity, doubt, and body issues, as well as his white knight complex and sense of macho heroism. The characters are, for the most part, true to themselves. And in general, it's a fun, quick story that mixes action with character moments.
So what went wrong? I suspect that Peter David, who's much better known for his HULK and SPIDER-MAN (and X-FACTOR) runs, either had trouble getting the right mindset, or just didn't have his heart in this project. (And tossing in sly references to Jessica Alba and Michael Chiklis definitely threw me right back out of the story.) Ultimately, I'd have to say that WHAT LIES BETWEEN was not one of his finest works, but it might have made a heck of a several issue story arc for the actual comic.
(Honestly? The best of the Pocket Marvels to date have been the Spider-Man ones: DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS by Keith R.A. DeCandido and THE DARKEST HOUR by Jim Butcher. Check 'em out!)