Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan takes five classic Marvel heroes on a journey to the center of the minds of writer Zeb Wells (Spider-man/Doctor Octopus: Year One) and the late artist Seth Fisher. (Sadly, Fisher, whose credits include Green Lantern: Will World and Happydale, died after falling from a building in February of this year.) Wells has crafted a fun, funny and classic FF tale that fits nicely among the best work featuring the character, even without the mind-melting art of Fisher. In combining their two formidable talents, Wells’ and Fisher’s tale harkens back to Lee/Kirby era FF-monster fun. Big in Japan is a jaw dropping tale in which eyeballs compose nearly 50% of all monsters’ body mass and giant, disembodied fingers provide sensible, affordable decoration for ancient temples.
Oh yeah, and the Mole Man’s in it, too.
When the Four are invited to Japan to cut the ribbon on Tokyo’s new Giant Monster Museum and Expo Center, they’re welcomed as celebrities. According to Reed Richards, “Our early adventures fighting giant monsters were much appreciated by the Japanese people.”
Indeed, in Wells’ tale, Japan has suffered at the hands of monsters for years. Now, with heroes like the FF and Iron Man—who just happens to be in town as Tony Stark—around, monsters know better than to menace Tokyo.
That is, of course, until they do. Monster relics from the past, gathered in the Museum by the curator Dr. Yamane, are revived and run amok in the streets once again. It’s here where Fisher’s art is fully unleashed. His work asks, “what if Willy Wonka was crossed with Dr. Moreau and Dr. Seuss?” Every gelatinous, slithering and mucous membraned creature a human can imagine plops down in the center of Tokyo. His monsters are extrapolations of tangents of what is biologically unsound, sick and otherwise impossible. He conjures demented beasts like the Fugushi, a multi-teated bovine freak capable of producing massive quantities of milk perfectly safe for human consumption. Thankfully we’re spared a demonstration of the milking process.
With monsters drooling and causing mass hysteria, Wells and Fisher seem to be trying to outdo one another, with the reader reaping all the benefits. Wells sets up a classic superhero yarn with ease, playing on the reliable but often tricky Thing/Human Torch shtick for laughs. Reed is more curious about the scientific ramifications of a giant monster attack than he is about his own—or anyone else’s—safety and, as always, the Invisible Woman is the team’s rock. Iron Man, meanwhile, befriends a giant lizard, only to lead him to his death at the hands of the Japanese military.
So, without sounding like a stoner, just what the hell are Wells and Fisher on?
It’s clear by the third issue that whatever it is it’s good. Our heroes discover their real enemy isn’t getting pummeled by giant boogers or the gastrointestinal effects of Fugushi milk, but rather an inter-dimensional Apocalypse Beast with a face on its chest and eyeballs on its epiglottis. (I can’t stress enough just how many eyeballs are in this story. It’s unnerving.)
Ultimately, it’s up to Iron Man and Invisible Woman to travel inside the Beast (a la Inner Space) and do some damage, resulting in an ending that would give Timothy Leary pause.
Despite an idea that seems as if it was conceived in a fit of drug addled giddiness, Big in Japan is an entirely coherent and sensible read that occasionally acknowledges its weirdness but never lets up on it. The covers, gorgeous wrap-arounds by Fisher, proudly announce the strangeness within, inviting the curious and the skeptical to take a peek inside this strange world. This makes BIJ somewhat of a rarity—after all, you can judge this book by its cover.
This series does not break any ground narratively or thematically. These monsters are not gurgling metaphors for paranoia in a post 9/11 world. This is simply a great comic book story told by two people who obviously had a ball telling it, and I cannot think of higher praise. Big in Japan serves as a reminder that comics don’t need to be tied to big events like Civil War to be fun; that comics don’t need to be grounded in some sort of reality to be great. Good comics—good stories—take us on a journey, a trip, if you will. And whether you’re the Lizard King or just an old-fashioned comics fan, Big in Japan is a trip you’ll hate to see end.