My mailbox was stuffed with gold.

*You can just imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox today and discovered, among various coupon clipper booklets (I don’t even own clippers!), missing children brochures/used tire coupon flyers (I don’t own any missing children either), unimportant bills, and very important pre-approved credit-card applications, that I was now the proud owner of the “Ultimate Guide to Fantastic 4.” Yes, the new issue of TV Guide was here, and I got the variant cover with Chris Evans as The Human Torch. I wish I could say that TV Guide was indulging in a little bit of comics industry exploration by putting out variants, maybe something of a mass-market comment on the practice, but actually they’ve been doing it for years now. It just feels more natural with superheroes. Collect all five!

Par for the course given the venue, the Ultimate Guide is a whopping 5 pages long, two of which are a double-page photo spread. I’m reminded of an extended conversation from back when I was in college; I was talking with an English major friend of mine, who mentioned that a pal of his was looking to score a job writing for TV Guide. We both got kind of smirky at such ambition for a while, since everyone who actually reads TV Guide knows that exists on the absolute bleeding razor’s edge of how much fluff can be possibly compressed into articles without the publication literally floating off the newsstands or drawing the attention of the FDA or something. We, on the other hand, would only write the finest of highbrow literature and glittering comment (as I'm doing right now). But our mirth was short-lived; TV Guide also has a gigantic circulation, and we quietly knew that what was lost in intellectual exactitude would be replaced by sheer exposure. I doubt either of us saw that as a fair trade, but if you’re looking to get the name of something out, you can do far worse.

So that’s where the FF are this week. Why, that opening photo spread is even set up in fumetti style, with word balloons giving Our Heroes such Eisner-worthy lines as “I feel fantastic” (note the lack of punctuation) and “Who you callin’ transparent?” (that one’s from, ha ha, the Invisible Woman!). Oh, but excellent writing isn’t limited to the photos: “Instead, to keep the character on a more human scale, Chiklis dons a simple rubberized suit that would probably give George Lucas a seizure.” Ho ho! That is because Geroge Lucas enjoys the use of computer graphics a lot! Or maybe because the scent of rubber triggers epileptic reactions! Must we always look to TV Guide for these sizzling hot personal revelations?! Yes. Forever. Poor Lucas isn’t alone: “Chiklis was able to access the character’s pain simply by wearing a costume that took three hours a day to put on and involved a 45-minute ordeal just to go to the bathroom. The stress led Chiklis to consult a psychiatrist… Well, you’d better get used to it, Mike - we smell a sequel (or two) in your feature.”


All in all, a fine report, and truly the only guide to the FF that I will ever require. So, is there news? Well, there’s apparently going to be a Fantastic Four commercial tied in with the NBA playoffs. It seems that departures from the comics origin story has caused “some message-board crankiness.” They did manage to credit both Lee and Kirby with the genesis of the characters. That was nice.

Oh, hey! Comics promotion! Go here and give away your personal info to win an autographed edition of Mark Millar and Greg Land’s Ultimate Fantastic Four #21, which TV Guide assures us is the hottest book of the summer! They'd know! Not that Millar and Land (or any of the creative team behind the summer's hottest book) are named inside TV Guide itself; they’re collectively referred to as “the famous creators,” obviously famous enough that they need no introduction. I certainly hope a lot of non-comics readers win the lion’s share of the 200 copies they’re giving away, so that they can enjoy Chapter 1 of the awesome story of the Ultimate and 616 universes crossing over, surely a tale that will require no specialized knowledge of the inner ticking and tockings of the modern comics scene to make sense of it. Three cheers for simultaneous mainstream outreach and fan-centric event writing! We love it!