Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
It’s rare that a completely new character is my main reason for reading a comic, but here we are. I was hooked from the moment Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF team was announced. I haven’t traditionally cared so much about Ant-Man, but She-Hulk has always been one of my favorite characters, and Medusa’s powers are so kooky I can’t help but dig her. What pushed the comic into my pre-order list, though, was the idea of a woman wearing a Thing costume and calling herself “Miss Thing.” And now that I know something about her, I love her even more.
Darla Deering is a pop superstar and Johnny Storm’s latest girlfriend. All you really have to know is the last half of that description, because that’s how she accidentally ends up a member of the Fantastic Four. In FF #1, the real team is headed out on a journey beyond time and space. and needs stand-ins to oversee the Future Foundation for the four minutes of Earth time they’ll be gone. Or longer, if something goes wrong. Reed picks Ant-Man, Sue picks Medusa, and Ben picks She-Hulk. Johnny, of course, completely forgets about the whole thing.
Johnny eventually realizes his mistake, but keeps Darla as his pick. That’s partly because he has no time to find someone else, but also: It’s only four minutes. What could possibly go wrong? Naturally, something does and the Fantastic Four don’t return on schedule, but Darla makes the most of it for a few days, as she doesn’t have any responsibilities.
I have a low tolerance for Artie and Leech, but they can be fun in small doses, and Fraction/Allred use them very well in this scene. They’re funny, but they also reveal that Darla’s cool with kids (even annoying ones) and likes pancakes. Those are two, endearing qualities that elevate her above the pop stars I usually imagine Johnny dating.
Of course, the lack of responsibility doesn’t last long, and the new Fantastic Four are inaugurated with a visit from the Mole Man in Issue 2. Darla responds in character for a pop diva.
Dragon Man talks her into putting on a Thing suit that Reed invented for Ben during one of his powerless phases. It’s unwieldy, and she’s awkward in it, but Darla goes outside anyway. It’s not dramatically heroic, but again she shows a lot of character. Fortunately for her, the fight’s over before she has to throw an actual punch, but the idea of having to go into battle for reals is too much. She didn’t sign on for this.
For readers like me who haven’t been around a Fantastic Four comic in a long time, Darla’s our Everywoman. She’s the normal person who’s trying to figure all this weirdness out right along with us, so it’s important that she feel especially authentic. I may not know what it’s like to be Lady Gaga, but I understand feeling out of my depth and wanting to get back to something more comfortable that I can deal with. For Darla, that’s performing.
Hilariously, though, photos have gotten out of her in the Thing costume and in FF #3, she attracts the wrong kind of attention.
I don’t want to spoil how she learns the messy answer to that question, but it involves Ant-Man, who shows up to talk her into coming back. In a scene set in Times Square on New Year’s Eve (which is worth putting there just so Allred can draw confetti), he does.
Not only does Ant-Man get to prove his leadership potential (and remind us that he’s also way out of his depth trying to lead this team while simultaneously grieving the death of his daughter), but Darla gets to be heroic again. This is a woman for whom just showing up is an act of bravery, but she does it and proves her worth in a quiet, relatable way. I’m going to enjoy watching her continue to meet challenges and grow.
The fourth issue of FF is mostly dedicated to She-Hulk (aka, the other reason you should be reading this series) and her “non-date” with Wyatt Wingfoot.
But Darla still gets a great scene with the future version of Johnny Storm who came back in time with tales of horror.
That there were, Johnny. And I don’t blame you for thinking Darla was just one of him. That’s what I figured too when I first met her. But I’ve learned better and she’s way too good for the Human Torch.
I also wonder if she’s not way too good for other comics. I understand that she’s also shown up in the new Fantastic Four as well as the latest issue of Avenging Spider-Man and I’m curious to flip through those next time I’m in the store and see how she’s doing in them. Fraction’s writing Fantastic Four, so that bodes well, but Allred’s the perfect artist for a beautiful, emotional character like Darla and I sort of don’t even want to see anyone else draw her right now. Curiosity will make me peek, but I’m skeptical about the ability of another team to make her as wonderful as she is in FF. Which you should be reading.