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A Frenchman’s Retro View of American Superheroes

Updated on July 15, 2019
Robert J Sodaro profile image

Robert J. Sodaro is an American born writer, editor, and digital graphic artist, who loves writing about comics, movies, and literature.

Here come The Formidables

A new family of heroes
A new family of heroes | Source

In the Beginning: Heroes

Across a certain spectrum of the various populaces of the world, comicbooks are a universal language. It has been said that comicbooks are a uniquely American invention. If such is the case (and we are certainly not one to dispute it) then the elevation of “hero” to Superhero” is particularly “American”. Here in America we don’t just have “markets” we have “Supermarkets” we don’t just have highways, we have “Superhighways”. Not just stars, but “Superstars” Hence the creation of the colorfully clad heroes becoming larger than life and being elevated into Superheroes is just a natural evolution of the way things happen in this country.

The Formidables

The Formidables #1
The Formidables #1 | Source

What do the French Really Think of Our Heroes?

Given this, it is quite understandable that when we see comicbooks, we think “superheroes” (even though — as we know — comics, like all media, span genres). Needless to say, after several decades of reading all sorts of takes on superheroes, reading Chris Malgrain’s The Formidables (Red Anvil Comics) is a pure delight to read. We’re going to tell you all about that in a minute, but before we get there we need to get to some truth in reviewing.

A family of Heroes

The Formidables #2
The Formidables #2 | Source

Before We Continue...

I am not only a writer (Owlgirls, Cyberines) for Red Anvil, but I’m also editor (War of the Independents, The Mighty Titan, Unit 5), as well as friends with the co-publishers, (Joe Martino and Dave Ryan). However, I (other than being a fan) have no actual connection to The Formidables or Chris Malgrain (other than both having our work published by Red Anvil). And — as a complete aside — didn’t receive comps of the four issues of The Formidables I’ll be reviewing here but purchased them from my local comics shop (Heroes Cards and Comics; Norwalk, CT).

In the beginning there was the hero, and the hero was with man, and the hero was man. This is the way it was in the beginning...

Forward into the Past

The Formidables #3
The Formidables #3 | Source

Retro Heroes with a Modern Twist

Malgrain’s comic is unique in its perspective, as he is French (and living in France), and his comic is a singularly unique look into American politics of 1959, through the lens of a superhero “family” of truly unique individuals, that is drawn in the style of Marvel’s “House Style” of that era (evoking memories of Kerby, Trimpe, Heck, and others), and written from the perspective of an (even more enlightened) Stan Lee, looking back on that era from modern times.

The Formidables #4
The Formidables #4 | Source

Meet The Formidables

The team (The Formidables) consists of five members, Frank Foster; Frank’s niece, Janelle; her boyfriend, Alex; Frank’s adopted son, Randy, and Randy’s friend, Mark. Each of the five have enhanced abilities. Frank (Modeled after Reed Richards) is a WWI Vet whose abilities allow him manipulation over matter and the ability to mechanical devices); Janelle has telepathic and telekinetic abilities (a la Marvel Girl); Alex has cosmic powers and can fly (Captain Universe ?); Randy can shape-shift into a blueish-grey rocky creature (The Thing); while Mark can shrink in size, grow wings and fly (The Wasp).

The Formidables, Tome 1 : Fierté et préjugés

A Modern-Day Look at 1959

As we indicated, the series is set in the 1959 so the hairstyles, fashions, and attitudes reflect those prevalent at the time, including attitudes towards non-whites, non-Christians, Communists, the Klan, women, and people who are LGBTQ. So, in order for the series to address these issues head on, Randy is Black, he and Mark are gay lovers, Mark is a profoundly anti-religious atheist, while Foster is an agnostic scientist, believing only in what he can prove through scientific methods.

So, as you can see, Malgrain’s opening gambit is to put these issues at the forefront of what he is choosing to confront in the coming issues.

If Heroes didn’t exist, we would have invented them.

A Call for Heroes

In the initial issues of the comic, the team confronts a supervillain named Storm Fighter, who attacks the citizens of Archer City (birthplace of the world’s first costumed hero) presenting himself unrepentantly as the symbol of White American Supremacy. Only when Foster shows up, Storm Fighter is revealed to be a Communist agent intending to sow the seeds of disharmony and distrust amongst the citizens of the U.S. (And yes, for a retro comic, Malgrain clearly intends for it to mirror events currently occurring in the U.S. in current times.)

A Storm is Coming

Storm Fighter is here
Storm Fighter is here | Source

To Stand Against the Storm

The Formidables manage to fight Storm Fighter to a standstill but at the end of the fight, the citizens of Archer City suddenly realize that their “benefactors” include a Black man and a pair of homosexuals. It is only the sterling reputation of “Formidable” Frank Foster (and presumably the powers of the people with him) that keeps the crowd at bay, giving the team time to slip away, and return to their mountain retreat, thus bringing us to the end of the second issue.

Steel Patriot

Steel Patriot
Steel Patriot | Source

A Gathering of Heroes

With issue #3 we not only get into the heart of the action, as the forever-young costumed hero Steel Patriot is tasked by the government to hunt down Foster and his young minions, but we get some background on this world, and the enhanced heroes and villains that populate it. During the opening flashback, we are introduced to numerous characters that resemble everyone from Green Arrow & Hawkeye to Firestar, to Spider-Man, to Triton. With the most prominent hero being Patriot – himself a cross between Superman and Captain America – who works at the behest of the U.S. Government.

And There Be Heroes Aplenty

The Heroes of Archer City and beyond.
The Heroes of Archer City and beyond. | Source

Hero Fight!

As it turns out, Patriot and Foster are old comrades-in-arms, as they initially met during the Great War (back when Patriot first burst upon the scene, and Foster was a simple doughboy). Patriot determines the location of Foster’s hideout and shows up on the team’s doorstep announcing his arrival. With Frank otherwise occupied, Mark (always the “Johnny Storm” hothead) leads the team to launch a first strike against a man he sees as a government stooge, and we are treated to a classic clash of superheroes who simply misunderstand each other’s motivations.

Clash of Titans

More Steel Patriot
More Steel Patriot | Source

Cooler Heads Prevail

The fight is broken up by Frank who shows up before things get too out of hand and convinces everyone that there’s no need to fight. The third issue concludes as Storm Fighter reports to his handler the Red Agent, who operates in the story as the Commie version of the Red Skull which is displayed when he reveals his own horribly disfigured (red) face.

The formidables #1 et #2 sont disponibles

Finally, a Backstory

Issue #4 (the most recent issue as of this review) is mostly an extended backstory of Frank’s personal story of how he was born to privilege went off to war, fell in love with a Black woman and wound up adopting her son after her untimely death. As well as how (in true superhero fashion) an experiment gone awry inadvertently caused Frank and his extended family to acquire enhanced abilities. During this protracted flashback we are also briefly treated to Steel Patriot’s backstory as well. When we finally come back to the current day, the team is alerted to the arrival of a gigantic alien creature that is visually reminiscent of Galactus.

Alex from the Formidables

Team member: Alex
Team member: Alex | Source

Who They Resemble

Throughout the four issues the interplay amongst Frank’s team closely approximates the look and feel of Stan and Jack’s FF without merely ripping them off (much in the same way that Brad Bird’s two Incredibles films did). Hence, in essence, what we are witnessing is a return to straight-up, Silver-Age Superheroing with both a modern twist along with a strong retro look and feel.

A Family of Heroes

The family that superheroes together, fights crime together.
The family that superheroes together, fights crime together. | Source

As Good as Comics Get

Both Malgrain’s art and writing are so highly reminiscent of Silver Age Marvel that the book could almost be a retcon into the Marvel Universe in much the same way that Sentry and Jessica Jones were so expertly inserted into Marvel history. Only four issues in and this series truly has that sort of feel, making it most assuredly a series that you want to seek out, acquire for yourselves, and then read over and over. Yes, it really is that good.

Man out of Time (The War of the Independents)

The Mighty Titan vs. The Steel Patriot
The Mighty Titan vs. The Steel Patriot | Source

The War of the Independents

Oh, and lest we forget there is – at this moment – an additional issue dealing with The Formidables, only this particular issue wasn’t so much written as plotted by Malgrain and scripted by Joe Martino. It was produced as a tie-in to Dave Ryan’s The War of the Independents (WofI) and occurs between issues #2 & 3 of The Mighty Titan, prior to issue #1 of The Formidables, and between issues #4 & 5 of WofI. The issue mostly deals with a chance meeting between Titan and Patriot.

A Meeting of Creators

Chris Malgrain (left) and Joe Martino (in France).
Chris Malgrain (left) and Joe Martino (in France). | Source

A Glitch in Time

As it happens, Foster is testing out his time travel device and instead of going back in time, it inadvertently crosses dimensions and accidently transports Titan into Patriot’s world. The two heroes are understandably shaken by the event and briefly clash. Ultimately, Frank realizes the error, and transports Titan back to his own part of the multiverse, where he returns to his part in the War of the Independents.

The Villains Have it

A gathering of villains
A gathering of villains | Source

More Bang for your (Storytelling) Buck!

While this particular issue doesn’t actually touch on any of the numerous social justice issues we’ve discussed occurring in the main Formidables book, we do get a bit more background on what is going on in that world, as well as Patriot’s own roll in it, making it an interesting and useful add-on to both the WotI and Formidables series.

Welcome to the War

The War of the independents
The War of the independents | Source

As Long as We Have Your Attention...

The writing and art on The Formidables is handled by Malgrain, while the art on WotI: Man out of Time is handled by Chris Lacroix and Dash Martin. Issues 1-3 of Formidables are $2.99, issue #4 (with more pages) is $4.99; Man out of Time also sells for $3.99. Issues of WofI are $2.99. Needless to say, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to plug the War, and let you know that not only are there still issues of it out there, — including two other tie-ins Curse of the Cortes Stone ($3.95) and Vengeance ($3.99) — but Dave will be updating, and re-releasing it soon (oh, and our own characters, The Wulf Girlz popped up briefly in issue #1, and will have a (somewhat) large role in issues to come). End of self-serving company plug.

WotI Tie-Ins

War of the Independents tie-in comics
War of the Independents tie-in comics | Source

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    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 

      4 weeks ago from The Garden State

      Cool stuff! I love the retro look of the covers. Reminds me of the Marvels I used to buy off the newsstand in the '80s with that distinctive "strip" across the top.

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