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Comicscape: Fantastic Four NOW!

Family First

By Joel Rickenbach     December 12, 2012
Source: Mania.com

The Fantastic Four have been a hard sell for awhile now. Every blip they make on the radar seems to fade fast, and they quickly return to the status quo. This has always seemed to bug the editors at Marvel, and it should. The FF have been touted as comic book's first family, sprung from the minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1961, but "Family" doesn't really sell with the modern audience. Technically, the FF are Marvel's first superhero team too, and they have a roster of villains that features heavy hitters such as Dr. Doom, Galactus an Annihilus, yet top tier status continually eludes them. In 2004 Marvel gave the FF a second title called "4" under the Marvel Knights imprint. It was a good book at the start, giving us a much more down to earth look at the FF, but it's existence was fleeting. Then they gave the family the Ultimate treatment, which for awhile, was quite good. Brian Michael Bendis kicked the series off, giving it a must-read glow. The reigns were handed to some great writers such as Mike Carey, Warren Ellis and eventually Mark Millar, who engineered a frightening tale that introduced the Marvel Zombie Universe. Yet despite all that, Ultimate Fantastic Four ended years ago. and it was rather unmemorable at the death. The last major attempt to breathe some life into the book was the introduction of the Freedom Foundation. The Human Torch sacrificed himself so that Reed, Sue and Ben could escape the approaching forces of Annihilus. This made Reed Richards take stock of his life, and decided to rename the team the Future Foundation, and make the Baxter Building a haven for the future's brightest scientific minds. They ditched the classic blue uniforms for new black and White numbers, and enlisted Spider-Man to fill the gap left by the Human Torch. This was fun for awhile, but barely a year later Johnny Storm was back for the book's 600th issue (surprise!), and the comic slipped back into its regular groove. That's not to say there weren't some good stories told, but the FF were not at the forefront of anyone's mind. Of course, much like the milestone of issue #600, there's always something on the horizon that can help reinvigorate a book. 

 
Besides being Marvel's prominent comic book family, the Fantastic Four should signify something else to its readers- grand Sci-Fi adventure. Keeping the publisher's  foremost explorers cooped up in downtown Manhattan makes no sense, they need to be hurting through the cosmos in search of the new and exciting. Marvel editorial realized this, and are using the Marvel NOW refocusing to breathe some life into the family. Believe it or not, the FF are back to having two books, but this time both titles will serve very specific purposes. Fantastic Four follows the year-long adventure of the FF (including Franklin and Valeria Richards) as they scour the cosmos looking for answers. Reed Richards is beginning to break down on a molecular level, and he fears the same will happen to the rest of the team. There's still some mystery left in the cosmic rays that gave them their powers, and they will travel to every corner of the universe to solve it. The second book, FF, deals with what's happening back home. Who is minding the store while the FF are off traipsing around the galaxy? The answer is a very odd group consisting of Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa and Darla Deering (AKA Ms. Thing)? The book also includes all the off-the-wall Future Foundation characters like Dragon Man and Leech.  The stroke of genius on Marvel's part is giving both books to one writer- Matt Fraction. Instead of just letting each book "do their own thing", the world of the Fantastic Four is being carefully plotted to be a very interesting whole. You don't have to read both books, but if you do you will obviously be rewarded.

 

Fantastic Four immediately states its intention at recapturing the Silver-Age spirit of adventure by giving the art duties to Mark Bagley. His iconic renderings give the book a feel that perfectly suits what Matt Fraction is going for- larger than life cosmic adventure. We don't exactly get that in the first issue, as most of it is set up, but there are some nice ideas at play. The book opens with a splash page that takes place one year in the future, and shows the FF in a bit of distress as they hurtle through space. The most notable thing about the image is that Ben Grimm is no longer covered in orange rock. Interesting indeed. The rest of the book spends a lot of time with the idea that Reed and Sue's out of town adventures are taking their toll on young Franklin. He is essentially being raised by robots and has Dragon Man as a nanny, which would give any kid separation anxiety. Lucky for Franklin and his little sister, Mr. Fantastic has decided they should come along for this particular adventure, it's just too bad Franklin has been having bad premonitions of that very thing...
 

 

4 minutes, that's all they ask. The FF may be on a year long journey through space and time, but to everyone back on Earth, only 4 minutes will have passed. A lot can happen in 4 minutes, so each member of the FF finds a replacement to fill their shoes... for 4 minutes. It's an honorary title, really, but what happens when the FF are still gone after 4 minutes and 1 second? That is the set-up for FF, and tips us off that this will be quirkier of the two books. Enlisting the services of Mike Allred to handle the art is another clear indication. His pop art style gives the book a wonderful contrast to the classic feel of what Mark Bagley is doing on Fantastic Four. There's also no shortage of odd characters for Allred to render- from all the members of the Future Foundation to the almost random FF stand-ins. She-Hulk and Ant-Man have been Marvel stalwarts, but Medusa of the Inhumans is an interesting choice, and Fraction's new creation, Darla Deering, picked to replace Johnny Storm because he literally couldn't think of anyone else, makes for the most interesting choice of them all. It will be great to see these characters get their due, particularly Scott Lang, who has been through the ringer in the past few years.
 
It's obviously very early for both of these books, and neither has yet to actually take off, but given that Matt Fraction has a long term plan, all the set-up is no doubt going to pay off. I predict in a year from now we will be in a very interesting place with the FF, both of them, and when they are all finally reunited I don't think it will be a party. Hopefully it will be a bit dark, a bit thought provoking, and present a new , vital take on Marvel's first family.
 
 
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Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him on Twitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue. 

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 10
1 
FerretJohn 12/12/2012 11:03:54 AM

Not a fan of Mike Allreds work, and the line-up of the new FF doesn't impress me either, especially the pink-haired Ms. Thing.  I read the preview comic a little while ago and it really turned me off.  Antman sneaking into the Latverian embassy during a party to get revenge on the man who killed his daughter by drawing a cheesy mustache on his portrait?  How stupid was that? 

Personally I think Franklin should be moved to a new X-class, after 40 years of existance it's about time they brought him into puberty.

shac2846 12/12/2012 11:52:17 AM

 I love mike allred's work. Madman is one of my favourite comics. I'm a trade guy but i'm interested in the interweaving of both fantastic four and ff titles through fraction. Sounds interesting. 

SarcasticCaveman 12/12/2012 7:52:21 PM

 I never read Madman, but yeah, I'm really not a fan of Allred's art style either...just pisses me off on some level I can't explain.

FerretJohn 12/12/2012 9:29:23 PM

Caveman, he's a little too retro for my tastes, the blocky simplistic drawing looks too much like it belongs in the 50s or 60s, like old Superman/Batman comics.

Noovtere 12/13/2012 12:19:09 AM

I've always felt the biggest problem with the FF is the difficulty writers have writing for Reed, a character who is supposed to be so much smarter than they are.  Most of the FF's recent writers haven't done well at that. 

goldeneyez 12/13/2012 5:34:03 AM

Noovtere, I agree with you.  Reed is supposed to be the smartest person in 616.  That says a lot given Tony Stark and Hank Pym.  I think they should write him more like the modern take on Sherlock.  Make him so smart he can't relate to most people.

ObiWannaJones 12/13/2012 6:02:01 AM

Ms. THANG is just friggin STUPID.  Reminds me of back in the late 70s when we had to have female versions of every major male superhero.

FerretJohn 12/13/2012 10:12:15 AM

You two are correct, in part anyway, it's not easy writing a character who's supposed to be the smartest guy on the planet, however the average comic fan isn't any smarter than the writers.  I always viewed it in the same way I saw the old Star Trek episodes: put a bunch of complicated-sounding words together, make it look intelligent, nobody will really care that it's actually a bunch of cow-droppings.

Butchman 12/13/2012 5:30:35 PM

For the last two or so years Fantastic Four has been the best Marvel book out there. Granted that is not saying much given that the rest of Marvel has been crap for several years now. Just finished the second issue of this new run and Fantastic Four is now lower that status quo. Damn, Marvel can't get anything right these days. I will stick around for awhile hoping against hope that this book becomes something half way interesting... sigh

joelr 12/14/2012 10:50:28 AM

It's interesting to see how divisive Allred's art is amongst you guys and gals. I personally love it, but I can totally see why some dislike it.

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