REVIEW: Fantastic Four #1

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Or  – “I’m SO Glad To See That Short-Sleeved Uniform Is Gone…”

There is a tendency within the world of comics to want to constantly ‘one-up’ the stories that have gone before, to get more cosmic/brutal/strange/horrific with each iteration of a given title.  Nowhere is this more prominent than in the case of the Fantastic Four.  Once the hub of all activity in the Marvel Universe, the Richards family and various hangers-on are often treated as a quaint relic of the Silver Age rather than as an awesome action-adventure series.  (Of course, part of this comes from creators afraid or unable to one-up Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original hundred-and-four issue FF canvas.)  With Jonathan Hickman exiting the book, Matt Fraction takes up the writing reins of the Fantastic ones, with some big shoes to fill.  How’s the debut issue?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

FANTASTIC FOUR #1
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Mark Farmer
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letter: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously in Fantastic Four:  The accident which created the Fantastic Four has often been mocked as the kind of thing that a genius like Reed Richards should have seen coming.  Did he intentionally lead his closest friends and future wife through a cosmic field to turn them into superhuman adventurers?  The answer is hidden in his big rubbery head, along with dozens of other life-altering secrets, to be sure.  After a confrontation with the Celestials, might Galactus himself, and the formidable enemy that is a league of interdimensional Mister Fantastics, the members of the Fantastic Four might finally have a moment to take a breath…

…if there weren’t still things to fight, to explore and to discover.

BAGLEY’S DOING GOOD FROM PAGE ONE…

I have to admit a slight bias about this issue:  I’ve been a fan of Mark Bagley since his work on ‘Strikeforce: Morituri’ back in the 80s, and I have long thought him to be one of the most talented artists in the business.  The first image of this issue is identified as taking place a year in the future, but in that single page is such an awesome blend of action, emotion, and terror that the creators have me for at least a six-issue run.  It’s the kind of dynamic work you have to bring the Fantastic Four title, and sets the issue off in fine style.  In the space of very few pages, we get Franklin Richards acting like a regular kid, a chorus of “SHUT UP, JOHNNY!” from Sue and Ben, and a life-changing revelation for one of the team.  It’s always difficult for writers to effectively capture the four characters in this book, but I am instantly happy with Fraction’s take on Reed (intellectual but not stilted), Sue (protective of her family, but not shrill), Johnny (impulsive and brash, but not brainless) and Ben (plain-speaking but never less than wise.)  The roles of each of member of the unit are clearly explained, and we also get a little bit of each of the Future Foundation kids, in case you had forgotten about them (or worried that they were washed away with the NOW! revolution.)

WHY FIX IT IF IT AIN’T BROKE?

I’m also quite happy to see that Franklin’s peer group seems to be sticking around, as well, as they add a great deal of humor and versatility to the cast of Fantastic Four.  (Ben trying to keep the three Mole children from stealing his Chinese dumplings is hilarious and touching all at once.)  Things come to a head as Mister Fantastic decides to take his family (and, I think, the Foundation kids) on a tour of time, space and dimension, courtesy of the ship that the Human Torch brought back from the Negative Zone, a mission that not only allow the Richards parents to get some bonding in with their children, but also for the cast member with the secret to deal with that secret.  (Much like Cliff’s Notes, I like to leave out a key plot detail or two to make sure you read the source material.  And yes, there will be a test.)  There are side-stories for each member of the team as well, with Johnny’s girlfriend Darla appearing (is she a new character, or did I miss her in the Hickman run?) and Benjamin J. Grimm once again running afoul of the Yancy Street gang.  Best part of all?  There is nothing in this issue that I categorize as an instant false note, nothing that sticks out as wrong or dissonant for the Fantastic Four.

THE BOTTOM LINE: AN AUSPICIOUS BEGINNING

This one’s easy:  It’s good, go get it.  Fraction’s magic (as seen in ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ and ‘Hawkeye’) is still working, and Bagley has brought his A-game (and a skilled inker in Mark Farmer) for an excellent 20-odd pages of art.  Heck, the book even costs $2.99!  Fantastic Four #1 probably wouldn’t have been a number one if Marvel wasn’t intent on rebranding with ‘Marvel NOW!’ to keep up with DC, but it picks up right where Jonathan Hickman left off, giving us strong characterization and new twists in the life of the first denizens of the Marvel Universe, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  There’s still plenty of life in these characters, and this issue is a perfect kick-off to a new era for the team.

Rating: ★★★★★

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