Fantastic Four #1 Review

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The Fantastic Four has been through a lot in the last decade, from the dizzying heights of Hickman’s sci-fi to the ridiculous depths of Mark Millar’s peccadilloes, with some on and off wackjobbery in between.  With a new FanFour in play by comics’ veteran James Robinson, the real question is whether we’re getting the Robinson who made Starman so indelibly memorable or the man to blame for ‘Cry For Justice’.  Your Major Spoilers review of Fantastic Four #1 awaits!

FantasticFour1CoverFANTASTIC FOUR #1
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Inker: Karl Kesel
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in Fantastic Four: There are those who say that the Fantastic Four is more important the Marvel Universe in theory than in practice.  Matt Fraction’s run on the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine was a shaky one, filled with time-travel, aliens dressed as Ben Franklin and weird mysteries, but it was at least a relatively fresh take on the world of Marvel’s first super-team.  There have been a great many monumental moments in the life of the FF (and yes, I know that FF is the name of a separate book now, but… just…  c’mon, alright?) from the death of one of their members to a the unraveling of the multiverse.  Is there finally going to be a chance for the Fantastic Four to calm down and breathe?

DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH

We open with Susan Richards, alone in a dark room (in a very impressive display of alienation thanks to thanks to Kirk’s art), writing a letter to her children to explain the horrible things that have led to the current state of the Fantastic Four.  Reed has lost his smile, Ben is in prison accused of murder, Johnny submerged in his party boy persona.  As for Sue herself, she is now all alone, shattered by the unseen events that destroyed her family.  What the hell happened here?

We transition into the telling of that tale, as the Fantastic Four respond to a Fin Fang Foom attack in downtown Manhattan, all of a sudden wearing their new costumes.  After fifty-odd years of wearing shades of blue and white, seeing the team in their new blood-red uniforms is very off-putting, especially given the lack of explanation as to why Reed would suddenly make such a drastic change.  The battle with Foomy (his friends get to call him that) goes quick, establishing the Brain/Brawn/Heart/Mouth dynamic that defines the team, but somehow only Ben’s dialogue feels like it belongs to the established character.  Reed is unusually tentative, Sue a bit too flippant, and most of Johnny’s dialogue feels like the work of someone trying far too hard to show that he’s the brash young hot head.  We do get to see that the children of the Future Foundation are still around and unharmed (save Valeria, who has run off to Latveria in a snit), answering the question I was probably most worried about given Robinson’s established tendencies to off characters for drama.  No, I haven’t yet forgiven him for Lian Harper.  I’m trying, though…

THE RED UNIFORMS FEEL REALLY *WRONG*

The second half of the issue does some nice character stuff, showing us a little bit of Reed & Sue’s relationship when no one else is around (something I don’t recall having see for a while), giving Johnny a music career and putting Ben Grimm back together with Alicia Masters again.  These changes could have come across really abruptly, but Robinson does a good job smoothing them into a greater overarching tale, even though the dialogue never quite comes together the way I want it to.  As the issue comes to a close, we see the beginnings of what Sue’s narration describes as the beginning of the end, and a turn for bathos in the dialogue, pushing the dramatic intentions of our cliffhanger a little TOO hard for my tastes.  There are a lot of cool moments in the issue, but there’s also a darkness to the story that I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with.  It’s certainly different from the last several arcs of Fantastic Four, though, and the Kirk’s art is quite solid throughout the issue.  The one major complaint that I have on the artistic front, though, is Kirk’s Invisible Woman, who looks to be about 24 years old, even though she has a couple of vaguely pre-teen children, and whose facial expressions are unhappily cartoonish throughout the book.

THE BOTTOM LINE: NOT QUITE THERE YET

When I break it down, this book has a hard row to hoe.  As a reader, I don’t want to see a rehash of Hickman, Fraction or Millar, nor do I want something completely off the beaten path for the Fantastic Four.  While this issue manages to balance out the basic of interaction and the personalities of the characters, they don’t ever quite feel right, and I’m very nervous about the dark tone of the flash-forwards, even as I want to see how it all plays out.  If there were more consistency of dialogue and less fluidity in the character’s facial features, I might rate this relaunch somewhat above average, but the combination of strange territory with those inconsistencies leaves us with a book that is interesting, though somewhat flawed.  Fantastic Four #1 doesn’t quite put all the pieces in their proper order, but at least feels like it knows where those pieces *are*, earning a by no means disrespectful 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s got potential, but there’s just enough that feels “off” for this issue to skirt the line of unsuccessful.  (Also, while the new logo and trade dress are pretty striking, the cover art is just plain unattractive, which gives a less-than-wonderful first impression…)