THIS REVIEW OF ‘FANTASTIC FOUR’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
By Don Alsafi. On March 8 1961, a new kind of comic book graced the newsstands. The product of writer/editor Stan Lee and stalwart artist Jack Kirby, The Fantastic Four #1 quickly introduced its cast and invited readers to witness their first adventure. What no one could have predicted is that this bold new experiment would revitalize the superhero genre, and prove so successful that an entire shared universe of titles and characters would rise up in its wake, creating the expansive Marvel Universe that fans of the comics, film and TV shows have thrilled to ever since.
For over fifty years, The Fantastic Four came out each and every month—that is until three years ago, when a sprawling crossover event kicked off a multiversal crisis and concluded with what appeared to be the sacrifice of Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic), his wife Susan (The Invisible Woman), and their two children (Franklin and Valeria). The crossover, Secret Wars, had ended—and with only Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing) remaining, the Fantastic Four comic became absent from the shelves for the first time since their inception.
But over the last several months, Marvel have been relaunching and revamping their current line of comics (with no small amount of success!). As part of this initiative, this past Wednesday—for the first time in 3 years and precisely 57 after the first Fantastic Four comic hit the stands—comic book stores once again saw the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine back in front of readers’ eyes.
To say the least, anticipation and expectations are running high with this one…
Written by Dan Slott.
Art by Sara Pichelli & Elisabetta D’amico, Simone Bianchi, and Skottie Young.
Colors by Marte Gracia, Simone Bianchi & Marco Russo, and Jeremy Treece.
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna.
An emotional tale of what was lost—and newly found. This first issue opens with a photograph of the team from happier times, and voiceover captions from Ben, Johnny, Reed and Sue talking about what the Fantastic Four means. From there we transition to what looks to be a gorgeous and carefree day, with Ben Grimm out on a date with Alicia Masters (the blind sculptress who was Ben’s girlfriend for the first three decades of the FF), and Johnny Storm taking in a ballgame with his old college roommate, Wyatt Wingfoot.
It feels like a flashback in every regard—until it suddenly becomes apparent that, no, these scenes are in fact taking place today. That realization feels like a crushing disappointment, that what we’re witnessing is a present day in which the Fantastic Four are no more. And that sense of loss is most keenly felt by Johnny, who becomes ecstatic and jubilant once a new development occurs that hints at the possible return of Reed and Sue… only to discover that what got his hopes up was nothing more than some kids pulling off an elaborate prank.
A newscaster talks about the false alarm, recaps the FF’s origin story, and then cuts to various parties commenting on how much dimmer the world seems without the Four in it. Ben then makes a momentous and life-changing decision, and a happy one—but the hotheaded Johnny loses it, distraught that the rest of their family is no longer here to share their joy as they should be. It’s a moving scene, and even readers who have never picked up a copy of FF in the past can plainly share in Ben & Johnny’s still-fresh grief.
But then comes indication that Reed & Sue may not be quite as gone as once thought.
The Fantastic Four comic you’ve been waiting for. The writer of Fantastic Four is Dan Slott, fresh off his ten-year run on The Amazing Spider-Man and having just relaunched the new Tony Stark: Iron Man comic. And impressively, for the first issue of a title that’s still missing half its quartet, he nevertheless makes it feel recognizably like an FF comic.
Part of that is because his grasp of the characters is absolutely spot on—recall that Slott wrote a short-lived Thing series back in 2005-2006—as well as his populating the comic with supporting characters who have been vitally important to the FF over the years, such as Wyatt, Alicia and Jennifer Walters (who, as She-Hulk, once had a lengthy stint substituting for The Thing). It’s also because Dan Slott understands that the Fantastic Four are more than superheroes, more than explorers charting new courses through and past the bounds of imagination—they are a family. A family which has gone through countless struggles and triumphs together… and the loss of half of them is something that is deeply, devastatingly felt.
Artist Sara Pichelli is equally fantastic, clearly showing the emotions writ large in the hearts of these characters, like Johnny’s overwhelming grief, or Ben’s newfound happiness with Alicia. But she also excels at conveying a sense of wonder, as in the short 5-page flashback to a time when the FF was lost amongst the stars, and had to employ rather unusual means to get back home. (Which, by the way, is a clever move on Slott’s part—including a scene of the team having a classic adventure in an issue when the Four are still just Two.) And small touches like a white “4” logo on Johnny’s blue sneakers? Well, that’s just the visual icing on the cake.
As the good guys return—so too does Doom. There’s a lot packed into the 30-page lead story, and that’s followed by a backup tale focused on perennial archvillain Doctor Doom, illustrated by artist and painter Simone Bianchi. Ever since Reed and Sue (and their children) were lost, Victor von Doom has been making sincere attempts to be a hero in their place. He even starred in his own comic for a while (Bendis & Maleev’s Infamous Iron Man) and in the pages of the Torch- and Thing-starring Marvel Two-in-One, he even tried to help Ben & Johnny track down Reed & Sue, supposedly out of a genuine desire to be a better person. Something has perhaps occurred in the interim; this 9-page vignette would seem to indicate that von Doom has started sliding back to his old and imperious ways…
Finally, this giant comic book package closes out with a one-page strip drawn by cartoonist Skottie Young, fresh off having wrapped his critically-acclaimed indie book I Hate Fairyland for Image Comics. This short gag features occasional FF ally/mischief-maker The Impossible Man, standing in for a skeptical readership. It’s a cute and clever way of anticipating reader complaints—and smart, too, in that it signals to those skeptics that yes, the creative team have these very same thoughts in their heads. After three years without the FF, they’re committed to getting this thing right.
And now, a personal confession. Over the past year, we’ve taken a look at many of the new releases from Marvel. And yet no other comic has provoked in me such feelings of anticipation, and nervousness, as this vital and important return.
See, The Fantastic Four is the comic book that got me hooked on comics, some three decades past. It’s the comic book I would always return to, and read every month—through good times and bad. I was crushed when Marvel announced the comic was ending three years ago, just as I was excited and hopeful to hear it was coming back.
But, of course, with every dream there’s always a kernel of worry, or doubt. What if the creative team chosen to helm the return of Marvel’s First Family prove to be somewhat less than inspiring? What if Marvel were to bring back The Fantastic Four, but at the end of the day it’s nothing more than… okay?
And so, with both hope and trepidation, I cracked open the cover, and read the comic before me. A brand-new Fantastic Four #1.
And I loved it. Wholeheartedly, and without reservation.
I’m so glad!
The Fantastic Four are back, and the Marvel Universe is suddenly a better and brighter place.
10 out of 10
Check out this behind-the-scenes video of ‘Fantastic Four’ courtesy of Marvel!