The Fantastic Four #1
I’ve only recently started reading some of Marvel’s comics regularly; from a cursory glance they seemed too silly, too shallow or slight and while closer inspection certainly showed this to be true it also revealed the kind of fun and creativity such ridiculousness can contain. The primary example of this is Jonathan Hickman’s recent run on both The Fantastic Four and the spin-off series he seeded FF. Reed Richards and family were never characters that I thought I could be interested, let alone invested in, but Hickman imbued them with such personality and philosophy that you couldn’t not be; that he hid this under layers of impossibly imaginative and cerebrally constructed narrative concepts complete with hard science only helped matters. It was a series I devoured, it’s denouement still echoing in my ears as I split the cover on this issue. That was Marvel Then, how do I feel about Marvel Now?
Firstly the fact that I picked this book up at all speaks well for it; I’m not the kind of reader who gets so attached to a character that they will follow them from creator to creator, through good and bad times, and so a new Fantastic Four series was far from a pre-fated sell. What eventually made the decision for me was the name of its writer, one Mr.Matt Fraction. Fraction is perhaps the perfect choice to write Fantastic Four and is definitely capable of steering the series out of Hickman’s now hallowed footprints.
The two men share a lot of similarities -Fraction’s imagination matches Hickman’s ( his is perhaps the only one that does), so to does the intensity and intelligence of his writing – however he is also different enough that his work won’t simply be a re-tread. See whereas Hickman was heavily considered Fraction’s style is much looser, it’s fun first and logic second. The issue doesn’t just begin in media res, it begins in the mouth of a T-Rex that has swallowed the four whole. It’s trademark Marvel silliness just without a single trace of stupid, which is exactly why this issue works as well as it does and exactly why I am this excited by what is to come.
For those fans of Hickman’s run who aren’t yet fans of Fraction know that this isn’t a hard reset, his take on the series is different but not completely divergent. For example he keeps all of the kids ( real and adopted) and the concept of the FF but comes up with new treatments of them: a literal example of this is the way that the plague ship Johnny won is still there, Reed just re-purposes it as a classroom for the children, another is the way that Storm returns to the scene of his sad demise The Negative Zone for a dinner date, to impress the latest fling. In other words the ingredients here are the same ones that Hickman spent his epic run sourcing and stocking the cupboard with, Fraction has simply stepped into the kitchen with his own recipes to combine them to.
Similarly the art by Mark Bagley strides the line between differentiating from and relating to the style established by Edwards, Eptin and Eagleshaw; the characters -classic and established – are all instantly recognizable as those present in the counterpart series and yet you never get the sense that Bagley is beholden to the existing art. His work never particularly struck me as special but it was more than serviceable which is really saying something given the stretches in scale that Fraction’s script involves; sketching an intimate scene between two talking heads requires a different skill-set entirely to the scope shown in some of the issues splash pages and yet Mark draws them both highhandedly.
If you’re new to the MU’s first family it is likely that this issue won’t blow you away – it’s sweet but not strongly emotional, it’s smart but more in a matter of wit than lasting wisdom and there is very little in the way of action to be found – but then it is only the first issue in what is set to be a massive story, it is setting the foundation of what is still to come and so I for one am very happy to say that it solid all the way through. Normally I would mention my willingness to read the next issue in a series as a sign of its strength but issue #2 isn’t what excites me here, it’s the idea of where we’ll be by issue #20 or #200 and this time i’ll be here to take each step along the way.