Fantastic Four #1 // Review
It’s hard to emphasize the importance the Fantastic Four have for Marvel Comics’ history, both between the covers of the comics they’ve published and in the real world, where the title launched Marvel as it’s known today, an integral part in taking it from a tiny, obscure publisher to a pop-culture sensation. A few years ago, driven, reportedly, by a feud with 20th Century Fox over the rights and treatment of the characters on film, Marvel decided to pull the Fantastic Four comic, which had been struggling more often than not over the last few decades anyway, from the shelves. Much like Thor a decade earlier, the thought was that the move might not just spite Fox by depriving it of any comic cross-promotion, but also help create a bigger buzz when the characters eventually returned.
Now, writer Dan Slott, artist Sara Pichelli, and colorist Marte Garcia, with VC’s Joe Caramagna lettering, premiere a new Fantastic Four title for the first time in over 3 years. Can the creators live up to the expectation of readers? Can they reinvigorate Marvel’s First Family for a new generation? Is this too much to ask of a single issue?
Since the rest of the team disappeared after Secret Wars, Ben Grimm, the “ever-lovin’ blue-eyed” Thing, and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, have been floating from team to team, unable to deal with the absence of their family and friends. The issue picks up with this status quo still intact, with Ben attempting to move forward in a world without his best friend and his family, while Johnny can’t accept that his sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew are truly gone. The story centers on this dynamic, as Ben’s attempts to accept the world as it is grates against Johnny’s denials.
It’s no secret that Dan Slott loves these characters; he writes them with a reverence and affection that resonates off the page. The flashback sequence is definitely a highlight of the issue, as Ben recounts a lost F4 adventure involving Johnny singing everyone home from space, with some great character moments included. It matches incredibly well, thematically, with where Ben and Johnny are in the issue.
Sara Pichelli knocks the art out of the park on this one, with figures that are a perfect balance of rendering and sketchy linework. She breathes tons of life into every character, especially Ben, whose melancholy state rings through every panel, until Ben makes a big change that keeps a smile plastered on his face for almost the rest of the issue. Marte Garcia’s color choices are sublime, keeping the palette diverse, yet muted just enough to never be garish.
The issue also features a Doom-focused backup story, dealing with a return to a more conventional status quo for the former Infamous Iron Man. Simone Bianchi adds a massive amount of gravitas to the sequence, with his highly-rendered and expressive artwork, offsetting Pichelli’s lighter style perfectly. While some may lament seeing Doom seemingly lose all the character growth since Secret Wars, time will tell what the not-so-good doctor will do with the new-but-similar hand he’s been dealt.
The big problem with the issue, however, is that it doesn’t actually deliver on reuniting the Fantastic Four. Readers do get their first current glimpse of Reed and Sue since Secret Wars #9, but its a tiny part of the issue, and doesn’t do much to move the team closer together. The issue has no real conflict other than the dynamic between Ben and Johnny, and feels more like a zero issue or a prologue than the first issue of a team book, teasing the return of the missing team members while not doing anything to meaningfully advance the plot. This doesn’t really detract from the sweetness or beauty within the issue, but it does feel like a letdown, after such a long wait.
The team succeeds on just about every level--except fulfilling the desire of fans to see the Fantastic Four back together again. This is especially infuriating since Marvel has had a book going for months focused on Ben and Johnny, Marvel 2-in-One. It feels like the tease in this issue would have felt more at home in that book than in the first issue of Fantastic Four, since its express purpose was moving toward the return of the team, so the issue, while gorgeous and well-written, feels like a letdown. Hopefully, fans won’t have to wait much longer for the team to be reunited.