In Depth: Fantastic 4 #1
Marvel. Robinson, Kirk, Kesel, Arburtov.
Fantastic Four was the first Marvel comic I ever read, many many years ago, and I’m not ashamed to admit I absolutely love Marvel’s First Family. There’s something about their adventures that just seem so thrilling. Maybe it’s because when I read this title I’m instantly transported back to my youth (a simpler time. Sigh.) but I still get that sense of excitement, like anything could happen. They’re the team that can go anywhere; can see and do everything. So why is it so hard to get them right?
The dynamic of the Fantastic Four is solid. They’re a family first, explorers second (or Imaginauts if you will) and superheroes third. The mother and father figures (Sue and Reed) and the children (Johnny, Ben and the actual kids – Franklin, Valeria and lately the Future Foundation) are strongest when they’re a team; in their time taking on everyone from Doctor Doom to Galactus with a catchphrase and handy invention or two.
There have been some great runs on FF. Amongst my favourites (and indeed many fan favourites) are: John Byrne, Mark Waid, Stan and Jack (obviously) and most recently Jonathan Hickman. I’d add Chris Claremont in here too, as his was the run that got me into the F4 to begin with. Hickman most of all wasn’t afraid to delve into the wider landscape of the Marvel cosmic universe, a universe that had its genesis in the pages of this very title. His run has come very close to being a real favourite and certainly the best in recent years.
With the good inevitably come the bad though, and this is why I say they’re a tricky team to get right. Every book has its ups and downs, but the Fantastic Four have had some amazing writers produce some below average results. I love Mark Millar. I love Matt Fraction. I love J. Michael Straczinski. All three of these however have, in my eyes, not managed to capture what is amazing about this book. Fraction was the last curator of this series and I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve dropped off the book since I started reading all those years ago.
So you can see why I’m approaching this new chapter, by James Robinson, with a little caution. I’ve not read any of Robinson’s previous work for DC; I read his chapters of Heroes Reborn but that was a long time ago. I did however pick up All-New Invaders, his first work for Marvel since returning and I wasn’t overly impressed. Even more reason to be cautious then.
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. Fantastic 4 #1 was an enjoyble read. It took me a moment to catch up on the staus quo following the issues I skipped, but I’m happy to say Robinson gives the run a brief mention before getting on with making his own mark. This is mostly an issue that focuses on the family, where they are now and what’s next for them; a day in the life if you will, and one that in Sue’s words, was ‘a good one, all in all’. The framing narrative and final page is enough to prove that it’s not meant to last though, but I think it’s important that the staus quo is introduced this way – we get a ‘norm’ for the family (if that can ever be such a thing for them) because as the title of the story explicit tells us, it won’t be very long before it’s all torn down around them.
Reading up on James Robinson for this review I’ve read a few people commenting on his style, most notably that his work (especially on Earth 2) tends to mine the back history of a title in order to tell new versions of past storylines. While I can’t personally comment on it, that is essentially the premise of his All-New Invaders series, so maybe there is some truth to it. I think someone could do a lot worse than to dig through the FF’s back catalogue for ideas, after all they have such a diverse and rich history that someone like that would have an absolute field day, but I hope he’s not afraid to create something new also. Matter of fact, the reason there is such a rich history in this title (and indeed thanks to that, the Marvel Universe as a whole) is because of Stan and Jack’s wild, almost hedonistic streak of original ideas. The Fantastic four is the perfect platform for exploring strange new worlds and meeting every type of exotic alien. The spirit of Dan Slott’s new Silver Surfer book (again, originally from the FF title) looks set to take full advantage of that spirit, if also taking a detour via Doctor Who…
Leonard Kirk’s artwork on this is great; just enough of a more cartoony style in the action scenes, while still maintaining that realistic weight that adds to the melodrama of the family dynamic. The panel where the Thing manages to utter his most famous catchphrase while hurling Fin Fang Foom backwards with a single punch made me very excited indeed. The facial expressions are a little off in places but the composition of the page more than makes up for it. Arburtov’s colours are bright and bold, just what the FF needs. I can’t say I love the new uniform colour but it may grow on me in time.
I always love the Fantastic Four when they’re the centre of the Marvel Universe. I like when they interact with other heroes, whether they walk the streets of Manhattan or the spaceways of the Negative Zone. The fact that this issue contains a classic villain like Fin Fang Foom, as well as appearances from new Nick Fury, the Future Foundation, a mention of S.W.O.R.D and a welcome return of Alicia Masters gives me the sense that this volume of the FF will be firmly rooted in the centre of the 616, as they should be. For the first time in a while I’m really looking forward to the next issue of Fantastic Four.