FANTASTIC FOUR #1/ Written by JAMES ROBINSON/ Art by LEONARD KIRK/ Inks by KARL KESEL/ Colors by JESUS ABURTOV/ Letters by VC’S CLAYTON COWLES/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
The world’s smartest scientist – Reed Richards. The woman he loves – Susan Storm. Her hot-blooded younger brother – Johnny Storm. Reed’s best friend and ace pilot – Ben Grimm. Four brave souls, who journeyed into the unknown and braved the dangers of deep space only to be exposed to cosmic rays that changed them all into something more than human.
Now, they are known to the world by other names. Mr. Fantastic. The Invisible Woman. The Human Torch. The Thing. Together, they are a team of explorers, adventurers and imaginauts. They are also occasionally a superhero team. But most of all, they are family.
As this issue opens, Susan is writing a letter to her children trying to explain recent events to them. How she came to hate their father Reed as much as she loved him. How their Uncle Ben came to be put in prison on charges of murder, based on Reed’s testimony. How their Uncle Johnny became a hedonistic waste of space. And how all of this came about because of one day…
Flash back to that one day, in progress, as the Fantastic Four battle alien space dragon Fin Fang Foom in the middle of Manhattan. Once the battle is over, Reed expresses concern that Fin Fang Foom – previously an intelligent adversary – is now acting like a beast. Susan is more concerned about their daughter, who is angry at them and currently living in Latveria. Ben is focused on reconciling with his on-again/off-again girlfriend. And Johnny – now an aspiring rock star – has just signed a contract to go on tour.
Confused? You’re probably not alone. James Robinson does his best to try and explain the current status quo of Fantastic Four for new readers but there’s too much to tackle in one go while still setting up the idea that bad things are coming for the team.
This has been a common problem with many of the so-called Marvel NOW! titles. Supposedly, the point of restarting all of these popular series with new #1 issues was to allow new readers a chance to jump on to a series as new creative teams began working with various classic characters. The problem is that few of these series are truly starting fresh and some basic familiarity with what came before is expected when it really shouldn’t be.
Case in point: Robinson explains that Susan and Reed’s daughter, Valeria is mad at them but doesn’t go into detail about why in the past Reed lied to her and Sue backed him up on his reasons for doing so. The significance of their daughter having fled to Latveria – home of the Fantastic Four’s arch enemy Doctor Doom – is also left unexplained for new readers. And perhaps strangest of all, no explanation is given for why former-supervillain Dragon Man is now acting as the family’s live-in nanny or why they are playing host to a number of children that are clearly not human. We don’t even find out who these kids are, apart from the fact that one of them is named Bentley and that he’s working on a ray gun that will turn spinach into chocolate.
Robinson has a good grasp on the characters but it’s not enough to save an overly complicated introduction. The Fin Fang Foom sequence feels like it was tacked on purely because the book needed to have an action scene where you see the team use their powers. This scene is doubly problematic as it does little to throw off the belief in the comics community that all the Fantastic Four ever do is battle giant monsters. There’s a real sense, despite the opening assuring us that everything is going to change, that nothing really has.
The artwork is similarly lackluster. For the most part, it is competently done but there’s nothing that really leaps off the page. The one sequence that is eye-catching – a two-page spread of the team charging at Fin Fang Foom – is notable primarily for how skewed the perspective is, with two separate backgrounds seemingly welded together at different angles and the team randomly superimposed over that.
In the end, Fantastic Four may have a new #1 issue and a new creative team but that’s all that’s new. Fans of the First Family of Marvel may enjoy it, but new readers will have little reason to continue on with the saga past this first issue.