Allen Christian reviews Fantastic Four #1…
In early 2015, leading into Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars, we saw the dissolution of the Fantastic Four and the cancellation of their eponymous monthly comic book. The assumption is that Marvel seized this opportunity to cease production of the book due to ongoing conflict with 20th Century Fox, the studio that held the cinematic rights to Marvel’s First Family. This same push saw Marvel attempting to slot the oft-misused Inhumans into the role of the X-Men, for much the same reason.
Earlier this year, however, Marvel’s parent company, Disney, began a bidding war to purchase 20th Century Fox and won. Shortly after, in a turn that no one could call a coincidence, Marvel Comics announced a new Fantastic Four book to be helmed by writer Dan Slott and artist Sara Pichelli. Everyone always assumed the FF would be back, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the hype for a Fantastic Four book is probably as high as it has ever been.
So does the new book live up to the hype? Well, not yet. Slott, who is best known for his divisive years-long run on Spider-Man, seems to be holding back. Not in such a way that it doesn’t seem he’s giving it his all. More that he’s not ready to tip his hand just yet. If you were hoping for the explosive return of the Fabulous FF, we’re not quite there yet. The reunion of the team is set up here, but we’re left with a cliffhanger; left waiting yet another month for the big one. But it’s been over three years, so holding out one more month shouldn’t be too hard.
All of this is not to say that Fantastic Four #1 (Legacy #646) is an uneventful book. It certainly isn’t. It’s a beautiful book, and the main feature, “Signal in the Sky,” is a wonderful story unto itself. It doesn’t simply feel like the first part of a multi-part story. At the start of the issue, we rejoin a Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm still dealing with their grief over the loss of the Richards family, separately. Johnny is at a Mets game with Wyatt Wingfoot and Ben is out and about with Alicia Masters, when their day is suddenly interrupted by a flare in the sky that reads “Fantastic Four.” Johnny and the rest of New York are excited, thinking this can only mean the return of Reed and Sue. Ben knows better. Johnny finds Yancy Street hooligans on the other end of the flare. All of these events cause Ben to take a trip down memory lane, and we get a a charming “lost tale” of the FF. As Ben comes to terms with the loss, he puts serious consideration into his future with Alicia and decides to take a big step that makes this issue a must-read for any fan of the Four. Johnny, meanwhile, continues to struggle with his grief and refuses to accept the loss, lashing out Ben’s acceptance of it. Sara Pichelli, most famous for her work with the Miles Morales Spider-Man, delivers wonderful art that both captures and sets the tone of the book incredibly well. It is light-hearted in a way that expertly conveys the warmth and familiarity that form a large part of the Fantastic Four’s core. Being unfamiliar with Pichelli’s work on Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m hopeful that it will also be effective in conveying that other core element of any good FF work: cosmic grandiosity.
The first back-up feature lays groundwork for Doctor Doom’s role in the upcoming stories, and features art by Simone Bianchi. The second, with art by Skottie Young, is a one page Impossible Man cartoon spoofing the missing return of the team from issue #1, and promising the return in #2. Both round off this oversized issue in a satisfying way and add the extra value that the cover price asks.
I suppose the biggest question that accompanies any #1 issue is whether or not the issue is a good jumping on point. The honest answer is probably no. Plenty of things are already in motion at the start of the story, and the book’s best moments require a fair amount of knowledge about FF past to truly appreciate. But in the age of hyper-continuity, you could do worse. Slott picks up the ball where it was left, but does his best to fill you in along the way without halting momentum to explain. All in all, I feel comfortable in recommending the book to new fans looking for a good place to start, though it wouldn’t be my first choice. Jonathan Hickman’s run is probably the best modern place to start, if you aren’t looking to go back to the incomparable Lee/Kirby days. For longtime Fantastic Four fans, however, Fantastic Four #1 by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli is an absolute must.
Allen Christian – @FourColorFilm