Marvel NOW! has done a noteworthy job of changing up the status quo of the Marvel Universe without pressing the dreaded reset button. They shifted around creative teams, coinciding those changes with the relaunch of many of their titles, some of them very long-standing. I was a little nervous about this at first, but being the long-time Marvel devotee I am, I was willing to go along with it.
At this point, I’m very happy I did.
There have been several very gripping storylines and titles that have come out of this change. Bendis is wading into the X-Men after years as a scribe for the Avengers, Jason Aarons is already making a huge mark with Thor, and now we’ve got Matt Fraction moving into the long-held history of the Fantastic Four in both relaunches of Fantastic Four and FF #1. It’s as good a jumping on point as any, especially for an FF novice such as myself.
The cover of this issue isn’t unfamiliar to most of us, as it’s an image of the four stand-ins for the Fantastic Four: Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and Miss Thing, rendered against a cityscape by Michael Allred in a clean, Golden Age style that he brings to the rest of the book. It’s clearly a promotional image, especially as you read through the story–Miss Thing technically doesn’t make an appearance in this issue–but it sets up who we’ll be reading about, and clearly introduces us to the visual style of the title.
The basic plot is the coming together of the team. Reed is planning an “educational trip” for the Fantastic Four (for the details on that, look to Fraction’s Fantastic Four #1), and needs a replacement team for the four minutes they’re expected to be gone from the universe. To that end he, Sue, and Ben talk to Ant-Man, Medusa, and She-Hulk, respectively. This action is interspersed with close-up shots of the various children from the Future Foundation, explaining what they think the Future Foundation is, as well as who they are, to future member Scott Lang–Ant-Man.
Medusa and She-Hulk have no problem agreeing to stand in for them, but Ant-Man, who is still reeling from the loss of his daughter Cassie, at first has difficulty accepting that he’d be responsible for the children of the Future Foundation while he’s heading up the team. He starts to leave, but sees from one of Reed’s displays monitors that someone–Reed–is sick, and that is the primary motivator for his trip for the Fantastic Four. Realizing what’s at stake, Ant-Man finally agrees to lead, and starts off by asking the children to teach him what the Future Foundation is and what it does.
It’s not a very action-packed issue, and we clearly see that it’s not complete in terms of bringing everyone together, but it’s a good setup nonetheless. What Fraction appears to be doing here is lining up the dominoes and laying out reasons why we should care about these characters as events transpire. I’ve seen a lot of people call this a “talking heads” issue, which I agree it is, but I don’t think the point of comic books–or any storytelling medium–is supposed to be action, action, action all the time.
I’m not going to care one lick about the action if I don’t care about the characters participating, and I think that’s Fraction’s intent here. Whether it’s Medusa’s concerns about her family, Scott Lang’s angst regarding the loss of his daughter and taking on the responsibility for a group of children, or She-Hulk’s simple need to let off a little steam, he’s establishing who they’re going to be in the context of this series. I’m trusting that this will pay off later, and in the meantime it makes for its own form of fascination.
The virtual absence of Johnny Storm, as well as the knowledge that his girlfriend, Darla Deering, is going to be Miss Thing leaves a little bit of unresolved setup that I feel could have been included in this issue. I am curious to see how she’s going to join the team, as well as how she’ll fit in, as it doesn’t look like she has any actual powers. Hopefully Fraction’s holding back the punchline to a hilarious joke that we’ll see next issue.
Michael Allred’s artwork is a fitting choice for this issue. It’s hard for me to look at it without thinking of Jack Kirby’s classic linework, and while this style of art isn’t really my personal cup of tea, I’m well aware of its historical influence, and will agree that it certainly works for a back-to-basics approach to a story. It leaves plenty of room for both expression, which we see plenty of in this issue, and dynamic action, which I’m anticipating more of in the future. Laura Allred’s colors are simple and bold, making for a pleasing experience that dovetails nicely with Michael’s lines.
In a way, it’s easy to argue that this is the more “disposable” of the Fantastic Four titles, as this isn’t the real, original team, who have their own title, after all. That’s all true, but on the flip-side, this is the team that they have personally selected as their replacements, and who will be the ones who are here in our universe, after all. With the original Four out of the universe doing who-knows-what, these gals-n-guy will be the face of the Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation.
Overall, this is a decent jumping-on point for anyone interested in following the Fantastic Four, of either incarnation. You get an idea of who’s going to be around on this team and why, as well as how they’ll relate to the Future Foundation that will be left behind by the original Fantastic Four. The character development is good, the artwork has a classic feel that will definitely appeal to some readers, and it makes for a new flavor of the Fantastic Four that maintains ties to the actual team. Recommended.