A new character has crash-landed into the pages of the Marvel Universe! The question is: should any of us care?
Written by Peter David
Penciled by Francesco Manna
Colored by Espen Grundetjern
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
CHAPTER 1 OF 3! The first of three interconnected special issues featuring the FANTASTIC FOUR, the SILVER SURFER and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY! Introducing PRODIGAL, a strange alien being who has crash-landed in the Savage Land. When he becomes worshipped by a race of swamp-dwelling barbarians, Ka-Zar and Shanna call upon the Fantastic Four to aid them in stopping the barbarians’ plans to conquer the entirety of their world. Join Prodigal on his long journey to try to return home to settle old scores.
“Fantastic Four: Prodigal Sun” kicks off a story arc spread across three one-shot issues, following a brand new cosmic character as he attempts to get back to his home planet. Along the way, he’ll meet the Silver Surfer and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but first comes this scuffle with Marvel’s First Family among the unpredictable surroundings of the Savage Land. The result is a readable but tonally disjointed issue that can’t quite justify why it exists.
It’s a premise that certainly has potential. After all, a brand new character appearing on Earth seemingly at random and instantly become a force to be reckoned with is an exciting prospect. Equally, the return of an existing character in an entirely different form could be just as interesting a direction. This reviewer had speculated the so-called “Prodigal Sun” could, in fact, be The Sentry, who has been referred to by that name in the past and has been mysteriously absent following an open-ended recent solo series. It’s a shame then that writer Peter David passes on both of these possibilities, opting instead for a campy screwball comedy starring someone who can essentially be described as an off-brand Loki.
Indeed, everything from his inflated ego to his obnoxious quips is reminiscent of the God of Mischief, while their respective origin stories are close to identical. Prodigal is a challenger to the throne of his homeworld, currently reigned over by his older brother, arriving on Earth following an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him. Sound familiar? This information might be considered a spoiler by some, but it’s revealed so nonchalantly that it barely even registers as a plot point. Not to mention that it robs the rest of the arc of some much-needed drama, as a compelling mystery surrounding Prodigal’s identity would have been something to keep readers hooked.
Instead, the narrative is severely lacking in tension. In the opening pages, Ka-Zar and Shanna call on the Fantastic Four for urgent help, stressing the catastrophic danger that Prodigal poses – particularly in an alliance with the primitive swamp men of the Savage Land. Yet, this impending danger never really translates to the rest of the book. The central conflict seems remarkably small-scale, almost quaint in fact, which makes it difficult to get meaningfully invested in the events unfolding. This is only amplified by a script that places emphasis on one-liners and running gags which don’t seem in-keeping with its broader themes.
Illustrations are provided by Francesco Manna with Espen Grundetjern on colors and the pair do a fine job. Their style is crisp and clean but really comes to life in the action sequences. While it’s true that in some panels the Savage Land looks bare or resembles an idyllic national park, its inhabitants look fantastic. The two warring tribes each have a distinct and intimidating look, while the Ka-Zar family are also on top form – not least the adorable Dax, their pet pterodactyl.
David also excels in their interactions with the Fantastic Four. Even to new readers, it will be abundantly clear that these characters have a rich history displayed in the thoughtful back and forth they share. The same goes for the FF themselves whose family dynamic helps keep this issue afloat. There isn’t anything revolutionary going on here, but the core team is in safe hands with David – that includes the not-so-little-ones Franklin and Valeria, whose role among the team is visibly changing as they settle into their older identities. Hey, you can’t be a kid forever (but you can for forty years in Franklin’s case).Continued below
But some good art and a handful of nice moments are nowhere near enough to outweigh the glaring problems with this issue. There is enough substantial content here to fill a zany back-up story in an issue of the mainline “Fantastic Four” series, but spinning it off into its own title at $4.99 per issue is a severely misjudged move that borders on extortion. Who does Marvel envision buying this series and for what purpose? The new character it introduces is a tedious bore and the events he has a hand in seem largely inconsequential. Even die-hard fans of the FF would struggle to justify this purchase, given that the team won’t be appearing in the next installment.
Indeed, the upcoming “Silver Surfer: Prodigal Sun” will tell a completely different story with the character which may very well reap better results. But, realistically it seems unlikely this series will recover from stumbling so spectacularly out of the starting blocks, especially in the limited time it has left. It’s a shame because if Prodigal as a character had been given a more interesting backstory and a plot of some significance, then this could have been a special little miniseries. But instead, “Prodigal Sun” is merely a strange and disappointing misfire.
Final Verdict: 5.8 – “Fantastic Four: Prodigal Sun” is a lesson in how not to introduce a new Marvel character.