The legacy of the Fantastic Four looms large over this brand new series from writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Jim Cheung. Read on for our review, which contains some spoilers.
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Pencilled by Jim Cheung
Inked by John Dell and Walden Wong
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
The Fate of the Four Part 1 THE FOUR ARE NO MORE, SO TWO MUST DO! Something is very wrong with THE HUMAN TORCH and only THE THING can help him! It’s the Marvel Universe reunion you’ve all been waiting for (well, HALF of it, at least!). Plus: What monumental secret has DOOM been hiding since the end of SECRET WARS, and how will it completely change the lives of Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm?
While the very mention of Marvel’s first family has been suspiciously absent from many of the publisher’s books ever since “Secret Wars” back in 2015, make no mistake: the Fantastic Four are all over this issue. Sure, “Marvel Two-in-One” #1 stars the two members of the superhero quartet that remained on Earth, but both of those characters have been prominent members of other teams fairly consistently in the last two years. This is the first time they’re in the same book together, however, and Zdarsky is keen to make the most of that by focusing on the memory of the Fantastic Four and, more importantly, what is left behind.
The legacy of the Fantastic Four takes center stage in this issue, and any fans expecting more of the same skirting around the issue that other books in the recent past have done can rest easy in the knowledge that this is an essential piece of the puzzle, one that, when solved, will no doubt see the return of the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.” To get there, though, we need to understand where we are now, and both Benjamin Grimm, aka The Thing, and Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, are free-falling through their grief (in Johnny’s case quite literally). What’s worse is that for two previously inseparable members of the most famous family in the Marvel Universe, they’re going through everything alone. It takes the combined might of their friends (Spider-Man) and their enemies (the newly reformed Doctor Doom) to bring them back together, and a pretty major white lie to set the course of their future adventures.
Zdarsky is well known for his humor, but if his work at Marvel to date has proven anything, it’s that he has an immense skill at capturing the nuances of emotional interpersonal drama. Anyone that may dismiss his work as mere comedy would be doing a massive disservice to a writer that’s provided genuine moments of depth that range from heartwarming to heartbreaking in the space of a single issue. “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man” #6 is one of the greatest Spider-Man issues of the last decade and effortlessly redefines the relationship between its titular star and his eternal antagonist, J. Jonah Jameson.
The way Zdarsky captures the emotional substance here in “Marvel Two-in-One” #1 is the same way he does it in that issue of “Peter Parker:” namely that his innate knowledge and understanding of these characters allows for a depth of emotion that feels completely natural and helps to fully-realise these decades-old characters in a way that makes them both relatable and engaging. Specifically here, we see Ben giving a speech at the inaugural Fantastic Awards, and with the combination of Zdarsky’s script and Jim Cheung’s art (a single tear forming in Thing’s eye) longtime fans are welcomed back to an old friend and new fans are given a near-complete insight into who Ben Grimm really is. Similarly with Johnny Storm, while we don’t get as much from him, we’re witness to the lengths he’ll go to in order to escape the grief-stricken turmoil in his mind, watching him explode in more ways than one. In one issue we fully understand their roles: Johnny is the hot-head, Ben is the rock.
Cheung’s art has been a staple of Marvel comics for years, so his experience with both the characters and the dynamic nature of superhero storytelling is well established at this point, which is to say that he’s a perfect fit for this issue in many ways. Firstly, the classic feel of his characterizations is entirely appropriate for an issue that’s focused on looking backward to a better time. Beyond that though, “Marvel Two-in-One” #1 is an issue with extremes of action and introspection, the spectrum of which Cheung navigates perfectly. His framing of the deeper moments enhances those narrative beats by, for example, pulling into faces or framing the loneliness of a thoughtful figure. When the superhero action takes over though, Cheung’s structure explodes from the page, encompassing all of your senses, aided exceptionally by Dell and Wong’s inks, as well as Martin’s colors. Finally, there are two different types of flashback in this issue, one that illustrates a speech early in the issue, and one that is a recalled memory, and Cheung is able to adapt his style in subtle but very different ways to accentuate these moments. In the case of the former it’s with traditional mise en scene in the classic Marvel tradition, and in the latter, it’s by employing first-person views. In both cases, Martin’s colors adapt in beautiful ways too, and the memory is especially well done on the part of Joe Caramagna’s lettering, that utilizes a neat trick to establish the chaos of the moment.Continued below
It may be a while before we see the Fantastic Four return, but if this issue’s anything to go by Marvel would be fools not to give that book to Chip Zdarsky. That may be the plan, as “Marvel Two-in-One” feels less like a book that follows in the tradition of the Legacy of the book’s title, and more like a necessary step on the road to the return of the team. This is but the first part of a story that has yet to establish the status quo for the series, so time will tell if Zdarsky has the imagination needed for the more fantastical (pun unapologetically intended) side of the team’s adventures, but when it comes to character, depth and heart, this issue nails it.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – A brilliant first step on the road to the return of the FF.