The gender reversed, multi-colored, still learning how exactly how to do this Fantastic Four face an old villain, new challenges, and try to understand a machine that goes “boop boop.”
Be warned, spoilers live below.
Written by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by Mike Allred
Ant-Man! She Hulk! Medusa! And, um — Ms. Thing?
– How does the rest of the Future Foundation react to the new team?
– What classic Fantastic Four super-villain can’t wait to get their hands on the new FF?
Of all the comics Marvel has ever published, “Fantastic Four” has always been the one that felt the least changed over time. Of course, this is an illusion created by a consistent cast, infrequently updated costumes, and a, at times seen as corny, family feel to the book. The tone of the classic “Fantastic Four” stories has moved over to “FF,” where Matt Fraction and Mike Allred do their damnedest to bring readers a comic that feels from the Silver Age, while fitting firmly in the Modern Age.
The New York of “FF” is one where reporters still wear fedoras with “Press” signs in them, but right next to the reporter is a kid with a smartphone. She-Hulk talks about her Stella McCartney outfit, while fighting the same villains in the same setting as “Fantastic Four” #1 51 years ago. Having Mole Man and his giant companion as the villains reinforces the ties to the Lee/Kirby original series in a pretty blatant way. This could read as trying too hard, or attempting to cash in on false nostalgia, but it doesn’t. Seeing references from the ’60s alongside characters created in the past few years shows both a reverence for what has come before, and a path towards future adventures. In short, “FF” is proving itself to be the anti-New 52.
The selling point of this book for many, including myself, is Mike Allred on pencils. Allred was recently on “iZombie” for Vertigo, which was an enjoyable book, but never felt like it was pushing him to his full potential. Here, Allred’s work seems fully realized, and have all his hallmarks: stylized humans, freaky looking creatures, a grace of movement, and humor never deep beneath the surface. The redesigned costumes for the replacement 4 both fit in with the recent history of the team, but add something that is unmistakably Allred. This, like “X-Statix” before it, feels like something only Allred could draw.
In fact, “X-Statix” is a pretty good comparison to make for this book in general. “FF” is the furthest extreme version of the Fantastic Four – the adventures of the extended family, ever accepting and welcoming (even to a pop star playing superhero), amping the humor up a notch, and taking the conventions of the genre and having fun with them. And, because both books didn’t feature the “main” characters of their lineage, a certain freedom was achieved.
It is that freedom that seems evident by the end of this issue. I placed a spoiler warning above, but if you had read much of the pre-release press for this book, you probably already know all of this. At the end of the issue, an insane, one-eyed Johnny Storm with emo hair returns, claiming the Fantastic Four to be dead, and the portal to be closed forever. Since Reed Richards is one of the stars of “New Avengers,” among logic and common sense, the readers can assume that this is not the final fate of the Fantastic Four. However, that also gives “FF” the chance to exist in a space where they are THE Fantastic Four, and can figure out exactly what that means for the characters.
And the characters are starting to become clearer. Scott Lang was reluctant to step in to this position, but has excelled at caring for this gang, even if his leadership leaves something to be desired. She-Hulk seems like she was born to do this, as she can both teach and fight giant monsters in the face. Medusa is acting like a mother, exactly the reason Sue recruited her, and Miss Thing is predictably useless. But, unlike what others might do with this character, Fraction makes her aware of this. She knows she shouldn’t be there, she knows she’s pretty useless in the grand scheme of things. These four characters create an interesting and diverse prism in which to see the other members of the Future Foundation. Through Miss Thing, fear; through Scott, hope; through Medusa, protection, through She-Hulk potential.
Let it also be said just how funny this book is at points. The sequences surrounding the “Machine that Goes Boop Boop Room” is a joke lifted almost wholesale from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and it is a really fine swipe, especially the call back to it at the end of the issue. The more unusual members of the FF are always rife for laughter, and the way that the new Fantastic Four slide right into their routine is a funny and sweet touch. At one point, Scott doesn’t even look up from his newspaper to stop Vil from stabbing Wu – he has, four days in, become so used to this scenario that he is able to treat this absolutely unusual situation as normal.
All of this is a testament to what Fraction can do as a writer. While this book suffers somewhat from the pacing issues that all of the Marvel NOW! books have been struggling with, Fraction gets more of a pass here, because the average reader is going to need more time to get accustomed to this premise and these characters. Unless you were reading “FF” in its prior incarnation, you may only be familiar with She-Hulk and the concept of Ant-Man. So, Fraction takes two issues to get the reader really up to speed with who these folks are, before diving into the bigger story.
That bigger story, for the next year or so, appears to be of these folks being the replacement Fantastic Four, or something close to that. But when (not if), the original gang gets back from their spacecation, how will this book shift focus? Will it be more like what Jonathan Hickman’s “FF” was, with these four taking up permanent chairs at the Future Foundation, or will it shift again?
I know it seems silly to be speculating about what the book will look like a year from now, but the book is engrossing enough to merit such questions. Because, dammit, this is a lot of fun, and I hope it’s here for the long haul.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Buy from an old fashioned newsstand