Beginning with #1
As many people know, the Fantastic Four, despite being the quintessential Marvel team, has always been a tough gig to nail down. Beside the initial Stan and Jack run, the only two people have made their marks on the team for me: Jonathan Hickman and Mark Waid. Both runs took me a minute before falling fully behind them. This was not the case with Chip Zdarksy and Jim Cheung’s Marvel Two-in-One. I was fully invested within the first five pages.
While not being labeled a Fantastic Four book, it clearly is nothing else but that. In the post-Secret Wars world, Reed, Sue, and the kids have been out exploring the multiverse while leaving Johnny and Ben on Earth. Not knowing whether the rest of their family is actually alive has left them both in a rut. Johnny’s powers are fading and he has become a sort of adrenaline junkie trying to stimulate himself to the point of his old adventures. Ben has become a sort poster child for all charity efforts of the Fantastic Four. They are both aimless in different ways with neither of them particularly thinking that they need each other. Heartbroken over the loss of their family, they feel that the isolation from each other is the only way to heal. Zdarsky shows how wrong they both are.
Chip realizes the whole point of the FF is that they are a family that explores the universe and he understands what it means to be a non-traditional family. Whatever death and new additions to family that happen, the family has to explore ways to make it work. Zdarsky’s whole book is about trying to navigate this family life and it’s both heartwarming and hilarious. The general discomfort you get with your family mixed that relationship that is like no other is on full display.
From Ben’s opening speech to a fundraiser, Zdarksy distills the essence of the FF very succinctly. What makes this run feel special, is how he makes Doctor Doom a part of the family. While Doom has always been on the outskirts of the family, here he truly feels like the estranged Uncle of the family. With his recent turn to being a superhero, you can tell Doom feels a strange obligation to his greatest rivals. After all, they have given him his greatest successes. He’s never as good when he’s not opposed or working with the Richards clan. Doom is on the outskirts but you can tell he wants to find his way inward. It’s fascinating to see.
All the while this is beautiful illustrated by Jim Cheung. He captures the sadness and gentle nature of Ben Grimm from the moment we lay eyes on him. The Thing is without a doubt one of the hardest characters to nail down and the facial expressions are key to his character and the story. I feel Ben’s sadness as he sits in his old Baxter Building chair. Johnny’s crushed spirited and anger at seeing Ben is fully emoted through his body language. Not only the acting but damn if he doesn’t crush a sequence on Monster Island in #2. It really does help too that Frank Martin’s colors pop right off the page.
I’ve been rather scant on plot details simply because it would ruin a lot of the emotional beats. I’ll say this though, Ben discovers a message left to him from Reed that signals a need to keep adventuring and keep the spirit of the Fantastic Four alive. From there on out it becomes a story of rebuilding family, lies, adventure, and just some really hilarious Zdarksy moments. I can’t recommend it enough and can’t wait to see the larger implications of this great series on the Marvel Universe.