Fantastic Four #1

There may have been no release in Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative more anticipated than the return of Reed, Sue, Ben, & Johnny. After three years without a title, the book that started a superhero revolution and kicked off Marvel’s ascendancy way back in 1961, is back on the stands. Fantastic Four #1, by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli, is decades removed from the book that was proudly emblazoned with the headline “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” but the publisher, by all accounts, is finally ready to give the title a fair shot at reclaiming some its former glory.

The truth behind the FF’s lengthy hiatus may never fully be revealed. Declining sales probably factored in, and the culmination of Hickman’s Secret Wars event provided an opportunity to shelve half of the core group at the onset of the All-New All-Different era. It’s also been rumored that the terrible failure of the three 20th Century Fox feature films, one more terrible than the next, contributed to Marvel’s decision to distance itself from a series bearing that title. Considering the degree to which Marvel Studios dictates editorial decisions for the comic book lines, this wouldn’t at all be surprising. The comics play nice when the non-Disney licensees do well (Deadpool, for example), but with no opportunity at the time to correct the FF’s big-screen portrayals, Marvel may have felt like keeping this book off the stands would devalue the license for Fox, preventing them from attempting yet another brand-defaming motion picture.

All that could change, of course, if the proposed Disney-Fox merger goes through. With a few more assets to untangle, and sports-related networks to extricate, the path seems clear for Marvel’s parent company to reclaim the movie rights for what is, after Spider-Man, arguably the comic book publisher’s most important property.

The seeds were sown during last fall’s Legacy initiative. The one-shot special hinted at the group’s return, and the new Marvel Two-in-One series, by Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung, rehabilitated Human Torch and The Thing after lost years with various Inhuman teams or Guardians of the Galaxy respectively, and helped to remind us how much Marvel’s First Family means to all of us superhero devotees.

That’s not to say that the band is immediately back together. But it’s definitely happening. This first issue is an extension of the Ben & Johnny search that took place in Zdarsky’s book, with a charming interlude wherein Ben reminisces on a past adventure with the original team. It’s that little side story, more than anything, that has me most excited about Slott’s imminent run on the title.

Whereas Jonathan Hickman’s era-ending work on the FF was heady stuff, emphasizing the “big ideas” that pushed the science in superhero sci-fi to the forefront, Slott looks to recapture some of the wonder and curiosity that was the trademark of this team for so many decades. Indeed, that little side-story reminded me immediately of the author’s recent Silver Surfer, itself an heir to the FF legacy.

Accompanied by the always beautiful art of Sara Pichelli, this time with an inking assist that downplays the polished, almost cartoon-y linework in favor of a slightly more kinetic, sketchy style that emphasizes, perhaps, a more adult vibe (for a more grown-up family?), and this book looks to be one of the highlights of Marvel’s latest publishing initiative.

August 1 | New Release Highlights | August 15