I knew they’d be back. We all knew they’d be back. I have to say, even though I’m no die-hard fan, watching Disney/Marvel put 21st Century Fox in a chokehold by cancelling The Fantastic Four comic was a little hard to watch. Disney really tried to regain the FF and X-Men properties , but Fox really wanted to keep pushing out mediocre movies, so Marvel decided to replace mutants with Inhumans, and the FF got canned.
The Fantastic Four are a flagship franchise. They’re Marvel’s first family! Shutting that book down was symbolic of how ruthlessly protective the Marvel Movie Empire is of its agenda. Whenever the Internet explodes over a celebrated director being removed from the helm of a Marvel movie, I just think, “they shut down The Fantastic Four, of course they’d tell Edgar Wright to shove it.” If there was any illusion that Marvel would remain the same ol’ ever lovin’ comic company that it had been before being bought out, it ends when they shut down an institution to avoid inadvertently promoting a Miles Teller movie.
Fortunately for readers, endings aren’t so permanent in the comic book world. Even if we act like it’s over, we expect a comeback. Disney’s recent purchase of 21st Century Fox paves the way for Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Thing, and The Human Torch to enter the Marvel Movie Universe. So naturally the comic has to come back with them.
For those of you who don’t know, Reed Richards and Sue Storm, “Mr. and Mrs. F,” didn’t die when their book got cancelled. Reed, Sue and their two children, Valeria and Franklin Richards, rode off into the figurative sunset when they walked off into the edge of the universe to explore who knows what after the end of Marvel’s Secret Wars event. There was an ambiguous ending built into their finale so that when it was time for the FF to come back, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch (sorry). Nevertheless, resurrections are big events in the comic book world, and when something as monumental as the FF is dismantled, you need to have a helluva team to honor its tradition and restore its prestige. This Dan Slott-Sara Pichelli led creative team is doing just that.
Slott’s dedication to spinning Spider-Man yarns got him the keys to some of Marvel’s most iconic titles, and the first few issues of the new Fantastic Four shows how much he cares about the characters. The story begins with The Thing and The Human torch shuffling around the bustling New York City that is no longer home to the Fantastic Four. These dudes miss their team. Slott cuts right to the issue of a family fractured and does a great job of reminding the reader that not having these characters together is tragic. It feels wrong. The Thing and Torch almost come to blows when Thing says he doesn’t believe that Reed, Sue and the kids are ever coming back home. Slott builds up the absence so at the moment you get to the last panel and you see the big four lighting up the Earth, it’s exciting and it’s also a relief.
The antagonist in this book is another good touch from Slott. Reed, Sue, Franklin and Valeria have been gallivanting around the multiverse, creating planets to explore along the way. Apparently, creating whole planets is one of Franklin’s power, which is a power-level conversation for another time, but it’s a great device to get the FF and their “Future Foundation” in a Star Trek-like scenario where every day there’s new worlds and cool-looking aliens to meet. Unfortunately, creating planets kind of throws off the natural balance of existence, and “The Griever,” the embodiment of entropy, shows up to undo Franklin’s work. Slott not only picks up the multiverse thread left from Secret Wars, but he has the Fantastic Four confronting the embodiment of their own cancellation in their triumphant return!
Reading the book is great, but looking at it would do just fine. I love Sara Pichelli’s work. She has infinite good will from me because of Miles Morales, but this book is filled with gorgeous sci-fi scapes and great characterization. Pichelli has just a slight anime style that makes the quiet moments, like Johnny singing with his roommate at a Mets game, or The Thing picking up kittens, seem silly and charming. You can really see the influence in the sexy, spider-like design of The Griever. There’s this one panel of Sue Storm pouting after she’s told that she can’t sing that has been stuck in my head since I saw it. So much expression is in Pichelli’s characters’ eyes. Valeria in particular has some emotionally effective shots, but I think when the story flashes back to a random adventure with Astronomica, that’s when you can glimpse all the potential life Pichelli can bring to Slott’s stories. Well, that, and when the second issue ends with a scene of the FF and all their friends posing heroically. It’s totally awesome-looking.
The Fantastic Four movies suck. All of them. Now that Disney finally owns the rights, maybe we can get a decent FF flick. I can think of no better studio than the leader in family entertainment to bring Marvel’s first family to the big screen. However, even if the next movie sucks, Dan Slott will still be a good story teller, Sara Pichelli will still be an amazing artist, and these issues will still be really fun to read. Excelsior!