Recovering What Is Lost: Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four Promotional Image, Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #1

Simone Bianchi (artist, “Our Day of Doom and Victory”), Joe Caramagna (letterer), Elisabetta d’Amico (inker, “Signal in the Sky”), Marte Gracia (color artist, “Signal in the Sky”), Sara Pichelli (artist and inker, “Signal in the Sky”), Marco Russo (color artist, “Our Day of Doom and Victory”), Dan Slott (writer, “Signal in the Sky,” “Our Day of Doom and Victory,” “What the Pop?!”), Jeremy Treece (color artist, “What the Pop?!”), Skottie Young (artist, “What the Pop?!”)
Marvel Comics
August 8, 2018

This review contains spoilers for Fantastic Four #1 and Marvel 2-In-One #8.

When you have a universe of superheroes, it’s only natural to form attachments to certain characters or teams. There are X-people, Avengers fans, Spider-fam … and then there’s me. For over a decade now, the Fantastic Four have been My Team, and I was heartbroken when Marvel decided to end their oldest team over what amounts to petty bullshit over movie rights. Hickman’s elegy for the Fantastic Four that is Secret Wars, at least, made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my sadness, but that’s poor comfort when your faves are split up, isolated, and scattered to the ends of the universe(s). Ben Grimm went to space with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Johnny Storm was relegated to being Medusa’s love interest in Uncanny Avengers. The best thing to come out of the dissolution was Brian Michael Bendis’s Infamous Iron Man (which is probably my favorite Doom story ever). But Marvel’s actions made it clear that my faves didn’t matter to them, even if they still mattered to me.

Fantastic Four #1 cover by Esad Ribic

I’d pretty much given up hope of ever seeing the Fantastic Four back together again when Chip Zdarsky’s Marvel 2-In-One was announced. Half of the Fantastic Four back together was more than I’d had in years, and the storyline revolved around Ben and Johnny’s search for the rest of their family. It was clear from the first issue that Zdarsky loves the Fantastic Four, and even more importantly to me, he doesn’t treat Johnny and Ben as the comic relief. Like the best writers of the Fantastic Four before him (Claremont, Fraction, Hickman), the psychology of these characters is at the forefront of the narrative. I started to hope that the series meant the return of the Fantastic Four was imminent.

When it was announced that they were actually coming back, I was ecstatic. When Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli were announced as the creative team, and I was optimistic. Slott’s Spider-Man/Human Torch is one of my favorite miniseries, and Sara Pichelli’s art is gorgeous. Issue #1 came out on August 8th, and the overall tone is in keeping with tradition of many Fantastic Four runs in the past, which have been lighthearted, verging on silly. I expected that from this run, and I don’t mind it, really. But the art is beautiful. The art is actually so beautiful it feels almost too beautiful for Slott’s writing, to be honest. Not that I’m complaining–historically, the art on the Fantastic Four books isn’t usually this gorgeous. And while this issue isn’t like reading an issue of Deadpool with art by Alex Ross, instead of elevating the writing, it actually makes the silliness of certain scenes painfully obvious (like the flashback to when Johnny had to navigate the Fantastic Four back to earth by singing “Danke Schoen”).

Panel of Johnny Storm singing Danke Shoen from Fantastic Four #1, Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli.
Danke Schoen, from Fantastic Four #1, Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli.

Overall, the theme of Fantastic Four #1 is recovering what has been lost. Intentionally or unintentionally, this attitude is visible on the macro-level, with Marvel recovering the Fantastic Four, all the way down to the micro-level, with the long-forgotten Fantastic Four signal triggering an important emotional reaction for the characters. I was very pleased to see the return of Johnny’s college roommate, Wyatt Wingfoot, although he’s a little bit on the pale side compared with previous incarnations. This is a known issue with Marvel Editors in particular, and the whitewashing is disappointing to see happen once again.

However, in general, Marvel’s recovery of the Fantastic Four feels a little bit disingenuous, as if the Fantastic Four had been cancelled due to lack of popularity rather than petty movie rights bullshit. The full-page “welcome back” letter from editor Tom Brevoort rhapsodizing on what the Fantastic Four has meant to Dan Slott (and Marvel in general), and how the release date coincides with the 57th anniversary of the original Fantastic Four #1, is PR fluff. It’s not an explanation, or an apology. Marvel’s obsession with #1 issues is a whole ‘nother thing, but it’s clear that this #1 was released on this date deliberately, for maximum nostalgia. And this time, that choice to value nostalgia over continuity actually causes major narrative issues for Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm in terms of the timeline.

Fantastic Four #1 seems to be picking up after Zdarsky’s 2-In-One, which is a problem because that series is still ongoing and in the process of dealing with Johnny and Ben’s search for Reed, Sue, Franklin, and Valeria. But even more confusing for readers is that last we saw Johnny and Ben, they were trapped in an alternate dimension without their powers. How exactly do we get from trapped and powerless in 2-In-One #8 to powered and in their own dimension again in Fantastic Four #1?  It should also be noted that Johnny’s been in denial of his family’s demise since Secret Wars ended back in 2015, so it feels textually significant, as well as slightly disappointing, that Johnny finally gives up that search in this issue. I’m not stating that this is out of character, but I have to admit that I would have preferred to see Johnny stay steadfast, his faith in Reed and Sue unwavering.

Most of the issue is mired in nostalgia. The Doom-centric story “Our Day of Doom and Victory” is a disappointing attempt to explain why Doom will no longer be written as the affectionately tolerated Murder Uncle, which is really a shame because his interactions with Ben and Johnny in Zdarsky’s 2-in-One have been so good. There’s one exception to the nostalgia in that Slott is making an effort to push the Fantastic Four forward as well with Ben and Alicia’s engagement. It’s been a long time coming, and in the context of all of the Marvel marriages (and broken engagements) of late, it’ll be interesting to see how the wedding plays out. I’m also curious to see if there will be any reference to the fact that Johnny was once married to Alicia (even if that was retconned to have not been Alicia, but a Skrull named Lyja).

With all the discussion about Marvel’s inability to successfully attract new readers, Fantastic Four #1 is an interesting new part of that conversation. It’s clearly not written for new fans, but for those who should remember a different era of the Fantastic Four–such as Wyatt or the Fantastic Four signal. It’s also, in apparent contradiction, not written for people who have been keeping up with the 2-in-One series, because at this point it’s not obvious whether or not the two are going to be related, and I have a sneaking and unpleasant suspicions that it might possibly be ignoring that altogether. So I have to wonder exactly who Marvel’s audience for this book is supposed to be. Marvel had an opportunity to make the Fantastic Four a team book relevant for new fans. They chose nostalgia instead.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.