Team-up titles are a comics staple, so for reviewing this team-up series, Kate Tanski, resident Fantastic Four fan and Johnny Storm stan, has teamed up with Rachel Knight, the world’s foremost Fantastic Four historian. Because Kate has zero knowledge of the X-Men and will go out of her way to avoid X-related comics, she invited Rachel to provide necessary context, since Rachel is familiar with not only the previous Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men miniseries but other historical F4/XM interactions. Together they provide a good balance of what the experience of reading this book is like for fans new and old.
X-Men/Fantastic Four #1
Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Rachel Dodson (Inker), Terry Dodson (Penciler), Laura Martin (Colorist), Karl Story (Ink Assist), Dexter Vines (Ink Assist), Chip Zdarsky (Writer)
February 5th, 2020
This review contains spoilers for X-Men/Fantastic Four #1
Kate: Before we get started, I just want to comment that even though the official title of this series is X-Men/Fantastic Four, the cover art (and writer Chip Zdarsky’s social media) uses 4X, which I really like because first, HoX, PoX, and DoX all got really cool acronyms, and second, 4X also implies a “both/and” paradigm shift that subverts the “either/or” dichotomy the title sets up. And that’s really what this book is about — Franklin’s struggle to be both “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men.”
Rachel: Franklin’s conflict, as the scion of the Fantastic Four and as a mutant, is at the heart of this series. Franklin is an Omega-level mutant with the power to do whatever he wants. I’m not being funny, those are literally his powers. Franklin is a reality warper whose feats include transferring souls to pocket realities, bringing Galactus back to life, sticking a miniature universe in his bedroom closet, and rebuilding the entire Marvel multiverse. In the wake of the last one, as 4X’s first issue details, Franklin’s powers have started to vanish. While his parents might be a little relieved their tween can no longer erase reality with a blink, the X-Men, particularly Xavier and Magneto, are concerned about Franklin’s disappearing mutant powers. And we, the readers, should probably be concerned about that because last time Xavier and Magneto took this much interest in Franklin it was during Marvel’s Onslaught event and a whole bunch of people died. (They got better.)
Kate: I had no idea that this was an ongoing thing with Charles and Erik going after Franklin, but I wasn’t surprised by the plot of this first issue after reading the first issue of House of X, which has a showdown between the Fantastic Four and a few X-Men that ends up in a standoff between Sue and Cyclops.
Not knowing the X-Men…that was really eye-opening to me, that they would blatantly claim that Franklin belongs to them and not with his family who love and support him. It seems not only heartless, but also contradictory to what happened in a similar situation with Kamala Khan. When I was texting my friend about this issue and why it made me so angry I said that no one had taken away Kamala to live with the Inhumans. She showed me the pages from the issue where Cap and Medusa are talking about Kamala, and Wolverine was the one who actually interceded to say that Kamala should be allowed to stay with her family. And that makes me even more angry about Wolverine’s conversation with Kate where he says that because he has those powers, he’s no longer a kid.
I don’t know if my perception of the events would change if I was a fan of the X-Men and knew their story, but all I see is Charles manipulating everyone around him–including Kate–to try to push Franklin to Krakoa, and that’s not okay.
Rachel: I think part of what’s interesting about this iteration of the X-Men versus the Fantastic Four, as opposed to last time, is the disparity between the two. It’s essentially a nation versus a small family in a custody battle. It’s in keeping with the paradigm shift that the X-Men are currently experiencing — the tables have very much turned from the Fantastic Four being Marvel’s celebrity superheroes and the X-Men being the underdogs — but I also think it intentionally buries the lead when it comes to Xavier’s motives behind the battle for Franklin. We’re used to seeing the X-Men as a haven for young mutants, kids with normal human families that either can’t or won’t protect them from a world that hates and fears them. The X-Men are also often the only resource for young mutants who have no idea how to handle their potentially dangerous powers.
None of this is true for Franklin Richards. He has a loving family who can protect him and who can teach him how to use his own powers. He doesn’t need the X-Men the way many other young mutants do, so the argument that he needs to be on Krakoa doesn’t really hold up. So why is it so important for Xavier that Franklin, who is young and impressionable while being hugely powerful, live on Krakoa? The X-Men being such a big collective of characters leaves a lot of room for varying motives when it comes to Franklin. Kate is uniquely suited, being both a mutant who joined the X-Men as a teenager and a young Jewish woman, to understand Franklin’s teen angst dilemma over wanting to be with his tribe and she’s very genuine in wanting to give him that option. She doesn’t have ulterior motives. I don’t think the same can be said about Xavier, especially considering how he’s stressed that Franklin isn’t just any other mutant but an Omega-level one and how concerned he is over Franklin’s depleting powers. Like Reed says in this issue: Xavier clearly has a timetable concerning Franklin. The Fantastic Four only have one dog in this fight: keeping Franklin with his family.
Kate: I think that’s really what has me twisted up. Like…this seems like a pretty basic conflict that shouldn’t be a conflict, right? And that’s where I have to wonder what Zdarsky and Hickman have up their sleeves. And honestly, if it wasn’t Zdarsky writing this, and if I didn’t know that Hickman was the architect behind all of this X-stuff, I would be a lot more wary, and a lot more confused about whether this matters. But with those two…I trust them to know what they’re doing, at least, even if I don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve both written the Fantastic Four before, and in terms of characterization, I feel like they actually know the characters pretty well. Reed’s actions were exactly the kind of thing I believe Reed would do for the exact wrong reasons. And I feel like Zdarsky has given me the best Sue Storm I’ve read since the team has come back. Sue was such a badass! And Ben! My heart! That conversation with Ben and Franklin was so painful. The only thing really missing for me was more Johnny, and I have to wonder if that is going to be in the Digital Director’s Cut Marvel just announced, because there’s no way Chip only wrote like, three panels with Johnny.
Rachel: I didn’t love the conversation between Ben and Franklin because I felt like it was trying a little too hard to call back to the conflict from Claremont’s original X-Men vs Fantastic Four, which is Reed Is Framed For Doing A Bad Thing With The Others’ Powers, and for me Reed’s actions with Franklin accomplished that well enough. I don’t think Zdarsky has the same deft hand with Reed’s characterization as Claremont, but I absolutely adore his Sue in this issue. Yes, mama, put Magneto in an invisible hamster ball! Throw Wolverine into a truck! Whoo! This feels like the kind of Sue characterization we haven’t seen since she single handedly took out the Avengers and I love it.
Valeria is also great as a meddling little sister who knows that rules are only for breaking. I’m also disappointed about the lack of Johnny, especially since he’s the member of the team most suited for seeing Franklin’s point of view about how Mom and Dad just don’t understand, but I’m hoping we’ll get more of him later. And it’s a huge long shot, but maybe we’ll get some hints as to why Xavier’s current design looks so much like the Maker AKA evil Ultimate Reed Richards, the noodle-y bastard currently inhabiting every single Marvel universe? A girl can hope, anyway.
Kate: Once again, you throw me with your ridiculous continuity knowledge, but Hickman has that same kind of ridiculous brain, and what a fantastic prediction that would be if you’re right.