REVIEW: Fantastic Four Life Stories #1 Takes Us Into the Space Race

Ben Grimm, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and Johnny Storm stand in a line before blue swirly patterns

Fantastic Four: Life Story #1: The ‘60s is a warm and adventuresome celebration of Marvel’s first family – and is a worthy retelling of the team’s storied history.

Fantastic Four Life Story #1: The ‘60s

Daniel Acuna (Cover); Adelso Corona and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Cover); VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letters); Sean Izaakse (Art); Marcos Martin (Cover); Paolo Rivera (Cover); Mark Russell (Writing); Nolan Woodward (Colors)
Marvel Comics
May 19, 2021

Ben Grimm, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and Johnny Storm stand in a line before blue swirly patterns

As with Spider-Man: Life Story, this miniseries views the Fantastic Four through the lens of the previous 60 years of American history. President John F. Kennedy pulls Reed Richards into the space race to get a shuttle to the moon before America’s allies think the country’s gone weak in the light of Russia’s successes. Reed’s girlfriend, Sue Storm, designs a rocket named Cassandra 4 in reverence of the crews of three test rockets that have already exploded on the launching pad. But the government pulls the plug before the mission can take flight due to the ship’s fuel being untestable. Sue points out that the ship’s going to be dismantled the next day — ergo, she and Reed should defy the government and take flight that very night.

They bring Sue’s kid brother, Johnny, with them and line up Ben Grimm, a disgraced military ace, to co-head the mission. Of course, the ship’s hull comes apart and exposes them to molecular-altering cosmic rays, changing their lives forever. When they return to Earth, President Kennedy hails their success and they become national heroes. But Ben bitterly blames Reed for the change in his physical appearance, leading to a betrayal that might shape-shift the team’s dynamic forever.

The book explores quite deftly what it is like to be forced to live up to a nation’s expectations, only to be presented with problems that super strength and invisibility cannot solve. I like that Sue’s determination generally drives the team along in this universe. Johnny is my favorite – classically wry and filled with Eddie Haskell-esque energy (he ends up on the mission because he threatens to tattle on Sue and Reed to the government).

 

Panel Art for Fantastic Four: Life Story: The '60's. C May 2021 Marvel Comics

Reed is less certain of himself here, which I like — this book avoids that deathless trope of a Reed Richards so obsessed with science he’d gladly slaughter a puppy. He’s touched with a sense of remorse for his actions that I appreciated. Ben has great moments of characteristic wit (mentioning that the group is the third overall to reach space “after a commie and a dog”; offering to introduce the Beatles to his Brooklyn barber) mixed with self-loathing. His desperation to get back to his fiancée makes him alternately touching and worth rooting for. The only thing I don’t like about recycling the group’s history is that taking Ben this far back, which erases a lot of his development. But his anger is understandable and palpable throughout the book.

Ricardo Jones is well-used and his story does echo his appearance in Fantastic Four #50-51 (as does some of the basic plotline here), and Galactus is more mysterious than he’s been in ages. It patches them into the quilt of American history in a way that generally works, from the team ending up on Ed Sullivan with the Beatles to Sue and Reed marching for civil rights in Washington. It manages to avoid feeling chintzy or goofy.

The art is attractive and expressive, with some colorful and unique work by Sean Izaakse, who captures the group’s humanity and equally depicts moments of quiet romantic contemplation and big bold action scenes. The color work by Woodward alternates fiery reds with cool blues seeping into deep purples; it’s attractive without being distracting. And Caramagna has creative fun with the fonts and colors employed in his lettering work.

If you enjoy The Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 reminds the reader why they’re such an important, seminal superteam – and manages reverence for their present and past in a way that honors it all.

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