Although the majority of Matt Fraction and Karl Kesel’s “Fantastic Four” #13 reads like an issue of “Age of Ultron,” the story behind the mostly familiar characters running around in a post-apocalyptic New York City doesn’t take ten issues to unfold. In fact, by issue’s end, the origin of one of the title’s more mysterious supporting characters is revealed, before the focus returns to the ongoing storyline about the team’s collective cellular degradation and their quest through space and time to find a cure.
Stories featuring superheroes in alternate reality settings have almost become commonplace, but Fraction and Kesel entertainingly show that well-trodden doesn’t have to mean retread. The first two pages of the story do indeed revisit the events from earlier in the series that kicked off the current arc, but on the third page comes a shocking departure what we’ve already seen. With the issue taking such a surprising turn early on, the rest of it becomes a fascinating chronicle of the team’s efforts to deal with, and defeat, the constant threat they now live under.
Even though it all turns out to be an aside, it also turns out to be a worthwhile distraction that’s arguably better than many of the series’ recent issues. As this side-arc concludes, or perhaps just steps aside for the remainder of this issue, the writing team successfully generates a bona-fide shock to readers when they establish the relevance of this story to that of the ongoing one. There remains plenty to tell of this alternate present or very-near future, and hopefully Fraction and Kesel will do so; especially since it also touches on current ongoing events from other Marvel series.
The art team of Mark Bagley and Joe Rubinstein effectively capture this dark and despondent alternate world, but do so with a lighter touch that doesn’t give the issue an overwhelming sense of despair. The veteran Rubinstein is a good choice to ink over Bagley’s pencils, keeping Bagley’s style at the forefront and keeping his own influence to a minimum. Colorist Paul Mounts is also a good choice, maintaining a contrast between foreground and background that makes this issue a lot more pleasing to the eye than readers might expect from such a dreary environment.
The comic still carries its familiar “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” tagline on the cover, and while that’s a questionable claim in the literal sense, it serves a reminder to any writer or artist who touches this series that they have Galactus-sized shoes to fill. In “Fantastic Four” #13, it’s clear that the creators of this particular issue have most certainly strived to do their best to live up to it.