Before I get into a discussion of the story here, I need to talk about the art, because it doesn’t look like any other Marvel comic on the shelves today. Horacio Domingues has a style of linework more akin to graphitti artists than mainstream comic book artists. His inking style, with its apparent use of magic marker instead of either brush or pen, resembles finished doodles more than slick superhero art. And I don’t exactly know what Rick Burchett has been brought in to contribute, but it certainly doesn’t look like finishes. It looks like he might have been hired to do layouts for Domingues, who has a tendency to flatten the depth of field and make everyone look squished together in the panel. No matter who’s in charge of which part of the artwork, it looks odd and a bit out of place.
But after four issues, I’m used to it, and though I don’t think it’s the best match for this particular story, I think it’s something Marvel should be doing more of: bringing in artists with non-traditional styles. It may not look like other superhero comics, and it may look a little rough around the edges, but at least it’s a personal style, and it distinguishes this book from everything else in the Marvel line.
As I said, though, it’s not the best match for this particular story, because it’s a more whimsical style that we normally see in Marvel books, and the story is inherently whimsical. You might think that it makes sense to match the two up, but usually that’s a bad idea. It’s kind of like laughing while telling a joke. The best jokes are told with a completely straight face, and that’s what this series could have benefited from: a more straightforward telling of its fantastic ideas.
Because Paul Cornell has written one heck of a Fantastic Four story here. If the Fantastic Four are voyagers into the world of the strange — into bizarre realms — and they are, then what could be more strange and bizarre than the world of fiction?
In the first issue, Cornell gave a nod to the books of Jasper Fforde (famous for his “Thursday Next” series of books which explore the dimensions of fiction), but “Fantastic Four: True Story” has reached farther than Fforde’s books by tying a theory of fiction into Marvel continuity. It’s not a particularly metafictional work, because Cornell doesn’t seem to be all that interested on commenting on the nature of comic book fiction, but he does create a plausible theory of how the world of fiction might operate. What its rules would be. How the different regions would interact. And what would happen if a classic Marvel villain like Nightmare discovered the untapped potential of such a realm.
Most of the fun in this series has been seeing who Cornell would bring in from famous fictional works of the past, and in issue #4 we get bits from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “The Wind in the Willows,” and even uncredited cameos from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Transformers.” But Cornell also excels at making this more than just a cutesy one-joke series, as he places the Fantastic Four in an impossible-to-escape scenario and then shows how, through their resourcefulness more than their strength, they can overcome even the most insurmountable obstacles.
Paul Cornell is one of the most inventive writers working in the superhero genre today, and if you missed this series in single issue, consider picking up the inevitable trade paperback collection. It may not look like one of the best Fantastic Four story you’ve seen in years, but it sure reads like one.