Coming fresh off the heels of a ten year run writing The Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott is bringing the original Marvel Comics family back into the fold. For some fans, this is wonderful news. Slott is held in high regard by a lot of comic readers as the man who defined Spider-Man for over a decade.
However, others weren’t too impressed with the twists and turns taken during his tenure. It’s paramount to note the division Slott’s work on Spider-Man will probably paint your expectations for Fantastic Four #1 -- and your opinion on the book will be galvanized within its first few pages. The reason being is that both properties are steeped in humor and play to sitcom sensibilities when they are at their best; this isn’t to say high-stakes drama and bonkers plot lines can’t play out, but they should feel far less operatic than something like an X-Men or an Avenger book.
Unfortunately, Fantastic Four #1 doesn’t stick the landing in regards to recapturing the fun vibe of yesteryear, nor does it give readers much in the way of a fresh, new start to grab onto. As far as debut issues go as of late, this is one of Marvel’s weakest. Now this might sound like we’ve being trivial and simply complaining that Fantastic Four #1 isn’t as good as it could be simply because it’s not really funny, and... you’d be mostly right.
The bulk of the humor in this issue is flat, and the dialogue is mostly perfunctory, acting as exposition dumps setting up the whole "getting the team back together" moment. To be fair, Slott and artist Sara Pichelli approach this book without much pretense, and boy, oh, boy, do they have a lot of ground to cover, which they do admirably, all things considered. After all, Sue, Reed and their kids are out in the cosmos somewhere when this issue picks up, which isn’t exactly an ideal starting point, especially when trying to make your story new-reader friendly.
As a result, this debut issue doesn’t feel like it’s the start of something new. It seems more like a transitional book, as if the main story within it should have been told in the pages of a one-shot or an annual or another crossover event. The fact that Fantastic Four #1 doesn’t really star all four members of the team is nothing short of a headscratcher. Why make this a landmark event if it’s not going to explore the family dynamic between these heroes, the reason we love the Fantastic Four, right off the bat? While the return of the missing-in-action members of the Richards family is a story that needs to be told, it may not be best suited for the relaunch of a flagship Marvel comic book.
This isn’t to say Fantastic Four #1 is a bad issue. Despite its misplaced sense of tone overall, there are nuggets of inspired character development and tension between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm. The two backup stories (another symptom of the issue being built more like an annual or a one-shot special) are also fun, with the latter designed to read like the inner monologue of many fans who will pick this book up. In fact, the final punchline of this issue (illustrated by the always amazing Skottie Young) could very well be the stinger needed to keep some fans on board.
The artwork is a standout star. Sara Pichelli’s work is fantastic in the main story, where she brings the characters to life with a warmth that never teeters into the realm of the cartoonish. Her work creates an environment that is lived-in and familiar without being remotely derivative. Pichelli is perfect for this book, and I hope that she continues producing this level of quality in subsequent issues.
The backup stories are also well done with regards to their art, however the longer of the two which features Doctor Doom had a few panels that seem a bit muddled. To be fair, it’s hard to tell if was is due to Simone Bianchi’s heavy line work or something that happened after the fact, in coloring or printing. Regardless, this minor quibble does not hamper the overall effect, with Bianchi’s Doom coming off as equal parts terrifying and depressing in his rendering (guh, that face).
Despite a somewhat rough start, Fantastic Four #1 is entertaining and packed with enough goodies to warrant adding the series to your pull list. But don’t call it a comeback... at least not just yet. For better or worse, Dan Slott deploys his story telling tactics to pay off in the long run. We just wish this relaunch from Marvel had the same catchy hook as some of the publisher’s other fresh start titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America, both of which set pretty high bars to clear.