“Fantastic Four Annual” #1 is both a refreshing break from and a legitimate tie-in to writer James Robinson’s ongoing storyline in the main title, featuring an emotionally desperate Sue Storm venturing off solo in the hopes of taking back her daughter Valeria from Doctor Doom. Drawn by veterans Tom Grummett and Tom Palmer, the story is beautifully set amidst a backdrop of the always seemingly-peaceful and content Latveria with a decidedly unhappy Invisible Woman breaking its serenity.
Robinson’s often-touching story is one that delicately captures Sue’s sensitive state of mind, unapologetically portraying her as the mama grizzly who simply wants to be reunited with her own child. In having to come after her daughter, she clearly wishes she were more of a supermom than a superhero, and Robinson carefully focuses more on the maternal side of the character than the super side. Sue is just like any other parent in pain here, and her superpowers are a merely a tool she has at her disposal to try and cure that heartache. Her rage, despite the higher standard that supposedly exists due to her status as a superhero, is all too easy to sympathize with.
In doing so, though, Sue becomes the aggressor, engaging in a tense and destructive battle against Doom right in front of Valeria, who has emotional ties to both. Robinson superbly evokes the same kind of disgust and sadness that comes forth when an otherwise calm parent engages in a fight, emotional or physical, fueled by the love for, and in the presence of, their own horrified child. A furious Invisible Woman going one-on-one with a furiously calm Doctor Doom remains a relatively rare occurrence, even after more than half a century’s worth of Fantastic Four vs. Doctor Doom conflicts. With Doom reacting only to defend himself, after being attacked unprovoked and without warning, Robinson makes readers question just who the bad guy might really be.
Robinson does provide a plausible out for Sue’s behavior, but it’s almost unnecessary, as the reasons that motivate her to attack are perfectly logical, and completely understandable to anyone who’s ever had their life seemingly fall apart around them. It’s clear that Sue’s actions aren’t acceptable, but Robinson makes her display of aggression almost seem reasonable to anyone who would go to such lengths for their own children, if they had cosmic ray-induced powers of their own to do so.
Grummett and Palmer make Latveria look like one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, save for one very good reason never to set foot there. All of the modern Doom-tech floating around adds an air of ominousness, but the pair nonetheless almost seems to go out of their way to establish the gorgeous Balkan-style architecture, just in time for the upcoming battle between Sue and Doom to cause much of its destruction. Grummett renders a largely traditional Doctor Doom, with a mask that’s a little more tightlipped a la Iron Man, rather than the usual garish grimace. Valeria looks exactly like the wide-eyed child that she is, although Grummett takes a little liberty with scale at one point, making her look more like an American Girl collector’s doll than a child.
After the leadoff page, Grummett spreads his panels across four consecutive double-page spreads that start off the story making Latveria all the more majestic, Doom all the more imposing yet sympathetic, and Val all the more adorable, selling readers on why Sue’s hyper-intelligent daughter isn’t really in all that bad a place, despite what Sue thinks. Palmer crisply refines Grummett’s pencils with a lighter-than-normal touch, allowing his style to still clearly show through. Grummett’s work isn’t seen often enough these days, which is surprising as he’s clearly still at the top of his game.
Robinson’s dialogue is similarly tight, conveying both the frustration of a loving but exasperated parent, and the incredulousness of a despot whose calm demeanor belies his typical nature. “Fantastic Four Annual” #1 emotionally deals with the pain that often comes with parenthood and wraps it in a four-color bow, and its heartbreaking ending punches right through the heart of anyone who can sympathize with the relationship between a parent and an estranged child.