Reed Richards being too smart for his own good is a recipe for success in any Fantastic Four story, and writer Mike Carey delivers a tightly scripted gem in this delightful one-shot with spot-on art by Stefano Caselli. One of the best features of the current FF run is its fresh interpretation of familiar tropes. And let’s face it, the science-gone-wrong notion never gets old when the family dynamic that drives this title is firing on all cylinders.
Much in the way that we love Star Trek stories based on the foibles of the transporter, this issue concerns the ethical repercussions of Reed Richards’ insatiable curiosity and the scientific upheaval that sometimes results. Although that’s not a new notion, Carey makes excellent use of the Negative Zone — one of the FF’s best and most dangerous settings — as the team is summoned there to track the reactivated beacon of experiment 326, which suddenly started transmitting a signal after presumably being lost. Carey deftly incorporates the Negative Zone’s character roster into the adventure as the FF discover that Reed’s bacteria experiment has developed into a sentient life form courtesy of some nefarious assistance.
Carey and Caselli offer an excellent balance of action, banter, and teamwork. It’s never one teammate who solves all the problems/mysteries in a good FF story, and that’s true here, with the notable exception that Johnny’s main role is just witty dialogue and it would have been nice if he was better incorporated throughout. But Reed usually takes the lead in the science-based stories, and Caselli’s script is consistent with that pattern.
Stefano Caselli delivers a gorgeous issue loaded with action and humor. Although science-based stories tend to rely on a good deal of exposition to reveal the nerdy plot elements, Caselli’s fluid panel construction and gripping action sequences balance out the more wordy bits, creating excellent flow as you read. And his clean, thin linework is complemented nicely by Erick Arciniega’s richly layered colors.
The issue also contains a serviceable backup feature, “What Are the Fantastix For?” written by Ryan North and illustrated by Steve Uy, in which the Fantastix are the new owners of the Baxter Building. As much of a character in FF lore as the sentient beings, the Baxter Building has taken a beating through the years and still stands tall. It’s clear that the FF's direction will continue to emphasize the elements of human connection to people and places that make the title universally relatable. And if we’re treated to the occasional minor-league heroics of the Fantastix along the way, that’s fine, too.