FF #14

If the Fantastic Four are considered a family gone on vacation, then the cast of "FF" #14 are the extended family who invited cousins, friends and neighbors over and subsequently took over the house. Only with Matt Fraction and Lee Allred's FF, no one really wants this varied bunch to leave, and as drawn by artist Mike Allred with his signature pseudo-retro look, this comic reads like an old-school Silver Age party that's just too much fun to stop. If the Fantastic Four end up permanently lost in time and space, that wouldn't seem like such a bad thing if this roster gets to stick around in their stead.

That's not to be, however, as this current series has only two issues remaining. That's not to say Fraction and the Allreds don't make the most of the remaining time. The FF plan their ultimate takedown of Doctor Doom, and while this isn't the first time a super-team calling themselves that have made such an attempt, leader Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, is most definitely the first to enlist the aid of robots who look like the classic Avengers, a future Human Torch from another dimension, and the time-displaced emperor Julius Caesar, who's really an alien. All of this will sound pretty crazy to anyone not reading the title; in fact, it sounds pretty crazy to those who do read the title, but this kind of whacky, left-field approach has been what's largely carried the series, and it's most definitely what carries this issue.

There's no action to speak of, but Fraction and Lee Allred deliver so much entertaining character interaction that the lack of punches thrown isn't really even noticeable. The very idea of a dialogue between Ant-Man and The Watcher is comical enough, but the actual exchange makes a compelling case against Uatu's vow of non-action, and gives a plausible explanation for why he's felt it necessary to break this vow time and time again. A young pre-Wizard Bentley shows off his early smarts with a scheme that's right in line with a boy's mindset, which is amusing enough, but the laughs truly start when his scheme backfires. A key moment between Medusa and her son is comical and touching at the same time. Not to mention the dynamic between Doom, young Immortus and Annihilus.

The issue is full of scenes like these, loosely connected only by the common thread of the team's varied preparations for their assault on Doom. While the tension builds as the team readies themselves, the moments are all light and read more like an entertaining interlude than as a foreboding prelude, and is all the more enjoyable because of it. The mood here is typical of that of the series; the team has always faced dire threats, but the story has never gotten bogged down in darkness or gotten too serious. Nor does it get too flippant; the coming battle weighs on the team and this is made clear, but it's handled with just enough humor so it doesn't wallow in bad vibes yet doesn't read like a parody of itself.

A comic featuring an eclectic array of characters like Mrs. Watcher, She-Hulk, the Impossible Man's kid, and alternate versions of familiar heroes and villains can't help but be fun. The interplay between them is more than simple filler but can be enjoyed by anyone not familiar with the backstory, and its part in the overall story makes it work for those who are. "FF" #14 might not make sense to everybody, but it still manages to be amusing.

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