Well, I feel like a dolt. How is it that Marc Sumerak and Chris Eliopoulos have released no less than eleven “Franklin Richards” one-shots and it’s take me this long to notice them? Do all of my friends hate me so much that they were keeping it a secret? Because seriously, it’s been a while since I’ve been so completely and utterly in love with a comic.
“Franklin Richards: Summer Smackdown!” contains five short stories that all star the young Franklin Richards, son of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. As the son of a genius, Franklin Richards knows that he’s pretty brilliant too. And that, of course, is a gateway to trouble, even with robot H.E.R.B.I.E. trying to keep an eye on Franklin.
The best way I can describe “Franklin Richards: Summer Smackdown!” is that it’s a fantastic amalgamation of “Fantastic Four” and “Calvin & Hobbes.” We’ve got all the familiar characters from the former, but the attitude and worldview of the latter. So we get a lonely Franklin de-aging his father into a kid so he’ll have someone to play with (and run rampant through the “super secret lab” that only his dad’s voice can open), or trying to use an image inducer to detour his father away from a parent/teacher conference at school, or even having to fight off a zombie incarnation of his hamster Mr. Sniffles. It’s silly, it’s goofy, and you’ll giggle your way through one story after another.
The art is really cute, too. It’s definitely tempting to make comparisons to Bill Watterson’s art, but Eliopoulos isn’t aping another cartoonist’s style. Instead, they’re both drawing from the same well, with a simplistic, stylized rendition of characters that speaks well to the young age of the protagonist. When Eliopoulos draws a covered-in-soot-and-smoke Franklin running into a room with wide eyes and a big grin, you instantly can just feel Franklin’s eagerness and excitement, as well as a sense of impending doom. It’s hard not to laugh, and I think that’s just what Eliopoulos is trying to achieve with art like that.
At the same time, though, Sumerak and Eliopoulos aren’t only out for laughs. The end of “De-Aged Dad” where an adult Reed Richards prepares to go back to work and leave Franklin alone again has a real emotional punch to it, and H.E.R.B.I.E.’s attempts to date Roberta the Robot Receptionist is sweet and sad at the same time. That’s good, because as chuckle-inducing as the humor portion of the book is (and trust me, “Franklin Richards: Summer Smackdown!” is awfully funny), having more than just cheap laughs propels this book from good to great.
I must say, I enjoyed “Franklin Richards: Summer Smackdown!” so much that later this week I’m already planning on buying the two digests that collect the first eight one-shots. This is a fun, fun, fun comic. Highly recommended.