Not fantastic just yet.
The silver lining to Dan Slott ending his massive Amazing Spider-Man run is that it’s freed him up to finally write that Fantastic Four comic everyone’s been waiting for. Slott’s prior work with these characters always made him the obvious choice to revive a series that was once among the core pillars of Marvel’s comic book line. Once you throw Miles Morales co-creator Sara Pichelli into the mix, all the ingredients are there for a successful relaunch. But if the new volume of Fantastic Four is destined to restore this team to greatness, it clearly won’t be happening overnight.
The goal with Fantastic Four #1 is less getting the gang back together than mourning the team’s continued absence. Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm take center stage as they both try to move on with their respective lives. If that sounds weirdly reminiscent of what writer Chip Zdarsky has been doing on Marvel Two-In-One for the past year, that’s because it is. This new series stumbles right out of the gate. Rather than deliver a fast-paced debut issue and giving fans what they’ve been clamoring for since 2015, it settles for telling a downbeat story where the Richards family are notable for their absence.
Emotionally, this issue has its heart in the right place. Slott and Pichelli are clearly using this issue to build anticipation and remind readers how the FF’s absence is impacting the citizens of the Marvel U. as much as Marvel’s readers. The mix of wistful longing, resignation and lingering hope fueling Ben and Johnny is captured well in both Slott’s dialogue and Pichelli’s rendition of both characters. But ultimately, it all feels very redundant. This issue doesn’t really tread new ground that Marvel Two-in-One hasn’t already covered in recent months. After all this time, the book needs to be looking ahead, not back.
While Pichelli’s art lacks the sheer level of detail seen in some of her past Marvel work, her characters feels no less vibrant and alive because of it. For a guy covered in hundreds of pounds of rocks, Ben is a surprisingly expressive character. Pichelli’s rendition of Johnny in full Human Torch mode also impresses. There’s a real sense of dynamic energy to the way he lights up and moves across the page. Pichelli is clearly the right fit for the series in general and Slott’s storytelling sensibilities in particular. Ideally, she’ll be given a bit more to work with in future installments.
This issue also includes a pair of backup stories to round out the pricey $5.99 package. The first teams Slott with artist Simone Bianchi for a look at Victor Von Doom’s return to power. This story is a bit more satisfying and purposeful in its execution. As much as I’m reluctant to abandon the “Doom as a hero” approach of the past few years, at least Slott seems intent on establishing a status quo for the character that doesn’t completely negate recent stories or recycle the usual tropes. Bianchi’s art brings a nicely sinister, fantastical edge to the story.
The other backup is a brief, one-page feature focused on the Impossible man and illustrated by Skottie Young. While it’s a great pairing of character and artist, the story itself does little but poke fun at the main story’s lack of payoff. There are times when self-aware humor isn’t necessarily the way to go.