Best Shots Advance Reviews: FF #1, UNCANNY AVENGERS #2
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Mike Allred and Laura Allred
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
If there was ever a title that seemed tailor-made to Matt Fractions sensibilities, it's FF. Counted among the cast are a former teenage superhero, the kid with the world's biggest imagination and his know-it-all kid sister, a pint-sized maniacal genius, a pacifist killer dragon robot, and a host of other weird and wild aliens and being. And that doesn't even include the four characters that will become our world's greatest heroes when the Fantastic Four's mission inevitably goes awry.If that doesn't sound like Matt Fraction's brain running wild, then maybe you haven't read his Twitter feed. Combine that with a stellar premise - the aforementioned stand-ins desperately trying to fill the void left by the Fantastic Four when they are off-world too long - and some of the best art yet in Marvel NOW! and you've got a recipe for pop-art perfection.
To say that FF #1 is perfect would be overselling it, however. This first issue feels like just that, and not necessarily in the way that Fraction's Fantastic Four #1 did. The gimmick of having the cast introduced through interview style talking heads is a little cliche and expected, but pairs nicely with the longer sequences of the F4 recruiting their stand-ins. The bite-sized bits of characterization for each of the Future Foundation's students and members shows incredible promise, with Fraction, and moreover his artistic collaborator Mike Allred, nailing the subtleties and personae of everyone from Valeria - Fraction's obvious avatar - to Artie and Leech, the latter expressed solely through body language and acting. Still, there's the lingering feeling that this title will only really take off once these characters are, well, doing something.
Perhaps the strongest moments of this issue are the conversations between the F4 and their stand-ins, as Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben each find substitutes that say more about each of them than any of them would maybe care to admit. Reed chooses Scott Lang, the recently resurrected Ant-Man to take his place as leader of the team, whose self-doubt and grief over the loss of his daughter draw strong parallels to Reed's secret impetus for this family vacation. Sue chooses to trust Medusa, the matriarch of a troubled kingdom who knows her marriage isn't all its cracked up to be. Ben drafts She-Hulk, an F4 vet for whom he obviously has tremendous affection, but whose impulsiveness and competitive spirit are far more reminiscent of Johnny Storm, who, himself, chooses the unnamed girl with whom he is sharing breakfast, basically because he forgot to "ask someone about the thing," a calendar reminder that he misinterprets,leafing to one of the issue's best gags. There's a definite psychology to these choices that goes deeper than many may give Fraction credit for, an understated and yet brilliant analysis of what each member of the team thinks that the FF can't survive without.
There almost aren't enough words to describe Mike and Laura Allred's gorgeous art. Mike Allred captures the spirit of each character to perfection. It's his little touches that really hit the nail on the head, like Reed's chin stretching as he thoughtfully strokes it, or the way Artie quizically cocks his head, shining his lighted helmet on Leech. It's because of these simple touches, these moments of unspoken pantomime, that the intro pages for the younger cast members go over as well as they do. Perhaps his best character, however, is She-Hulk, whose strength is palpable and sexy, and perfectly reflected in her physique. Shulkie, as Allred's almost equally lovable Ben Grimm calls her, is an easy character to under - or over- sell, and Allred strikes the perfect balance. Laura Allred does some heavy lifting herself, filling in details and nuances that Mike's ligne claire cartooning leaves open, such as She-Hulk's veins as her muscles strain, or the subtle textures of Dragon Man's skin.
While it isn't quite the treatise on first issues that Fraction's Fantastic Four #1 proved to be, FF#1 offers an immensely promising start, showcasing, again, Fraction's take on each member of this admittedly large and bizarre cast. The real test of this title will come as these characters start moving into the larger world, having adventures, interacting with each other instead of, ostensibly, the reader, and finding their own dynamic. This issue more than proves that Fraction and Allred have the chops to make this the kind of book that, like Fraction's Hawkeye, can push its expectations to the limit, they just need to quickly start doing so, lest FF become a sit-com instead of pop-art sci-fi.
Uncanny Avengers #2
Written by Rick Remender
Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Uncanny Avengers is an interesting animal. Born in the ashes of Avengers vs. X-Men, it's only an Avengers title really in name. The actual traditional Avengers, like Cap and Thor, they're really just a cover. This book isn't what it seems — it's a mutant, through and through.
Even with A-list Avengers propping the book up, Rick Remender thrives the most with his mutant cast. Wolverine immediately gives the book its heart as the surprising de facto spokesman of the mutant race, and Remender writes Rogue — "ignorant trailer trash raised by a mutant terrorist," another character so viciously sums her — like he's been doing it his entire life. While his role is a bit more limited, Havok also gets a moment to shine, and Remender's take on the Scarlet Witch really reminds us why she's the most powerful mutant on the planet.
The other focus Remender takes here is the villains of the piece, now that the Red Skull is wielding a weapon that will hit very close to home for this team. Remender has all these smart touches to the Skull's plan, down to the name of the group that he's building in his secret lair. The Skull's plan helps establish him as a credible threat, although his underlings still leave something to be desired in terms of power sets and personalities. Right now, it does feel a bit like Rogue and company are fighting nameless peons than long-term enemy combatants.
The art continues to be a high point of this series. John Cassaday is often billed as a widescreen action guy, but for my money, his best moments are the punch-in-the-gut emotional beats. There's a moment where Rogue and the Scarlet Witch learn the secret of the Skull's plan, and you really do feel the rage and disgust and the overwhelming sadness that binds them, all based on images alone. Cassaday's Red Skull just exudes menace, and the irritable scowl on Rogue's face just makes her my favorite character. Cassaday also does great work making the environments seem real, particularly as Wolverine passes by anti-mutant graffiti scrawled across the city, but occasionally those details get lost in Laura Martin's ultra-hot reds and greens.
That said, this issue does feel surprisingly slow, and that's even including a couple of nice action beats with Rogue and the Scarlet Witch. This comic isn't just about punching, it's about perception, it's about public relations. There is still a lot of talking, a lot of explanations as to why Cap (who still feels like a bit of a cypher, like Thor) is recruiting Havok, or why Thor suddenly cares about the mutant plight, but I want to see the war of ideas played out visually, through actions rather than just speeches.
But perception is the name of the game here, both in terms of this book's theme and in terms of a consumer's prerogatives. Uncanny Avengers isn't the widescreen union of two great teams like it was billed, and that may wear on people's patience too much to stay on to the next issue. That would also be a mistake. Like Cap and Havok, Rick Remender is giving a PR facelift to Marvel's merry mutants, adding in A-list characters, A-list threats and A-list twists.