Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Juan Bobillo, Marcelo Sosa and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10
Okay, kids — it's time for a time-out.
I've said a lot of good things about FF in the past, praising its innovative style and its refreshing characterization. But this is a clear-cut case of pushing a title to run before it's ready, because now that Fantastic Four has reassumed its title as the flagship franchise book, FF is looking decidedly retrograde. By removing the main characters and focusing solely on the ancillary supporting cast — well, that and continuing to ruminate on Jonathan Hickman's labyrinthine metaplot — this book focuses on all of this run's weak points without actually rewarding readers with what FF always did right.
Part of this just has to do with the art. What had always impressed me about FF was the artistic talent involved, from Steve Epting to Barry Kitson to Greg Tocchini. There was a deliberateness of style, and the realism displayed by Epting and Kitson in particular gave some weight to the stakes that the FF faced — in other words, this was artwork that said "take this story seriously." Artist Juan Bobillo, however, is so raw and inconsistent that it immediately gives off the opposite message. Teamed up with inker Marcelo Sosa, this book doesn't look anywhere near as clean or exciting as the previous 11 issues — the designs for the characters look not just cartoony, but actually malformed, with giant eyes and weirdly wrinkled faces, and Sosa's chunky inks don't do much to make the art feel sleek or forward-thinking. If Marvel is trying to tell readers that FF is not the must-read its sister title is, well, the presentation makes that clear. It's been awhile since I've been this turned off by an artist's opening issue, particularly for a company like Marvel that hires Guiseppe Camuncoli, Chris Samnee and Chris Bachalo, but this is just not ready for prime time.
Unfortunately, Bobillo's storytelling issues are compounded by the story Jonathan Hickman is building here. Well, it's not so much a story — I mean, yes, characters are moving from Point A to Point B, but as far as "every comic is someone's first," no, this is not what I'd call an accessible entry point for those looking to hop onto this bifurcated franchise. Fantastic Four gets Mr. Fantastic teaming up with Spider-Man in alternate costumes — FF gets Two Doctor Dooms, an alternate Reed, the group of Future Foundation kids, and absolutely no exposition here. So unless you know about Bentley being a young clone of the villainous Wizard or how an alternate Reed Richards turned Victor Von Doom into his begrudging servant, you're going to be pretty lost with any of the characterization here. All of this is combined with some surprisingly wordy pages from Hickman, as well as some pretty grating "kids lingo," with obligatory references to paintball, laser tag, and "bedtime is bad" It's a shame, as there are a couple of nice beats between Val Richards and her grandfather, but when you can't tell the characters apart (I'm looking at you, Franklin Richards and Alex Power) and there's nothing besides a one-paragraph synopsis on the credits page to remind you of where you've been and where you're going, that's when you've valued structure over substance, of things rather than theme.
I remember Best Shots reviewer Kyle DuVall once referring to Val Richards as the team's insufferable Scrappy-Doo, but with FF #12, get ready for an entire team of them. With the main story now split across two titles, it seems like Hickman has inadvertently also split the killer from the filler, with FF being just a shell of its former self. Where it was once ambitious, forward-thinking and epic, this issue comes across as plodding, uncharismatic and just plain hard to read. Who cares about the War of Four Cities when you've got a family of quirky super-scientists charting the very future? Well, you can't always crack every equation. I wanted to like FF — I have really liked FF — but if this is going to be what having two Richards family titles looks like, maybe it would be better to stick with just one.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!