Fantastic Four #1
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Sara Pichelli, Simone Bianchi, Skottie Young, Marte Gracia and Jeremy Treece
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Comics, like science, often is about what we can see right in front of us — the art, the storyline, the characters, the inevitable hook for what comes next. But what writer Dan Slott asks readers in Fantastic Four #1 isn’t really a question about science.
It’s a question about faith.
More than three years after the last issue of Fantastic Four, one might expect a crazy new reimagining of the characters, or an unexpected new status quo. Or at minimum, given the way the series hemorrhaged readers over its last few years, at least a brand-new rationale of why we should care about these characters in the first place. But Slott, leveraging his decade-long run on Amazing Spider-Man, makes his biggest ask out of readers yet — by asking them to take this journey with him on faith. There’s no new status quo. No cast shakeups. We don’t even get to see the team fully assembled yet. But it’s clear to Slott that there’s something resonant beneath the surface of Fantastic Four, something that will prove empirically that there’s nothing wrong with Marvel’s First Family — if we’ll just take a leap of faith alongside him.
Faith is also a question that’s been on the minds of the Thing and the Human Torch, dating back to Chip Zdarsky’s storyline in Marvel Two-in-One. While Ben is a skeptic, fully believing that Reed Richards and Sue Storm have been lost to the universe, Johnny has almost a childlike sense of belief that his sainted sister and her genius husband are still out there. It’s here that Slott picks up his storyline, watching the Torch and the Thing grapple with the ends of their belief — while Ben uses this moment to take a big personal step for himself, Johnny’s emotions feel as though they might consume him faster than his cosmic ray-fueled flames, as he shouts into the New York City skies, asking for any sort of sign that his family might still be whole. These are the moments that Slott plays his audience like fiddles, really wringing out all the emotion — for better or for worse — for two characters who have believed themselves to be rudderless for what’s felt like an eternity.
But while Slott asks us to take a lot on faith, artist Sara Pichelli does a lot of heavy lifting in reminding us why we should stick around. There are a lot of artists she evokes in her pages, from Giuseppe Camuncoli to David Lafuente to seminal FF artist Mike Wieringo — and while I think Pichelli’s kinetic take on the Human Torch might be one of the best I’ve seen in years, it’s her quietly expressive work on the Thing’s chiseled face that makes me a believer. (And that’s to say nothing of the one-two emotional punch she gives us with a particularly heartfelt Ben Grimm scene, followed by Johnny’s unexpected reaction afterward.) Given Slott’s reputation as a diehard Fantastic Four fan, it’s not surprising to see him be as enthusiastic as he is, but Pichelli is delivering some of the best work of her career here. Colorist Marte Gracia, meanwhile, imbues this issue with a brightness and energy that keeps the mood from being oppressive, from details like the Thing’s blue eyes to the oranges and reds that make the Torch pop off the page.
But while there will be plenty of fans who believe in the Fantastic Four — or at minimum, believe in Dan Slott’s prodigious abilities — there are going to be some skeptics that won’t be appeased here. (Even Slott recognizes that his pacing and resolution won’t be for everyone, which he addresses smartly in an Impossible Man backup illustrated by Skottie Young.) Yet in a world where continuity and multimedia have each shaped superhero concepts and characterization, it’s hard not to feel some level of trepidation about Slott’s “it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it” approach. In a world where the Avengers have become synonymous with epic storytelling and the X-Men have become allegories for civil rights, is being a dysfunctional family really enough to sustain the Fantastic Four as a concept? It’s that lack of answers that might aggravate some fans, who might cry self-indulgence since the team still isn’t together by the end of the first issue.
Yet at the end of the day, maybe comics are about faith, just as much as the scientific. Sure, we can see the art and the storytelling and the characters, but serialized superhero storytelling often comes in waves — but it’s that faith that draws readers back, knowing that no matter what series ebbs and flows, there will always be some reason to come back. Perhaps it’s nostalgia. Perhaps it’s hope. But at the end of the day, Slott and Pichelli are asking readers to hold on just a little while longer to see if their prayers have been answered. It’ll be a long 30 days, but if this first installment is any indication, Fantastic Four will be a story that’s about faith rewarded.