Best Shots Review: FANTASTIC FOUR #16 (10/10)

Fantastic Four #16
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #16
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Sean Izaakse and Marcio Menyz
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Credit: Marvel Comics

Let’s face it - over the two decades, it’s become somewhat of a tradition for comics fans to overlook the Fantastic Four. Which is a shame, because writer Dan Slott and artist Sean Izaakse have quietly transformed this title into one of the most fun superhero romps in the Marvel publishing line. With the FF trapped on a world filled with metahuman mutates, Slott splits the Richards family into three equally exciting subplots, delivering a fun chapter that hits much harder than its 20 pages might suggest.

The mission was supposed to be simple - the Fantastic Four were set to recreate their fateful space mission that had bombarded them with power-imbuing cosmic rays. Only this time, the FF were intercepted and subdued by an alien super-team that branded them as invaders fueled by prophecy. But now that Slott has the Fantastic Four split up across the planet, you can almost sense him cracking his knuckles as he sets out to deliver some of his best work on the title yet — while the Human Torch gets a sweet and flirty interlude as he discovers one of the aliens is to be his cosmic “soulmate,” Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman learn the darkest secret of this interstellar paradise, while the Thing goes toe-to-toe against 500 of the planet’s most powerful monsters.

Credit: Marvel Comics

If it wasn’t apparent based on just these quick descriptions, Slott has positioned himself nicely with these different subplots, as they’re able to not just deliver some rousing superhero action, but are able to do so in a way that plays to each characters’ strengths nicely. It’s no secret that the Thing is Slott’s favorite of the bunch, and if you dug his battle royale against the Immortal Hulk a few issues ago, you’ll love seeing Ben fight off this horde with the heart of a lion. Meanwhile, Reed and Sue get to show off their strengths as partners as they make a daring escape, with Slott mashing together their power sets nicely. And for my money, while it’s not as dangerous or tense as the other two storylines, seeing Johnny Storm show some honesty and earnestness during his romantic subplot makes for a nice palate cleanser between scenes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Slott is working with an artist who feels tailor-made for this series. Sean Izaakse channels Mike Wieringo in all the best ways in Fantastic Four — he’s got such a clean and expressive style of cartooning that makes all of these characters truly sing. Like Slott, Izaakse’s take on the Thing is superb, and it’s a great touch to see his astro suit get increasingly tattered as his marathon battle goes on, but that his wedding ring stays intact. He’s also showing some great versatility by bouncing between three very different storylines, which is also a testament to colorist Marcio Menyz’s thoughtfulness, who takes great care to establish three different settings and moods. But beyond that, there’s a gracefulness to Izaakse’s compositions that show his continued growth as an artist - his Human Torch sequence in particular is a wonderful way to streamline exposition, as he’s just a joy to see in flight.

Here’s the thing — with symbiotes taking over Manhattan and mutants colonizing Krakoa, it’s easier than ever to turn your nose up at the Fantastic Four. What’s the hubbub, right? But every day, I see people clamoring for good, solid superhero action without the hype or overblown stakes of an event title - and I think that’s exactly the kind of stuff that Slott and Izaakse are delivering here. Because in many ways, I think the sterling characterization that has been baked into the Fantastic Four has often made them poor candidates for the high concept-driven storytelling that has propelled the Avengers or the X-Men - but I think that character-driven storytelling is the kind of narrative we need to remind readers why they’re here in the first place. If you haven’t been reading Fantastic Four, now’s the time to get on board, because there’s some serious magic happening in these pages.

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