FANTASTIC FOUR #1 / Writer: Dan Slott / Artist: Sara Pichelli / Inkers: Sara Pichelli and Elisabetta D’Amico / Color Artist: Marte Gracia / Letterer: Joe Caramagna / Released: August 8, 2018 / Publisher: Marvel
Marvel’s First Family. That nickname tells readers all they need to know about the Fantastic Four: that they’re a family before all else. Fantastic Four #1 begins the process of rebuilding that family, and Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli are ambitious in their efforts to do just that.
Someone has fired the Fantastic Four flare! That’s how Fantastic Four #1 begins. Johnny responds immediately. Ben ostensibly sits it out. Johnny discovers the flare had been stolen by the Yancy Street kids who shot it off as a prank. The aftermath sees an angry Johnny and a maudlin Ben—neither of which have quite moved on from Reed and Sue’s absence. Ben, reminiscing about a particular adventure where getting home required feeling where they belonged, decides to propose to his longstanding girlfriend Alicia. When they ask Johnny to be their best man he angrily refuses insisting that it’s supposed to be Reed and that Reed and Sue will be back.
Fantastic Four #1 takes a few moments to lean on nostalgia in the beginning. Writer Dan Slott reassures longtime readers that he knows where the series comes from through use of the Fantastic Four flare, a device that dates back all the way to the first issue. He also preserves the spirit of the Yancy Street Gang via the Yancy Street kids that stole the flare. These two touches at the beginning of the issue offer reassurance to Fantastic Four fans that they’re in good hands. A last bit of nostalgic spirit, unfortunately, is a moment where the issue falls completely flat. Slott brings back Jen Walters—a character he used to write for—to represent the Yancy Street kids in a minor subplot about whether they will be tried as adults. It feels exactly like what it is: an excuse for Slott to use a character he likes writing for rather than an important piece of plot.
Setting aside the nostalgic touches, both good and bad, the readers will find in Fantastic Four #1 a story about two men moving on in their grief and coming to accept their friends and family are never coming back. Though Ben’s decision to propose to Alicia is a good moment of transforming grief into something else, the big moment is when Johnny explodes at Ben about the best man gig and calls out to the night sky for Reed before falling back to the ground and breaking down. This is the big cathartic moment of the issue, and it felt right to show Ben and Johnny truly grieve and move on before Reed and Sue return. The story’s big downside, though, is the way Slott undercuts this catharsis in the final few pages of the story.
Illustrating this story of grief is art from Sara Pichelli. Here I have no reservations. Pichelli captures Johnny Storm’s fun-loving self-centeredness perfectly from the first page. Her consistency with Ben Grimm’s size—to say nothing of her skill drawing cats—makes the joke of him being a cat tree work perfectly. I can’t say as I remember ever seeing Ben in a suit, either, but Sara nails it in a combination of cute and absurd that comes off as painfully earnest. By far Pichelli’s best work in the issue is two panels after Johnny has had his midair catharsis and come back to Ben and Alicia; one panel is close-up on Johnny and a stream of tears while the other is pulled back on Alicia and Ben embracing him. It’s a heart wrenching moment—made all the more so by the intensity Pichelli has drawn Johnny to that point.
There is one noteworthy visual hiccup in Fantastic Four #1 though it is not a consequence of the art. On the story’s first page are a series of boxes with quotes, creatively designed by letterer Joe Caramagna, from each member of the team. Ben’s box is rocky and orange/brown. Johnny’s is yellow with a flame. Reed’s is blue with a four. Sue’s is gray. Just gray. With gray letters. I was reminded of the days that Sue was underserved by the creative teams not knowing what to do with her; indeed, she would come across somewhat boring. I hate seeing her biggest representation in the issue come across that same way.
The story in Fantastic Four #1 is ambitious. It incorporates nostalgic beats, lays the groundwork for the return of Reed and Sue, and moves Ben and Johnny through their grief toward a catharsis. Equally ambitious art accompanies the story. The issue stumbles in places, but not ruinously so. Its greatest success may be reminding readers that above all else the Fantastic Four is a family. If it takes a few hiccups in an otherwise ambitious story to set up that theme, I can live with them.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Johnny Storm “Danke Schoen”s
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.