By: Matt Fraction and Christopher Sebela (writers), Mark Bagley (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist)
The Story: With time running out for Reed, Sue, and Ben, the Fantastic Four find themselves caught between the future and the past – more literally than you’d think.
The Review: The Fantastic Four are known as the first family of comics, but those who haven’t visited the Baxter Building lately might not know how apt the moniker is. Reed has just come clean to the rest of the team about his, and by extension their, condition and Valeria is having a hard time accepting it. Mind you that being Reed Richard’s daughter doesn’t do much to teach you your limits, but, though the issue focuses on seemingly reasonable attempts to reverse the disorder, Fraction and Sebela write Valeria’s uncertainty brilliantly. Small strokes paint a picture, revealing the stakes if she should fail and the pain of a child who doesn’t quite know that their parents will be there tomorrow.
Other characters get comparatively less attention. Some, like Ben, need to be a little more substantive, but Fraction is clearly able to do a lot with a little and things like Johnny’s relationships come through strongly, even when he’s not in the scene.
Fittingly for the Fantastic Four, there’s plenty of big ideas and science. At times the, admittedly considered, time travel jargon can be a bit dense, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for getting lost in Valeria’s plans. Time travel is often a hard genre to follow and, though the writers have some interesting ways of bringing new things to the table, the cost of such innovation is a lack of clarity in some places.
This ambiguity also extends to the storytelling in a few key places. Franklin’s struggles in particular come kind of out of nowhere and disappear without much explanation beyond ‘he’s Franklin Richards’. The time bomb also threw me, sending me scurrying back to previous pages to check if I missed something.
On the other hand, many other ideas, like the identities of our antagonists, are brilliantly clear. The terrorists are given just enough credit to make them feel threatening, but the humor of their motivations a welcome addition. It’s nice to see simple themes like these that don’t feel like they’re talking down to the reader.
Mark Bagley’s art is another good reason to check this issue out. To be honest, the last issue of Fantastic Four I read was from the mid-nineties and it had the shiny generic art to prove it. This feels like that issue grown up. The Four have a distinct look that rarely strays too far from what Jack Kirby set down and Bagley channels that iconic feeling well without being overwhelmed by it. The images here are exactly what you’d expect from the Fantastic Four at first glance, but Bagley’s craft becomes more and more apparent as you look at the details.
Paul Mounts’ colors are bold and appropriate for a story caught between the utopian futurism of Marvel science and the nostalgic longing for simpler times.
While it occasionally breaks down, leading to the unclear storytelling I mentioned earlier, Fraction and Sebela do an excellent job of playing with pacing. Some pages fit huge amounts into many small panels, while others invest in splashes. Some of the best layouts in the book are those where many small ones surround one large panel. In these instances the entire creative team proves their talent and keeps the action clear and energetic. This level of control does wonders for the book’s pacing.
The Conclusion: There are great books and there are solid books. While the former may get more attention, the latter are an underappreciated wonder in the world of comics. Fantastic Four #11 is a seriously solid book. Fraction and Sebela give us a thought-out, clever version of the Four that plays to the unique strengths that the team’s ‘adventurers of science’ pedigree allows them. Mark Bagley’s art and the impressive layouts of the book make it a visual treat. But, despite the seemingly well-oiled machine that this team has put together, it stutters from time to time. Nevertheless fans of the franchise should find plenty to like.
* Seriously, it is surprisingly hard to write a Fantastic Four without referring to them as the FF. Stupid acclaimed spin-offs…