by James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel (Artists), Jesus Aburtov (Colorist)
The Story: The beginning of dire events are retold to us as Marvel’s first family stand unaware of what will eventually happen to them.
The Review: I have a fondness for the Fantastic Four. Being the very first team that actually opened up the Marvel universe, the way they functioned and operated was a barrel of fun, with some huge name like Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Mark Waid and Jonathan Hickman portraying their adventures. With a penchant for adventures fueled by a heavy dose of imagination and exploration, this team has turned plenty of cynics into fans thanks to a good dose of nostalgia and evolution which makes them still relevant in this day and age despite the fact that they are more than fifty years old.
However, not all the tenures on the title have been particularly good. For some, the tenure of Matt Fraction, Dwayne McDuffie, Mark Millar and others haven’t been of great quality, which makes this latest volume somewhat of a mystery. With James Robinson being a writer that is usually good with older concepts while also having a good deal of missteps in the past few years. Does the hit-and-miss writer succeed or fail when handling those treasured characters?
In many ways, it is a bit too early to tell when looking at the merits and the less-successful moments found in this opening issue. Going for a perhaps darker approach with this usually brighter team, Robinson shows a certain willingness to innovate and goes in a different direction. It is, however, a mixed success due to many factors.
Where it work, though, is in how the writer handle the dynamics of the team. Understanding that this is a family not just through the good times but also through the harder times, some of the scenes here are rather touching, with the interactions between some characters bringing a lot of emotions without being too smarmy. The scene between the Thing and Alicia, the one with Reed and Sue or how Sue deals with the kids from the Future Foundation are done with a certain normalcy, but also with a certain hint of the strangeness that makes them touching, but also fun in ways that makes them worth reading.
Another thing that works is the general sense of dread permeating the issue. With such a whopper of an opening, the seed of the downfall of the family can be seen in many ways. While not all of the scenes connected to each members are as well-put together, there is a certain showcase from Robinson that allows the readers to see that he is interested in each of them, not merely focusing on one member in particular. Giving each of them enough panel-time, the division is well-made for the most part.
Where it isn’t as well-made is the action, with the fight against Fin Fang Foom being a bit generic. While it does introduce the team and what they do in a manner that is most apt, it doesn’t do much to really present anything that readers haven’t seen before. The pacing of the battle itself is also a bit wonky, with the fight being an after-thought to the introduction of the characters and what they do. With the opportunity to deliver excitation and plenty of entertainment, it’s a bit of a shame that Robinson only did something a bit ordinary instead.
Another part that’s a bit uneven is the dialogue, which range from entertaining and informative to forced sometimes. The manner in which Reed Richards talks to Marcus Johnson, some of the lines Sue says to Reed in the Baxter Building, the interaction between Johnny and his manager and some other notable moments are rife with stereotypical or hammy dialogue that does some of these moments a disservice. While it’s certainly not the worst issue in terms of dialogue that James Robinson ever did, it is still noticeable enough to be a bit of an hindrance.
What’s a bit more divisive, though for very different reasons, is the art of Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel. With some very clear strengths and some questionable stylistic choice, there is a certain controversial aspect to the overall quality that might break or make the issue for several readers. As a personal rule, I always look to how the artist interpret the Thing to see if I might grow to like the artist. With this in mind, this issue makes me question that particular approach, as the version of Ben Grimm here is superb, yet the rest of the cast is decidedly a bit strange. With some more elongated and finer traits for the face of the characters as well as some other elements, some of the faces look a bit cartoonish, yet not in a way that seems to fit with the overall approach the rest of the issue takes. It allows for a wide range of emotions to be conveyed through the characters, with their face being definitely visible, yet it also makes some of the expressions and some of the anatomy seems a bit deformed. While it might work with Reed Richards, it doesn’t work as well with Johnny, Susan and the rest of the kids, making them look a bit bizarre.
Another small weakness is the angular approach to some panels. With a desire to show the scope of some characters, creatures and other such elements in comparison to other, there are some errors done that make the perspective a tad bizarre and not-exactly great-looking. The double-page spread of Fin Fang Foom in the few opening pages are a perfect example of this, with some of the anatomy and the scenery not acting in concordance together. Still, Kirk and Kesel makes up for this with a very great manner in which they tackle large groups, with each characters being as well-drawn as the focal point of the group. His sceneries and background are also nothing to slouch at, with enough elements to be counted as being good additions to the pages without being overly too detailed. Kirk and Kesel might have some problems, yet they somewhat do a satisfying job despite the few hiccups.
Jesus Aburtov, though, does a rather commendable job even with some of the weaknesses he brings along in his work. While he does have a tendency to overwork the shine and brightness effect in some panels, there is an inherently good shading and enough contrast to make the differences and comparisons work in favour of the book and its qualities. With a certain bombastic approach and a high amount if diversity on display, Aburtov makes the darker and more ominous moments in the first few pages work quite well, with the darkness in the opening pages all the more striking when compared to the rest of the issue. It’s not the best issue he has ever done, but his competence does bring more to the book than it removes from the experience.
The Conclusion: While it does have its share of problems concerning some choices in the art and the direction, the approach to the characters, the attempt at difference and some of the finer points of Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel and Jesus Aburtov does make this opening issue to this new volume more of a success than a failure. It’s not a complete triumph, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
Hugo Robberts Larivière