Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: Steve Epting
Inks: Epting & Rick Magyar
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Epting, Daniel Acuna, Marko Djurdjevic, Gerald Parel, Stan Goldberg & Joe Sinnott
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US
While I had some qualms about the noted issue of Fantastic Four featuring the “death” of the Human Torch, writer Jonathan Hickman’s script also piqued my interest. As details about this replacement series, focusing on the former Fantastic Four’s “Future Foundation,” were released, I grew more interested. Now that the first issue has arrived, I’m pleased to find that the potential I saw in those final issues of Fantastic Four has been realized. I still wish the writer had provided a little more information about the FF’s “science kids” program, but some strong but quiet moments of characterization really grabbed me. Given the melancholy tone that dominates several scenes in this issue, Steve Epting’s darker style seems like a good fit, and the new costume designs that are such a big part of this inaugural issue are visually engaging as well.
In the wake of a death of a member of the family, the Fantastic Four is no more, and in its place arises the Future Foundation. On the surface, it seems only like a change in branding, as the team continues its efforts to battle evildoers and its burgeoning school for exceptionally gifted children, such as Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman’s own children. But the Future Foundation actually sets its sights wider than the Fantastic Four ever did. Instead of embarking on adventures and avenues of discovery, the Future Foundation aims to make the world a better place, not just a safer place or more wondrous place. Joining the surviving three members of the Fantastic Four is the late Human Torch’s best friend and longtime ally of the team, Spider-Man, at the posthumous behest of Johnny Storm himself.
Steve Epting boasts a dark style that works well with this script. While still maintaining the wondrous appeal of certain elements, he establishes tense moods that enhance the story. One is a dire atmosphere that cast the antagonists in a truly dangerous and threatening light. The other mood is dour rather than dire, as a sense of mourning continues to permeate the Baxter Building. The designs for the Future Foundation uniforms are quite sharp. Also striking are key color effects, notably the work Paul Mounts does to enhance the science-fiction effect of the holographic message from the beyond the grave left by the Human Torch. The bright blue tones bring a fantastic energy to the moment, but it doesn’t interfere with the detail and expressiveness of the Torch’s face.
The only aspect in which the art in this issue goes awry is right after a touching scene involving Spider-Man and Franklin. As Spidey goes to sit down to dinner with the extended family, Franklin tells him he can’t sit in a particular chair, as it was always his Uncle Johnny’s spot. Great moment. The problem is that on the next page, it appears as though someone else, the Thing, fills that spot. There’s no apparent empty spot at the dinner table, which takes the reader out of the story, given the effectiveness of that prior moment. Furthermore, I hope that with future issues, Epting will demonstrate some versatility. The science kids characters have a lot of potential to bring lighter moments to the book, and I hope Epting opts to set aside the noir leanings for which he’s known to allow for brighter, even silly moods to shine through when the story calls for it.
The villains that pop up in this issue don’t really drive the plot so far. The A.I.M. members and the Wizard are certainly excellent choices. The corrupt Advanced Idea Mechanics can be seen as a dark reflection of the Future Foundation, and the Wizard has always been portrayed as a longtime rival of Reed Richards, so again, we have another dark reflection. The Wizard’s an unusual character, though, as he’s been portrayed inconsistently over the years. At times, he’s been presented as nothing more than a joke, and at others, he’s been something of a generic super-villain/mastermind. Hickman offers a different take on the character, depicting him almost as a Hannibal Lecter-type threat — at least in the manner in which he’s incarcerated and how he behaves in that setting. Still, the character’s history works against that perception, so more seasoned Fantastic Four readers might have some trouble accepting this interpretation.
Despite the change in title and direction, FF remains a comic book about a family, just as Fantastic Four was. The makeup of the family has changed, obviously, and I’m not even referring to Spider-Man’s role in this new title. Instead, I find the return of Reed’s father to be the source of one of the more interesting shifts in interpersonal dynamics among these characters. Nathaniel Richards seems to take on the patriarch role that Reed filled before, and it makes for potential conflicts and strong characterization. Reed almost seems relieved to have someone else take on the role because he’s also able to pass on the responsibility.
One of the quirkiest, most interesting scenes in the book is something weird yet simple: grace. As this eclectic group of characters sits down to dinner, they pray and give thanks for their meal. And they cover all of the bases. It’s an inherently goofy scene, as the characters endeavor to acknowledge every belief, every possibility. But ultimately, what’s more effective in the scene isn’t the humor of it, but rather how it brings these unusual figures down to earth. With their abnormal prayer, they demonstrate just how normal they are.
Of all the members of the Fantastic Four, the one with the closest familial connection to the Torch is the Invisible Woman, but it’s Susan Storm-Richards who seems the strongest and most determined to move past the grief. She doesn’t have a major role in this first issue — for the most part, her welcoming of Spider-Man upon his arrival at the Baxter Building seems to be designed to provide exposition for new readers. Still, Hickman manages to convey her strength and adaptability. While the other members of the Four are shown to be dwelling on their loss (and perceived failures), Susan’s shown as being focused on her responsibilities, but not in an effort to avoid her sadness or need to grieve.
What’s probably going to garner the most attention in this comic book is Spider-Man’s integration into the world of the former Fantastic Four. Obviously, including the iconic character is no doubt a marketing decision. Spidey’s popularity could be seen as a means to boost sales of this title. I’m relieved to find, though, that his role here is also a storytelling decision. There’s a certain logic to his insertion into this setting. He has a history with these characters, and his status as a brilliant (but overlooked) scientist in the Marvel Universe makes him a good choice for participation in the Future Foundation premise. I like the awkwardness he exhibits here, as he clearly feels like an outsider, and that outsider perspective should bring another interesting new dynamic to this group of characters. 8/10
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