“Parts of a Hole”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Mike Allred
Colors: Laura Allred
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Mike Allred (regular)/Mark Bagley & Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams and Skottie Young (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort & Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US
I had a rather lukewarm reaction to the first issue of the relaunched Fantastic Four title earlier this month. While I’m a fan of both writer Matt Fraction and artist Mark Bagley, I thought it was a serviceable but rather ordinary issue installment in the ongoing adventures of Marvel’s First Family. Nevertheless, I was eagerly anticipating the debut of this sister title thanks to artist Mike Allred’s participation. Furthermore, I figured the more unusual, oddball leanings in Allred’s style and sense of design would spark Fraction to include some more surreal and off-the-wall elements in his plots. It remains to be seen if that’ll be the case, but what I found here was a somewhat inaccessible and humdrum gathering-of-the-team story… albeit one that looks fantastic.
Mr. Fantastic is taking his family on a long “vacation” — secretly a mission to find a cure for the Fantastic Four’s deteriorating powers and physical forms — but he keeps assuring everyone though the trip will seem like a year to them, it’ll only seem like four minutes to everyone else, thanks to travel through the space-time continuum. Nevertheless, he decides they must recruit four friends (three of whom are former replacement members) to stand in for them, both as protectors of mankind and as teachers of the children of the Future Foundation.
Allred’s simple and quirky style is always appealing and entertaining, and his Silver Age sensibilities and influences serve the characters incredibly well. His take on the Thing is the most reminiscent of what the late Jack Kirby did with the character he co-created decades ago. Furthermore, Ant-Man’s new mode of transport is exactly the kind of thing Kirby would have designed (and did, if one compares it to DC’s Orion’s gear). Now, Allred’s style is typically a less-is-more approach, but there are panels and pages in and on which he demonstrates a strong eye for detail. The aerial view of Manhattan he delivers in the scene featuring Invisible Woman and Medusa is stunning. His redesign of the Ant-Man outfit is striking, but honestly, it’s such a strong representation of his design sense, I’m doubtful other artists would be able to do it justice. Furthermore, the emotion the artist instills in Ant-Man’s face really conveys his tormented state of mind. Laura Allred’s vibrant colors further reinforce the old-school comics storytelling approach, making for fun and engaging visuals throughout the issue.
One of the problems with this script is despite Fraction’s efforts to offer an accessible introduction to the many characters involved in the Future Foundation, he comes up a little short. I read only a few issues of the previous incarnation of FF, and even I don’t have a strong sense of who all these young genius characters really are. While the script identifies each of them clearly, I don’t get a sense of what makes these characters interesting (save for Bentley, the super-villain in training). Furthermore, the script really doesn’t get into Ant-Man’s daughter’s death very much, so unless once is familiar with the history behind it (see Avengers: Children’s Crusade, if memory serves), his inner conflict just won’t resonate as much.
I suppose it should have struck me when I read Fantastic Four #1 earlier this month, but after reading this comic book, I realized: Reed Richards is being an idiot. His refusal to tell his family (a) he’s suffering from a terminal condition, and (b) they’ll soon succumb to it as well makes no sense whatsoever. His belief he can find a cure before he needs to tell them is ludicrous — he should know from experiences the challenges that awaits the team in the other-void. Furthermore, if Doc Doom were to ‘port into their home and incinerate his head, his loved ones would be forever left in the dark about what was going to happen to them. Furthermore, his declaration he and the others will be gone for only a few minutes insults the intelligence of anyone he tells, and that includes the reader. No one would expect this replacement team to be in place for only an issue or two, so what’s with the pretense? Reed’s acknowledgement he needs some stand-ins and his stubborn insistence they won’t be needed are contradictory, and the latter attitude seems like a waste of time for the reader.
I do love that Fantastic Four and FF are penned by the same writer. It makes for a stronger link and synergy, and honestly, it’s a good idea from a marketing perspective, as it makes it more like a reader of one of the titles will want to follow the other. I hope (and expect) Fraction will nevertheless tell generally independent stories in each book, and the disparate casts of characters promise as much. Nevertheless, super-hero team books don’t seem to be Fraction’s forté (with the notable exception of the short-lived series The Order). While the art is top-notch throughout, the story has yet to really hook me. I’ll give it another issue or two before I make up my mind. 6/10
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