(Marvel Comics, 2014)
Written by James Robinson
Pencils by Leonard Kirk
Inked by Karl Kesel
Color Artwork by Jesus Aburtov
In the first issue of James Robinson’s Fantastic 4 there is a very obvious shift in tone to darker, somewhat more introspective terrain, particularly in contrast to Matt Fraction’s recently ended run which was much more action/ adventure oriented. The Fantastic Four has a very unique place in the Marvel Universe, the series and characters have been used to exemplify family values throughout our ever changing social landscape more than any other title. In fact the Richards’ and their extended family clan have evolved with the progressive times but, at the heart of this book you will always find a message of familial unity and perseverance through the time-honored bonds of kin. Of course most families aren’t made up of a super genius with an elastic body, a force field producing invisible woman with a combustible flaming brother and a literal living mountain of a man for a best friend but, that is the first family of Marvel and not since Jonathan Hickman has anyone so precisely nailed the individual voices of these iconic characters. Robinson’s immense respect for comic book history and love for the sources of these characters comes through in his stories, his penchant for honest dialog and authentic characterizations are deeply rooted in that respect as well. It is this kind of thorough appreciation of foundation that makes Robinson such an impeccable choice to write this series; a team as illustrious as the Fantastic 4 demands a writer who not only knows the history but is inspired by it as well.
In this first issue, Robinson concisely re-introduces us to the team and very succinctly establishes a status quo that includes Johnny Storm as a modern day music celebrity, a brooding Benjamin J. Grimm desperately wanting to rekindle a romance with his old flame, Alicia, Sue Storm as a concerned mother coming to grips with the intense anxiety over her absent daughter and a work obsessed Reed Richards struggling to remain a part of his beloved family’s everyday life. Robinson expertly tempers the well-established, familiar FF tropes with the allusion to tumultuous times ahead creating intrigue and building anticipation. The promise of these fluctuating and life-altering events are alluded to through Sue Storm’s letters to her absentee children; Robinson uses this unique literary device to extremely effective results; he establishes a more or less stable environment only to have it immediately put in jeopardy by the ensuing events of this issue. In one of the books several humorous moments, the Future Foundation serve to lighten the moment before the narrative becomes oppressively heavy. These much-loved characters are a welcome inclusion especially since their future was in something of an uncertain state after the conclusion of Matt Fraction’s other Fantastic Four centric series FF, Robinson’s clever sense of humor shines in these sequences, his wry take on Dragon Man is one of this issue’s many highlights. The character interactions throughout the book are dynamic, spanning the emotional spectrum from the poignant moments shared by Reed and Sue to the witty banter between Johnny and Ben as they battle a gigantic Fin Fang Foom, just as the action builds from the reciprocal quietude of long-time lovers to the bombastic cacophony of conflict between combatants. Robinson structures the narrative like an operatic tragedy.
Visually, Leonard Kirk matches Robinson beat for beat from the serene moments to the chaotic clashes. He captures family life inside the Baxter Building equally as brilliantly as the high flying battle with Foom and the raucous antics of the Future Foundation kids. Robinson is well versed in rendering cosmically themed imagery as evidenced by his work on the Galactus mini-series, The Hunger. He has a detailed approach to character design that works quite well in a book like this that features so many diverse individuals. The only problem I had with the visuals were the heinous new costume designs, this is not necessarily Kirk’s fault but like the new X-Men uniforms, these awful amalgamations of clashing colors do absolutely nothing to improve upon their more tasteful predecessors.
Overall, the first issue of The Fantastic 4 is an unmitigated success on every level; it has an engrossing plot that builds anticipation and suspense coupled with dynamic artwork that enhances the lightning fast pace at which it is written. Robinson and Kirk step in just as Fraction’s former run was beginning to waver ever so slightly from its stellar early issues. I whole-heartedly recommend this new series to anyone who is a fan of classic super hero tropes and well defined characters. Robinson is as perfect a fit for this book as he is for All-New Invaders, his deep respect for comic book history is homage to the Golden Age creators and their groundbreaking endeavors. (4.5/5) Put the team back in their blue and white costumes and this is a perfect comic book.
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.