The Fantastic Four were only supposed to be gone for four minutes. As the deadline comes and goes, with no return of Ben, Johnny, Sue and Reed, the replacement FF get to know the Future Foundation kids. And a villain comes a-calling.
This is more like it. After a slow introduction via Fantastic Four #1-2 and FF #1, some action and a chance for substitutes Ant Man, She-Hulk, Medusa and Ms Thing to make this book their own. Which they do, showing off their characters as they settle into their new roles. It’s easiest for Medusa and She-Hulk, having both served with the FF previously. Medusa relaxes and wonders why a Royal such as she isn’t being waited on hand, foot and hair. She-Hulk touches base with her Jennifer Walters day job by giving the students a lecture on law as it relates to superheroing.
Ant Man is also a longtime FF associate, having been hired as electronics expert while Reed was missing, so he knows the score. Scott Lang isn’t hugely perturbed when the kids quiz him about what the papers mean when they describe him as an ‘ex-con’. He even uses the moment to teach the sprogs a life lesson – it seems that despite Scott’s own doubts, Reed did indeed pick the right man for the job.
It’s the ultra-sweet Darla for whom this is hardest. The Human Torch’s pop star girlfriend, she signed on for a lark, an unpowered placeholder. But when the Mole Man attacks, mighty steamed at the ‘imposters’ usurping the name of his greatest enemies, she realises that this is serious. Even an old Thing suit mooched out by Dragon Man doesn’t settle her nerves, and crisis over, she makes a decision about her future.
Even the oft-annoying kids are good value here, constantly challenging the senior staff with humour and not a little charm.
Writer Matt Fraction and artist Mike Allred produce one of the most enjoyable Marvel comics for years. With economy and skill, they focus in on their major cast members, while throwing in the Fantastic Four’s first-ever foes, Mole Man and big green lackey Giganto. The fight sequence is a lot of fun, with everyone but poor Darla playing their part. I still don’t quite understand what Ant-Man’s new droopy costume strands do, mind. Can’t we just have a few flying ants?
Have I said that the pages rendered by Allred and colourist wife Laura are pure Pop Art Comics (click on image to enlarge)? If so, it bears repeating: the work is big, friendly, fun – and very skilful – cartooning. Allred, Mike can get more personality into a face with a few lines than bigger name artists can with hundreds. He can do a mean Kirby machine. And with three out of four members female, it’s a real boon that Allred isn’t one of those one-face-fits-all guys; Darla, Medusa and Jennifer have their distinct faces, and would be recognisable uncoloured and bereft of hair.
Not that that’s how I want to see them – I love Medusa’s flaming, spidery locks, Jen’s green mane, Darla’s pink hair. These are the best-tressed heroines around. And in a Marvel line featuring mostly ‘realistically’ coloured books, I treasure the super-vibrant world of the FF.
Oh, and there’s a cliffhanger. A very good cliffhanger.
Throw in a truly splendid cover by the Allreds that’s no doubt bound for a trade collection and you have probably the best comic this week from Marvel.
And having said that, I’d better go and read some more to test the assertion. I’ll be back here if anything jumps out. Preferably not Giganto …