Fantastic for Four Minutes
FF (2012) #1-3
Written by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by Michael Allred
Colored by Laura Allred
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
So. The Fantastic Four have discovered that they have some sort of cosmic cancer, and they have to travel outside the space-time continuum to find a cure. It's a trip that should only take a few minutes, Earth-time, but just in case something goes wrong they decide to recruit some replacements to take care of the Future Foundation while they're gone. Because something always goes wrong.
- Mister Fantastic, a brilliant scientist who has trouble expressing himself, recruits Ant-Man, a brilliant scientist who has trouble expressing himself (and a former member of the Fantastic Four).
- The Invisible Woman, a concerned mother with an emotionally distant husband, recruits Medusa, a concerned mother with an emotionally distant husband (and former a member of the Fantastic Four).
- The Thing, a rock-solid friend you can always depend on, recruits She-Hulk, a rock-solid friend you can always depend on (and a former member of the Fantastic Four).
- The Human Torch, who is impulsive and a bit immature, puts it off to the last second and recruit Darla Deering, the pop star he's dating who is impulsive and a bit immature (and not a former member of the Fantastic Four).
So, predictably, something goes very wrong. The "real" Fantastic Four wind up stranded outside space and time, and their replacements find themselves a bit overwhelmed. The media doesn't like them. Everyone suddenly chooses this moment to remember that Ant-Man used to be a crook. Medusa has some trouble adapting to the less-than-regal lifestyle. She-Hulk is being stalked by creepy Moloids. And Darla, a relatively normal person thrust into the crazy world of superscience and superheroics, runs screaming from her new responsibilities back to the relatively sane world of pop superstardom.
And then the Human Torch1 falls out of a hole in the sky, years older, missing several body parts, and certifiably insane.
Let the fun begin.
Matt Fraction has picked a really clever way to update the Fantastic Four. By replacing the team with four characters who are similar (but not identical) to the originals he can maintain the core dynamic while still pushing the book in new directions that might not have been possible previously. You can't do a story about bickering and inexperience with a FF that has been working together for decades. These characters are free to make mistakes and surprise you without seeming out of character. And because they're not first-stringers real change seems possible.
And of course there's the beautiful art from Mike Allred.
Just look at this lovely (if someowhat spoileriffic) sequence from FF #2. I love the way Allred is using crazy diagonal panel borders and off-angle staging to make everything seem disoriented and chaotic, while using the hard edges of the Baxter Building and the sweeping curves of the floor panels and radiang energy to sweep the eye from panel to panel. I really love how he uses more conventional structure of the three inset panels to establish that they're taking place in a different frame of reference. And his design for the flamed-on Human Torch does a great job of combining modern and classic looks for the character.
(The only thing I don't like? The way people's feet line up with the panel border at the top of page 18. It's such an amateurish tangent that it makes things feel staged.)
Allred is also a master of subtle expressions. Subtle touches, like the tilt of Medusa's head as she thinks wistfully about her husband, the She-Hulk blowing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes, or an evil gleam in the Human Torch's eyes, really bring the characters to life and remind you why showing is better than telling.
My only complaint? The book is a bit disjointed, though that's probably deliberate. I'm sure as the cahracters get a grip on what they're doing things will settle into a groove. I'm definitely in for the long haul.
- Okay, it's pretty clear this guy is probably not the real Human Torch. He could be a version of him from an alternate future, but I'm betting he's actually Vangaard. The dude got several body parts blown off in 'Nam, exists outside of space and time, and has a mad-on for wiping things from existence.