The biggest problem I have with FF #1 isn’t the characterizations or the ideas behind the story or the dialogue, all of which are, frankly, realistic enough to engage and sometimes even delightful (although I have no idea who Darla Deering – Ms. Thing – is, and I really thought that Scott Lang was dead). No, the biggest problem here is the invisible hand of Marvel Editorial. Because they are the reason that, all while reading this issue, I kept thinking, “Yeah, but Spider-Man really should be here.”
But let’s forget about that right now and talk about what is here. And what is here is pretty damned entertaining, if little but a giant wad of exposition wrapped up in fun dialogue and pretty pop art.
FF #1, written by Matt Fraction with pencils by Mike Allred, spins directly out of Fraction’s recent Fantastic Four #1, where the team decided to go on an exploration mission for a year that, in relativistic terms, should keep them away from Earth for four minutes. So this issue involves each member of the Fantastic Four picking a surrogate to lead the Future Foundation in their stead. For four minutes. Because of course they’ll only be gone for four minutes! This is, after all, a mission planned by Reed Richards! You know, the genius who once said, “Hey, why don’t we just steal the rocket? What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?”
This issue splits its focus between Thing, Susan, Johnny and Reed making their pitches to She-Hulk, Medusa, Ms. Thing and Ant-Man, respectively, to take their places on the FF while the team is gone (although Johnny’s “pitch” is more like a “throw,” and his “line of reasoning” more closely resembles his “meat.”), and between the children who are members of the FF answering questions ostensibly asked by Ant-Man, but addressed directly to the reader. This is one hell of a good way to introduce new readers to a team with a few new and a lot of existing characters, as it gives some face time with damn near everyone and gives a sense as to who the kids are, and why the Fantastic Four is asking the people they’re asking to be their surrogates.
When it comes to the Fantastic Four’s replacements (Note to Marvel Editorial: could you name the damn Future Foundation something that doesn’t have the same initials as the Fantastic Four? Having them both be “FF” is cute, and it shows the ties between the two books, but we poor comic reviewers are getting carpal tunnel syndrome having to type out each name to keep things straight because of your Goddamned thoughtless shenanigans!), Fraction does an excellent job with a limited number of panels in showing the relationships between each original and surrogate, and in describing the reasoning behind the choice. From Thing’s choosing She-Hulk because of her history with the Fantastic Four (Ow! My wrists!) and his respect for her raw power, to Susan’s choice of Medusa due to their common experiences of being mothers to powerful children in a dangerous environment, to Reed’s choice of Scott as a fellow scientist, and one experiencing a loss for which exposure to children might be the best thing for him…
And then there’s Johnny. This is the one part of the book that just failed for me. Johnny Storm has always been presented as somewhat of a flake, so the idea that he might space out on asking someone to take his place is at least somewhat believable. However, this issue is taking place a year or so after Johnny fucking died (Fraction even addresses it in this issue by having Johnny wake from a nightmare that, to me, seemed to be clearly about that experience), and told the team that he wanted Spider-Man to take his place. In fact, up until the FF book rebooted and renumbered a month ago, Spider-Man was already a member of the FF.
Look: I’m not a dope. I know that Marvel Editorial can’t have Spider-Man be a part of either FF or Fantastic Four right now because, thanks to the reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man to Superior Spider-Man in December / January, we’re not allowed to know who Spider-Man will even be in a month. But to shoulder that load, it requires readers of FF to believe that not only is Johnny too flaky to remember to ask Spider-Man – his best friend – to help out with a team of which he is already a member, but it requires everyone on the team – eighteen people in total – to be too inconsiderate to pick up the Goddamned phone. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a deal breaker; anyone coming to FF for the first time won’t even notice this, and frankly, as someone who loves comics and didn’t even know that Scott Lang was alive, I might not be the best person to cast aspersions… but it is a problem with the story. It’s not Fraction’s fault, but it sticks out like a sore thumb once you notice it.
The remaining pages, with the child members talking directly to the reader, help take the edge off the of Spider-Man issue to me. I often had issues with previous FF writer Jonathan Hickman’s writing as feeling bloodless and somewhat lacking in emotion versus plot, but Fraction simply blows that out of the water here. Each and every kid, human or alien, that we meet is fun and funny and interesting. These sequences are great fun, and just an excellent way to introduce the reader to these characters.
Mike Allred’s art is, well, Mike Allred’s art. Simply-lined, expressive and almost cartoony, Allred has a style all his own that he doesn’t try to change here. Until things in the book spin out further than this issue’s meet and greet, it’s hard to say if it’ll be a good match to the action, but I’ll tell you this: Allred draws The Thing as the spitting image of Jack Kirby’s, so the pages with Ben Grimm are worth the price of admission alone. In addition, Allred needs to capture emotions ranging from hilarity on the part of She-Hulk to despair from Ant-Man to arrogant snottiness from Bentley, and he nails it all. Given that Fraction seems to be positioning FF as a character-driven story as opposed to a punch-em-up, I’m guessing that Allred’s style will continue to fit right into the book.
FF #1 is an origin issue that, as a vehicle for introducing the characters, does almost everything right. It has heart, it has humor, and the relationships and conversations almost all work… but the whole Spider-Man amnesia really took a lot of the air out of the story for me. It is one of those front-office level decisions that Fraction probably had no control over, and he uses Johnny’s established character to try to mask the omission, but once you notice it, everything Johnny does bears the mark of, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
It’s in no way a dealbreaker for a book that I recommend… but it is an obvious hazard of what happens when a company wants to have a reboot without actually rebooting: what DC could explain a year ago with a simple, “It’s just not like that anymore” instead requires Marvel’s creators to jump through hoops and pray you don’t notice.