23 Mar 2011

Cover To Cover: FF #1

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: There’s no question, at least in my mind, that this new series won’t be anything other than a temporary excursion for Marvel’s First Family. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either new to the world of superhero comics or is the kind of gullible fool the hype-merchants love to dupe. Johnny Storm will return to the fold sooner or later, but for now Hickman is going for the time-honoured “illusion of change” approach that has buoyed the industry for so many years. And so it’s out with the iconic ‘4’ logo and in with a new set of costumes plus a new addition to the team: Spider-Man.

I can understand why some may groan at the wallcrawler’s inclusion, as he’s in danger of becoming as ubiquitous as Wolverine, but for me (considering his long history with the Fantastic Four and his friendship with Johnny) Spidey feels like the right man for the job. He’s certainly a much better fit for this team than he is the Avengers. I can imagine some folks will also be groaning at the new costumes, and while they’re not exactly a design I would choose, they make sense with the path Reed and co are currently taking: no longer are they merely superheroic explorers of the unknown; now their remit in their new guise as the Future Foundation is to change the world.

As this is something Hickman has gradually been building up to it feels like a natural progression rather than a forced transformation, albeit one that was hurried along a bit due to the loss of the Torch. In fact, this whole world-changing business is something that various writers of the team have been playing around with for the last few years – Hickman’s just taken it to the next level. Of course, there’s not much world-changing going on in this issue, instead it’s more of a scene-setter as regular readers are given an idea of where this new direction will take us, but in a way that new readers can lock into without feeling excluded. The dynamics of the extended ‘family’ are well realised, and now that Nathaniel Richards is in a mix there’s a suggestion that his relationship with Reed will be one of the more interesting aspects of the series (and it’s worth keeping in mind that Hickman is utilizing the character in S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Epting’s artwork is generally terrific, his action sequences are exciting and beautifully composed and his framing of the various character interactions is spot on. A few facial expressions are a bit wonky but then you look at the close-ups of the Thing brooding and you really have to let any criticisms go. When Epting nails it, he really nails it. Paul Mounts colours are perfectly suited to Epting’s illustrations: a little darker than sometimes utilized for these characters, but brilliantly effective through the use of shadows and shading.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Hickman’s work on Fantastic Four so far (the best he’s done for Marvel in my opinion) so there were no surprises here in terms of quality: FF is intelligent and compelling, a comic that honours the grand history of the team as well as expanding upon it. Nearly fifty years since their debut, these characters remain some of brightest jewels in Marvel’s crown, and in the right hands they are capable of outshining all of their peers. 8/10

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