Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artists: Steve McNiven (p), Mark Morales (i)
Looking to put their recent troubles out of their minds the Fantastic Four (minus Johnny) head off on a camping trip into the New Jersey Pine Barrens with Franklin and a number of his friends from school. However, being the Fantastic Four that group finds they aren't going to be enjoying an ordinary camping trip, as they manage to encounter the legendary Jersey Devil, or rather a whole host of the creatures, as we learn they are alien invaders. Meanwhile, back in the city Johnny Storm does the unthinkable when he manages to get a job.
This arc looks to have completely abandoned the whole Fantastic Four are penniless pariahs concept in favor of a more conventional adventure, as the Fantastic Four venture into the alien environment that is the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, and manage to run up against a ship full of alien invaders who look to have made a habit of abducting the various people they encounter in these woods. Now this issue makes it very easy to forget about the awkward underlying concepts of the opening arc , by ignoring it almost completely, and if not for the scene with the Human Torch back in New York City I do believe I would've forgotten about it completely. As it stand this is a lovely look at the fact that even when they attempt to act like normal people by embarking on a camping trip, the Fantastic Four will always be magnets for the strange and downright bizarre. Now while I have to openly wonder why the parents of these children would let them go anywhere with the Fantastic Four, the fact that Sue is saddled with half a dozen children when those alien invaders are closing in on the camp makes for a very exciting climax to this opening chapter. There's also some wonderful little moments in this issue, like Ben's acknowledgement that he's just encountered a plot cliché when he identifies exactly crazy old-timer who delivers the sinister sounding warning about the region using the exact same example that was running through my head during the scene. I also enjoyed the quiet little scene where Sue and Reed admire the majesty of the unspoiled environment that is the Pine Barrens.
Now normally I'm the first to make a fuss about a cover image that doesn't relate to the story inside, but rather showing the hero in an action pose, but I have to say I loved this image of Sue using her power to halt a barrage of bullets, as it's a cool looking moment that I hope the makers of the Fantastic Four film take note of. As for the interior art, Steve McNiven takes another step toward solidifying his position as my favorite Fantastic Four artist, as he displays yet important quality in this issue, as he's called upon to deliver a new environment, as the team moves out of their urban environment for and adventure in the Pine Barrens. This issue does an absolutely amazing job of capturing the idea of how utterly beautiful nature can be, as that overhead shot of the region makes it very easy to understand why Reed and Sue would be impressed by it in spite of all the various wonders they've encountered. The design work on the Jersey Devil is also very nicely done, as they look exactly like the type of creature that would step out of a child's imagination when one put the idea of a demon like creature into their heads.
This issue runs into the problem that it's set within the Marvel Universe which is filled to the brim with monsters made real, that it's a little difficult to believe that the children would be so skeptical about the existence of the Jersey Devil. I mean I think a demon invasion must be an annual event in the city of Manhattan so the idea that there might be a single demon creature running around in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey is hardly something one could dismiss as a story created to scare the children. there's also the idea that Franklin's been to Hell at least twice in my mind, with the last time leaving so traumatized that he shut himself off completely from the world, so one also has to wonder why Ben didn't twist the story a bit so the evil monster was a genetic mutation rather than a demon from Hell. The issue also has the locals acting woefully ignorant of who the Fantastic Four are, and yet when one of them encounters Ben they seemed completely unfazed that he's a hulking beast who looks like he's made out of rocks. I also have to make mention of the scene where the scene where Johnny applies for a job as a firefighter, as once again this book seems willing to ignore the fact that only a couple issues earlier it was trying to sell us on the idea that people were treating them like lepers, as they looked upon super-heroes as super-villain magnets and skyrocketing insurance rates. However, this book seems to be perfectly willing to ignore this attitude when it impedes the progress of one of its plot threads, like Johnny being hired on by the local fire hall.
Hey Look It's The Crazed Russian Who Escaped Christopher And Paulie:
This issue is a good look at how entertaining this book can be when its freed from the constraints of the ill-conceived premise of the opening arc, as this is very much a Fantastic Four adventure, where the family concept of the team is very much front and center, as they attempt to enjoy a family camping trip with a group of Franklin's friends from school. Now of course travel to any wooded region of the United States comes complete with horror stories about Big Foot, or banjo playing pig lovers, and since this is the Pine Barrens of New Jersey the Fantastic Four naturally have a run-in with the Jersey Devil, who we discover are a group of alien invaders who have made a regular habit of abducting people camping in these woods. Now this issue does a wonderful job of playing this story pretty straight, as one has to smile when Ben points out his encounter with a plot cliché, and there's a great little moment where Reed and Sue allow themselves to be impressed by the simple beauty of nature. The final page cliffhanger moment is also pretty darn impressive in it's ability to make me want to read the next issue, as while they're probably another race of aliens the first thought that entered my mind on this final page was that the Fantastic Four have finally run up against the Brood.
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