Writer: Alan Davis
Artists: Alan Davis (p), Mark Farmer (i), John Kalisz (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of this four issue limited series appears in stores this Wednesday, November 1.
I’m one of those people who consider the Fantastic Four to be an extremely dated concept that just doesn’t serve a purpose in comics other than the nostalgia factor and the personality of the Thing (who, ironically enough, can’t support his own well-reviewed solo series for an entire year). Even if it’s an alternative future that the regular comics will never reach, I very much welcome a series that brings the adventures of Marvel’s first family to a close.
Except that there’s a critical flaw at the heart of this issue: this isn’t The End. Issue #6 will be The End. With this issue, we’re just Rather Close To The End. Frankly, I can’t understand why Marvel continues to solicit this series in the style of the dreadful Wolverine: The End and X-Men: The End miniseries when the one-shot tales they’ve released have been far better received. Oh, right: money.
This tale begins in a curious place: the Fantastic Four have already come to an end and disbanded. While there really isn’t any hook yet as to what this series will be about, as this issue only explores the status quos of the various members, I have to say that I’m generally pleased with where the heroes have ended up. One of my complaints about the ongoing series is that there’s no danger or threat to any of the characters, since one way or another they’ll all return to each other’s company and be a happy family again. Davis takes that reality five steps forward and makes the former foursome successful beyond their wildest dreams. The Thing is married to Alicia and lives with the Inhumans on Mars. The Torch is a member of the Avengers. Sue is pursuing her own research ventures in the deep of the ocean. And Reed’s just about revolutionized everything.
Sounds good, but in addition to the lack of a threat and stakes, the premise itself leans a little too far into sci-fi, as the story seems more concerned with what the family is doing, not necessarily how they feel about it. We get the most amount of pathos out of Reed, but it starts to mimic Earth X territory while being a bit too exposition-laden. Thankfully, this is the only Reed Richards being produced by Marvel currently who is neither a fascist jerk nor a nerdy bookworm.
Readers will likely get a kick out of the many guest stars in this issue, but I found them rather distracting. It’s great to see Davis use the number of appearances to make each page as vivid and dynamic as possible, but showing Iron Man get destroyed and the Frightful Four vanishing doesn’t really tell us anything more about what’s going on with the Human Torch. As an introduction, it’s decent, but it’s still only filler.
Overall we have a disappointing start to something that has the potential to be exceedingly strong. The Fantastic Four have always been about adventure into the unknown with lithe character dynamics. If Davis can pull himself away from drawing every panel of every spaceship to add some depth and motivation to the characters, we might get a truly special tale out of his efforts.
In the near future, a battle with Doctor Doom and the Fantastic Four ends with Doom’s death and the deaths of the Richards’ children. Decades pass. Reed Richards has created a technological utopia. He also discovered the secret to immortality allowing people to stay young forever. But he hides from the world and his pain in an orbital space station. Susan spends her days on archeology. Johnny Storm has joined the Avengers to fight Anarchists. Ben Grimm has settled down on Mars to raise a family with Alicia Masters. The Fantastic Four has unofficially disbanded. Reed muses how Doom was right about one thing: conflict kept the team together. And a new one is on the horizon. The leader of the Natural Order, an anti-science cult, prepares to move against Reed. His identity will surprise both Richards and readers.
This is the set-up issue. Davis takes his time to show where the characters are physically and emotionally. Ben finally has the “normal” family life he’s always wanted. Johnny is still the adventuring hero. Reed and Sue have drifted apart. We’ll probably learn more about Sue next issue, but Reed is shown as a hermit. He’s created an almost-perfect world, but he’s let his own life fall apart. In short, we get a logical conclusion to where the characters would be in a 100 years. It’s pretty much what you’d expect or hope for our heroes.
The villain of the piece came as a surprise to me. Then again, I suppose it was inevitable. This person’s beliefs are the opposite of Reed’s. And he would oppose a world dominated by science, not to mention immortality. There are hints that living forever has negative effects on a person’s behavior. “Too many tomorrows,” She-Hulk calls it. It’s a theme I’d like to see explored later in the story.
Fans will love seeing so many old FF characters and villains. Namor, She-Hulk, Wyatt Wingfoot, Thundra, Silver Surfer, Thor, and a classic-style Iron Man all appear. The story takes place across the entire solar system changing quickly from Earth to Mars to Pluto and back again. We get the last battle against a barely-human Dr. Doom, a massive villain fight in space, and more future tech than Star Trek. In short, it’s a good old-fashioned comic in the mighty Marvel style!
Alan Davis produces the best art in his career. Of course, he’s been at his best for years. The man’s one of the all-time greats. If any project is worthy of his talents, it’s the epic conclusion to Marvel’s First Family. The people all look alive, the women are naturally beautiful, the locations are fantastic, and the story flows from panel to panel like water. Wonderful work.
Davis has laid the groundwork for a great story. I hope he can build on it in future issues.
This latest instalment of Marvel’s not-a-What-If-at-all series of stories is something of a mixed bag. It looks fantastic, of course; the art is classic Alan Davis, characterised by smooth, confident linework, peerless storytelling and exquisite detail. Relegating such a first rate artist to obscure stuff like this is criminal; I would even consider buying New Avengers if Davis were drawing it at this level of quality. On the other hand, Davis’ writing is not as strong, with the main problem being a clunky script chock-full of ugly exposition; I appreciate that the changes in setting mean that there’s a lot of explaining to do, but my gosh Quesada, is the moratorium on narrative captions really worth this?
Still, there is much to enjoy here, as Davis sets up an interesting future world; the Thing has settled into a quiet family life, Reed and Sue have settled into seclusion from the family and each other, and, most surprisingly, Johnny has matured to such an extent that he leads this era’s Avengers. Inevitably, these separate lives will be brought together once more, but Davis has done a good job of setting things up in such a way that such a denouement won’t be trite and obvious.
But even Davis’ scenario has its problems, most notably that his central plot is not given much room to breathe with all the exposition and catching up going on; it’s very vague and ill-defined, and the connection to the Four isn’t immediately clear (a similar problem plagued X-Men: The End, which seemed more concerned with outer space frippery than central concepts like mutant/human relations). With the setup out of the way in future issues, Davis should be able to tie things together, but seeing as he’s been responsible for a fairly major X-Men storyline based around homaging Steve Ditko, I’m not too confident of much relevance arising in future.
This isn’t terribly compelling stuff, largely due to the cluttered and slightly ponderous writing, but it is an absolutely gorgeous looking comic, and there is just enough in the setting to make me wonder how things will…, yes…, end. It remains to be seen what exactly Davis has in mind, but I suspect that Peter David’s Hulk: The End will remain the best of Marvel’s attempts at this format.
Plot: For various reasons, the Fantastic Four has broken up. Or, if you listen to Reed, the decay has been more passive: over the years, they’ve drifted apart. And try as she might, erstwhile member Jennifer Walters can’t put the pieces back together again.
Comments: I was wary of this project at the outset. I’d forgotten how deep was Davis’s understanding of the FF, and I’d been burnt on a variety of “The End” stories that underwhelmed (usually featuring various X-Men).
But I needn’t have worried. Davis is doing something here he’s proven very adept at elsewhere; he’s taken the opportunity of the “The End” concept to tell a Marvel Universe version of The Nail.
You remember that series allowed Davis to play around with much of the DC Universe and the JLA in an alternate history that, in some cases, introduced versions and recombinations and offspring of the characters that were preferable to the current state of the real ones.
This worst-case scenario of the Marvel-verse finds our heroes estranged and scattered around an expanding solar system, and not just the titular heroes. In short order we run into the Inhumans (who are getting a lot of play lately; they look pretty good in this month’s New Avengers as well), the future Avengers (including the Torch, a new female Captain Marvel, and of course an unchanged Thor battling an ageless Enchantress), some eternally spy version of Nick Fury, Ben’s new family, Sue’s renewed flirtation with Namor (for good measure), and Thundra (!?) and Dr. Strange.
This is the fun potential inherent in The End: final takes that are character-defining on all our favorites, and Davis is ideally suited to expand his cast as broadly as he needs to. Without much editorial interference (which he suffered on his unimpressive X-Men run wrapping up “The Twelve” storyline – shouldn’t be a problem in this Elseworlds-style tale), he’s free to play with the toys with love, respect and creativity. His impressive dialogue promises to keep the emotional lines (as sorrowful as some of them seem to be) intact. This first issue is something the Fantastic Four (and their fans) need right now: a love letter.
Marvel’s “The End” projects have been a mixed bag so far, as for every well-received project (like the fan-favourite Hulk one-shot) there’s been a mess like the X-Men series, or a middling but ultimately disposable story like Paul Jenkins’ Wolverine mini. Alan Davis’ Fantastic Four: The End, the first of two FF “The End” series to be released by Marvel, looks to be heading for that middle ground on the strength of this first issue, but really there’s so little to go on that it could still go either way.
The art is universally great throughout, with some strong visual characterisation sitting very nicely with epic sci-fi space scenes and strong action sequences, but the story of this first issue is very much of two halves. The first sees the FF engaged in their (final?) fight with Doctor Doom with the world hanging in the balance, and this classic-feeling plot – albeit with a few twists – is probably exactly what readers would expect from the final Fantastic Four story. However, Davis throws in a few curveballs with the death of the Richards children and the splintering of the group, allowing him to explore the dynamic of the family through its disintegration. Davis takes the long-running character tics of the team to their logical conclusion: Reed and Sue have grown estranged through Reed’s seclusion and Sue’s need for emotional reciprocity; Johnny is out on his own, having exciting adventures without being bogged down by the rest of the team; Ben Grimm is happy with Alicia and their children, and appears to be able to choose between his rocky “Thing” appearance and his human form; and Sue is yet again driven into the arms of Namor, whose role in the story is yet to become clear. Using the sometime FF member She-Hulk to psychoanalyse the older, yet not necessarily wiser incarnation of Reed works well as a framing device, and I’ll be interested to see how this more tortured version of Richards develops throughout the series.
Despite this apparently character-focused first half though, the frequent, mysterious allusions to Reed’s longevity-inducing “Methuselah” formula (a sly comment on Marvel’s “sliding scale” of time and ageing?) and the grand, epic feel of the second half of the book suggest that Davis has something more large-scale in the works for the curtain call of the Marvel’s Universe’s first family. However, it’s still too early to say whether Davis has bitten off more than he can chew with the sheer scale of the book: we look in on the Avengers, Namor, Ben Grimm’s family and a new (and decidedly different) Dr. Strange, but theses pieces only hint at where the story might be going. The scattering of the FF’s members at this early stage allows for a crowd-pleasing reunion later in the series, but the story seems to flit around so much in the second half that it’s hard to really get a handle on the big picture, and hardcore FF fans may feel aggrieved that this series has been diluted by a grand, cosmic plot which features many more guest-appearances from MU heroes and villains than you might expect.
What did you think of this book?
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