Now this is what I call a good start. For those not following along, I had a bit of a meltdown last week on ComicMix.com. You see I was feeling so good about Bat Girl, I just had to share it with ya’ll just a week ago. I read Matt Fraction’s “Fantastic Four #1” at the same time and initially gave it a “meh” and moved on. Unlucky for Fraction though, I reread the issue during a Chicago Bears loss, and got angry something fierce. Seems my “meh” was more of a “gyuh!”, and I ranted and railed like a Scottsman on a public golf course. Well, this week, I come to you, happy once again. Matt Fraction can go to bed with ease tonight, for I am bearing nothing but good tidings with this, the relaunch of FF, via the Marvel NOW initiative. It’s a solid start to something new. Something refreshing.
Normally I wait until the end of these reviews to discuss the art. But as careful readers will no doubt see, I was kind enough to list the Allreds prior to the writer in my header. I did this not because A comes before F. I did it because they hit something special to me with this book, artistically, and I needed to gush. I have long wanted to be a fan of Mike Allred. His artwork seems to be lifted straight from the past, with the simplicity, fluidity, and emotional resonance of legends like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the like. Where a meaner soul might suggest he’s merely playing a bit of artistic shorthand with his style, a careful eye will see more than just a little bit of modern flair to his art. And while I missed the bandwagon on the X-Statics, Madman, and the Atomics… here I have a shot at getting in at the ground floor.
Mike’s attention to detail, played against the basic page layouts lends brilliant pacing to the book. When Fraction plagiarizes a page from his notebook (one ripped from Brian Michael Bendis as well), the “talking heads” interview, Allred knows how to perfectly pose his players to communicate a rich depth of character. The few times Michael stretches beyond his panel edges, he does so to add a compositional line to the page. He plays with the grid, making every sequence both “widescreen” and “old school”. To read the book is to appreciate where the world of comics was long before the double page splash, personal narration caption box, or photoshop (gasp).
And a special nod goes to Mike’s wife, Laura, his colorist. A perfect compliment to his simplistic style, Laura doesn’t over work his pages. If ever there was a team more in sync, I’d be hard pressed to find it. And as I personally am still forever battling my own vices and crutches as a digital artist, it’s refreshing to see a vintage coloring process applied to a modern book. Her panels and color palates are bold, unadorned, and carefully nuanced. She knows when and where to recede backgrounds with color choices. She deftly applies tepid textures sparsely (like scales on Dragon Man, and sheen to metallic objects). Simply put? The book is so visually different from everything else I’ve read in the last few months, that it could not help but look all the more amazing to me. Obviously I know this is Michael and Laura’s “house style”, but as I said… this is truly the first piece of theirs I own, and I’m happy to go sign up for the fan club.
Script-wise Fraction is back to being on my good side. His framing device, as I’ve noted, is ganked from previous projects. Here though, he provides just enough of a round edge to it by the end of the book, it gets a pass. While this #1 suffers from the same two-tons-of-setup that have begrudged Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and a few other NOW titles, I feel like here it’s being served with a side of real personality. It’s been a long-standing joke that the Fantastic Four has had a plethora of different members outside the standard Reed-Sue-Ben-Johnny cast. As a polite wink and nod to it, with their impending “vacation through time and space”, Reed smartly chooses to hire a replacement team for their supposed “4 minute” journey. It’s a novel and cute way to set up something invariably going wrong. And Fraction doesn’t play it dumb; he lets just about everyone predict something will happen. It’s almost Hitchcockian the way Fraction decides to foreshadow.
With the regal Medusa, the bruiser-with-brains ‘Shulkie’, a ‘Ms. Thing’ (who I have no clue of anything more than her schtuppin’ Johnny, and wearing a Thing costume on the cover), and Scott ‘Ant-Man’ Lang anchoring this new book… the new team is vintage Allred through the lens of Matt Fraction. He, who is not afraid of the odd-ball team-up (see the Order or more recently the Defenders), puts together something so weird it’s bound to work. Fraction aligns his goofy foursome with a deft hand. We don’t know how they’ll come together (if they even have to), and it’s enough of a hook by books end to have me ready for the next one. Better than that? Because of it’s obvious ties to it’s sister-book, I’m even willing to travel back to ‘Fantastic Four’ with a bit more anticipation; if only to see how what occurs there will shape ‘FF’.
Suffice to say FF #1 is a solid script on top of inspiring art. It’s quirky, full of polite jokes and potential gravitas, and comes with the promise of wicked fun in the near future. While many have pegged the book to be short-lived (talk around the shop when I picked it up), I for one hope it’ll span a long-deserved life. After the first run of the book lost me with too many creative changes and unfocused storylines… here the book seems to come out of the gate less a pity-sequel, more a spunky cousin. And I’m apt to hang out with him all afternoon long.