Spider-Man: Life Story presented a mighty premise to Marvel readers from all eras: Retelling the life of a superhero from their origin in the 1960s through today as the characters and their settings aged in real time with each issue comprising an entire decade. It was a notable challenge featuring some spectacular creativity when focused on a single superhero with 60 years of history to their name. Now quadruple that effort and you have the concept for Fantastic Four: Life Story, a miniseries that begins with the quartet’s infamous voyage to space in 1961 and proceeds to follow all four members of Marvel’s first family through their life stories.
Writer Mark Russell earns massive kudos from the jump for striking some balance between the series’ four leads. Each individual is given a clear personality and some element of growth in the first issue. Reed Richards is the focal point for the team, but Sue is elevated above her 60s source material as the passionate driver of the team and equal partner in their endeavors. Fans of the original series will certainly recognize Ben’s arc from the Stan & Jack comics. Even Johnny Storm is provided a few moments to shine and artist Sean Izaakse ensures he never disappears into the background and allows for growth to occur in the visuals. Izaakse is an essential part of how this balanced structure functions ensuring that every character is instantly recognizable in a very compressed narrative.
Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 orients itself around core themes found across decades of Fantastic Four comics. There’s very little in the way of superhero fare to be found in these pages beyond some background cameos and a single page dedicated to the team’s iconic battle with the Mole Man. Instead, this is a comic book about exploration and family in equal measure, both of which are defined by the universe's natural tendency towards chaos. Reed’s love for discovery creates a clear throughline between the team’s uniting mission and everything that follows. This is where the issue lays the foundation for future decades and a potentially potent metaphor for climate change. The notion of family emerges naturally amidst so much activity. A change to Reed and Ben’s partnership early in the issue pays dividends on the final page in presenting this as the origin story for a family, not a superhero team.
In choosing precisely how to thread a decade between a few key moments (along with some excellently depicted montages) it’s impossible to fault the choices made in Life Story #1. The tone and design of the issue focus it on the comics published in the same era, almost entirely created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. While the origin story seems a given, the choice to focus on the classic story of heroism and personal sacrifice, “This Man, This Monster,” over many more epic tales shows an appreciation for the source material that pays off. The rewritten version of that Thing-centric story holds up in this summarized version and creates a clear throughline for the miniseries’ larger story. It is both an elegant piece of plotting and loving homage.
All of the various stories on display reflect the era from which they originate. The 1960s are constantly present in fashion, setting, and historical cameos. While the easily recognized Kennedy is no surprise, a sincere portrayal of Johnson makes the issue feel more attuned to the realities of the era. Montage sequences acknowledge much of what is occurring around the team, even if the appearance of Sue Storm at a civil rights march puts a pin in America’s racial politics and their connections to this all-white set of heroes far too neatly.
Fantastic Four: Life Story deserves credit for ambition alone as it aims to weave a historical era, comic book continuity, and four lead characters into a single thread. That its first issue manages to successfully accomplish the task is a testament to the skill of its creators. In working through the origins of this famous family and parsing one of popular media’s favorite eras in American history, they have laid the foundation for a series that can speak to all of the potent threads bound together in its premise. It’s a weighty task and five more decades loom large, but Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 tells a story that inspires hope even when discovering terrible truths.
Published by Marvel Comics
On May 19, 2021
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Sean Izaakse
Colors by Nolan Woodard0comments
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Daniel Acuña