There is a moment in Fantastic Four #1 where Reed Richards assures his wife that he loves her singing… subjectively. While he knows that her brother has a better voice, one with a surprising effect, he genuinely loves her voice for exactly what it is. I don’t want to be engage in hyperbole and claim that Fantastic Four #1 is the best comic of the year or that it is objectively perfect. However, just like Reed, I am absolutely certain that I love it.
Some of that undoubtedly comes from the place that the Fantastic Four hold in the hearts of Marvel and superhero fans. They are the team that introduced Marvel Comics as we know it, and have always played a central role in their stories for the world. You can be absolutely certain when you state the series is important as it both saved Marvel from bankruptcy and provided the cornerstone to the careers of both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. All of that history forms bonds of nostalgia, but also creates a language in which the comic can speak.
Speak it does. There are references to the very first issue from 1961. Far more importantly, they are not references for the sake of an inside joke. They play a key part in the story and do not need to be connected for a reader to appreciate their place in the plot. Fantastic Four #1 strikes the perfect balance between a reverence for history and enthusiasm for the new. While it will certainly strike a chord with fans, there is so much in this issue that can be loved by any reader and that stems from its focus on the essential themes of Fantastic Four across the decades.
This issue focuses very much on the concept of family. While ideas of the team as adventurers or imaginauts are all raised, it’s clear from the very start that family is at the forefront of this entire series. Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are both still struggling with different forms of grief and denial due to the loss of half of their family unit, and that loss takes centerstage. Both events within Fantastic Four #1 and the appearance of so many extended family members help to clarify how this unit functions and why it is so important to every person, whether they exist at its core or on its fringes. It is difficult to delve into how exactly the issue tackles this idea without summarizing specific scenes, but it does so exceedingly well. Rather than simply stating that characters are supportive or loyal, it shows these concepts in a series of sequences that range from hilarious to tear-jerking.
Broad strokes and big pronouncements are sure to light hearts ablaze and disappear some Kleenex, but the details are every bit as important. Artist Sara Pichelli offers a purposeful focus on close ups and focused panels that clarify the family even in crowded sequences across New York City. The emotional response from Ben and Johnny, as well as their expansive support network, are all deeply nuanced. Even a sequence shown primarily in silhouette reveals so much simply through body language. While the characters and their setting might be bigger than life, Pichelli fills them all with so much humanity. Even small notes like Johnny being a Mets fan (instead of rooting for the Yankees) feel important.
Fantastic Four #1 uses everything readers know about the title to take flight, rather than stumble beneath the weight of so much history and such great expectations. Its understanding of the family at its heart is so clear that they shine through in every panel they appear, striking figures that are far more human than iconic. It’s that humanity that made the very first issue of Fantastic Four ever great though, and it’s what makes it so very easy to love this comic. In spite, or maybe because of, their flaws, Ben, Johnny, and everyone else they love accomplish the incredible on scales small and large. They challenge readers to love and live like they do, encouraging us to be heroic by being our best selves, not impossible superhumans. Fantastic Four is once again the world’s greatest comics magazine. All that’s left to say is: danke schoen.
Published by Marvel Comics
On August 8, 2018
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Sara Pichelli with Elisabetta D’Amico
Colors by Marte Gracia
Letters by Joe Caramagna