Fantastic Four #1 review: The First Family’s return falls flat

The First Family is back! Or are they? Slott’s first issue of Fantastic Four didn’t live up to expectations, as Reed and Sue were crammed into the story in a disappointing manner.

Fantastic Four #1

Writer: Dan Slott

Inkers: Elisabetta D’AMICO, Simone Bianchi, Sara Pichelli, Skottie Young

I love the Fantastic Four, and I don’t even know them. The majority of my knowledge of this legendary quartet comes from the 2004 and 2007 Fox movies, which had Chris Evans as the Human Torch. But, even without being a diehard Fantastic Four fan, I’ve been looking forward to this day since March, when the family’s return was announced.

The return of the Fantastic Four is a huge deal; the group as we know it had been missing since the end of 2015’s Secret Wars. Reed Richards, Susan Storm and their kids have been a mysterious mission to rebuild the multiverse, so they’ve been practically nonexistent for the past two and a half years or so.

While this issue does mark the return of the Four, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that half of the group, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, have been regular parts of the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe. But it wasn’t until Chip Zdarsky’s recent run on Marvel 2-in-One that the company began to take steps to bring Reed and Sue back.

So, after months, if not years, of hype and anticipation, the return of the Fantastic Four has arrived. Did this special moment live up to the expectations of fans?

The issue begins with some meta-commentary about how significant today is, both in the comic itself and in the real world. Ben Grimm says this may look like an ordinary Sunday, but it isn’t. Johnny says “this was the day when we saw it, lit up in the sky. This was the day everything changed.” Some readers could interpret that as the writer, Dan Slott, reminding us this is a can’t miss issue. We get it; it’s a big deal.

Johnny and Ben’s narration, telling us this is an important day, is juxtaposed with mundane visuals; Ben and Alicia are (possibly) adopting a kitten and Johnny makes the mistake of going to a Mets game. Slott also contrasts Johnny with Ben; Ben is cuddling with kittens and having a romantic moment with Alicia while Johnny is being a ladies man at a Mets game.

Then, everything literally does change when an unidentified fire fires a flare into the sky that spells “Fantastic Four” in flaming letters. Johnny, knowing that the Mets would inevitably lose that game, leaves the stadium because he believes the letters are a signal that Reed and Sue are back. On the other hand, Ben seems upset by the “signal” and ends his cuddle session with the kittens.

Readers of Zdarsky’s 2-in-One  know that Grimm lied to Johnny and told him that Reed and Sue are alive. So, when the Human Torch sees the letters in the sky, it’s only natural for him to think that Reed and Sue are behind it. Johnny happily yells, “they’re here, I can feel it! We’re back!”

Random citizens represent the general reaction of Marvel fans when the Four’s return was announced; “Is this really happening?” “it’s about time!” On the same page, Ben dampens the mood when he tells Alicia “this ain’t them. We have to stop hoping for a miracle.” Ben is certain that the missing half of the Four is truly gone.

Johnny discovers that some mischievous kids were the source of the “signal.” Slott then shows us a news bulletin of an anchor confirming that the signal was a fake, and that the Fantastic Four is truly gone. The news program also shows the reader interviews with various Marvel members, including Jennifer Walters, who is representing the kids that fired the signal. Ben drops the charges against them and investigates the Baxter Building, where the kids stole the flare from.

Ben takes a trip down memory lane, as he remembers an adventure in which Johnny had to sing to get them home. (Yeah, it doesn’t make much more sense when you read it.) The flashback feels a little gracious, but Ben transitions from the memory to talking about how lost and hopeless he’s felt in recent years. Now, he realizes that he’s ready for his biggest adventure ever.

Ben’s bold claim winds up being a lead-in to his marriage proposal to Alicia. This moment fell flat; Ben’s “biggest adventure ever” line leads the reader to think he’s talking about an epic journey in space and/or time. Instead, it’s just a marriage proposal. Sigh.

Ben and Alicia call Johnny over and tell him it’s emergency. False alarm, Torch; they’re only excited because they’re getting married and they want you to be their best man. Surprisingly, Johnny screams “no” when Ben asks him. The Human Torch explains that Reed Richards is the only one who should be Ben’s best man. Johnny’s outburst upsets Ben, but Johnny cuts him off and continues laying into him.

Ben, unlike Johnny, has clearly lost faith and hope when it comes to the return of Reed and Sue, and Johnny calls him out on it. Ben reminds him that, in recent months,he and Johnny have fruitlessly searched the Multiverse for their lost friends. Grimm says they’re gone, and those that remain owe it to Reed and Sue to live life to the fullest.

It took a little too long, but the issue finally gets interesting with this heated scene. Frankly, the reader should be surprised this blowup didn’t happen sooner; the recent issues of Two-In-One featured Johnny learning that Grimm lied to him, and, as a result, their relationship rapidly deteriorated.

The Torch takes off after he refuses to calm down and talk to Ben. Johnny starts yelling at the sky and in doing so, he believes he’s talking to Reed. Johnny wants Reed to show him a sign that the missing Fantastic Four members are alive, which is met with more silence. Upon the lack of an answer, Johnny realizes that Reed and Sue are really gone.

Suddenly, the story shifts to a mysterious planet, where Reed and Sue are alive and well. Sue says Reed’s plan seems impossible, but she always believes in him. Mr. Fantastic says that faith allows him to accomplish the impossible. Reed fires up some gizmo, and the story pans back to Ben, who looks to the sky and says “unbelievable.”

Similarly, everyone in New York looks up and exclaims when, finally, Reed gives a real signal that his family is alive and well. Somehow, Mr. Fantastic projects a large “4” over the NYC sky.

That’s how the main story ends. There’s a mini secondary story with Dr. Doom, and it’s enjoyable and effective enough.

Those of us that feel disappointed with this issue just need to be patient; a little cartoon after the Doom story tells us that the next issue will bring the Four back together again. Still, after so much build-up and anticipation, this issue fell flat.

I wanted to like this issue, I really did. Maybe I’m to blame for my disappointment; I expected to kick off the series with a bang by reuniting Reed and Sue with Ben and Johnny in the first issue. That’s a fair expectation, but failing to do so doesn’t necessarily condemn this issue to the reader’s failure or disappointment.

Next: 50 greatest super heroes of all time

Rating: 3/5

Yet, most readers will feel that this issue is a letdown. The “big reveal” of Reed and Sue truly being alive was anticlimactic and it could have been handled better. Rather than building up to it, Slott immediately pans to the two, out of the blue, while Ben and Johnny are fighting. It’s good to have the Fantastic Four “back”, but we’ll have to wait another month for the payoff.