In this week’s Marvel Rundown, it’s an in-depth review of the first issue of the new run of Fantastic Four! Consider yourself warned: make sure you’re in a dimension where you’ve already read this book if you’re trying to avoid spoilers. For spoiler-lite reading, scroll past to check out the Black Panther Unconquered #1 blurb in the Rapid Rundown.
As always, we hope that you’ll share your thoughts on this week’s fresh Marvel Comics releases with us! Drop us a line, here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat, and let us know what you thought of Fantastic Four #1, AXE Judgment Day Omega #1, and any of the rest of this week’s new Marvel books.
Fantastic Four (2022) #1
Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Iban Coello
Color Artist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover Artist: Alex Ross
In Fantastic Four (2022) #1, “The Last Town on the Left,” The Thing and Alicia Masters are trapped in a time loop! The first issue of the newest Fantastic Four run sees the couple stopping to spend the night at the Cedar Grand Motel, only to find that the rural town of Cedar, Pennsylvania has been reliving the same day on a loop since 1947.
By integrating the satisfying self-contained genre story with a solid emotional core, Marvel’s First Family gets a first issue that promises a run that’s sure to please even the most stonehearted of readers.
All our yesterdays
The concept which drives Fantastic Four (2022) #1, the time loop, is a classic genre trope, with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode alluded to by this article’s title being just one of many possible examples. Time loop stories can either reveal their nature at their conclusion, making the whole of the narrative a single iteration, or they can depict many iterations (and the possible breaking) of the loop. “The Last Town on the Left” is the latter.
Mechanical questions surrounding the loop in this issue are largely eschewed in favor of using the temporal framing to explore the relationship issues faced by Sanford, the citizen of Cedar who is responsible for creating the loop with his unwitting wish to relive the day after its events included a breakup with his lover, Minnie. This shift in focus from the weird goings-on in Cedar to the personal loss faced by Sanford neatly connects the genre element of the story to its emotional core, as the literal “moving on” (temporally) of the town becomes synonymous with Sanford’s metaphorical moving on (emotionally).
This means that the solution to the problem comes not just The Thing, but from both him and his wife, Alicia. As a couple, the pair is able to impart their shared wisdom to Sanford, revealing that they both spent time in other relationships before finding one another – and that those experiences were integral in informing the people they were when they met one another.
Time, spent in the gutter
The time loop concept is combined with the staple elements of comic book formatting to great effect in Fantastic Four (2022) #1, amplifying the passage of time implied by rows of panels to suggest that additional iterations of the Cedar time loop have passed between the pages.
This is accomplished through a page with fifteen panels that are all implied to be of equal size, arranged in five rows of three, but with the panels in the top and bottom rows partially cut-off by the edges of the page. Each one of the five rows has a third panel with the “HVVVVVVRM” sound effect, and flash of light that indicates the loop’s reset.
These pieces work in concert to communicate to the reader that additional time loop cycles may be occurring above and below the rows to which we are privy, expanding the temporal cycle in the readers’ imaginations and emphasizing the stakes to which our heroes are being subjected.
Once this language for communicating the passage of additional time has been established on an initial page, the format is used again as The Thing and Alicia make multiple attempts at diffusing the loop at its source – Sanford’s drunken four o’clock wish. In this instance, the implied additional iterations allow for the assumption that it took the couple a while to figure out how to reach Sanford.
Finally, once the couple have successfully reached Sanford and averted his time loop-causing wish, the visual language is used to imply unseen additional events in the life-long relationship Sanford has with the woman he meets at a 1952 New Years Eve bash. The concept is brought to a powerful close by a twelve-page grid that uses the “half-panel” trick at the top, but not the bottom, followed by a full-page splash of an empty hospital bed in September 2006 – Sanford’s story finally brought to a well-earned end.
Through all the pages described in this section, elements unique to sequential graphic narrative are used to great effect to tell the intertwined genre-and-emotional story that drives the issue. The ultimate result is an issue that presents a wholly satisfying chunk in and of itself, but which also speaks highly of the potential in the issues to come – especially since we only see 25% of the book’s eponymous superhero family in these panels.
Fantastic Four (2022) #1
In the afterword, North puts forth “four guiding lights” he had in mind for the series: that the Four are “fun,” “adventurers,” “can do anything,” and “are accessible.” While Fantastic Four (2022) #1 achieves all of this (insomuch as it can in an issue that only features ¼ of the team), there are actually five lights. The fifth is that the Four lean heavily on the fourth wall, part of the reason North (with his Unbeatable resume) is an ideal writer for the title.
This meta element has always been present with the Fantastic Four. Remember when they appeared in a story in which they answered letters recieved from real-life readers, or when creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appeared (even on the cover!) as creators who were impelled by Doctor Doom to create a comic about the Four?
As described in the review above, the first issue of Fantastic Four (2022) tells a story through language unique to sequential narrative, a strong overture in upholding this unstated but still very important aspect of the title.
Fantastic Four (2022) #1 is, by design, incomplete; again, we’ve only seen one quarter of the team so far. A final page teases what may have motivated the Four to go their separate ways, but by the time this splash arrives, you are already hooked on the series and looking forward to seeing which character will headline the next issue.
Still, don’t wait for a trade collection – pick up this first issue, which tells a great story in and of itself. I mean… that is what we’re all here for, right?
Verdict: BUY (x4).
- Black Panther: Unconquered #1
I am behind on the current Black Panther storyline. However, if I was in the comic shop browsing, I would consider this issue anyway because it’s a one-shot. I like the self-contained story of a one-shot, so I normally buy them (a) if I have the money and (b) they appeal to me. And I admit I wouldn’t have picked up Black Panther: Unconquered because Ken Lashley and Juan Fernandez‘s cover doesn’t grab me (the muscle anatomy in T’Challa’s neck and shoulders doesn’t work and the logo design is jarring). But sometimes, the beauty of reviewing is pleasant surprises. This issue is completely accessible to readers not up to date on Black Panther’s current split from the Avengers or what is happening in Wakanda. With the combination of writer Bryan Hill (Killmonger), artist Alberto Foche, and colorist Matt Milla, the first issue utilized the Black Panther’s catlike action sequences to explore Wakanda’s mythology. My biggest complaint is that the issue doesn’t read like a one shot. My first thought when finishing it was, “Wow, that was a niiiiice set up for a limited series. I want to know more about these characters.”
Next week sees the arrival of Blade Vampire Nation #1, Captain America and the Winter Soldier Special #1, Demon Wars Shield of Justice #1, and MORE!