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Fantastic Four: 1 2 3 4

By Mike Everleth ⋅ May 28, 2006

Fantastic Four: 1 2 3 4

After moderately enjoying two of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man books and one of his slim JLA collections, I was very interested in getting into this book since it was the first all-in-one collection of Morrison’s on my library tour of his work. That is, it’s an all-in-one collection only if you discount the 40+ year history of the Fantastic Four published before this volume. But this 1 2 3 4 book at least has a true beginning, middle and end unlike what I’ve read before.

The book also ostensibly occurs outside regular Fantastic Four continuity since it was published as a separate miniseries rather than as an arc inside the normal title. Therefore it should seem more of a complete work than say that JLA collection I reviewed previously. However, 1 2 3 4 still presumes the reader is somewhat familiar with current FF continuity mainly in how the villain, Dr. Doom, begins as a prisoner in the Fantastic Four’s headquarters, the Baxter Building. Or is he a prisoner or is that just a Doom robot? The ambiguity surrounding this set-up is a bit baffling, but if you already know that Dr. Doom is the FF’s arch-villain — as the book assumes you must — then it’s easy enough to let the particulars go.

I was also a bit confused at who this book was aimed for, i.e. beyond regualr Fantastic Four fans. 1 2 3 4 is published under the “Marvel Knights” banner, which I had assumed were for more mature readers than the regular all-ages Marvel line. And yet there’s nothing in the book to appeal to older readers, really, other than muddier-than-normal artwork and a slow pace. I’ve also since read (I looked it up because I was curious) that Marvel is trying to “revamp” the entire Marvel Knights line and shore up what has been an overall lack of direction, as I infer from this Newsarama article.

It’s a shame, too, that 1 2 3 4 didn’t take advantage of a more mature edge, particularly in the Invisible Woman’s storyline, which acknowledges the history Sue has of cheating on her husband, Mr. Fantastic, with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. But the question is: Has the Invisible Woman ever actually had sex with Namor?

I’m not saying I want or wanted to see a sex scene between these two characters, but if you’re going to take a more “mature” take on these characters it would seem logical to introduce a sexual element in a three-way relationship drama. Of course, then you would run the risk of turning readers against a beloved character like the Invisible Woman. However, Sex and the City ran a fine line, but managed to keep their main character, Carrie, sympathetic while she cheated on her live-in boyfriend Aidan with on-again/off-again flame Mr. Big. So, I’m sure a writer of the caliber of Grant Morrison would have been able to pull it off as well.

In addition to the confusing “maturity” level of this book, I’m also not quite able to grasp who 1 2 3 4 is aimed at. What I think I’m having a problem with is how much mainstream superhero comics are created to exist solely only during the time they are created. They are created as entries in their characters’ long, complicated legacies and to give regular readers something “different” to read only during the specific time the books are published.

1 2 3 4 only uses rudimentary characteristics of the Fantastic Four that have existed for decades: The Thing is a gentle soul trapped in a monster’s body; the Human Torch is a “hothead;” the Invisible Woman is a neglected wife and Mr. Fantastic is an emotionally distant genius. The book then tells a story in which the characters don’t have a chance to use their fabulous superpowers.

The Thing reverts back to his human persona, which has been done before. It rains through the entire story so the Human Torch is not able to maintain his flame. Mr. Fantastic is locked away from the rest of the team. Finally, the Invisible Woman doesn’t have any power-blocking problems, but she doesn’t seem to use them very much, at least in a superheroic way. So, if I wanted to read a Fantastic Four adventure, why would I want to read about them not being able to be who they are? Also, Morrison steals from himself. In his JLA: Rock of Ages book, he has the shape-shifting Martian Manhunter configure his brain to match the Joker’s insane brain, while in 1 2 3 4, the elastic Mr. Fantastic stretches his brain to become smarter. It is a good use of malleable superpowers and I don’t know if I hadn’t read these two books so close together if I would have noticed Morrison ripping himself off.

As for the art, the book looks great at first glance with moody layouts and pen and ink work by Jae Lee and dark watercolor paints by Jose Villarrubia. Right off the bat, you can clearly see this isn’t going to be a typically cheerful FF story. There are times, though, when the layouts get a little too expressionistic, leaving large swatches of unused space of just painted color where the characters are too small against their environment, which is a detriment to the big, bold adventure style that the FF is made for.

Again, I seem to be stuck with another confounding superhero adventure book from Morrison. He’s not adding really anything new to the Fantastic Four canon. In fact, on one level, he’s just rehashing the same old shit. But there’s something to his style and tone that I still haven’t been able to put my finger on, that makes his writing seem crisp and original. Although 1 2 3 4 is a good book for what it is, I think what I find missing is a lack of depth that a slightly longer work may have contributed to the book for the better.