Friday, October 18, 2013

Review # 62: "Fantastic Four - Road Trip"

Damn it, Marvel: you got me. Originally, I had no plans to follow Matt Fraction's run on "Fantastic Four," but meshing his first three issues with the team with his first three issues with FF got enough of its hooks into me to drop 18 bucks on the second trade. I figure: why not? Fraction is on a roll, though its weird that the biggest property he's been working on with Marvel is the black sheep of his current output.

Fortunately, any trepidations about continuing with his run (for now) are lifted with the first issue in this set, which is beautiful. While Marvel's First Family (including the kids) investigates a strange cave drawing on a distant world that depicts themselves, Mr. Fantastic reminisces on his original courtship of the Invisible Woman. I love these stories that touch on Reed's humanity, as it often gets buried behind his scientific mind. As Sue deals with the religious implications, Reed finally decides to fess up and, well... at least partially admit why the team is on its fantastic voyage. While Reed only indicates to Sue that he's fearful of his own death, it doesn't take too long for Sue (through a curious analogy) to realize that the entire team is in danger.

Meanwhile, the Four and their ship are hopping all over space and time. They visit ancient Rome to witness the death of Julius Caesar, though things don't quite work out as expected. They witness the Big Bang AND the Big Crunch, running into an enemy they didn't expect. The Thing turns back into Ben Grimm for a day and decides to spend it on Yancy Street, though not in modern times. These rapid flashes from place to place remind me very much of John Byrne's story arc where Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny visit different planets in the Negative Zone. This is a good thing, though unfortunately I don't expect we'll get a fitting follow-up to Annihilus answering a phone.

Speaking of Johnny, his role in this series seems significantly reduced. He gets involved in fights and pulls the odd prank on Ben, but most of the time he's barely noticeable. That's not really a bad thing. Torch's ego can get obnoxious at times and the more sparingly he's used, the more likable I find him. Plus, you have to open up room for Franklin and Valeria who continue to be a hoot. I wish Valeria carried more of the mean streak I saw in the X-Factor crossover, however.

There is one more thing I feel I must mention: this trade includes the Fantastic Four's alternate universe tie-in to the poorly-received "Age of Ultron" story. Surprisingly, I found it to be quite good with some real emotional punch as the team delivers a last message to the children, leaving them behind to go on a mission they don't expect to survive. Reed's holographic message to Franklin and Valeria about the existence of God stands out. Surprisingly, this story ends up having repercussions in the mainstream reality, however the full extent isn't realized in this collection.

I feel safe saying "Fantastic Four" represents the weakest of Fraction's ongoing series (as noted in my review of volume one, he has now left many of his writing duties on both this AND FF behind.) But when the guy is writing "Hawkeye," he can fall a long way before even hitting mediocre. His work on the Richards clan is very good and worth a look... but I'd rather be reading FF.

Rating: 8/10 (See? It's still a good score!)

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