The Fantastic Four are a Marvel Comics institution. Often called the company’s “First Family,” Fantastic Four was the initial offering of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby into a new world of relatable superheroes, and where most believe the duo created their best work.
So it understandably saddened many when the mighty mag went on hiatus for several years, set to come back next month under the pen of walking Marvel history encyclopedia Dan Slott. But how many of those readers were actually buying Fantastic Four when it was canceled? Not a lot, according to sales estimates. Nostalgia for something’s history alone isn’t enough to bring contemporary success.
It’s difficult to strike the right tone on a Fantastic Four story in the modern age. We’ll see what Slott can do, but until then, Chip Zdkarsky’s Marvel 2-In-One Vol. 1: Fate of the Four nails it almost perfectly.
Marvel Two-In-One follows Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm, the Human Torch and the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, in their post-Secret Wars lives, without Reed and Sue Richards and their children, Franklin and Valeria. We know that those four are off creating new universes to replace the ones destroyed during Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers epic, but Johnny and Ben believe them to be dead.
But Ben wants Johnny to believe they’re alive! He’s been in a funk, and a posthumous message from Reed implores Ben that the pair need to keep exploring. So the Thing convinces the Human Torch to hop the multiverse with him, swashbuckling their way to a fantastic rescue. This despite even Ben thinking the others are dead, and all scientific measurements confirming that. How this can be when readers know they all come back eventually isn’t addressed.
The setup sounds more complicated than it is, although you KNOW the s--t is really going to hit the fan when Johnny figures it all out (sure enough), but it’s cut with a more familiar Fantastic Four trope — Torch and Thing are losing their powers. It seems their abilities were all connected, and with Reed and Sue gone, the well is running dry for the remaining pair. Trying to remedy the situation actually introduces a fun, complex new character, another super-genius who’s able to work the dimensional do-hickey for Ben and Johnny, though she has her own, ulterior motivations.
Oh, and Doom is along for the ride. Sure, why not? He’s still trying to be all heroic and junk, and somehow feels it’s his duty to keep the pair alive as they bounce around aimlessly, cursed to never find what they’re looking for. The fools!
The group gets into all kinds of trouble, including stumbling into a universe where the Thing has died and Reed’s given up after Doom saved the world from Galactus by switching minds with him. Yeah, imagine that.
It’s a fun romp that evokes the spirit of Silver Age adventure and wackiness, but still connects emotionally with today’s reader. And the whole volume is drawn beautifully by masters old and new, in the persons of Jim Cheung and Valerio Schiti. Their attention to detail yet penchant for grandiose imagery is just what a book like Two-In-One needed, and you can tell it’s a labor of love. Frank Martin’s colors add to the extraordinary realism.
There are a couple plot hitches in Fate of the Four, like the fact that no one’s losing their powers in the universe where Ben died, but they’re mostly innocuous and perhaps even invisible, unless you’re really looking for them. Ben’s constant worrying that Johnny will figure out his ruse is played a little too often (Zdkarsky should maybe trust we can retain information between issues).
Any deficiencies are more than made up for with a bevy of classic guest stars and new twists on old favorites characters and narratives, making Marvel Two-in-One: Fate of the Four that rarest and most desired kind of comic: one that capitalizes on misty remembrances of the past and uses them to forge a forward-facing future. Just like the FF themselves.
Don’t wait for the “proper” team return, as good as it may end up being. Marvel Two-In-One is the Fantastic Four book you’ve been waiting for, and deserves to stand alongside any eponymous volume, without being overshadowed.
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