Alex Ross is one of the most celebrated artists working in comics today, known primarily for his painted interiors, covers, and design work. Although he has done interior work, most notably Marvels with Kurt Busiek and Kingdom Come with Mark Waid, Ross in recent years has mostly been doing cover art, particularly with Marvel Comics. However, Ross takes both art and writing duties in his latest project, Fantastic Four: Full Circle, marking the introduction of Marvel Arts, a new graphic novel collaboration between Marvel and Abrams ComicArts.
Praised for his realistic, human depictions of comic book characters, you will notice how Ross’s painterly style has presented a retro feel towards superheroes, evoking their origins from decades ago. With Fantastic Four: Full Circle, Ross is paying respect to Marvel’s First Family and the decade they were introduced in – the 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Serving as a loose continuation to Fantastic Four #51 – the iconic story “This Man… This Monster!” – the Fantastic Four find themselves surrounded by a swarm of invading parasites after an intruder suddenly appears inside the Baxter Building. In order to find the origins of this sudden attack, Marvel’s first team of superheroes have no choice but to journey into the Negative Zone, an alien universe composed entirely of anti-matter.
With a story that harkens back to the FF’s original run – which not only paved the way for Marvel’s Silver Age, but also the Marvel universe as we know it today – Ross pays tribute to the past. Nostalgia can only get you so far, but Ross shows affection towards these characters, who function as a family. The emotional focus, however, is towards The ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing himself, Ben Grimm.
Like a number of Marvel heroes, the origin story of the Fantastic Four is one of them being victims of their own scientific experiment. In Full Circle’s opening double page spread, narrator Sue Storm makes the suggestion that Ben is the true victim as he can never escape from his stone exterior. No doubt that Ben feels like his body is a curse, but he eventually learns to accept and find happiness. This ends up being the main theme of the story, as Ben realizes he has made someone else’s life happier, whilst Reed Richards continues to be his scientific paranoid self.
Whilst Ross’ dialogue features a bit of that Stan Lee cheesiness, his greatest strength is his hyper-detailed art that evokes the cosmic grandness of Jack Kirby. With a simple three-act structure, this is a classic Fantastic Four story that starts off with some family squabble in the Baxter Building, to eventually journeying into the realms of cosmic sci-fi with the Negative Zone. As much as Ross employs the techniques that Kirby was using during his ‘60s run, he also uses current digital techniques whilst retaining his classic painterly style. Along with the Kirby influence, Ross manages to throw in a horror aesthetic with pages of the Negative Zone almost looking like EC horror comics.
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