It’s the dawning of a new era for the Fantastic Four, and writer Ryan North and artist Iban Coello have the keys to the kingdom. After Dan Slott’s epic run, North made it clear this series would be smaller at the start, with self-contained adventures for each of the heroes. Starting with The Thing, North and Coello launch the series with a clever premise that could sustain a motion picture!
I was surprised by the approach North and Coello took with the first issue of Fantastic Four. North took the idea of going smaller literally, at least in small-town America. The first issue doesn’t have the wiz-bang nature of the usual comic book debut, but throughout its extra-sized format, it wins you over and then some. That’s all to say, Fantastic Four #1 might not win you over in its first few pages, but stick with it, and you’ll fall in love with the adventure Thing and Alicia go on.
The story is simple enough: Thing and Alicia are on a trip and stumble into a motel. Thing’s appearance sets off a local, who attempts to drive a truck into their room while they sleep, but something happens, and the truck disappears before it can contact the building. Cut to the following day, and the motel owner has no memory of seeing Thing or Alicia. How strange.
Soon they’re exploring the town and realizing it’s straight out of the ’40s. No, wait, it’s stuck in the 1940s! So begins an adventure to figure out how this literal ghost town is stuck in time.
Similar to the movie Groundhog Day, Thing and Alicia relive every day meeting the people and trying to figure out why the town keeps resetting. North utilizes this premise to show how charming and cunning Alicia is and how Thing is the biggest buddy you could ever meet. He befriends everyone, even jerks who initially feared him. In many ways, this clever premise brings out the best in Thing and Alicia and serves as a reminder of the big heart the Fantastic Four bring to comics.
The art by Coello is clean and easy to follow, with some clever layout designs to help convey the passage of time. Almost like a film strip, panels run off the page as Alicia and Thing try to convince the town they’re stuck in time. We see this formatting used in other places, which helps show their tenacity. It’s used a final time in a heartwarming way, which reminds us why life is worth living. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers. Coello makes you feel for these small-town folk and makes Alicia and Thing the cutest dang couple. The smaller feel is apparent in the art, which never takes big swings with full-page splashes, but instead uses a lot of panels per page. That gives the book added value. Jesus Aburtov’s colors add so much to every panel, be it expert lighting or texture and nuance to Thing’s face.
Fantastic Four is a bit of a shock right out of the gate as it doesn’t take big cosmic swings or even show off a lot of action. Instead, it gets at the heart of its characters while making you fall in love with them all over again. Fantastic Four is a breath of fresh air, reminding us this franchise is fun, adventurous, and accessible to all readers.
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