Fantastic Four #17
When construction unearths something unexpected, Susan Storm is called in - not as a super hero but an archaeologist! But when the bones she uncovers - tens of thousand of years old, dating back to the first arrival of humans in the Americas - turn out to be female...and matching her build...and wearing the shredded and decayed remains of what appears to be BLUE FABRIC constructed of unstable molecules, she must accept the fantastic: Dr. Susan Storm is going to DIE deep in Earth's prehistory... ...and that time is coming sooner than she might think! Also in this issue: an anniversary date for Reed and Sue! So Sue gets both inarguable evidence of her own death AND some romance.
How do you beat a time traveler? That’s the very question facing the team in Fantastic Four #17. North revisits time travel as a story concept, turning it on its head for an issue that is clever but also a little wild.
The team is gathered at an construction site when Fantastic Four #17 opens. The crew unearthed a human skeleton that is about fifteen thousand years out of place based on the other surrounding fossil record. The skeleton turns out to be Sue’s. At some point in the future, Sue will be transported back in time where she will die. The issue then jumps ahead four years when Reed and Sue travel back in time for their anniversary to see prehistoric animals in their natural setting. While there, they are attacked by the original Kang variant, Rama-Tut. He’s out to eliminate the Fantastic Four for good. A fight ensues and every time Rama-Tut appears to be thwarted, a new Rama-Tut travels back in time until Reed and Sue are fighting for their lives against a seemingly unbeatable mob of Rama-Tuts.
Fantastic Four #17 is a fun time travel romp. The issue opens with high stakes and a familiar time travel premise: at some point in the future, a main character will be sent back in time where they will die horribly. The paint-by-numbers formula for this setup is usually that the main characters proactively try and stop whatever is going to happen from happening. Unsurprisingly, the story goes in a different direction. At this point, it’s not surprising that North approaches a typical setup in an atypical way. Jumping ahead (and simultaneously back) in time to when Sue is supposed to die defuses the tension slightly. This Reed and Sue aren’t the series’ present day protagonists, so anything that happens to them can be fixed. That little drop in tension–the small sigh of relief that the story isn’t super urgent–creates the opening for the issue to have fun.
Kang and his assorted variants are among the most convoluted of characters. His time traveling schemes and shenanigans are simultaneously deadly serious and borderline absurd. North leans into the absurdity, not just about Kang but about time travel in general. In some ways this is the coin flip of issue 7.
Fantastic Four #7 saw Doom try over and over again to save Valeria from being sent away with the Baxter Building. Every time he made a mistake, he could go back and try again in a different way. It seemed brilliant. In Fantastic Four #17, every time Rama-Tut is foiled, a version of him that didn’t get foiled comes back with the solution. Eventually, whether North intended it or not, the conflict is so overflowing with Rama-Tuts that it starts to feel silly. It’s not a bad silliness in that the issue is not good. Instead, it dials up the potential absurdity of time travel as a story device.
It’s also fun looking at the two issues side-by-side as an example of North’s versatility, approaching a relatively similar idea from different angles and with different tones.
North’s use of braille as a means of strategic communication between Reed and Sue is clever and is an excellent use of the characters’ powers. It does venture a little bit into that territory of the team being prepared for everything no matter what which means they can’t be defeated. But this isn’t an idea that North uses over and over, so it’s not a serious detraction.
Gómez draws a particularly maniacal Rama-Tut in Fantastic Four #17. The character is immediately intense; his smile when he first appears is broad and angled to create an almost crazed appearance. This early detail informs on the character when there are too many of them to get close up on him. It also helps Gómez capture the chaotic nature of the fight with Rama-Tut. That chaos also fits well with the fight’s somewhat silly nature.
The final panel on the next to last page, as they learn how events played out, present day Reed and Sue share a look. Gómez captures a shared understanding and emotion in their faces, largely due to how he draws the characters’ eyes and their eyelines.
Elongated Reed’s skeleton is borderline hilarious on its own.
Aburtov makes the fight with the Rama-Tuts easy to follow thanks to an effective use of contrast. Reed and Sue are of course in their blue uniforms. Rama-Tut is in green. And Aburtov depicts the landscape primarily in browns.
Fantastic Four is a high quality series in every facet, from writing to art. But Fantastic Four #17 highlights how North keeps the series fresh and smart with every issue, even as the series is primarily made up of one-and-done stories. This issue’s setup is the king that could lead into a complex ongoing story arc, but North addresses it in a novel way and in a single, clever issue. It’s another very successful issue.
Fantastic Four #17: How Do You Beat A Time Traveler?
- Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Art - 8/108/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 7.5/107.5/10
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