Fantastic Four #3
When we last saw our Fantastic Four, it was September. It is now halfway through November and we’re only now picking up where we left off because Marvel saw fit to delay the release of this issue for a month. I would have considerable spleen to vent about how long it’s taken to get the conclusion of the showdown between Earth’s greatest heroes and The Griever at the End of All Things—but in light of what happened in the world of comics and entertainment at the beginning of this week, it’s best that we just go right to talking about what happened in Fantastic Four #3.
Facing a life-or-death battle with a being who is the cosmic embodiment of entropy itself, Mr. Fantastic reassembles the Fantastic Four and calls in everyone else who has served as a substitute member or ally of the team. (Including, for some reason, Iceman, who is supposed to have been enlisted in a story we’ve never seen that somehow involves the Sub-Mariner. This comes completely out of left field.) Reed realizes that he and The Griever are already acquainted: she is the voice in his head that once taunted him when he tried to calculate a way to save the FF’s native universe from heat death, telling him that it was a problem without a solution. Reed Richards, as we know, is not one to accept that any problem has no solution—including the dilemma of how to save his family from the wrath of The Griever now. Quickly, he whips his plan into shape. After sending the Torch and the Thing to demolish the transport device with which he brought all the heroes to this battle, he sends the Fantastic Four’s gathered allies to do the same to The Griever’s own ship (but spare one teleport unit), for reasons that will soon become clear. This gives the FF breathing space for a touching and much-awaited family reunion.
In said reunion, Reed reveals that the way for the FF to defeat The Griever—who is an abstract being like Eternity, Infinity, and the In-Betweener—is not actually to stop her. They’re going to do something else instead, and the key to their plan is Franklin. Having been smacked down hard by The Griever last issue, Franklin, who is still the most powerful player among them, is too intimidated to battle her again. At this point something delightful happens. Spider-Man tries to give Franklin a pep talk with the “With great power…” speech, and the Thing isn’t having it! Benjy pulls the Webhead away from his godson—“This is the Fantastic Four; we’ve got a different thought process”—and simply reminds Franklin that in the FF, when they get knocked down, they always get back up. (The Thing is the very model of the guy who always gets back up, no matter what!) Ben and his godson go at The Griever together with a shared cry of “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” and whatever Reed is up to is now fully in motion.
The battle takes a horrifying turn when The Griever gets Franklin by the neck and is ready to snuff him out, until Sue comes to her son’s rescue, using her invisibility power to distract their foe and snatch Franklin away. This is when Reed plays his ultimate card and reveals the secret that he has deduced about The Griever: for all her power of ultimate destruction, she is capable of nothing else. She can only destroy, never create, never restore. Meaning, she cannot repair her ship (which isn’t even really hers) or the transport unit that Reed used to bring Johnny, Ben, and the other heroes to this universe. If she destroys this universe, it and all of its contents including The Griever herself will be gone forever. Her only choice is to take the one teleport unit that Reed left her from the ship she was using, and go. Stymied, The Griever takes her leave of this universe, vowing in proper villainous fashion that the Fantastic Four have not seen the last of her.
Meanwhile, Reed has sent Valeria to repair the broken device with which Reed brought everyone here, which she does, revealing that it contains technology swiped from Star Trek and Back to the Future! Wrapping everything up, the reunited Fantastic Four reaffirm their commitment to each other as a family and a team by doing the “hand thing”—you know the “hand thing” I mean; it goes all the way back to the first issue. They then prepare to go home together at last—for the wedding of the Thing and Alicia Masters! That will be the issue after next. For next issue, there’s some other business awaiting the Richards family back in our own world, at what used to be the Baxter Building!
This is a very well thought-out and well put-together story, as well it should be for the amount of time we had to wait to see it. Reed Richards is in top form and fully on his game, in command of the situation, quickly deducing the nature of the enemy and how to defeat (or circumvent) her, and perfectly utilizing the resources of the other gathered heroes and their powers. Once again Reed demonstrates that he is the smartest and shrewdest of all heroes, showing us that his intelligence is a power equal to any superhuman power. This issue perfectly restates what is the running theme of the entire Fantastic Four saga, that the greatest by far of all powers is the combination of human intellect with human love and compassion. With these powers at their disposal, the Fantastic Four are now, as they have always been, the most invincible of all heroes.
Art-wise, it’s my understanding that this third issue, the conclusion of the FF’s return story, will be the last for Sara Pichelli. While she might be a good artist for other books, I found her an uncomfortable fit for The FF. She doesn’t draw the Thing well and her rendition of the Torch’s powers is one of the most unsatisfying versions I’ve ever seen. In a lot of panels her figures of the FF and other characters are too lean and gangly; the most conspicuous example is the drawing of Reed in the next-to-last panel of the last page. In other artistic notes, what has been done with Reed in general, giving him a beard and having him keep it, is unappealing. Particularly in Pichelli’s version of him, it makes him look like some sort of Luddite monk. The bearded Reed makes me think they should change the title of the book to The Life and Times of Grizzly Richards. Get rid of it, already.
The happy reunion of the Fantastic Four comes at a uniquely sad and sorrowful time for the world of comics and popular entertainment. The Fantastic Four were the characters who began the saga of the Marvel Universe, and there at the beginning were Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. The FF have been away and apart for the past three years, and right at the time when we have them back together to resume the business of being the world’s greatest heroes and adventurers, we’ve had to say goodbye to the man who gave them voices and souls, and the man who was in many ways the real-life embodiment of Marvel. The loss of Stan Lee right at the time that the saga of Marvel’s original characters begins again makes it an even more poignant moment than it would otherwise have been. Even as I type this, it is with a sense of lingering disbelief that Stan is actually gone. Stan was the man whose written words illuminated Reed’s brilliance, Sue’s heart, Johnny’s passion, Ben’s strength, and Doom’s aristocratic malevolence. He did all that and so much more. The life that Stan’s writing breathed into the characters who came off the drawing boards of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the other original Marvel artists will keep a part of Stan alive for all of us. He’ll live forever through the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom, Spider-Man, and all the other Marvel heroes and villains we love. As Jack Kirby will always be The King, Stan Lee will forever be The Man. “Excelsior.” ‘Nuff said.
This issue represents the Fantastic Four—both the book and its characters—getting back on their feet after three years of separation and three years without a new issue every month. One more welcome sight is to be found on the cover of the main edition of this issue, with the Esad Ribic painting: the return of the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” banner over the title. Regardless of commercial considerations and the relative popularity of other characters who would not even exist if there had been no Fantastic Four, it is this book and only this book to which the designation of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” rightfully belongs. With more appropriate art choices and the sure hand of Dan Slott on scripts, we may yet hope to see another renaissance for the first—and still the best—Marvel comic book.
Fantastic Four #3: Fantastic at Last
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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