Fantastic Four #4
Right across the street from the Baxter Building, a jewelry store is being robbed by the Wrecking Crew. (And not entirely the Wrecking Crew that I remember from stories dating back to The Defenders #17. This Bulldozer looks like a woman. Where did she come from?) The Wrecker is very cocky; he tells the reporter on the scene that the jewelry store was ripe for plucking because after the big “4” appeared over the city, everyone who was ever in the Fantastic Four disappeared. (Right, as if the Avengers wouldn’t come after them.) But wait! A woman in the crowd fires a flare gun into the sky, and out of the Baxter Building to battle the Wrecking Crew come…the Fantastix?
They’re not the revival of an old musical; they’re four super-powered characters in matching uniforms and they are the new occupants of the Baxter’s upper floors. Ms. Fantastix, Hope, the Iceberg, and 2-D are on the job, and they’re ready to wreck the Wrecking Crew. Meanwhile, we cut to the other universe where we left the Fantastic Twenty after their showdown with The Griever. Reed is busily sending everyone home when the interdimensional teleport system. There is some more hostile banter between the Human Torch and Iceman over the story we haven’t seen yet in which Iceman was somehow recruited into the FF. Can someone please get Marvel’s artists to draw a version of Iceman who doesn’t look like a frozen Groot? It’s really unbecoming.
A lot of goodbyes are said. “The Future Foundation” is continuing the jaunt between universes; they are determined to find any remaining trace of the Molecule Man and reintegrate him after the Griever zapped him into nothingness in issue #2. Sue and Reed plan to have Alex Power credentialed as a Professor when they get home, in the meantime he will be the new leader of the “Foundation.” In a very pleasing character moment, Reed expresses his disapproval of Valeria’s relationship with the alien Arboro—not because he doesn’t like Arboro, but because he doesn’t like his daughter’s behavior around him. Reed admonishes Valeria for “dumbing herself down” in the presence of a boy she likes. She should not pretend to be less than she is for the sake of a boy—a lesson to which I hope every young girl who reads Marvel Comics pays attention (yes, there are some), and which I hope every parent who reads Marvel will instill in their sons and daughters.
Anyway, the FF return to the Baxter Building just in time for the melee between the Wrecking Crew and the Fantastix. The Thing and Franklin excuse themselves to go to see Alicia at her loft, while Reed, Sue, the Torch, and Valeria stay for the battle. Valeria, fuming on the sidelines after her parents tell her to stay out of it because she possesses no physical super-powers, soon works out what’s happening. The whole thing is a fraud. Brenda Bannicheck, the woman who fired the flare gun, is actually the publicist for the Fantastix. She has set up the whole thing, arranging the battle between the Fantastix and the Wrecking Crew and having a crowd standing by with pre-made signs. It’s all been contrived like an unscripted TV show, and it might have worked if the Fantastic Four hadn’t shown up! The Wrecking Crew goes to prison, Brenda—who paid off the jewelry store—is busted on camera and will face legal repercussions of her own, and the Fantastix are publicly embarrassed by the actions of their publicist. Like that song in The Fantasticks, what was meant to be “scenic” when it started out has all turned to “cynic”!
The one thing that’s real is that somehow, by some means not yet explained, the Fantastix are now the owners of the Baxter Building. What happened? Did they buy it for a dollar when Peter Parker/Spider-Man lost his billions and had to sell it off? Future stories will, I hope, shed a light on this situation. The Fantastic Four can’t come home now because the Baxter is no longer their home. They leave the skyscraper in the hands of its new owners, with a stern warning that if they tarnish the legacy of the FF’s former residence, the Richards family will come calling again and it won’t be a friendly visit. Where will the Fantastic Four live now?
Answer: Ben Grimm’s brownstone on Yancy Street! In a surprising but not unwelcome turn of events, the FF, who once lived in a skyscraper owned by Mr. Fantastic, will now reside in a townhouse owned by the Thing in his old neighborhood. And their new address? Fittingly, they’ll be living at—wait for it—4 Yancy Street! And they’ll have to get settled in quickly, as Ben and Alicia have decided not to wait but to get married now, as in next issue. It’s their honeymoon that may have to wait a bit, as next issue also brings the return of Dr. Doom, and for the two issues to follow it’s Doom versus Galactus! It looks like “Fantastic” days are here again.
Fantastic Four #4 comes to us the week after Thanksgiving, and may I just offer my personal note of thanks for the change in the artwork. Stefano Caselli brings a style much better suited to the FF than the art of Sara Pichelli in the previous three issues. Everything looks slicker, more solid, more polished, more the way you’d expect a main line Marvel comic book—especially this mainline Marvel comic book—to look. My own critique is that Caselli is yet another artist who doesn’t know how to draw the Human Torch with his flames on. I swear, if Marvel doesn’t have a style guide for how to draw the Torch when he’s using his powers, they need to get one, preferably based on the work of a classical artist like a (George) Perez or a Byrne. I’m serious. There is a shift in style beginning with the scenes in Alicia’s loft, which I attribute to the change from Caselli to Nico Leon. This shift brings a recapitulation of Pichelli’s version of the Thing, which is as unsatisfying as the way people have been drawing the Torch. Caselli’s rendition of Ben is acceptable; Pichelli’s and Leon’s is not. For Thanksgiving, a drawing by Mike McKone of the Richards family at the holiday dinner table was going around. I would find it so immensely gratifying to see The FF looking the way they do in this drawing. I would love it if Marvel could get McKone himself back to do it. Really, the style in this drawing coupled with Dan Slott’s writing would give us the best era of The Fantastic Four since Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. Still, I’d welcome Caselli to stay on and I would encourage him to learn how to draw the Torch’s powers.
Speaking of powers, just what kind of powers is Hope of the Fantastix supposed to have? She seems to be super-dense or invulnerable; her power is not really defined. Nor are those of Ms. Fantastix, really; she seems to fly along leaving trails of stars behind her, but I’m not sure exactly what her true power is. Why should we be impressed with these people when we don’t completely understand what it is they do?
An interesting detail is what comes up when Franklin decides to go with his Uncle Ben to Alicia’s instead of joining in the battle. (Sue: “You sure, dear? It’s a super-villain fight. You love those.”) Franklin tells his parents he is beginning to use up his powers, which make him even more powerful than the Silver Surfer. In the previous issues, it came out that Franklin can no longer create universes. (Good.) But the implication of this scene is that all of his powers are dwindling. He’s calling himself Powerhouse right now—but is he going to remain one? Just what is in store for Reed and Sue’s boy in the issues ahead? This will bear some watching.
So, to tally things up: The FF are back on regular Marvel Earth with a new home; someone else is living in their former digs; “The Future Foundation” has withdrawn into the subplot, making our team once again the Fantastic FOUR; and Ben and Alicia have moved up the wedding date. And coming up along with that, we have Dr. Doom and Galactus in what I surmise will bring new twists to familiar stories. If we can just keep up the quality of the art—and have people draw the Human Torch and the Thing correctly—the current stories of Dan Slott just might make it a great time to be reading “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” again. Stay tuned, Four fans.
Fantastic Four #4: Four Plus Four Equals Trouble
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 8.5/108.5/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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