Comics & Manga

One Year (and some change) of RYAN NORTH'S FANTASTIC FOUR

Some minor spoilers for Fantastic Four are within. If you want to start reading completely blind, you'd better start now!

You may have seen this image going around recently where Doctor Doom has seemingly teamed up with a tyrannosaurus-rex version of himself. The Thing is there too, but let's be honest, we all look at Doctor Doom whenever he is on a page. That image is amusing, but it is only a tease of what's so fun and engaging about the current run of Fantastic Four, penned by Ryan North. This scene is actually the second in a two-parter set of issues, and every issue surrounding it is also very, very good.

To give the whole game away or highlight too many specific stories would take away from that fun, so I'll keep those to a minimum and attempt to speak in some broad terms. For what it's worth, I consider myself a huge fan of the Fantastic Four. While I didn't see Dan Slott's (the last series, that began in 2018) run the very end, I considered it quite good. Ben and Alicia getting married was great of course, and "Point of Origin" was way more clever than it had any right to be. Here is Reed Richards slapping Johnny from three panels away at Doctor Doom's wedding in issue 33. That has lived in my mind for two years straight.

I consider the Fantastic Four to be among my very favorite comic book characters. They're really just behind Spider-Man for me, and not by a whole lot! Fantastic Four has an enormous legacy of being the breakout hit for Marvel comics, and a Jack Kirby masterpiece. Rightfully so in my mind! It might be Marvel's best comic ever. Fantastic Four, in its time, was a massive epic of new, brilliant ideas every month. Equal parts American family drama and epic science fiction, classic Fantastic Four has to be read to be believed. They're good then, and they are good now. If you're a newer reader, that may seem intimidating or rooted too deeply in history. Maybe the team's appeal isn't easy to spot. I have great news for you though. Your very first issue of Fantastic Four can be the first issue of Ryan North's new series.

Ryan North was best known to me as the writer of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but he is also behind those dinosaur comics I'm really not sure how to explain. I've already decided, however, that I'm going to remember him more simply as One Of The Best FF writers. North's Fantastic Four is energized with modern sensibilities, humor and effortlessly lovable characters. You'd never believe this family has origins in the 1960's if you didn't already know, it's that strong.

When I say modern sensibilities, it's in the best way, and it shines strongest in two areas. Humor, and heroism. The Fantastic Four are heroes in a way that makes the eye sparkle. You can watch them do things like take down a shitty AI-bro or go up against abusive working conditions. Yes, really! And it's not shallow! It's exciting to see a precision laser pointed at current issues and superheroes stand up to the same challenges we face. I should stress this isn't an element in every story, there have already been a great variety of adventures. If I had to pick one favorite element about the series thus far though, it's that sense of justice and catharsis from these kinds of superheroics.

North has a strong sense of comedy (see Squirrel Girl), but it goes well beyond a well-crafted joke (not that I'd know anything about those!). Entire situations and plotlines can have a sense of craziness that makes you want to tell your friends. The FF aren't mindlessly put into weird situations though, the work is done to let things build up and play out in a brain-teasing kind of way. Why is everyone still hungry after eating Cook Out? What the hell is Doctor Doom upset about this time? Are the FF really eldritch horror monsters? These are the kind of fun, page-turning questions that serve as glazed sugar on the donut of storytelling. Every month, I find myself taking a few screenshots and sharing them with friends. That's a sign of a special comic! I can't wait to tell people what the Fantastic Four just did, and for a fan like me, that's an exciting position to be in!

There's even more at play that helps make this a strong book for anyone to read, regardless of familiarity with Fantastic Four. Firstly, something that's often a gold star from me in monthly comics, stories are kept to one or two issues! This means pacing is tight, so individual issues feel whole and complete. I can't even describe how refreshing that is for me. You could pick up a random issue and enjoy it, though I imagine that seldom happens, it's a great quality to have. There are things that play into each other across the run (and I'm sure there will be more), but it serves to enhance what the immediate moment

Secondly, North opens part the story with an interesting mystery that temporarily removes a few characters. That is, Franklin and Valeria Richards, as well as Ben and Alicia's kids Jo and Nikki. If you don't know any of those names, that's okay! This mystery serves double duty as readers have something to look forward to, and allows the story so far to keep focused on the core Four. That may change going forward (I'm dying to know how this run will treat Franklin!), but it'll remain a strong hook for anyone starting at page one, who needs to get into these characters for the first time.

Iban Coello on issue 2.

Artwork has also been very strong in the run, with a core visual style being maintained shockingly well between primary pencillers Iban Coello and Ivan Fiorelli. It's pretty difficult for a modern comic to not hop around artists, just from realities of book production and deadlines. So I'm never down on a comic when it changes a bit visually, but Fantastic Four has been great looking for over a year now. That deserves a mention.

All said, Fantastic Four is everything a great Marvel comic can be. It's funny, fresh, and filled with action and great character moments. I implore you to give it a try! You can pick up trade paperback collections at your bookstore of choice, single issues are available at your local comic store! If you're into digital reading (like me), you can start reading through Marvel Unlimited. I hate even mentioning the name, but individual, up-to-date digital issues are on Amazon's Kindle service.

Before I go, here's one more Thing.

See you next time, and happy reading!

- James