Fantastic Four by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Steve McNiven

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Wow. Where did that come from? I would like to thank the Wichita Public Library for randomly pulling every trade paperback and graphic novel it could find into its collection so I can save a little money on my own collection.

Much like the Serenity graphic novel in the last review, this Fantastic Four book is a library book. Unlike that one, I have never heard of this particular series. Not the Fantastic Four, come on, I’m not a comic book rube, but this particular series. Again, not Marvel Knights, just that imprint’s take on Marvel’s first family and apologies to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for having no idea who you are. I need to find some of his other work, because if it’s like anything like this series, he is really freaking good.

Steve McNiven? One of the best comic book artists in the world! His artwork is both realistic and fantastic at the same time. Everything looks like it’s taking place in the real world, but yet, when things get weird, it still looks somehow like it’s taking place in the real world.

Reason You Should Read It #1:

Fantastic FourSo this is what the Fantastic Four are supposed to be like. I can’t even begin to waste any time on the disappointing movies about the FF and yes, all 3 are disappointing to various degrees.

This book understands why this group has remained popular and what made them the “four-runners” (pun!) of the Marvel Revolution in the 1960s. In this series, the FF are bankrupted and have to get regular jobs after being evicted from the Baxter Building.

Ben Grimm becomes a construction worker and Sue becomes a teacher but Johnny and Reed, because of their personalities, have more difficult times finding work. The Thing and the Human Torch bicker, argue about sleeping arrangements and take turns trying to be the cool uncle to Franklin but it all feels real. Their relationship is defined by over fifty years of history but it never feels like a burden. They might be on a new and slightly awkward adventure (bankruptcy and moving) but it’s still fun to deal with them.

It’s also refreshing to watch Reed and Sue act like an ideal(ish) married couple and work through their problems together. Even when Reed makes mistakes, there is never a feeling of despair or the desire for them to split. Reed and Sue represent a team in their marriage as much as they might represent a superhero team, they also represent a couple that will work and fight for the preservation of their marriage and their family. I like that much more than many other stories where marriage is just one more thing to be easily discarded or ignored.

Reason You Should Read It #2:

Having fun despite their problems.

Fantastic FourThere are so many fun things going through these 7 issues. While the first four deal with the collapse of the FF’s finances, the last three involve a camping trip to Pine Barrens, New Jersey, home to one of the greatest episodes of The Sopranos, called um…”Pine Barrens.” It’s the one where Christopher and Paulie kill the Russian mobster and when they try and dump the body, they discover he might not actually be dead.

Anyway, something suspicious is going on in the woods of New Jersey and the FF accidently stumble upon it.

That leads to several really great character moments, most of them involving Reed. Reed, Susan and Ben took Franklin and some of his friends camping and now they are all drawn into the danger of whatever menace lurks in upstate New Jersey.

When Reed and three others are captured by said menace, he explains that after running through all the scenarios, the best choice of action to escape is to…do nothing. Not the answer that the others are looking for from Mr. Fantastic (2 things on his name: first, props for getting away with calling yourself Mr. Fantastic for over 50 years and backing it up enough for no one to ever call you on it and second, every person I know with one PHD, let alone the bajillion that Reed probably has, insists on being called Doctor or Professor (except for attorneys who should all have Juris Doctorates. I wish they wanted to all be called Barrister, or maybe Law Doctor, that would probably make some of them more likable (no Dad, I am not talking about you))).

When Reed launches into his explanation on how doing nothing is a plan, it leads to my favorite several pages of any issue. Without going into any spoilers, it shows how well Reed knows his family and how well this creative team does as well. It’s basically Reed doing a “this is why I’m awesome speech” for every other member of the Fantastic Four. It is genuinely rousing in a way that nothing in any of the movies was. One thing I will spoil, since it has no bearing on the plot, Dr. Doom doesn’t make one appearance. As their greatest nemesis, he seems to pop up in every other FF issue. The book is better without his specter haunting  it.

Fantastic FourOn a final prudish note: the one scene in all of this that I didn’t like was a couple of pages where Sue goes swimming in a bikini. Steve McNiven as I’ve mentioned, is a great artist and renders her extremely well. It just seems so out of place. Sue is swimming in an indoor pool by herself and she feels the need to rock a skimpy red bikini while her inner monologue talks about how it reminds her of being on the high school swim team and how the pool is the one place she can go to truly disappear.

Listen, if you are going to swim laps, you aren’t wearing a thong, you are wearing a one piece swim suit with your hair pulled back and some swim goggles on. I know that seems like a minor criticism, and it’s only 2 pages but they come out of nowhere and the artwork is definitely not letting Sue appear invisible. It just seems gratuitous and exploitive and out of place with everything else in these issues.

I’m probably being overly sensitive to the objectification of women. What do you expect though? In my alter ego, I have a baby girl and am an overprotective dad.

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