A very dark and fascinating read from Grant Morrison and Jae Lee’s earlier days.
One of the joys of mediums like comics and movies is being able to dip into a creator’s earlier work and see ideas budding there that eventually flourish. Case in point, Grant Morrison and Jae Lee’s run on Fantastic Four 1234. Both went on to create work to wide critical acclaim in superhero comics and other mediums.
They weren’t new to the medium by any means — on the contrary, they were already basically rock stars. At the time, however, Morrison had just come off The Invisibles not tackling major superhero comics, and Jae Lee had won the Eisner for Inhumans two years prior. This was a series being created by two of the hottest creators in comics and the expectations were very high.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Reed Richards. Sue Richards. Benjamin Grimm. Johnny Storm. They rocketed into outer space aboard an experimental starship, the first humans to attempt interstellar travel. But a freak encounter with cosmic radiation altered their lives forever, granting each amazing abilities! Now, Marvel’s First Family finds its members divided — their unique powers stretched to the absolute limit, their time-tested resolve pushed to the point of breaking. Each chapter of this quintessential collection focuses on one member of the cosmic quartet as the team’s greatest foes band together in an all-out assault on the FF! Plus: In Grant Morrison’s only other Marvel Knights story, super-spy Nick Fury is targeted for death!
Why does this matter?
This collection was published last in 2011 so if you’re having trouble finding it look no further. This is also part of a Marvel Knights line reprinting of all the titles, coming at a good time since Marvel is celebrating 20 years since the inception and even coming out with new books in the line.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
I never read this run when it was originally released starting in 2011, but reading it now it’s fun to think about how edgy and dark they were trying to make this. Make no mistake, Lee was putting out some of his darkest stuff with the help of colorist Jose Villarrubia. I can’t say for certain, but this might have been the first time this team was rendered in a negative sort of way. Reed is drawn horrifically at times, twisted and weird, while Sue is making out with Namor and seems to lust for him. Lee captured this darker tone very well.
The visuals aren’t the only way they were cast in a negative light. Morrison has Sue basically doubt her relationship with Reed and Thing is ready to throw away his family to turn back into his human form. Their wild actions all have good reasons, but it’s their base emotions that get the best of them in the end. Morrison seems to be exploring the humanity of these characters, getting to their carnal thoughts and feelings. That’s interesting even in the face of an ending that more or less ends like any other.
Reed Richards is also written in a way that is reminiscent of the Ultimate line of comics. He’s capable of doing terrible things, and he even stretches his brain to get smarter. At one point he talks about entering a “dark universe of necro-technology” that sounds a lot like something Morrison explored at DC Comics with the Multiversity series or what Scott Snyder explored with Dark Nights Metal. Whether or not this series is in canon it’s fun to see a dark twist on the characters, especially a character like Reed when it was not in fashion to make him somewhat crazy and out of touch.
Layout design is quite cool throughout this collection. Lee uses slices of panels to almost zigzag down the page, drawing your eye at a good pace. There is a mind-bending, reality-breaking plot afoot and it helps to convey that through these layouts.
It can’t be perfect can it?
I’m not sure it’s ever explained well enough how Dr. Doom’s plan worked at all. As you read this book you’ll wonder why all the characters are acting how they are and that can be frustrating given how out of character they appear. With little to no explanation beyond “Doom did it,” you’re left wondering what it is he did. I had to wonder if Morrison wanted to write these characters at their worst and leave it that way, without a happy twist ending, but one can only imagine at this point. All that said, it does get a bit morose and too sad for its own good. Thing, in particular, is reduced to a crazed man in a hospital bed at one point, and Sue’s actions with Namor seem wildly unlike her, breaking the mold of the first family too much. If you likened this series to a toy, it can feel like its creators were trying to break the toy rather than build on it.
Is it good?
A good collection that is very dark and fascinating to read since it came out earlier in its creator’s careers. As it stands it’s a different look at one of the most wholesome superhero groups which are edgy, but at a price.