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‘Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four’ review: Breathtaking Jim Lee art distracts from lackluster storytelling

Revisit Marvel’s first attempt at relaunching the Fantastic Four.

Love the Fantastic Four but wish the Thing’s trunks were lined with pouches? Then you, dear reader, need to take a trip back to 1996 via Marvel’s newly reprinted Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four trade paperback!

And you better believe we’re going to talk more about Benjamin J. Grimm’s useless pouches later in this review.

Ah, Heroes Reborn, Marvel’s attempt to make the Fantastic Four and the Avengers relevant to its very cool, pouch-loving, modern (at the time) fan base by handing the reins of said characters to creators who quit Marvel in a blaze of glory to make their own comics. Weird, no? OK, maybe not so weird when I mention those creators happened to be Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.

Did it work? Well, I know I bought all of these relaunched titles when they came out, and you could argue that the risks Marvel took helped set in motion a series of “fresh starts” that reestablished the importance of the Fantastic Four and Avengers.

But were the comics any good? Well, today we’re only going to be talking about Jim Lee’s refreshed Fantastic Four, which this collection allowed me to revisit for the first time since 1996-1997. It’s interesting to read the first Fantastic Four revamp so many years after I’ve read and seen countless others. The Ultimate Fantastic Four, two film franchises–OK, one franchise and a failed attempt at a second franchise–point is, many artists have taken a stab at remixing Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny’s fantastic origin story. What Jim Lee (plots and art) and Brandon Choi (scripts) achieve with Heroes Reborn is a sort of a Fantastic Four greatest hits album.This collection features Fantastic Four Vol. 2 #1-12, which actually manage to condense several of the team’s earliest adventures into one cohesive story pretty well. The Mole Man is connected to the Inhumans who are connected to Galactus who is connected to the Silver Surfer who is connected to Doctor Doom and so on. It’s that level of storytelling that makes the series seem ahead of its time.

With that said, I found many of Lee and Choi’s takes on the characters to be rather uninspired. Reed’s a genius, Johnny’s reckless–we get it, we know the Fantastic Four. But there’s no real effort here to show readers something new. In some cases, characters are in worse shape than before. Doctor Doom, for instance, is turned into a full-blown super villain with little of the depth that’s made him such a compelling and complex egomaniac. In addition, characters’ relationships with one another evolve in rushed and unnatural fashion. The Thing and Alicia Masters get together very fast simply because that’s what we’re familiar with. The same is true of the Human Torch and Crystal. And in the span of five issues, Sue Storm goes from not being able to have children to being pregnant. Mister Fantastic indeed!

But I’m nitpicking the writing in a Jim Lee comic. Clearly, the appeal here is Lee’s visuals–and he doesn’t disappoint. Twenty-two years later, the issues Lee drew still look gorgeous and, yes, very cool to look at. Every character looks like a model, the spaceships and technology could only exist in a comic book and each issue’s action is as extreme as you expect it to be. Lee definitely brought fun and action back to the Fantastic Four.Unfortunately, Lee stops drawing the series after its sixth issue. When Lee’s only involvement is providing plots that are already copy and pasted from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic stories, you know it’s the beginning of the end. Brett Booth takes over art duties and he does a good job of capturing that ’90s Image vibe, but then Ron Lim also pops in here and there. Lim is a talented artist, but what he contributes in this collection lacks the fresh feel of the Heroes Reborn brand. Whereas Booth wanted to put his own stamp on Galactus, Lim simply draws the devourer of worlds we all know and love.

And yes, Booth gives the Thing pouches on his trunks that look smaller than his individual fingers. Why does he have pouches if he can’t open them and use whatever’s inside? What is inside? No wonder he’s so grumpy–the man can’t open his pouches!

Aside from pouch problems, this volume suffers from the fact it isn’t one of those “Complete Collections” Marvel’s all about these days. For starters, each Heroes Reborn title originally had a 13th issue that, together, formed the “World War 3” crossover (featuring WildStorm characters for some reason). Then, there’s the fact that Fantastic Four #12 kicks off the “Heroes Reunited” crossover, but we have no idea how it ends as the other three chapters aren’t included here. Don’t even get me started on the “Industrial Revolution” prelude featured halfway through that goes nowhere. Point is, be ready to accept the fact you’re not going to get the full picture in this collection.

What you will get, for $29.99, are 12 issues from Marvel’s Heroes Reborn experiment that, together, double as a time capsule from a more eXtreme comic book era. If you’re the type of reader who can enjoy flash over substance, you’ll likely get your money’s worth with this collection. But be warned, the real appeal here are those first six issues featuring Lee’s art. Once he puts down the pencil, you’ll likely want to do the same with this book, as its appeal quickly fades with each passing issue. And sadly, it’s clear Lee and his collaborators felt the same way.

Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four
Is it good?
Readers who remember the '90s and appreciate Jim Lee's awesome artwork will get the most enjoyment from this largely underwhelming collection.
You get your money's worth with the first six issues, which are all drawn by Jim Lee.
Casual Fantastic Four fans will enjoy this collection's greatest hits feel.
These 12 issues streamline the Fantastic Four's early adventures into a more cohesive story, which is cool!
The overall quality of this series drops with each passing issue.
The creators really don't bring many new ideas to the table.
This collection doesn't give you the full Heroes Reborn Fantastic Four story.
Why does the Thing have pouches on his trunks?
7.5
Good
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