In the mid-late 2010s, Marvel Comics did not publish a Fantastic Four series for several years. This was seen as borderline criminal by many longtime fans, and short-time poseurs. After all, if all the people angry about the book being canceled had actually bought it, maybe that wouldn’t have happened in the first place.
But then, it wasn’t all about sales, was it? Rumors ran deep that Marvel higher-ups were angry about some aspect of 20th Century Fox’s contract for the film rights of the classic characters, bolstered by the obvious (and sometimes even admitted) omissions of the Fantastic Four from t-shirts, tabletop games, and other merchandise. It was hard to not connect the comic’s cancellation to this trend.
So when it became clear that, somehow, some way, the situation was finally going to be resolved, a Fantastic Four relaunch began to loom. The question on everyone’s minds shifted from, “When will they be back?” to, “Who will be writing the new Fantastic Four book?”
Dan Slott was strangely both a safe and a dangerous choice for the honor. Safe because of his deep knowledge of Marvel lore and his great appreciation for the First Family, but dangerous because a decade-long, successful run with Amazing Spider-Man was still met with jeers from the more nostalgic fans, thinking Slott had strayed too far from the core of the character. Helming the FF in the 21st century would mean not only modernizing the concept, but identifying and accentuating what worked to begin with.
And Chip Zdarsky had already done a bang-up job on that front in the relaunch’s pseudo-prequel, Marvel Two-in-One. Would Slott be able to follow that tough act?
Judging by Fantastic Four: Herald of Doom, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Collecting issues 6-11 of Slott’s still-young tenure, the book doesn’t really focus on the “herald” in question, Victorious, a Latverian peasant woman imbued by Dr. Doom with the Power Cosmic to lure Galactus to Earth, in a superlatively villainous scheme straight out of the Silver Age, but still chilling for modern readers.
It instead leans on the dynamic between Doom and the team, which is executed near-perfectly, as is the Four’s trust in each other, their true greatest strength. Much like Zdarsky’s Two-in-One, Herald of Doom tells a very old story in a satisfyingly familiar, yet not hackneyed way. Even the dialogue, full of 1960s lingo as it is, still somehow feels comforting and not at all out of place.
Issue #10 is a brief War of the Realms tie-in, with all the perils that come with such an endeavor. It’s the weakest part of the volume by far, but it still has a nice message about family, and who that includes. That’s yet another important part of the Fantastic Four mythos, one that’s emphasized even further in issue #11, in which Valeria and Franklin, now teenagers after spending years making universes with their parents, have to take drivers’ ed from the Department of Extranormal Motor Vehicles.
Aaron Kuder is the main artist on Herald, bringing the action and emotion to life through sweeping, widescreen panels and an amazing illusion of depth. He’s joined by other high profile but sometimes underappreciated pencilers like Stefano Casselli, David Marquez, Reilly Brown, and Paco Medina. Colorists include basically every name you’ve ever seen on a big Marvel book, specifically Rachelle Rosenberg, Matt Yackey, Jesus Aburtov, and more. Somehow, despite all these parts, there’s never a major visual disconnect between pages, showing just how important sticking the landing is to everyone who works on this book.
In the end, of course Slott was the right choice for the relaunch. Fantastic Four: Herald of Doom is both a tribute to the stories that started it all and a collection of tales that any modern reader can relate to. In a Richards-born multiverse, it’s the best of all worlds.