Thursday, 28 November 2013

Fantastic Four, Volume 2: Road Trip Review (Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley)

Reed discovers the cosmic particles that give him and his family their powers are slowly killing them. Keeping the discovery to himself, he orchestrates a family holiday trip through time and space on the pretext of educating the children while searching for the cure he knows is out there. In this volume they encounter an alien world who inexplicably have cave paintings of the Fantastic Four dating back eons, travel back in time to the days leading up to Julius Caesar’s assassination, encounter the titan Blastaar, and Ben goes back to Yancy Street to visit his Aunt Petunia. 

Fantastic Four isn’t the hottest Marvel title being published and doesn’t seem to be talked about much by regular comics readers but, reading the second volume, I forgot how enjoyable the series is. Matt Fraction’s best known at the moment for his comics Hawkeye and Sex Criminals – deservedly so – and though his run on Fantastic Four and FF is over so that he can helm the new Marvel Event, Inhumanity, I feel that his work on the series has been of the same high quality. 

The opening chapter is an unabashedly heart-on-sleeve romantic love letter from Reed to Sue. Fraction retells the story of their relationship from the first time they met (when Sue, already a knockout, was somehow still single!) to the present day. The reveal of how the cave paintings came to be is syrupy sweet and sentimental in a way I liked purely for being so guileless. 

The Caesar issue is great fun and plays to the series setup of time travel adventure stories in a way that’s reminiscent of classic Marvel comics. The Age of Ultron tie-in issue is also included and it says a lot that, despite not liking the Event, the one issue, out of 20, that stuck with me was this tie-in. The Fantastic Four head back to Earth to help fight the Ultron invasion, leaving behind Franklin and Valeria on the time-ship as the kids spend the issue watching holographic messages from their family saying goodbye to them. It’s ridiculously sad, especially as the following issue doesn’t make any mention of the fact that the Four “died” or even left – it’s treated more like a nightmare Franklin dreamed. But Reed saying goodbye to his kids… aw, man. I did cry at that and thought the way Fraction handled it was absolutely perfect. 

A lot of this book deals with classic Fantastic Four-style stories with the two-part story of the Four encountering the titan Blastaar feeling like a Silver Age comic. Going back to witness the big bang, the Four discover Blastaar in the midst of his punishment, unknowingly interrupting it, before heading to the end of the universe to right their wrongs. You rarely see Blastaar these days as the only titan Marvel seem interested in is Thanos, so it’s good to see this crazy character make an appearance. 

Fraction’s writing is sharp, witty and funny, though more gentle and emotional than in his other comics. The stories in this book don’t really address the main storyline of searching for a cure but they’re still highly enjoyable imaginative stories to read. Mark Bagley’s art is absolutely brilliant. He’s thrown the task of drawing alien worlds, Ancient Rome, 1920s New York, and the end of the universe and he does amazing work in bringing such a vast range to life. He also has to draw one of the most difficult to draw characters in the Marvel Universe – the Thing – and does so magnificently (I was going to say “I really liked looking at Bagley’s magnificent Thing” but thought it’d sound a bit weird!). 

Fantastic Four, guys – it may not be at the top of anyone’s to read pile but when you get to it, it doesn’t disappoint!

Fantastic Four Volume 2: Road Trip

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