(a) Michael Allred
I’ve read both issues of Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF, and after getting through each, I find myself taking a few moments to reflect on the sheer quality in this series. Fraction and Allred are crafting something extremely special, something that might well be remembered in the same way as Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, Grant Morrison’s JLA run in the mid-90s, or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. FF #2 gets the ball rolling by finally bidding farewell to the Fantastic Four and getting the new team into action with one of Marvel’s First Family’s oldest villains, Mole Man.
Much like John Romita Jr. or Lenil Francis Yu, Mike Allred produces artwork you either love or you hate–in my experience, there isn’t much middle ground. I happen to think Allred’s work is fascinating and hearkens back to the 1960s in terms of tone, yet manages to keep a modern style and sensibility. She-Hulk’s eyebrow raise is a testament to Allred’s ability to completely convey an emotion without having to rely on words. Fraction’s laid back, relaxed dialogue fits perfectly with Allred’s art because both are rooted in minimalism.
As predicted, the Fantastic Four end up not returning at the four minute mark as promised. But who didn’t see that coming? So it’s up to Ant-Man and his team to make sure the Earth is safe and the Future Foundation keeps operating. And just like any new job, the replacements are taking a little time to get used to the new office. Scott Lang is forced to explain the meaning of ‘ex-con’ to the students when a rather unflattering article about the temporary Fantastic Four surfaces describing him as unfit to lead the Fantastic Four, let alone run a school. She-Hulk has to figure out a way to keep a wardrobe without destroying all her clothes each time the team gets into a kerfuffle. Medusa doesn’t have servants waiting on her hand and foot like in her kingdom of the Inhumans. And Darla Deering–Johnny Storm’s celebrity girlfriend who possesses no superpowers of her own–simply can’t wrap her head around what’s been asked of her. Somehow, Fraction manages to fit character development for four main characters into a single issue and it’s, quite honestly, brilliant.
The choice to use Mole Man as this issue’s villain carries a lot more weight than it would seem after a first read. Mole Man’s repugnance at the idea of “impostors” calling themselves the Fantastic Four prompts his attack on the Future Foundation, but the encounter really shows how Fraction and Allred are turning the tables on traditional comic book tropes. In almost every subset of mainstream, superhero comics, villains are attached to certain heroes, even if they branch out and come into conflict with other heroes. Joker has terrorized most of the DC universe at one point or another, but he’s a Batman villain through and through. Darkseid threatens Earth as a whole, but he’s designated a Superman baddy, and the actions of the Guardians of the Universe affect the Earth on a daily basis, but they’re rarely seen outside Green Lantern comics. With a new roster of heroes populating the Fantastic Four, traditional villains of Marvel’s First Family have a whole new set of powers to contend with. Mole Man’s been fighting Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing for decades, so he doesn’t really know what to do when he’s confronted with a shrinking man, a woman with tentacle hair, a super-strong berserker, and a pink-haired girl that kind of looks like the Thing. And that’s not even mentioning the gamut of villains the Fantastic Four have racked up through the years. If Superman suddenly woke up with a totally new power set, his enemies wouldn’t know how to fight him.
If you’re not reading FF, you should. Fraction and Allred have crafted a series with a near-perfect balance of plot-based, superhero action and organic, character-driven story. Potential is the name of the game here because a new Fantastic Four means a whole new way to tell Fantastic Four stories.