The age of the Hickman is over.
Marvel NOW has arrived.
Matt Fraction comes to the book, fresh from his lengthy and lauded run on Iron Man, and critical darling The Defenders. Mark Bagley arrives from the disappointing Avengers Assemble title.
With the shadow of the most impressive writer on the book in a decade cast across this relaunch, can Fraction and Bagley provide a fresh, interesting and fun take on the First Family of Marvel comics, or will this new number one sink under the weight of expectations?
Well, the good news is that this is a really strong first issue, full of fun, light on action but heavy on character, and setting up not only the main thrust of this title but justifying the existence of companion title FF.
The premise is simple: Reed's body is starting to fall apart, and it's possible that the same will happen to Sue, Johnny and Ben. Unable to find a cure in the known universe, he decides to take his family into the unknown universe, handily returning mere seconds after leaving thanks to some convenient time technology. Just to be safe, he decides to recruit a new team, just in case...
The first thing that struck me on reading this book was the vein of humour that ran throughout, whether it was the dark humour of the mombots in the opening scene, the bickering whilst the team battled against the dinosaur, or the hilarious 'dummy-off' between Ben and the Yancy Street Gang. There were times where the scale of the plots and the reality-endangering consequences of Hickman's run made for some dark reading, and it's refreshing to see that Fraction has remembered that 'fun' is a key component of the Fantastic Four.
The next thing is how great Mark Bagley's art looks in this book. Like many people, I immediately associate Bagley with Ultimate Spider-Man. Over the years, his other projects (Trinity, Justice League of America, Avengers Assemble) have been distinctly underwhelming. Not so here. The addition of Mark Farmer's inks lifts Bagley's pencils, providing a more detailed line that I'm used to seeing, without losing what makes his art so distinctive, such as his unique and expressive faces.
There were a couple of elements that stuck out for me. New character Darla Deering is given short shrift, getting to function as the silent straight man to Johnny's attempts at providing a date. Reed being dishonest to his family is a well-trodden plotline, and there is a general feeling that the colourful extended cast of characters introduced by Hickman during his run is going to brushed to the side.
But of all the Marvel NOW number ones released so far, this has been the most enjoyable, growing organically from what has come before without immediately putting it in a box yet standing on its own at the same time.
With the promise of some gorgeous Michael and Laura Allred artwork and the unexpected-but-welcome 'Continued In FF #1' caption at the end of the issue, I can't wait to see what we're going to get in two week's time.
Writer: Matt Fraction, Penciler: Mark Bagley, Inker: Mark Farmer, Colorist: Paul Mounts, Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles, Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas, Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch, Cover Artists: Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer, Paul Mounts