ADVANCE REVIEW: Fantastic Four #554

FANTASTIC FOUR #554

WRITER: MARK MILLAR

PENCILS: BRYAN HITCH

INKS: PAUL NEARY

COLOURS: PAUL MOUNTS

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

Well, here it is. The much-hyped follow-up from the creators of ‘The Ultimates’, one of the top creative teams in comics today on one of the most iconic super-hero titles… this has been promoted as if it is one of the comic events of the decade; indeed, it is often claimed that Mark Millar is the king of hype. And yet he and Bryan Hitch also love to turn things on their head. And so it is with only a little surprise that instead of a bombastic, show-stopping first issue, we actually get an understated, but intriguing and expertly rendered exposition of everyday life as a member of the Fantastic Four.

After returning from yet another slightly-unsuccessful family adventure, the extended Richards family take some time out to develop their own individual projects, which among others sees the Invisible Woman meeting with She-Hulk and the Wasp to establish a charity for victims of super-incidents; this, and the rather disparate nature of the team members, firmly places the story within the dynamics of the post- Civil War FF world, with the family unit seemingly back together, but not functioning quite as fluidly as it used to.

The rather mundane sequence of events is broken by the sudden appearance of one Alyssa Moy (now Castle), a former ‘acquaintance’ of Reed‘s, who she whisks away to help with a top secret project that could, unsurprisingly, “affect the entire world”.

It is actually not all that easy to find much within these 22 pages to raise dramatic comment; this is not intended as a criticism at all, even though it may seem as such – this is a classic but intelligent introductory issue to a new run that plays to the original strengths of the FF, re-establishing these characters as a family and a team, but also as interesting and complex individuals in their own right. The threads for future storylines are sown at a subtle pace throughout, ranging from new threats to the team dynamic, to the promise of epic space adventures that are the mainstay of a great Fantastic Four story. It is clear throughout that Millar has such a love for these characters, as he crafts their interactions with care and attention throughout.

Millar’s long-time partner Bryan Hitch really is one of the true stars of contemporary comic book art, creating a visual style that is both heavily influenced by reality and epic in scale; his work is natural and realistic, but still relies heavily on artistic impression and interpretation in a way that is far removed from anything approaching photo-realism. If anything, his characters here are more grounded than his re-imagining of traditional heroes in the Ultimates; it is at first rather jarring that his FF are far from picture-perfect, but he still succeeds in conferring an air of power, confidence, and celebrity. There are also the usual smattering of interesting scene shots, and his one image of the Human Torch in action holds much promise and excitement for future issues.

For readers going into this issue expecting an immediate justification for the hype that always follows this creative team, they may possibly be disappointed. This is a slightly restrained but refined and focussed Millar, and an innovative but not always spectacular Hitch, flying in the face of exactly the sort of storyline that made them famous; however, this just highlights the versatility and skill of these creators who are all-too-often pigeon-holed. There is almost not enough happening here to judge this issue a roaring success, but this is a very promising start, bringing the Fantastic Four back to the heart of what originally made them such a success under Kirby and Lee.

This is certainly not your everyday run-of-the-mill superhero comic – this is a stylish, sophisticated and contemporary Fantastic Four, that still both plays to and with the established strengths of Marvel’s first family.

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