To the CEO of GateCrashers LTD,
My apologies for not getting back to you sooner; our enquiries into the life story of the superheroes known as the “Fantastic Four” have taken far longer than we first anticipated. We have only now finalized their activities during the “Swinging Sixties” and are now hard at work investigating the team’s turmoil during the 70s.
Enclosed, you will find a copy of the comic we produced as a means of communicating their history in a way you will understand. We’ve named it Fantastic Four: Life Story #1. It was created by Mark Russell, Sean Izaakse, Nolan Woodard, and VC’s Joe Caramagna.
You will also find attached work by our best critics on the events depicted in this comic and hope it brings some clarity to the history of the Fantastic Four. We look forward to working with you in any future endeavours.
I should love this; I love Mark Russell’s comics, I enjoy Izaakse’s art and Woodard’s colors, and I love the Life Story gimmick that recontextualizes sliding timescale continuity into real history. I would expect Russell to go wild with that gimmick, given his facility with political satire, but he’s weirdly restrained here, and as a result I don’t think the comic has much to say about either the FF or the 60s. It also seems to abandon parts of that Life Story gimmick; rather than retain the general events of the FF’s story as they were published, this is a story that imagines their first decade without Namor or Doctor Doom. The one brilliant thing for me is the centralization of Galactus and his reimagination as the Great Filter, the answer to Fermi— but that’s not enough to save what was ultimately for me a baffling first issue.
I am preface my thoughts by admitting that I don’t know much about the Fantastic Four’s comic origins, but I know a lot about Mark Russell. Historically, Russell excels in writing hilarious social satire in comics. I was unfortunately a bit underwhelmed by his moderated writing style in this comic, when I was hoping for more of his astute wit. Regardless, Russell is a comic book writer I enjoy 99% of the time. Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 still manages to reshape Fantastic Four narrative beginnings filtered through the lens of the highly popular 60s historical era in the smart and entertaining manner I expect from Russell.
The issue parses the historical backdrop realistically, seamlessly weaving the setting together with the Fantastic Four’s presence in the era. I’ve also gleaned enough about FF over the years to understand some problematic portrayals of Sue. Fantastic Four: Life Story seeks to present Sue with an appetite for motivation and resilience during challenges. Depicting these character traits in Sue is refreshing. The issue pays homage to FF character roots while exuding their personalities in a short time frame. Despite the lack of satire I was hoping for, Fantastic Four: Life Story is intriguing enough to entertain and propel readers toward introspection. And the incorporation of Galactus is delightful.
For myself, I still fondly remember Mark Russell’s time on DC’s The Flintstones comic as a fantastic social satire. However, I was actually more excited to see how Russell would take the vast tapestry of Marvel’s first family and the thousands of comics they’ve been in, and craft it into something that’s a cohesive story set in real-time. Having read nearly all of The Fantastic Four at some time or another throughout their various incarnations, there was a small thrill that went up my spine to see how it would play out, with the world changing as the Marvel Universe grew out of the 1960s.
I was not disappointed. Not only was Russell able to craft a few one-shot throwaway issues into a long-running plot thread that made those same events feel organic, but the real world genuinely felt influenced by the rise of super powered heroes rather than the other way around. Little touches like the Fantastic Four appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show alongside the Beatles was a fantastic touch. Sean Izaakse is also in top form here, rendering the fantastical in a more realistic world. It still comes across with the old Marvel flair, but is a welcome reinterpretation.
However, this is coming from a long-time fan of The Fantastic Four. Those who aren’t as big a fan will certainly find the issue a little more dense to read, and the revelations of those referenced issues can come out of left field without the “ooooh” factor of the reference. Here’s hoping the rest of the comic holds up to the promise, but I have high hopes.
While I know a fair bit about the Fantastic Four thanks to long nights on Wikipedia and through cultural osmosis, I’ve not actually read many of their stories. Especially not their earliest adventures, so getting to see these play out was fun, and thanks to Sean Izaakse and Nolan Woodard’s amazing work on the art.
However, there’s something about the book that makes it feel breezy, it rushes past what feel as if they should be major events. I think it comes down to Mark Russell’s attempt to look at the entirety of the 60’s in one single issue that makes everything feel a bit less than. Except, that is, for Galactus, and Reed Richards’ first encounter with the World Devourer, which is given the necessary pomp and circumstance to really let the moment pop on the page. I’ll be sticking around for the full story because it can easily get its story on the right track, and as mentioned, the art is fantastic, but right now, it’s a good book that should be, and excuse the pun, fantastic.
One of the stronger aspects of Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley’s Spider-Man: Life Story that the Fantastic Four counterpart lacks is focus. With Spider-Man, we largely looked at a singular moment from the decade being explored. Be it the protests of the Vietnam War or the Death of Gwen Stacy, there was always something within the comic to keep things glued together. In turn, the moments where we look back at what we missed over the rest of the decade are emphasized.
By contrast, Fantastic Four: Life Story opts to explore the whole decade, much to its detriment. There’s a sense with Russell’s efforts that they’re trying to cover far too much. Whole strands of the book that could have been explored in a whole issue are regulated to a single panel or an off-handed mention, if that. For example, Ben Grimm has a whole character arc that takes place largely off screen. What is focused upon feels rushed and underdeveloped. It’s a so-so comic. But with a bit more focus, it could have been great.