In interviews leading up to the release of this run of Fantastic Four, writer Ryan North cited Star Trek: The Original Series as an inspiration for his take on Marvel’s First Family. He said the connection between the two was that the cast “find a weird thing, fix the weird thing, and move on”. But it feels like there’s a bigger thematic connection between Fantastic Four and Star Trek that North is tapping into. Both are examples of optimistic science fiction, which feel more and more scarce as we tread into a bleak tomorrow. They explore a world where knowledge and compassion don’t have to oppose one another, and people can embrace both for the betterment of humanity.
Reading this issue, it quickly becomes apparent that North understands that the Fantastic Four’s sense of unapologetic empathy is what makes them such enduring figures. This first issue follows the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing himself, Ben Grimm, and his wife, Alica, as they travel across America. Even though a mysterious incident has caused the titular team to split apart again, Ben and Alica still carry on the group’s mission to help anyone they can. The couple finds themself in the town of Cedar, Pennsylvania. Initially, it seems that Cedar is figuratively a relic of another time, though it’s not long before Ben and Alica realize that the town is actually stuck in a time loop that causes every day to be July 12th, 1947. While Ben and Alica are unaffected by the temporal anomaly that causes everything to reset, they choose to stay and try to figure out a way to break the loop so that the citizens of Cedar can have a future.
An interesting aspect of the story is how the modern world has come to accept Ben despite his peculiar appearance (which helps him accept himself), but suddenly he finds himself in a situation where everyone is from a time before there was a famous team of superheroes called “the Fantastic Four”. Ben is once again subjected to people calling him a monster and attacking him on sight, something he hasn’t really had to deal with since the Fantastic Four’s early days. It’s hard watching him deal with those old emotional wounds being ripped open, but thankfully Alica is there to stand up for him and support him through it all.
This issue really shows what a great character Alica is. She’s someone who cares a great deal about other people, and it allows her to do things like find the few townsfolk that will treat Ben like a normal person and find clues as to what’s causing the town to be stuck in a single day. She and Ben are adorable in their attempts to break the loop over multiple days. Artist Iban Coello comically portrays their efforts through pages where the first and last panels are cut off, with the implication that there are many, many more days worth of hijinks that we aren’t seeing. Speaking of the way Coello draws Ben and Alica, they’re so hot together. When she pushes that big boulder of a man onto the motel bed and crawls on top of him… oof, it’s a lot.
I loved the eventual solution to ending the time loop. Ben and Alica don’t break the cycle by punching someone or blowing something up: they solve the problem using their heads and their hearts. Yes, it may sound hokey to say that “their real superpower turned out to be love”, but I genuinely think it’s bold and refreshing to see these larger-than-life characters be symbols of compassion and empathy. I really look forward to seeing what the rest of the group is up to and their inevitable reconciliation in future issues. For now, this title is off to a pretty fantastic start.