Fantastic Four #574

[1 April 2010]

By Andy Smith

The World's Greatest Comics, again

The Marvel Universe has been a dark place for the past few years.

Super teams have been disassembled. Mutant races have been ravaged. Civil Wars have raged and villains have taken hold of the world as Marvel fans know it. A Siege has taken place.

Yet in the Baxter Building, home of Marvel’s First Family, Franklin Richards is getting a piggy-back ride from everyone’s favorite Wall Crawler.

But the Fantastic Four ongoing series is not an outlier for a Marvel Universe that will continue to be bleak and grim. Fantastic Four #574 could just serve as a bridge to the Heroic Age, the upcoming new era for Marvel that will restore light to its darkened world.

Fantastic Four #574 is a case study in itself – an issue that serves as an example of what Marvel can accomplish in this upcoming revival.

The Fantastic Four comic book has typically been one worth reading since its first issue hit stands in 1961. Though Mark Millar’s recent Fantastic Four run was more than worthwhile, a question could be drawn from a comparison to the recent Fantastic Four #574.

Would you give any Millar’s issues to a 10-year-old version of yourself?

Historically, this is what many may look for in a Fantastic Four book. It’s not a scale that should be applied to every comicbook series, but it’s fair for a title that has boasted a “family” theme since its inception. Fantastic Four #574 takes readers back to that place that Marvel has seldom ventured back to in recent years. And it’s all thanks to writer Jonathan Hickman.

The Secret Warriors scribe made his FF debut with Fantastic Four #570. Having an incredibly hard act to follow in Millar, Hickman and veteran artist Dale Eaglesham provided “Solve Everything”—the arc that transformed this book into something new yet very familiar.

Indeed, “Solve Everything” solved the great formula of Fantastic Four. It found the missing piece that answers the question for longtime readers wondering why they now feel nostalgic when reading the book. In Fantastic Four #574,  titled “Days of Future Franklin,” a tale about Franklin Richards’ birthday party displays that missing piece quite prominently.

Fantastic Four can be as scientifically sound or as simply plausible as the writer feels. It can be as epic in scope or aesthetically sleek in its visual narrative as artists may render it. It can even be funny, as a dysfunctional family of superheroes who were bombarded by cosmic rays should be. Though, most of all, it should be accessible. This issue accomplishes exactly that.

Penciled by Neil Edwards, “Days of Future Franklin” is full of treats for avid FF fans. Surprise guests populate the Baxter Building, giving several nods for longtime readers. Johnny Storm still resents Spider-Man for the adoration he commands. There’s even a familiar time-traveling obstructionist that grounds the story and saves it from being even too gleeful.

The wonder and the terror of growing up in a family of superheroes

The wonder and the terror of growing up in a family of superheroes

But thanks to its inviting narrative (and a classic Marvel-style title page for the unacquainted), the issue is a solid starting point for a kid who just wants to know more about the characters adorning his underwear.

It does more than just lure you into the next issue. It makes the reader, regardless of his or her age, want to venture back the relationships and past adventures in which the issue alludes. There’s a delicate balance to it—offering something for either the well-versed or unfamiliar reader.  That universal appeal may seem deserving for what was once touted ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’.

Though the issue is not without faults. Valeria, a character whose recent developments have created a new personality for readers to get used to, provides an occasional stumbling block in the narrative. However, part of this may be attributed simply to her frequent use of the insult ‘retard’, noticeable almost entirely because of the sensation it has cause in the media lately.

Regardless, “Days of Future Franklin” is a testament to the comics medium’s progressive yet consistent nature. To be intelligent yet wholly engaging, self-referential yet suitable for newcomers is more than deserving of applause. It’s an accomplishment.
By the end of the issue, you will find that a hero, or even a comicbook company, can get its power back.

If this is where the company is headed, those who perceive those current, darker storylines to be a lesser point for the company may be making theirs Marvel once again.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/123270-fantastic-four-574/