Half-Fantastic and Full Heart: ‘Marvel Two-In-One #1’

Marvel Two-In-One #1
Chip Zdarsky, Jim Cheung
20 Dec 2017

Like most ordinary people, every superhero has bad days. Some of those bad days are worse than others. Some of those bad days make for iconic stories, as well. Events like The Phoenix Saga, Secret Wars, Civil War, and House of M often start with a particularly bad day that spirals out of control, sometimes leading to retcons, wars, and clone armies. Short of being trapped in a cage with Deadpool and an unlimited supply of tacos, a bad day for a superhero often becomes the cornerstone for a major upheaval in Marvel’s over-arching mythos.

While every major superhero and their assorted teams have bad days, few have had more or worse days than the members of the Fantastic Four. No matter how much Peter Parker complains about not catching a break or how much the X-men complain about people hating mutants, they can’t deny that the Fantastic Four have it much worse.

It’s not just that they’ve been victimized by horrible movies, so much so that Pixar’s The Incredibles is often cited as the best Fantastic Four movie. Despite being Marvel’s first family and one of the most pivotal creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the influence and prestige of the Fantastic Four has never been lower.

The events of Secret Wars effectively shoved a wedge the size of an entire multiverse between the team. Reed, Sue, and their children are no longer playing an active role in the Marvel universe. Ben and Johnny, conversely, find themselves relegated to weak supporting roles in books like Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy. Their struggles are often a punchline within Marvel, but Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung look to get serious with what remains of the Fantastic Four in Marvel Two-In-One #1. While Marvel’s first family may still be split, Ben and Johnny keep the spirit alive in a story that’s as compelling as it is heart-felt.

This is one of those stories that reflects a particular sentiment at a particular time in the history of a franchise. It’s not unreasonable to say that, in wake of the failure of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four movie and the subsequent cancellation of the Fantastic Four comics in 2015, these are the darkest of times for Marvel’s first family. Reed, Sue, and their children are gone. The Baxter Building is gone. On top of all that, Dr. Doom isn’t even acting like Dr. Doom anymore. It’s as though everything that makes the Fantastic Four endearing has been lost.

Marvel Two-In-One #1 acts as the first beacon of light within the darkness that has shrouded Fantastic Four for years. The first family is still not whole, but Zdarsky and Cheung make it a point to show that the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four is still there. Not only that, they make the case that there’s still a place for them in the Marvel universe and by nearly every measure, they make that case well.

The foundation of the story is basically the remnants of the first family being at rock bottom. Neither is in a particularly good place with Johnny being especially broken. Ben, true to his rocky nature, acts as the last remaining anchor of the team. He carries himself as the only one with the strength and fortitude to carry on the legacy that the Richards family left behind. He doesn’t have much to begin with, but he gains a lot over the course of the story.

What he gains and how he gains it doesn’t feel cheap or contrived. In fact, it makes for one of the most heart-felt moments the Fantastic Four have had since the events of Secret Wars. Zdarsky and Cheung don’t discount the events that tore the first family apart, nor do they make light of just how much those events hurt Johnny and Ben.

(Marvel Comics)

Part of what makes the Fantastic Four so compelling is that they’re not just heroes. They’re family. When one of them is lost or gone, it hurts. That pain in Marvel Two-In-One #1 is undeniable. By the end, though, there’s a sense that the time for healing has arrived. Even though the memories of bad movie adaptations still linger, the darkest hours of the Fantastic Four are behind them. Now, they’re ready to move forward.

Moving forward, however, still means confronting the less-than-ideal situation in the present. That involves Johnny revealing a distressing secret about his powers and Ben having a productive, but messy conversation with Dr. Doom. It’s dramatic and overdue, but the fact they’re finally confronting the situation is probably the biggest sign of progress that Marvel Two-In-One #1 can have. Overdue or not, it’s still refreshing.

More than anything else, Marvel Two-In-One #1 is a clear, yet poignant reminder of what the Fantastic Four stand for. They’re not just a family with superpowers. They’re not just heroes either. They look beyond the horizon and dare to go farther. They seek to explore, learn, and grow together. That’s how they often end up encountering beings who ride cosmic surf boards, giant world-eating beings, and shape-shifting aliens. The heroics are often secondary, but still just as important.

There’s a lot to be said about the current state of the Fantastic Four, how they got there, and why they’ve struggled to remain relevant at a time when every superhero seems to reinvent/reboot themselves every other week. There are still plenty of ongoing issues with that state that can’t be easily resolved over the course of a single issue, let alone several. However, Zdarsky and Cheung take the biggest, and arguably most important, step in that process.

Marvel Two-In-One #1 is one of those books that will give a certain segment of fans a genuine emotional uplift. It’s as though someone finally comes to their front door, gives them a reassuring hug, and lets them know they haven’t forgotten about the Fantastic Four and everything they stand for. It may have taken a while. It may not undo all the damage that the first family have suffered over the past several years. It’s still a first step, but one that feels like a giant leap in the right direction.

RATING 8 / 10