Images & Words – Fantastic Four #580


[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Historically, the Fantastic Four has never been my favorite superhero team.

As a young child, I was all about the motherfuckin’ X-Men. Outsiders who help humanity by using the very attributes they’re castigated for having? Ill. Later, I realized that the pantheon known as the JLA was my top choice. Maybe it’s because I’ve been agnostic nearly my entire life, but the convening of these pseudo-gods is appealing in a way that that other team-ups just can’t recreate. In a thousand years, I’m sure incredulous youths will ask their trusted adults, “Wait — these people didn’t really believe in a Wonder Woman or Green Lantern, did they?”

We sure did, Billy. We sure did.

Anyways, back to my point: up until recently, I haven’t given much of a damn about the Fantastic Four. Sure, I liked all the individual characters (especially Ben Grimm) but I just couldn’t get into the group efforts. I was born about sixteen years too late to read a Lee/Kirby production of Marvel’s First Family and as a child of the 1990’s, I routinely saw them being abused.

Witness the horror:

In case you don’t know, that video is forreal. Long story short, it was made simply to secure the movie rights and was never intended to be released. And no, cast & crew were not informed of this minor detail.

But let’s flash forward to 2010 – time has been kind to the Richards/Storm/Grimm squad. The titular book has spent the last year being rocked by such forces as Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, Dale Eaglesham, amongst others. Characters and stories that can easily deteriorate into lame-ass nerd fodder have been remodeled, crafted into entities that are both heartwarming and throught-provoking.

Fortunately, this week’s release of Fantastic Four #580 sees writer Jonathan Hickman and penciler Neil Edwards perpetuate this wonderful trend.

Over the course of the last few issues, Hickman has been bringing a grand story to a controlled, well-calculated apex. Valeria, the younger Richard child, was visited by a future-incarnation of her older brother who forewarned her about an impending struggle between four cities. Lo and behold, four different civilizations have since appeared before the Fantastic Family. This is the larger structural frame onto which the monthly stories have been assembled.

But what makes Fantastic Four #580 particularly successful is that the reader doesn’t have to study piles of back issues to understand (or care about) the plot. Within the pages of this comic are two readily accessible stories. Intertwining, they offer two glimpses at the same familial unit.

In the first plotline, Johnny Storm takes his nephew Franklin and a mutant friend to a toy store for the new Impossible Man merchandise. In order to sell more action figures, Impossible Man shapeshifts into what is a hilarious parody; a combination of characteristics of both Martian Manhunter and Superman. But it’s not long before the Human Torch realizes that Impossible Man is being manipulated by Arcade, who is trying to turn a profit while murdering children. A battle ensues and the good guys finish on top.

The second embedded tale is of Reed Richards’ search for a brighter tomorrow. Acknowledging that he may be too far rooted in his ways, Dr. Richards assembles the Future Foundation — a group of children from different species that have taken refuge in the Baxter Building, as well as his daughter Valeria. He asks them to come up with an initial project, and they undertake the task of curing Ben Grimm’s orange-rock complexion. As babes with fresh perspectives, the members of the Foundation come up with a potential solution.

As with previous issues, Fantastic Four #580 also includes a two-page interlude that chronicles the future of Nu-Earth. Shit seems kooky, but it’s all building to something. Hell, it’s even been confirmed that the team will look different come September.

I don’t blame you if you’ve never been a fan of the Fantastic Four. They have been…well, fucking dorky. But this is the time to start reading, I assure you. Reed isn’t an introverted loser, he’s a genius with incredible insight. Sue isn’t some invisible wench, she’s a peacemaker. Ben Grimm isn’t just an orange rock man, he’s an orange rock man with a heart of gold. And Johnny Storm…well, he’s still a brash shit-talker, but with an urbanity that enthralls.

I didn’t do this comic justice. Go support the dying print medium and buy Fantastic Four #580.