While the former Fantastic Four and FF writer Jonathan Hickman has a reputation for big, serious, high-minded epics, but he wasn't afraid to get silly – an entire issue setting up a final splash page of Annihilus taking a dump cannot be easily dismissed. However, with the Marvel NOW relaunch of Fantastic Four #1 under Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley, the goal seems to be to truly ratchet up the whimsy, but not at the expense of the drama.
The concept is centering around Reed Richards discovering all of a sudden that the clock is ticking on the powers of the Fantastic Four – or at least his own, as there's some kind of entropy that's kicked in that's actually allowed Mr. Fantastic's fantastic body to be damaged. There's nothing in the known universe that can help, so he gets the idea to try exploring unknown universes. That exploration, in his mind, requires retrofitting a spaceship of war into "the greatest classroom ever conceived." His idea is to take his family and all the students of the Future Foundation into 'discovering the unknown' mode for an entire year of learning and fun, and then returning a few minutes after they left – ideally with some kind of cure. There's an ominous ticking clock on their expedition, and of course, Reed's not TELLING his family the real reason, which gives us a bit of drama.
But most of the book is about having a blast. Fighting a dinosaur, zapping back home and destroying the dinner table to the triumphant cheers of the Thing-worshipping Moloid geniuses, Johnny Storm taking a girl to the Negative Zone to impress her and then gift her with the 'next level' of their relationship (i.e. his actual private phone number), and Ben Grimm breaking up a Yancy Street Gang fight club. Oh, does Fraction love the Thing's schtick. He actually has him say "What a revoltin' development!" And apparently, 'dummy' is the harshest insult for everybody on Yancy Street – I love the idea that everybody from Ben's neighborhood has that throwback kinda dialect action going.
While I've got some reservation about the technobabble aspects of Fraction's work as opposed to Hickman – since after all the crazy Celestial madness they've just been through, it seems a simple entropy issue should be solvable in the world of healing factors – the sheer amount of fun he's having should make up for it. The premise feels a little shoehorned, but I'm willing to run with it. It also makes his impending FF #1 seem like it's going to be a blast as well, as just throwing Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa and a Miss Thing (who looks to be the same girl Johnny just next-leveled) together as a new superteam without the whole 'teaching' responsibility and with MIchael Allred's cool pop-art action feels like it could be a humdinger of a good time.
Mark Bagley's art is just what you'd expect from him – fantastic. He gives us a slight redesign of the Future Foundation costumes without tossing out what made them so much cooler than the O.G. FF look (perhaps I'm in the minority with that opinion, but if I'm honest, that whole black-and-white look is what finally got me to start picking up the books in the first place – I'm a sucker for aesthetics sometimes). Bagley brings a great amount of detail work and breathes a lot of life into what Sue Richards describes as "my circus," i.e. all the wacky kids running around the Baxter Building.
Fantastic Four #1 is a hootenanny of a kick-off. Let's hope this new team can keep it up.