Just looking at the cover to this comic, truth be told, it’s probably not something I would have bothered picking up. Most of the comics that I really enjoy are horror, humor, or really trippy and strange, and personally, I’ve only read MAYBE two issues of the Fantastic Four, besides the first ten issues, which were by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and were completely bonkers and hilarious---as all good comics should be! So why, given that this is a rather generic cover for a series that I don’t usually bother with, why did I pick this book up? For one thing, I DO like Matt Fraction as an author. He has a good sense of story, and his plots also sometimes involve twists and turns that fall firmly in the “trippy” camp, so Fraction is a selling point---but the REAL reason, and you might have spotted it in the bottom right hand corner of the cover, is that one particular name… ALLRED. Michael Allred is one of my favorite comics artists, and I’ll pretty much look at ANYTHING he lays his hand to… So was I fooled? Was this book worth the price of admission??? Let’s check it out!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley, and Michael Allred – Fantastic Four – New Departure, New Arrivals (2013)
This book, New Departure, New Arrivals, is a collection of stories that were published in a couple different books, and they recount the…I guess you could say…the “restructuring” of the Fantastic Four, as the original members of the group leave Earth on a journey through time and space (not related to The Mighty Boosh, unfortunately) in search of a cure for an illness that has begun to eat away at Mr. Fantastic. (That’s the stretchy guy, if you aren’t too familiar with the heroes of the story.) However, because Mr. Fantastic doesn’t want to leave the planet defenseless while he and the rest of the original FF are away, they hire “replacements” to take on their roles while they’re gone: Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and Ms. Thing. Mr. Fantastic, a scientific genius, says the trip will take about a YEAR for the family on the journey, but thanks to some time-travel shenanigans, he says it should only take FOUR MINUTES in “Earth time” before they are back. Of course something goes wrong.... The original Fantastic Four doesn’t return when they’re scheduled to, and the newly recruited members of the FF are forced to step up and be a TEAM, as New York is attacked almost instantly by the Mole Man, one of the FF’s first evil foes.
There are a couple of interesting things, to ME at least, about this particular book, and the first thing I want to mention has to do with the character, Ant-Man. For most people, that name is going to be familiar from the Marvel movies, as Ant-Man has appeared in several recent Marvel films, played by actor Paul Rudd---who I think was a great choice for the role. Ant-Man, as a CHARACTER, however, has been around since the 1960s! He made his first appearance in 1962 in the pages of Tales to Astonish, and he’s credited (according to the Ant-Man Wikipedia page) as having been created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber. Ant-Man, along with the Wasp, eventually made their way into Lee and Kirby’s Avengers comics (and I’ve done a review of the first ten issues of THAT series, that you can read HERE, if you so choose.)
However, the Ant-Man who appears in this comic isn’t the 1960’s hero, Hank Pym, but the newer Ant-Man, Scott Lang (the character portrayed in the Marvel movies.) Interestingly, although I’m guessing that the Scott Lang character has been around for a while, I had no knowledge of him before I picked up this book four or five years ago. (Most of the superhero stories I’ve read are from the ‘60s and ‘70s.) Also interesting, in my opinion, is the fact that I originally read this book BEFORE the Ant-Man character had come to the big screen, so I didn’t even remember that the character was in this story! Now that I’ve reread the book---AFTER becoming familiar with the Paul Rudd version of the character---I liked this story quite a bit more. Although!!! (Major caveat!) I was saddened to see that this book opens with Scott Lang lamenting the DEATH of a hugely important character from the movies, who I’d never heard of when I originally read this book, so the character’s death didn’t have any impact on me. NOW, however, I find it incredibly sad---and I honestly hope Kevin Feige DOESN’T follow through in the movies with the storyline that lead to this character dying in the comics. It would be a serious bummer.
So that’s the first interesting thing. Now that I’ve seen the Marvel films, the storyline from this comic, which I originally read almost half a decade ago, suddenly CONNECTED with me in a way it hadn’t before I’d seen the films! That seems odd to me---but it happened nonetheless!
The second thing that this book does that I find interesting is the way the story is told in the pages of this comic. (I realize, now, that it’s presented this way because it’s two separate comic titles woven together to form a single, coherent story.) Matt Fraction WROTE the entire book, but for each section the art duties are passed back and forth between Michael Allred and Mark Bagley---and it’s remarkable how different the reading experience can be when different artists interpret a single writer’s scripts. Now let me get this out of the way---I have no problem with Mark Bagley. I think he’s a fine artist (reminds me of that Jim Lee or Erik Larson superhero action style---old references, I know), but I---PERSONALLY---don’t really enjoy just straightforward “action” comic art. It's just not my thing. I like quirky stories. I like weirdness. And I LOVE Michael Allred’s art. Allred has a cartoony but elegant line, and he’s a master of movement, expression, and mood, SO having the story counterbalanced this way---going from Allred’s exciting, entertaining, brilliantly executed panel layouts and fantastically quirky art---then bouncing every other chapter to Bagley’s more traditional, straightforward, and (I hate to say it) “generic” art… It really brings home to me why I enjoy Allred’s work so much. His pages have energy, and he can feel his way around a good visual joke with ease. Again, I’m not really trying to badmouth Bagley, who is a rather popular artist, I’m just pointing out that I prefer more stylized and idiosyncratic art to the more standard fair (like the kind you get with the cover of this book, which, as I mentioned above, I think is pretty boring.)
Regardless, the book is a fun jumping on point, I think, for people who might be intimidated by the massive BACK STORY you get with the Fantastic Four, considering it was Lee and Kirby’s flagship title back in 1961 and has decades worth of continuity to try to navigate. Although there is a rather large cast of characters in this collection, Fraction takes the time to explain a bit about who each of the characters IS, as they are introduced to the new “replacement” FF. In addition, the story has some excitement, drama, and strangeness to it, all of which I find appealing.
After the events of this book, the storyline fractures into two different series: Fantastic Four (the 2012 version), which ran for 16 issues total, with Fraction writing 15 of those and Bagley on board for all 16, and then the secondary title, FF, which also ran for 16 issues and had Fraction and Allred at the helm for the entire run. The first three issues of both of these titles are what was collected to make New Departure, New Arrivals, so you’ll need this book if you’re interested in reading either of these series in their entirety. (Or, I suppose, you could seek out the individual issues---but that’s hard and would probably cost more than just buying the collections. I paid $4.00 for my FF – Fantastic Faux, the first collection from the Fraction / Allred series after this book, at a convention about a year ago and a half ago.)
I probably won’t read the Bagley series---for some reason it just doesn’t interest me---but I’ve already read and enjoyed the first chunk of FF (and I’ll be reading it again in the next few days so I can review it for you people! I ALSO bought a digital copy of the 2nd FF collection, but I haven’t read that yet.) As I mentioned, I’m not a HUGE fan of superhero stories, but if the tale is compelling enough, the elements weird enough, or the conflict SPOOKY enough, I’ll probably enjoy the tale if I DO read a superhero book, and Fraction’s stories usually deliver the goods. AND, if Mike Allred is doing the artwork, I’ll happily read just about ANYTHING to see what he’s drawn. (If you haven’t seen anything by Michael Allred, yet, I recommend his Madman book (which he wrote and illustrated) as well as his zombie tale, iZombie (written by Chris Roberson.) Great stuff!) Okay---now I’m off to eat some lunch and then do my chores! Later!!!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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