The Fantastic Four may have disbanded. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman are missing. The Human Torch and the Thing are all that are left, but they aren’t on the best terms. Fate brings them together again in Marvel Two-in-One #1.
Marvel Two-in-One #1
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: December 20, 2017
Collected in: Marvel Two-in-One v1
THE FOUR ARE NO MORE, SO TWO MUST DO! Something is very wrong with THE HUMAN TORCH and only THE THING can help him! It’s the Marvel Universe reunion you’ve all been waiting for (well, HALF of it, at least!). Plus: What monumental secret has DOOM been hiding since the end of SECRET WARS, and how will it completely change the lives of Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm? PLUS: Includes 3 bonus MARVEL PRIMER PAGES!
The X-Men may get more press regarding their failed banishment at Marvel the last several years, but another casualty has been the Fantastic Four. The movie rights were acquired by Fox in the early 2000s, and ever since Marvel found success with the Avengers movies they’ve wanted all their properties back. This has infamously led to them attempting (and failing) to supplant the X-Men with the Inhumans, and casting aside the Fantastic Four. Frankly the whole thing has painted Marvel in a poor light and ultimately the only brand they damaged in their hissy fit was their own. That may be coming to an end soon with Disney looking to acquire most of Fox’s media properties in the near future, pending FCC investigations. Even before these negotiations started to gain traction Marvel had begun to re-establish the X-Men as a core franchise, but Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four, was still missing in action.
In part that is due to the events of the Secret Wars crossover from 2015 and 2016. That story was an extension of Johnathan Hickman’s much-lauded Avengers run, but it also served as a useful way for Marvel to shuffle the Fantastic Four off the board. Two members of the team, the Human Torch and the Thing, survived the transition and appeared in other team books for a while, but Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman have been MIA ever since. Mr. Fantastic’s evil counterpart from the Ultimate universe wrecked havoc in the New Avengers book for a while, but that’s not really the same thing.
Now, more than a year after the ending of Secret Wars, a proper Fantastic Four reunion is (sort of) underway. Mind you the branding is gone, and if you went strictly by the title you would be forgiven for not knowing this was connected to that franchise. Older fans will remember a previous title going by the same name which starred the Thing from the late 70s, but that’s not going to make up an incredible amount of the market. But, having said all that, it is a step in the right direction for rehabilitating the Fantastic Four, and possibly getting them back into play.
There is a lot going on in Marvel Two-in-One #1 as writer Chip Zdarsky has set out to both tie up some dangling plot points while also pushing the Human Torch and Thing back together. My initial impression of this book was that it was an exercise in putting all the pieces back together, but a second read through revealed a bit more to the story than that. Which is not to say that this is not an issue primarily about rebuilding the board for a Fantastic Four relaunch, because it is most certainly that. Rather than being a Ben Grimm/Johnny Storm team-up adventure this really does feel like a prologue to a new Fantastic Four series, and that’s both good and bad.
In the wake of Secret Wars the Thing was shipped off to join the Guardians of the Galaxy in their title, and the Human Torch joined up with the Inhumans and struck up a relationship with Medusa. This made sense for Thing since getting him back into space seems like a logical progression, but Human Torch’s adventure with the Inhumans was a bit of a miss. It largely came off as an effort to wedge drama between Medusa and Crystal, who had dated Johnny in the past. That plot was dropped once it became clear the Inhumans weren’t going to take over the X-Men fanbase the way Marvel hoped, and he moved on to becoming a supporting cast member in Amazing Spider-Man for a while. It is worth noting that the Thing’s adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy gets a brief nod in Marvel Two-in-One #1, while Johnny’s post-Secret Wars adventures are left unmentioned.
As for the story itself, this is first and foremost a setup issue meant to bring Johnny and Ben back together. Ben has been carrying on doing good deeds in the name of his fallen friends, which doesn’t suit him, and it shows. The Thing is not a person you would think to host charity balls around, and the fish-out-of-water approach works pretty well here. It primes him to be ready to jump on a better option the second it comes along, even if it is brought to him by Doctor Doom (currently playing hero over in Infamous Iron Man). Johnny, by contrast, is in the middle of a self-destructive streak that he doesn’t seem to realize he can’t escape from. For both characters this may not be the most logical progression, but Chip Zdersky does a good job of selling it.
The weakness of Marvel Two-in-One #1 is that it is obviously a setup for something down the road. You can clearly see everything being shuffled dutifully around the board, and it’s hard not to wish it would just get on with it already. We have Spider-Man showing up to hand over the keys to what’s left of the Baxter Building (he bought it following Secret Wars while he was a billionaire… best not to ask), Dr. Doom is being repositioned back into a more traditional villain role and old staples like the Fantasti-car are brought back into circulation. All you really need is Willie Lumpkin showing up to deliver a new statue from Alicia Masters and you would be back to where the Fantastic Four began. And, to be clear, that’s not a bad thing. After being out of circulation for a while and enduring something of a backlash from their own creators, a return to the basics is likely what the Fantastic Four really need.
Thoughts on the Art
Jim Cheung is joined by John Dell and Walden Wong to provide the linework in this premiere issue. While Jim may not be the number one artist in Marvel’s stable, he has the name recognition to add some gravitas to what might otherwise be a throwaway issue. John Dell and Walden Wong are veteran inkers, and their work really makes Jim’s artwork pop. Frank Martin adds color to the story, and while I think his palette may skew a bit too heavy on the dark side of things, it overall is a pleasing look. I suspect the darkness is meant to contrast with the brighter colors of the various flashbacks, and thus invoke a more innocent time frame, but I could do with a little less of that.
On the whole the art in Marvel Two-in-One #1 looks good, with excellent line work and colors. It’s not exactly a throw back to the simple panel storytelling of original Fantastic Four artist Jack Kirby, but it certainly is reminiscent of it. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable lack of Kirby Krackle, which I think is a missed opportunity (they appear in a single flashback panel). So long as the team can maintain this level of quality Marvel Two-in-One will be one of the best looking books in Marvel’s arsenal going into 2018.
Marvel Two-in-One #1 is laying the groundwork for returning the Fantastic Four to their origins. Given all that has happened with them lately, and what will hopefully be happening in the near future, I cannot say that this a bad approach. They have been out of circulation long enough that this will go a long way to re-establishing them, and hopefully taking some of the bitterness of their most recent cinematic endeavor off our tongues. It is not a perfect book, and is held back mostly by the need to wipe away some of the detritus that accumulated in the wake of Secret Wars. With that dutifully swept away we should start seeing actual forward movement with issue two next month, and that is something fans should be looking forward to.