Fantastic Four Full Circle Review

By | Wednesday, September 14, 2022 Leave a Comment
Abrams Books firstannounced Alex Ross' Fantastic Four: Full Circle back in December of last year. What struck me at the time was that it seemed to be fully intended as a canon graphic novel not published by Marvel itself, and that Abrams actually created an imprint line to launch this with. My thought at the time is that Marvel was using this book -- done by an A-list creator featuring some of Marvel's A-list heroes -- to test the waters on how feasible it would be to license out a significant portion, if not all, of their comic publishing. I haven't seen anything to change my mind on that point and the real "proof" of it will be seeing if Abrams and/or other publishers do these types of projects with increasing frequency after some of the initial reviews and sales numbers come back.

I'm leading with all that to higlight my cynicism going into this. Ross has obviously proven himself a very talent artist many times over, although I don't believe I've read any narrative works he's actually written. So, frankly, I'm a little skeptical there as well. I had no doubt this book would look pretty, but I wasn't about to hold my breath over the story. Many an artist before has thought they could write comics as well as they could draw them, and many an artist has been proven painfully wrong!

The story starts, as many FF tales do, with the team relaxing at home. Everyone is interrupted from their respective activities when a mysterious figure appears in the living room and promptly collapses. In examing the body, it appears to Ricardo Jones -- the previously unnamed scientist who took Ben's appearance way back in Fantastic Four #51 -- but soon a stream of insect-like creatures start swarming out of his mouth threatening to destroy the team. They however take care of that threat and Reed is able to source the threat back to the Negative Zone, where the promptly head to stop the problem at the source. It then seems like one threat after another until they manage to actually land on the image of Earth that appeared to be at the center of the Negative Zone and encounter an old acquaintance who then gives them some devices that allow them to return home safely. I'm deliberately leaving out a lot of the details because not only would they spoil the story, but I want to discuss some specific elements of them that would really spoil things if you had the full context of the plot as well.

I will say that I was actually impressed with the story. The dialogue sounded natural and like the characters that I'm familiar with, and the narrative largely made sense. There was one scene that I think could've been more clear -- when they defeat one of the villains, I initially mistook his "demise" as another attack against the FF and wondered why it wasn't followed up on -- but overall the narrative flowed very smoothly. I was also surprised how deliberate it was with continuity. I went into this under the impression that it was more tied to the era when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were still working on the title, and Ross would only have their 100 or so issues to think about. But it's made very clear that this story is relatively current and in continuity -- I don't have the energy right now to track down exactly when, but it's after Human Torch's "death" in 2011, which is expressly referenced. Both Reed and Sue's two kids are shown as well, although Franklin still has blonde hair, so it's probably before Ben's wedding in 2018. (This is further reinforced because Alicia is neither shown nor mentioned, despite Sue expressly noting they'll need someone to watch over the kids while they're in the Negative Zone.) There's also some oblique nods to ideas that John Byrne introduced during his tenure. In fact, the majority of Lee/Kirby continuity references are actually just some panel homages to specific pieces of Kirby art.

Ross goes a step further than that, though. In the finale, he gets into various theories posited about the Negative Zone -- ones I had written extensively about on my old FFPlaza website and are still plagiarized on Wikipedia -- and added to them. So the comic ends being not just an adventure that waxes on about "hey, remember all this cool stuff other creators did" but actively adds to the mythos by revising some of the aspects of the universe that hadn't been well defined or explored. It's certainly not "Jack Kirby introducing the Negative Zone for the first time" revelations, but it's new and different and launches from some previously untouched springboards that had been sitting around for decades. And it comes from Reed literally asking why is it doing that? How does that even work?

The blatant acknowledgement to the FF's long history with these continuity references is interesting for a couple reasons. First, it's unusual for Marvel these days. Most of their self-published comics limit any continuity references to the characters' origins and whatever the current storyline is. With the exception of The History of the Marvel Universe which is kind of its own thing, I haven't seen a Marvel story lean this heavily into continuity since the early 2000s. Second, while I don't doubt Ross included many of the references as his own personal homages, I also suspect Marvel expressly asked that several of the more current ones to be included in order to "prove" to readers that this book "counts." With this being published by someone other than Marvel, they don't want it to fail just because Joe Fanboy only considers books published by Marvel as cannon and isn't going to waste their money on an "imaginary story" or "alternate universe" book. Marvel wants this to succeed so Abrams can continue with the imprint, and they can eventually step away from being a publisher at all.

That last part is obviously a bit of speculation on my part, but it's clear that Marvel wants this imprint to do well. Whatever contract they have with Abrams, it obviously behooves Marvel for this line to succeed on a long-term basis; this isn't just a quick license to some t-shirt manufacturer or something. So Marvel is working every bit as hard as Abrams to ensure this line does well and continues.

The result is that I think Fantastic Four: Full Circle is an excellent book overall, despite my cynicism about the goals behind it. I don't know that I've seen any other books announced for the MarvelArts imprint yet, but based on this one title, I don't have any reason to not recommend it. I'm definitely keeping my eye on this line to see what Abrams and Marvel do with it. Fantastic Four: Full Circle came out last week and should be available from your regular bookstore of choice. The hardcover retails for $24.99 US, and there's a slipcase edition availavle through comic specialty shops for $40 US.
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