FF #1 & 2, by Matt Fraction and Mike & Laura Allred
So yesterday, I kinda trashed the Matt Fraction / Mark Bagley Fantastic Four (if in a self-deprecating manner). But today saw the release of the second issue of the companion series FF, and I’ve gotta say… This is a little more like it:
To some extent, FF plays better because of artist Mike Allred. I mean, just look at that cover up there. It’s got a great design built around the book’s circular logo, showcases Allred’s deceptively retro artwork, and rather nicely illustrates the issue’s central conflict: the replacement team’s tense vigil when the real Fantastic Four don’t return on their four-minute schedule.
(Which reminds me that a bit of explanation is in order: While Fantastic Four follows the classic team on an adventure into space and time, FF is about their hand-picked stand-ins: Ant Man! Medusa! She-Hulk! And pop star Darla Deering as Ms. Thing! Though the “real” FF was only expecting to be gone for four minutes of relative time, this replacement team was put in place in case something went wrong. And of course, funnybooks being funnybooks… something’s gone wrong.)
At any rate… Mike Allred. At first glance, he seems to have a classic funnybook illustration style. But that’s really a pop-art influence. I mean, check out this establishing shot of Medusa from issue one:
The linework is simple and clean, sure, but that panel’s really all about the presentation. The reflective pose, the heart-shaped frame of Medusa’s prehensile hair, the fake benday dots (laid in by Allred’s colorist wife Laura)… There’s as much Andy Warhol as there is Jack Kirby in it. Of course, there’s some Kirby in there, too: it’s not just a pretty picture, but an effective storytelling panel that clearly defines Medusa’s role as queen of the Inhumans.
And speaking of Kirby (as we often do around here), Allred also delivers the goods on the kind of outlandish high technology that the King so definitively established as the Baxter Building norm:
What I doubly like about this machine is that it’s Kirbyesque without being completely beholden to the Kirby design aesthetic. Or to put it another way, while you can certainly see Kirby’s influence on the thing, it’s still very clearly a Mike Allred design.
Which makes me a little annoyed that Fraction’s chosen to call it “The Machine That Says Boop Boop.” Technically, I suppose it’s the Chronostellar Manifold Monitor. But nobody actually calls it that, instead falling back on the cute name given to it by Artie and Leech. Which… There’s my problem with Fraction’s work on the two FF comics, in a nutshell: he’s trying to be cute. And (as I’ve said many times before) I can’t abide cute.
It’s not that I don’t like his depiction of the kids in the Future Foundation, understand. There’s a great page immediately preceding the above scene where Artie and Leech climb all over Darla while trying (in their own fumbling manner) to tell her that Dragon Man wants to see her. It’s cool and weird in exactly the way little kids often are, and I like it a lot. But the “Boop Boop” thing drives me apeshit. As does Fraction’s continuing returns to the astoundingly unfunny comedy well of Medusa: Out of Touch Royal…
For God’s sake! She was a member of the Frightful Four! I think she understands the idea of not having handmaidens outside the palace at Attilan!
Ahem. Pardon my dork.
Things do get quite a bit better on the writing front in FF #2, though. We get to see the new team dealing with the New York news media, a perennial staple of the Fantastic Four that I’m always happy to see. Also, Fraction gets things moving beyond the series set-up with an attack from the FF’s oldest foe, and one that gives Mike Allred the chance to show off the other thing he’s really really good at: drawing the grotesque and bizarre.
Aw, yeah. Gotta love the Mole Man.
So while FF is far from perfect, it is real pretty to look at. And now that we’re starting to see the kinds of stories Fraction apparently wants to tell, I have hope that both books will start firing on all cylinders soon.