Matt Fraction is balancing quite the tightrope between superhero and sci-fi book, leaning into the strange, fantastical worlds that the First Family find themselves traversing as they search for fun, education and a cure for their deteriorating conditions. Last issue, a band of nostalgia bandits, criminals who steal from the past to prevent the future as “everything sucks now, but was awesome before,” wound up setting off a time bomb, hurtling half of the Fantastic Four back to the prehistory of the strange planet they find themselves on. It’s a hilarious concept for a villain group that Fraction leans just hard enough into to make work without going too over-the-top.
The dialog between the Four (plus three) is definitely the highlight of this book, with Fraction taking advantage of all the history of the team to create naturalistic, easygoing speech that non-verbally communicates an intimate familiarity between the group and never forgets the family dynamic, even in the face of Valeria’s sometimes-insufferable-but-fine-this-issue ultra-genius/world-weariness. Ben Grimm, especially, comes through amazingly well, constantly putting on the bravest face despite the fact that his malady is, by far, the most dire and most visible.
There’s no gentle way to say this: the art in this book seems extraordinarily rushed. Mark Bagley is, for my money, one of the most consistently excellent artists working, able to put out great material month after month without delays, but it’s becoming clear that every other week may simply be too much. Lines, with inks supplied by Joe Rubinstein, are sloppy and jagged (which doesn’t suit the book’s whimsical tone), colors, by Paul Mounts, are flat and facial expressions are muted and generic. The action has a good flow and the creature designs and backgrounds of the planet are a sight to behold, but can only do so much.
As much as I enjoy the concept of the nostalgic criminals, their precise nature and methodology remains vague and murky, though their motivations come through with crystal clarity. The issue also concludes with a deus-ex machina that, despite being fairly amusing, isn’t really earned and comes, quite literally, out of nowhere.
This book is still highly entertaining and worth looking into if you’re already a fan of the team, but it’s not likely to win any new converts. The writing is good enough to keep the book in the realm of entertaining, though I still think too much is taken for granted as being comprehensible and requiring no exposition, but the art is definitely suffering under the intense release schedule.