Today, Shelby and Jack are discussing Fantastic Four 4, originally released February 13th, 2013.
Shelby: With Valentine’s Day still fresh on my mind, I’ve been pondering the question, “How do you show someone you love them?” Personally, I’m a sucker for the small moments: the little inside jokes, the quietly personal reminders from one person to another that they are, in fact, loved. Don’t get me wrong, the big, grand gesture of LOVE definitely has its place as well. Sometimes, it isn’t enough to just let the person you love know it; you want the world, nay, the universe to know it as well. For some, that means touching and surprisingly well choreographed video proposals. For Reed Richards, it means travelling back through time and affecting the development of an entire race to leave himself a reminder to tell his wife what she means to him. Try beating that, viral flash mob proposals.
The Richards family, Johnny, and Ben are in for a treat; they get to meet with an alien race on an Earth-like world. It’s a good thing, too; people are starting to feel a little cooped up and grumpy, especially Ben. The aliens tell the Fantastics about an ancient cave painting they discovered that seems, well, a little familiar…
The ancient image of his family reminds Reed of the first time he laid eyes on Sue. It also reminds him that he needed to hop in their time machine ship and head back to the past to paint the image in the first place so he would realize his wife meant everything to him and he needed to come clean and tell her the real reason for the family vacay. My verb tense is a mess in that sentence, but honestly, can you blame me?
Last month I asked if Reed Richards was always such a dick, and the answer seems to be yes, kind of. Reed is the classic scientist stereotype, so focused on his work he completely misses the context clues of the social interactions happening around him. When you have a man like that, all math and science and left-brain thinking, following his heart instead of his brain, this is what you get: a vacation of false pretenses and the history of an entire culture being used like a Post-it reminder to pick up milk on the way home. Is it sweet that Reed wanted to create a monument to his wife to show the universe how much he loves her? Sure is. Is it a wildly irresponsible and selfish use of time travel? Absolutely, but if you tried to point that out to Reed, he would probably just tell you he knew it would be fine because it had already been fine, and you’d be so confused you’d just wander off.
What continues to intrigue me with this title is not the big moments, but the small ones; Matt Fraction and artist Mark Bagley have done a great job framing alien planets and time travel with little family dramas that knit the whole story together. Before the Fantastics go to see the cave, Franklin has another nightmare about everyone dying. Both the kids want mom, as usual, so Sue sits up with them the rest of the night. How do I know it’s the rest of the night? Because Fraction and Bagley make sure to show us the real-life mom consequences (momsequences) the following morning.
Reed is looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and Sue is not having it. A couple panels later she falls asleep in her chair. This whole exchange serves only to remind us that Ben is having a rough time on this trip, feeling lonely and homesick. Fraction could have conveyed that info to us in any number of ways, but instead he gives us a real family interaction that we all, as former child nightmare-havers, can easily understand. No matter the adventures or danger this family faces, Fraction does not want us to forget that they are in fact a family, held together by love and junk like that.
Despite the fact that I don’t much like Reed as a character (if he were a real-life person, I would write him off as a tool and that would be the end of it), I still enjoy this title. Between Ben feeling bummed out and Reed about to tell Sue what’s really going on, the dynamics of the family are about to be shaken up, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things are going to change and when we’ll get to Franklin’s dream of destruction. What about you, Jack? I know you weren’t reading this title, did you read issues 1-3 as well, or did you just pick up here at 4? What’s your take on the Richards family dynamic?
Jack: Shelby, normally when Retcon Punch drops me into the middle of a series, I do my best to start at the beginning and catch up. However, this particular week I’ve been stricken by a bout of illiteracy — keep your distance, it might be contagious — and misread the schedule to think I had a couple of extra days to prepare for this one. I had every intention of spending my President’s Day (happy President’s Day, by the way) reading about repression and the defunct electrical grid in North Korea. But because I am, in fact, illiterate, I’ve instead cobbled my understanding of the Fantastic Four together pretty quickly. Forgive me, dear reader, for any extra triteness or sloppiness in my analysis, today. I have not read the whole series. (How can I make it up to you, gentle reader? Well, let me save you some research time: never go to North Korea; it’s very, very sad there.)
Fortunately for my slippery-mindedness, stepping into this series is effortless. Matt Fraction has a gift for delivering all those subtle nuances that make characters and their relationships so charming. Also, he has a near-Salinger-like aptitude for depicting children in all their wholesome, grubby-handed, mischievous glory. For instance, you can tell that they’ve fought this one out before:
I’ve got two bones to pick with the plot of this issue, one with Dr. Richards, and one with the actual cause-and-effect suggested by the authors themselves. Shelby touched on this first one: Reed’s romantic gesture of fabricating an ancient cave-painting has some pretty serious ethical problems. Apart from the obvious disaster of tinkering with another species’ religion and epistemology, the condescension is not to be believed. There’s a story of a cornered Spanish conquistador who knew his astronomy pretty well and thought he could outsmart the Mayas by threatening to take the sun away in exact coincidence with the eclipse; that conquistador got his brains smashed out, because they Mayas also knew their astronomy forwards and backwards. I identify with our charming family of heroes, so I can’t wish that these aliens would catch Reed in his ruse and liquefy his skull, but I do think this sort of hubris ought to be discouraged. Also, what kind of man — scientist or otherwise — leaves the mother of his children alone with a crowd of aliens to become the central object of a series of unknown religious rituals? For all he knew, she may have come back with a septum piercing or married to four aliens or deep-fried with fish over rice.
Second bone: why, of the six figures in the supposed cave-painting, are the aliens fixated on Sue? Each one of them appears to them as an ancient two-dimensional abstraction on the wall of a cave, then materializes in the flesh many thousands of years later. Why do they only regard the blond, blue-eyed female as the perfection of a prophecy? Are we to believe that regardless of time and space, cellular composition and physiology, shape and number of appendages, all creatures everywhere are utterly preoccupied with white chicks? You see the problem here.
But that’s enough PC yammering from me for one day. I really did enjoy reading this. Let us turn now to its purer spirit, the totally charming wanderlust that characterizes all good fantasy and science fiction. That wide-eyed curiosity and reckless hunger for whatever exciting hazards are around the corner– it never gets old.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?