Fantastic Four 5

fantastic four 5

Today, Mikyzptlk and Jack are discussing Fantastic Four 5, originally released March 13th, 2013.

Mikyzptlk: Ah families, they come is all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common. At the end of the day, they’ll always have your back. The Fantastic Four have always been Marvel’s First Family. Series writer, Matt Fraction, makes sure to keep that in mind as we go into issue 5. But how exactly does a family of space faring superheroes interact with one another and work out their problems? As it turns out, the same way that everyone else does.

In issue 5, The Fantastic Four head over to Rome circa 44 B.C.E. to drop in on Julius Ceasar. Unfortunately, it happens to be March 15th…yes, that March 15th. The Ides are upon our old pal Ceasar, but he’s prepared. As Johnny, Ben and the Richards kids head over to meet the famous emperor, Reed and Sue stay behind in the space-camper for “Mommy-Daddy Time.” Which, unfortunately for our couple, turns out to involve researching Reed’s illness and putting laundry away. Meanwhile in Rome, the remainder of the Fantastic Family meet Ceasar only to find out that he’s dead! It turns out that an alien time traveler went back to study Ceasar first hand but inadvertently caused his untimely (Pun? Pun.) death. In an attempt to prevent any further damage to the time stream, the alien being (who conveniently seems to be composed of energy) possesses the body of Ceasar and effectively takes his place. Once our heroes are caught up on who the new “Ceasar” is, they are ambushed by the Senate guard. As Johnny, Ben, and the kids are thrown to the lions-sorry-I mean fire demon, Ceasar meets his historically appropriate death at the hands of the Senate. After the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing takes out Cacus, The Son of Vulcan, the gang meet up with Ceasar who is secretly not dead (‘cuz a the whole actually being an alien thing). Sue and Reed have been able to patch things up from their spat in the previous issue, and have agreed to truly work together to help find a cure for Reed. However, one major question now plagues Sue.

You could probably just get something for that over the counter

This series, and this issue in particular, is starting to remind me somewhat of one of my absolute favorite shows, Doctor Who. While it doesn’t quite succeed as well in the humor department as the British phenomenon, I’m really starting to enjoy seeing the Fantastic Four zipping around all of time and space. With this new premise, you never quite know where we’ll find our intrepid heroes next and I think that’s helping to keep everything fresh. To take that a step further, while I find the mystery of Reed’s illness interesting, I’m not sure I even need the plot point to enjoy this series. I don’t think I’d mind one bit if this book was about the family going out and exploring the frontier of space/time just for the hell of it. However, Fraction explores Reed’s illness further in this issue and wisely expands the threat to possibly include the others as well.

One of the reasons this book is working for me is because Fraction is making sure to tell us that, at its heart, this is a completely normal family that experiences the same kinds of problems, triumphs  and emotional highs and lows of any other family. Sure, they happen to be a family of geniuses and superheroes who can just as easily take a road trip throughout all of time and space as we can to the Grand Canyon, but Fraction ensures that we relate to these people by keeping them down to earth even though they are literally out of this world. The following scene cracked me up and is a good example of what I’m talking about.

Are we done gladiator fighting yet? We're bored.

The kids are chained up with Johnny and Ben and even though are presented with something that should be exciting and/or scary seem to be completely bored with it. It’s like they are saying “Are we done gladiator fighting yet? We’re bored.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of those times when my parents took me somewhere that was supposed to be fun, but, being so young, I just wanted to go home to play with my Ninja Turtles or SNES.

The overall tone of this book is fairly bright, cheery and optimistic. Artist Mark Bagley continues to be a good fit for that. His action is clear and easy to follow and I’m really enjoying his portrayal of Ben Grimm. Colorist Paul Mounts is also giving us some great work as well. His colors are bright and detailed and bring Bagley’s pencils to life. Just take a look at Rome below. Really makes me want to get out more.

A beautiful Ides day

Well Jack, how did this issue strike you? I know you were behind on this series initially, but did you have a chance to catch up? Or did you even feel that you needed to? You seemed pretty content with this series beginning with issue 4, does that contentment continue with this issue? I didn’t touch on this too much, but how did you feel about “Ceasar’s” introduction in this issue? There was an epilogue bit at the end that suggested we may not be seeing the last of him. I’m certainly intrigued by this, but I’m not sure what to make of it as of yet. Any thoughts?

Jack: Mike, it’s interesting that you should mention Doctor Who. I had been thinking of exactly that comparison in the last issue. I think this series captures exactly that kind of pseudo-historic whimsy, to great effect. It’s a really liberated framework that doesn’t need a lot of extra context: simply take a moment in all of space and time-past and time-future that you think it might be fun to explore, and then plug your heroes in and watch them have fun adventures and narrowly escape re-writing history. There’s a fearless, indefatigable curiosity and wander-lust that keeps them eager to explore dangerous times and places, and, as you’ve suggested, Reed’s illness as a plot device is almost beside the point. To be sure, we don’t see comedic gold in every frame, but you know who’s as funny in print as David Tennant is on camera? No one, sorry.

Like Doctor Who, this series is meant to be experienced sequentially, but it doesn’t seem to matter that much if you don’t. Issues to stand up by themselves, and the larger story arc is almost impossible not to follow: the genius super-heroes traverse history in a space-ship ostensibly for fun, but secretly for urgently needed medical research. We don’t lose too much of our fun adventure-time on this larger picture, but we see just enough of it to squeeze in some character development. Reed Richards doesn’t know how good he has it, because I think in this single moment Susan trumps Rose Tyler and Martha Jones combined.

i can do both

The alien-time-traveling Caesar was a trip, and the Shakespeare-based reveal was a very nice touch. The whole time-paradox plot device (“How do we alter the past without creating a rift in space-time?”) has been done to death, so it’s nice that although fake-Caesar has a healthy respect for the astrophysics of his predicament (and is willing to get stabbed a bunch of times for it), we don’t really need to build an episode around solving the problem.

i am not caesar

I also just love how that portion of the story closes:  the kids show the same kind of enthusiasm they might use to describe a really fun day at an amusement park or the acquisition of some quirky new friendship. We have befriended another time-traveler, and he’s going to continue gaping at the Roman Empire from afar, while we move on to sample some other cosmic fare, and that same sense of the whimsical remains for the next adventure.

alien caesar

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?

29 comments on “Fantastic Four 5

  1. I’m not sure you know how happy it makes me that you used “indefatigable” in a sentence. And I’m joyfully forced to agree with you on David Tennant.

    Like I said, I like the “Reed and possibly everyone else being sick” story line well enough, but I wouldn’t mind if that wrapped that up soon and this became the FF bumming around all of space time. It’s worked brilliantly for another Doctor for 50 years so why not the FF?

    • See, I’m happy for the more serious plotline; I think it provides a backbone to the story. Fluffy space-time travel is fun and all that, but without a little bit of substance to tie it together, I would get pretty bored pretty quickly.

      • I see your point. I mean, Doctor Who always has some kind of more concrete element as the backbone to their time travel shenanigans, but we also get those silly episodes too. Plus, there’s the fact that the Doctor is a man who is eternally running away from his past and would like nothing more than to aimlessly explore the infinity of time and space. The show’s default is willy-nilly, timey-wimey fun with more serious backbones that crop up and give the show direction. FF is almost the opposite, where the purpose of the exploration is the serious backbone, and any fun to be had is more of a side-effect.

        Either way, I’m glad to get to talk about Doctor Who. 😉

        • That more serious backbone in Doctor Who is usually a Scooby Doo level of formulaic, though: the world is about to end because of a monster that is 40% likely to secretly just be Daleks and that would succeed if it weren’t for those meddling kids, while the Doctor willfully ignores the serial heart-break of all of his companions who fall in love with him.

        • I was referring to things like “Bad Wolf” or the mystery of River Song as the backbone. You know, the character building stuff. Everything else, like the monster of the week, is lumped into the goofy fun stuff. For me anyway.

  2. I will admit, when I first saw the premise for this issue, I was unimpressed; it struck me as Silver Age bullshit nonsense. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong, I really like the idea the Ceasar of history was a time traveller trying to maintain continuity, especially considering that he’s a character who’s got more roles to play. I almost wonder if he’s going to “help” the team over at FF.

    • That’s my biggest question too. He was reading about the FF in the newspaper so it seems like he was talking about them, but then he pulled out his spaceship too so I wonder two things. One, why would he want to help a team he doesn’t even know if his friends might actually need his help and two, why would he need a time machine to get to the FF if he’s already on Earth in the proper time period?

      Oh, and they made sure to jump us back to November, perhaps implying that he’s been working on something ever since then? I’m not sure, but I’m digging the idea of “Ceasar” trying to help the FF team and/or teams in some way.

      • Honestly, my first thought was that Ceasar had something to do with Johnny’s reappearance in FF. I’m still not totally convinced Johnny is who he says he is, and I can see “time-traveller alien” as a reason. Of course, I don’t have any idea of what the motivation behind that would be.

        • I had the same thought–along with a mental flash to the “Here’s Johnny!” scene from the Shining. Cuz who says he is trying to “help”? The motivation to preserve the timeline may not be the benefit of mankind. Maybe the future of mankind isn’t so bright on its current trajectory….

          But then, I’m just cynical like that.

        • Of course, I always find myself totally creeped out when I travel too far south or east of New England–I have to wonder why everyone is smiling and waving at me and acting so friendly. Everyone is NOT happy and good-natured! So what are they playing at? What do they want from me?

          I guess I can’t help myself from applying the same attitude to reading, and being distrustful of new characters (and even old ones!)–particularly when I know so many writers out there are such devious bastards! (though certainly not Fraction….)

        • Oh, I’m with you on seeing something sinister in Caesar’s (what do we call this thing, btw?) scene at the end, but I hadn’t put my finger on this theory, exactly. It makes total sense, and I really like the twist on the old “we have to protect the time stream” story.

        • Not sure what to call it, it’s not quite an epilogue right? Perhaps it’s a prologue…at the end of the story? That’s zany. I question why Ceasar would want to hurt the FF in any way when they helped him. I’m really missing some puzzle pieces here. Damn you Fraction! You’ve intrigued me.

    • Not just silver age bullshit, not just silver age nonsense, but silver age bullshit nonsense.

      I really liked the bit at the beginning where they kind of shrugged off the idea of the butterfly effect and altering the past. Reed is just like “of course, we understand it much better now,” but never really gets into it because, who cares? I think Fraction has earned the right for us to give us the benefit of the doubt when it appears as though he’s presenting us with a trivial or silly story – there will be a heart of gold in there someplace (coupled with some keen insights about relationships or something).

  3. I kind of hate Reed; I get that he means well, but his “I’m a scientist and I don’t know how to deal with/appropriately express my feelings” schtick is wearing a little thin.

    • I really can’t blame you. I think there’s a reason why we’ve never seen too many solo Reed adventures. There really isn’t much to be found in the way of personality. In the Ultimate U, they’ve actually destroyed the Fantastic Four and turned Reed into a supervillain!

    • Oh, I think the persistence of that personality trait is supposed to be hard on the family. From everything I know about Reed Richards (all 5 issues’ worth), I would suspect him to have a mild form of asbergers or some other disorder where he literally can’t grapple with emotions. He works in these giant sci-fi expressions of his love because that’s the way he thinks.

      • Sure, I get that. His inability to deal with emotions paired up with his black and white approach to problems render him a caring but frustratingly difficult to understand father and husband, it all makes sense to me. Doesn’t mean I want to spend any more time with him than I absolutely have to.

    • Oh yeah! I wanted to talk about that. At first I thought, his rocky form was just getting super-heated (which I still think may be the case). But did you notice how despondent he seemed after the fight and even when he was getting back aboard the ship? I’m not really sure what’s going on, but there’s something.

  4. Pingback: FF 9 | Retcon Punch

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