Today, Ethan and Shelby are discussing FF 7, originally released May 15th, 2013.
Ethan: Family is the most important thing. The ones closest to us make all the difference, whether that’s helping us reach our goals, being there for us when we’re down, or providing vital sustenance when we kill them and eat them. More on that later. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Michael Allred continue to shepherd FF forward through the latest crisis — the assault by The Wizard — with the all of the quirks and charm we’ve come to expect. Even for an issue that spends more time than usual on its fight scenes, Fraction still finds ample room to pack in both the standard measure of goofball interactions and touching moments.
The Wizard has made his move, kidnapping his child clone, Bentley-23 and pulling the Baxter Building into the Negative Zone. With Medusa under his mental control and Blastaar following his lead, he attacks the FF. The stand-in Fantastic Four (minus Medusa) and the entire Future Foundation, kids and all, make their stand against the attack. The Wizard is blinded by his ego, Blastaar is anything but a nuanced fighter, and Medusa is dipping in and out of control of her body, so it’s not too surprising that the FF takes the upper hand. Nevertheless, Blastaar manages to corner Darla and things are about to go south until Bentley-23 shows up with a jury-rigged teleportation cloak, which he uses to send Blastaar out of the fight. Leech finally manages to send Medusa to sleep, and The Wizard is subdued and taken to the Inhumans for judgement. The Baxter Building is returned to Manhattan, and everything seems fine. That is, until we cut to Latveria, where Alex Power has just succeeded in getting an audience with Doctor Doom, the latter of whom is very curious about the FF’s designs against him.
If you made a pie chart of Villainous Motivations, the biggest piece would probably be labeled “MORE POWER!!!1!” Next, you might have maybe a quarter of the circle dedicated to “Sweet Revenge,” maybe an eighth going to “Trauma (Poor Upbringing / Tragic & Sudden Loss).” Finally, you get a sliver — more of a colored line, really — we’ll label “Other.” The Wizard’s campaign against the FF falls firmly into this last category. Lately he’s been more down-and-out than usual (which, given his record is pretty down and pretty out). What driving force compels him to throw himself back into the game (the one he always loses) and show his face (his oh-so-punchable face)? The answer: Family. As we see in the opening panels, he’s pretty open to your definition of family, as long as it means that you are all in the same place and someone’s in charge.
Granted, Blastaar’s example stretches things a bit, but man, you cannot fault The Wizard’s focus; he doesn’t miss a beat. See — Uncle Blastaar understands family. And yes, he engaged in some loving, supportive cannibalism, IN ORDER TO KEEP HIS FAMILY CLOSE, I am sure, but what’s important is that WE ARE FAMILY and EVERYONE AGREES WITH ME.
As the fight draws closer, Fraction takes a moment to reflect the theme of family onto the good guys. For The Wizard, “family” is just a convenient word to slap onto the latest weird, warped structure he’s working inside of. Bottom-line, he’s Daddy, and everyone needs to listen to Daddy. Not a far cry from the standard power-grab motivation, but given a new name here for, honestly, narrative usefulness and humor. To Scott Lang (Ant-Man), family is something quite different. Allred hits us with the familiar, beautiful, haunting scene that has come to symbolize Scott’s most direct definition of family. Family is the ones we loved, and now they’re gone.
So I was a bit surprised to see him to turn to his new family – the Future Foundation kids – and tell them to suit up to face danger rather than to run and hide. I get the sense that he’s trying to turn a corner, to get out from under his clouds, and he’s also trying to figure out how to raise a bunch of superpowered kids. I appreciated his next line in this conversation: “The world is big and dangerous sometimes, Onome. But it’s the only one we’ve got. And it won’t get safer if we live safter.” As he kneels down to hug Onome, Moloids, Artie & Leech pile on to join the hug. As The Wizard breaches a wall, Scott doesn’t immediately move, and we don’t see his face. Instead, we get another flash into that part of his mind reserved for family:
Chilling and heartbreaking and hopeful all in one. Allred does a tremendous job with these flashes — he’s put us there enough times to have a sense of what that part of Scott’s psyche is, but the flashes are brief and infrequent enough to stay potent. Maybe I’m reading too far in, but in this moment, I think Scott is doing a few things. First, by placing the silhouettes FF kids on the hill below the tree, he’s recognizing the fact that he really does love the brats, that they are family. And since his experiences with family and loss are so tightly bound up, I think he’s bracing himself to lose his new surrogate children. His defense mechanisms are kicking in, ready to internalize anyone who falls, preserve them as a silhouette in his mind like his dead daughter. I think that in the moment he kneels in that dogpile hug, he is second-guessing his decision to put the FF in danger and simultaneously building his resolve to protect them in a new way — by letting them learn to protect themselves.
Our final glimpse at the bleak limbo- / family-space is after the fight, after the Baxter Building zaps back to New York:
And now the tree is budding new leaves. I liked that touch.
Shelby, I can’t wait to hear what you thought about this one. What did you think of that fight — compared to so many choreographed and polished clashes in comics, this one felt a bit brawl-y, right? And how brilliant is Alex, wandering into Doom’s castle like a teenage Jonathan Harker? Doesn’t he know bad things happen to you inside Eastern European castles?
Shelby: The fight definitely felt brawly, but in just the right way. Fraction continues to pay cheeky homage to the Golden Age while keeping the tone contemporary. Medusa may speak like the villainess of a 1950s sci-fi thriller, but Dragon Man is gonna call her on that shit.
Between that, and the Wizard proudly championing the heteronormative cisgendered cause, this issue had me laughing out loud. Fraction captures what was charming about earlier eras of comic books, but cuts out the cheesyness that just makes you roll your eyes. We’re left with a fun, boisterous, and surprisingly touching story. Allred’s style is so perfectly suited for this kind of story-telling. His bold colors and cartoonish lines are straight out of the old Sunday Funnies, and yet are perfectly suited for the more intimate moments Fraction delivers.
I actually have a slightly different interpretation of the children of FF standing below the tree. Instead of Scott seeing them as his next loss, I think he sees them as there to pull him out. His daughter is buried below the ground, but he is above it, and these kids are above it. They remind him not of what can be lost, but what can be gained in a family. And the sun breaking through the clouds, the buds on the branches? They show up when he puts his hand on Darla’s. So. Cute. I do, however, have to apologize for any complaining I did about Reed Richards messing around with the timeline in Fantastic Four. My complaint was that Reed, instead of letting the timeline play out, kidnapped Blaastar and sent him to the Negative Zone. To have that very transportation shirt Reed used deployed as the means to send Blaastar to the end of time, where the whole thing began in Fantastic…? Clever, clever, clever. Fraction “closed the loop” so to speak, completely erasing any confusion/frustration I had with the time-altering concept.
I told Patrick this issue gave me warm fuzzies, and I meant it. Fraction’s characters are so believably flawed I want to hug them and maybe punch them at the same time. Scott and Darla have both grown so much, and I am so pleased to watch their relationship develop (whatever that relationship may be). Old, Broken Johnny Torch still wants Doom dead, and Alex is there now, in way over his head. The title is fun and compelling, campy and touching. It surprises me every month. I look forward to seeing where Scott’s new-confidence will take him.
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?