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Review: ‘Marvel 2-in-One Vol. 1: The Fate of The Four’

Fate of the Four

Marvel 2-In-One Vol. 1: The Fate of The Four
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artists: Jim Cheung, Valerio Schiti, John Dell and Walden Wong
Marvel; $17.99
Rated T for Teen

This series is a pretty perfect distillation of Marvel’s impulse to serve the older, shrinking, extant audience for their monthly comics instead of at least trying to reach new readers.

Marvel 2 in OneThe particular purpose of the series is to serve as a sort of bridge between various other comics, therefore necessitating at least a passing familiarity with them. The Fantastic Four, the superhero team that was the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe despite having long since been the publisher’s most popular or relevant franchise, was sundered during the events of 2015 series Secret Wars. Mister Fantastic and The Invisible Woman (and their kids) were left outside of the known universe, believed to be dead, while The Thing and The Human Torch rather randomly joined the casts of other books that have since been canceled and/or rebooted themselves. After a few years with no Fantastic Four book on the stands, the title just relaunched with a new #1, but this book is a kinda sorta lead-in or prelude to it.

And what did Marvel title this book, in which The Thing and Human Torch reunite, and, with a pair of unlikely allies, go about searching for their lost teammates? The New Fantastic Four? The Thing and The Human Torch? No, they called it Marvel 2-in-One, which likely doesn’t mean anything to anyone under a certain age. But that was the title of a Thing team-up book that Marvel published between—let’s see here—1974 and 1983, which suggests the target audience.

It’s a good thing that the book is so well made, then, because despite the publisher’s pitching it to their older, die-hard fans, it’s actually very well written, and perhaps as well drawn as could be expected for a book that has two pencillers and four inkers in its first six issues.

The writer is Chip Zdarsky, who has rather quickly carved out a niche as an excellent writer of funny comic books, often managing to inject a surprising amount of pathos into sometimes fairly silly situations. (In addition to relaunching Jughead for Archie Comics, Zdarsky has written a Star-Lord miniseries for Marvel, as well a short-lived Howard The Duck revival and is currently three trade paperbacks deep into a run on Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man.)

When The Fate of The Four opens, Benjamin “The Thing” Grimm is trying to carry on certain aspects of his team’s legacy, giving a speech at the first celebration of The Fantastic Award, a $100,000 research grant. Meanwhile, Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm isn’t doing so hot after the loss of his sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew, and he has been pushing himself to his limits, testing his waning super-powers. In a neat if obvious metaphor of families or teams—the FF was both, remember—being stronger together than separately, Zdarsky posits that their super-powers are sustained by proximity to one another, and with the the circuit now broken, the surviving members of the team are gradually losing their powers.

Setting up the premise of the new series, Ben receives an extremely belated holographic message from Reed that was recorded in the event of his death, in which he bequeaths to his friend a special device that will allow him to travel into alternate universes, along with the request that he take Johnny with him, to continue their work of superhero exploration—and to keep Johnny out of trouble.

Ben does so, but to get Johnny to go along, he tells him a little white lie that readers know is actually the truth: Reed and Sue and their kids are still out there in the multiverse somewhere, and they just need to jump from dimension to dimension until they find the right one. They get a pair of unexpected teammates, in the form of new character Rachna Koul, a misanthropic super-scientist specializing in super-powers who has a sketchy, ulterior motive for helping them, and their one-time archenemy Doctor Doom, who has, of late, been trying to refashion himself as a superhero rather than a super-villain.

This first collection, which includes the first six issues of the new series, finds them in their first alternate dimension, one in which the Four has also been broken apart, but, in this one, it’s Johnny and Ben who are missing, and Reed and Sue who are trying to carry on. It’s also a post-apocalyptic dystopia where Doom switched brains Freaky Friday-style with cosmic destroyer god Galactus and has eaten the entirety of the universe except for Earth, although he’s due to return for that in time for the climax of this storyline.

This allows for a gigantic, crazy battle with the sorts of stakes that couldn’t happen in the “real” Marvel Universe, because writers can’t break anything beyond repair there. Despite the bombastic plot-points, Zdarsky manages to keep a genuinely affecting human core to the heroes at the center of the book, mostly by hewing so closely to their long-established characters—Ben and Johnny and the rest of the FF characters are, after all, among the very first Marvel characters, and thus their voices are the most established. To a certain extent, the best FF writers work more like film directors or producers than script writers, setting up scenarios: The characters handle their own dialogue and reactions to the situations they’re put in.

There’s no regular art team on the book, to its detriment. Pencil artist Jim Cheung draws the first two issues and the sixth, while Valerio Schiti handles the middle chapters that fall between Cheung’s. Both are excellent artists, of course, but it’s nevertheless unfortunate that the demands of accelerated publishing schedules mean most modern Marvel comics don’t get to have a single artist work on a book and establish a unique look and feel for it.

Overall, this is a really rather good superhero comic, and, despite its title and mandate, it’s actually much more accessible than it might otherwise appear.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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