A new take on an old favourite as Mark Russell and Sean Isaake blends real world events with the marvellous and iconic family saga of Marvel’s First Family in ‘Fantastic Four: Life Stories’ #1. A respectful trip down memory lane with a few new twists on a familiar story. Excelsior!
Mark Russell had promised a six-issue series focussed on family and set against a backdrop of real world events and this first issue blends both nicely, with one of the Fantastic Four’s classic early adventures taking centre stage in this fascinating new celebratory series from Marvel Comics.
There is often a lot of talk about artists using an economy of line to produce startling artwork with the minimum of fuss, but after reading this debut issue, I’d add the writing of Russell into a new category: economy of words. Not only does he have the unenviable task of remixing the Fantastic Four’s origin with a good dash of hindsight helping him create something truly fresh and original, but he has to distill a decade’s worth of storylines and real world events into this issue. And he makes it look effortless, cherry picking exactly what he needs, while finding the time to pay homage to the past too. All tied together with the nifty framing device centred around America’s race into space. His use of panels to capture iconic moments from their early years, and time jumps, help keep the story moving at a brisk pace while allowing Russell to focus on the family dynamics rather than their memorable adventures which have been revisited more than enough times already. A clever narrative trick to recognise the past while telling the story he wants to tell.
And in artist Sean Izaakse, Russell has the most apt of creative partners for this project. No starter to the Fantastic Four himself, Isaakse’s blends just the right amount of Kirby nostalgia and influence into each scene to not lose sight of his own style with a great eye for detail too. His layouts, and hot-takes on the FF’s early years along with Nolan Woodard’s colours come across as nothing short of respectful of the past, while offering very modern Marvel take on such scenes. A great balancing act from one of Marvel’s finest artists.
And so we get a youthful Reed Richards persuaded by President John F Kennedy himself to help him – and America – in catching up with the Russians, who famously launched the first manned space mission into space in 1961, and the year in which this decades-spanning family saga begins. And while I won’t spoil the ending, I think you can guess where this is heading given we end this issue in 1969 in jubilant spirits. But not before Reed’s own infamous journey into space which saw him and his travelling companions transformed into fantastic folks with fantastic powers. But with a good deal of new twists added.
New twists that give a new tale on the original costumes worn. Not so much superhero suits adopted after their fateful journey into space, but rather costumes reflecting this attempt to travel to the stars as the fourth attempt as part of the Cassandra 4 program. A little change, yes, but a great explanation implied wonderfully. Russell has never been a writer to underestimate his readership, and the issue is full of such additions and remixed stories. One such re-imagining is one seen in all the previews: the coming of Galactus. A being glimpsed by Richards while travelling through the cosmic rays, but one that will haunt him for a while longer, as Russell zooms in on one story in particular: that of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Silver Age classic, Fantastic Four #50 and Fantastic Four #51. Or rather the retelling of one particular storyline from the latter issue, involving one Doctor Ricardo Jones. The classic ‘This Man, This Monster’ retold with much of the original emotional impact of this story intact. It’s all about the microcosmic than the cosmic, that’s or sure. But then, the family dramas and dilemmas – the human story behind the superhuman stories – have always been the enduring appeal of Marvel’s First Family.
With still so many classic characters and further iconic FF storylines to revisit over the next five issues, this mini-series is a truly worthy way to celebrate one of Stan and Jack’s most beloved set of characters. And a reminder of their appeal, sixty years later!
Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 is out Wednesday 19th May from Marvel
And why not check out my interview with Mark Russell himself here?