Robot 6

Reboot or die: bidding a fond farewell to ‘FF’

ff coverSixteen months after Marvel NOW! began, bringing with it new creative teams, new directions, new reboots of recently rebooted titles and new titles, the publisher is launching a new initiative. Marvel NOW! has become Marvel then, and the new NOW! is the All-New Marvel NOW!, which brings with it new creative teams, new directions, new reboots of recently rebooted titles, new titles and so on.

Not all of  the NOW! titles are making the transition into the All-New NOW!, of course, and many of those that aren’t are instead concluding (rather than being canceled), apparently having been designed from the start to only last a certain length of time, and these conclusions are taking big, pulpy chunks out of my pull-list.

This week Marvel shipped the last issue of my favorite NOW book: FF. Originally written by Matt Fraction, drawn by Mike Allred, colored by Laura Allred and, toward the end of its 15-issue run, scripted by Lee Allred from Fraction’s plotting, it might not have been the best title Marvel is publishing (that’s probably still Hawkeye), but it was certainly the most fun for the entire length of its short, bright life.

Fraction followed Jonathan Hickman on Fantastic Four, and thus inherited the new, Hickman-created two-book status quo: Fantastic Four, featuring the adventures of the original Marvel superhero team, and FF, devoted to the Future Foundation school for young geniuses that Reed Richards established. Under Fraction, Richards took his team and his two biological children on a trip through time and space, seeking a cure for what appeared to be a chronic condition that baffled even him, in the pages of Fantastic Four, drawn in a more modern Marvel style by Mark Bagley.

And in FF, the Four recruited their own replacements for a temporary, stand-in superhero team/faculty — Ant-Man Scott Lang, She-Hulk, Medusa and Johnny Storm’s pop -star girlfriend Darla Deering — to run the school and care for the kids in their stead. (And it was awesome.)

wtff

The two titles intersected in sometimes-unexpected ways — the F4 traveled back in time and met an alien posing as Julius Caesar, for example, and then, in the present, Caesar remembers the solid the original team did him, and he reaches out to the Future Foundation to help them — and necessarily had to be rather tightly plotted, beginning and ending simultaneously.

Fantastic Four was a solid, competently created book, but also a rather rote one, with Fraction seemingly writing what he thought a Fantastic Four book should be like, and Bagley drawing as he usually draws, but with nothing really passionate occurring. FF, on the other hand, featured the bright, clean, crisp, flat, decidedly old-school-looking art of Mike Allred, who draws some of the best versions of many Marvel characters since their creator Jack Kirby, in large part because he learned from and is trying to imitate Kirby’s designs.

The last time Marvel employed Allred’s talents at great length, it was during their millennial X-Men line shake-up, in which Allred was paired with writer Peter Milligan on X-Force, a deliberately subversive X-Men comic (and one that eventually changed its name to X-Statix, having thoroughly irritated plenty of X-fans by then).

In FF, his art’s application was more celebratory than subversive, and Fraction seemed to be going out of his way to give his collaborator the opportunity to draw whatever the hell he wanted, not just the core cast of heroes (and the new costumes Allred designed for them), but all the Fantastic Four trappings that could be squeezed in: giant Kirby monsters, Mole Man, Wyatt Wingfoot, Inhumans galore, The Impossible Man (and his Impossible son Adolph), Blastaar, The Wizard, Annihilus and so on. Allred draws himself, Matt Fraction and Tom Brevoort and a tiger in the 10th issue, mainly for a series of jokes but, just as likely, because he really wanted to draw a tiger (and the man draws an awesome tiger). In this final issue, Silver Surfer drops by for no real reason, other than to perhaps let readers know Allred draws a mean Silver Surfer, as he’ll get the chance to do on a monthly basis when he and writer Dan Slott launch an All-New Marvel NOW! Surfer title.

In places, the book read an awful lot like a Fantastic Four version of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and The X-Men, with the zany school full of fantastic super-kids , and yet balanced all of its humor with some pretty stark drama, most of which came from interpersonal conflicts. In that respect, FF was also a bit like Fraction’s Hawkeye: It was a funny book that was being told straight.

let's end doom

Looking back from the ending, Fraction’s plotting is even more remarkable. The third issue ends with Lang declaring his intention to eliminate Dr. Doom once and for all, and the 16th issue features Lang vs. Doom in a climactic battle that does just that. Various threads and subplots ran throughout the series, but consistent through them all was that Ant-Man wanted to take on and utterly defeat and humiliate Doom in a way Reed Richards never would and, in fact, never could — and that’s eventually just what happens (the battle eventually takes about two issues of planning, and two issues of execution).

Also remarkable is that the book told one big, 16-issue story, with no real starting and stopping. It wasn’t exactly written for the trade, but rather as a whole. So too was Young Avengers, another of the better-looking, better-written NOW! books, which makes me wonder to what extent Marvel had its NOW! launches plotted as “seasons” of 16 issues or so that, if popular, could then be rebooted to follow new, similarly sized story arcs (a la Wolverine or the Hulk comic, which are getting new #1s and slightly different directions, but keeping their creative teams), or simply end as if they were only meant to last so long. Certainly in neither FF nor Young Avengers are there any loose ends hinting at unfinished business on the part of any of the creators.

After the 20-page climax of the series, the 16th and final issue ends with a 10-page story co-written by Lee Allred and Karl Kesel (who took over scripting for Fraction on Fantastic Four) and penciled by Joe Quinones (but inked by Mike Allred and colored by Laura Allred, so that it looks about as Allred-esqe as possible without Mike Allred penciling himself). That features the Fantastic Four joining the Future Foundation and their many allies on the moon for a celebratory cookout that serves as an epilogue to the 15 issues before it and offers possibilities for the future, up to and including the resurrection of Cassandra “Stature” Lang, Ant-Man’s deceased daughter (“We could always dig up Cassie and check,” Bentley-23, the clone of supervillain genius The Wizard, says when several of the little geniuses have a realization regarding Pym particles).

creators

And it ends with a neat, two-page spread of a group photo, featuring all of the heroes and supporting characters to have appeared throughout the series, right down to Willie Lumpkin, Cargo Manshark, Tom Brevoort and the Allreds. Even Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the latter looking a little irritated to be in the presence of his Fantastic Four co-creator and dressed in a top hat and tux, as if he were on his way to Reed and Sue’s wedding.

FF was a great book, and, if you haven’t read it  yet, Uatu.

uatu Ha ha! Uatu!

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Comments

24 Comments

Enjoyed that. Thanks, Caleb.

I read a few issues of a friend’s collection early on, and it was hit or miss for me. However, if they collect it all in one trade, I’d spring for it.

My favorite title since Hickman started it, and his and the Fraction/Allred run were super different, but I love them both. I hope Robinson keeps using the kids, or maybe someone decides to give Vol 3 a go. Off the top of my head – see if Louise Simonson wants to come back and write some Marvel kids again ( and maybe bring Katie and Jack Power into the fold), or maybe Kathryn Immonen (if I recall she wrote some Earth and Asgardian kids in her JiM run).

Even if it doesn’t come back, I will enjoy re-reading this run every once in awhile.

Actually, I’ve heard it said that Jack Kirby’s Fourth World was designed to be a finite length story precisely becaused he believed the future of comics was to sell book-sized compilations at book stores, rather than the monthly grind of the newsstand.

So the short, single story arc of FF is also Kirby-esque in its architecture.

loved this book so much.
Could read it for a decade.
And this appreciation, spot on.

Even though I have all the individual issues, I’d consider buying a nice hardcover of it.

A wonderful comic that I’ll miss a lot.

But Marvel’s made a serious, damaging problem with the trade paperbacks: The first book, “FF Volume 1, Fantastic Faux” contains issues FF #4-8. In other words, the “first” volume omits the first issues.

Apparently issues #1-3 are contained in the “Fantastic Four” trade. I didn’t particularly care for Bagley’s artwork on F4 and I had no intention of picking up the F4 trade, but if I want the full FF story, I guess I’m out of luck.

I hope that Marvel releases a nice fat hardcover containing all 16 FF issues.

I hope that Marvel releases a nice fat hardcover containing all 16 FF issues.
Yeah, I hope so too.

This title never really took off with the sale and even slipped off the top 100 several issues back.

I thought the last issue was marred with an ugly, petty bit of meta commentary where writer Lee Allred (story is only credited to Fraction) has Scott Lang say he’s had the misfortune of meeting people who think Doom is layered, nuanced and deep. So I guess he is slamming writers like Roger Stern, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas and any fan who’s ever read Emperor Doom, Triumph and Torment, etc.

Doom is no Nobel Peace Price winner but IMO he wouldn’t have been as enduring a character over the years if he were a cardboard, moustache twirling villain.

All I have to say is…
WTF is up with that She-Thing with a human head?

That’s Darla Deering, the Katy Perry -like character introduced as Johnny’s girl friend who is now two timing him with Scott Lang. She made a rather useless addition to the team running around in an old Thing suit Reed created during one of those times when Ben reverted back to his human form.

William Hamberlin

January 25, 2014 at 3:02 pm

It is tough to to say wether or not it was the BEST book Marvel was publishing, but it was my favorite book by any publisher and it will hold a special place in my heart for a long time. Great great series.

I have been reading Fantastic Four since the late sixties, and have been a die hard fan ever since. I concur that FF, the companion book, was one of the best versions of the Fantastic Four I’ve read in a very long time. The battle between Doom and Scott was epic, and was meaningful as it had a several issue build=up, so that it was not just a rushed ending. The the little touches (Scott crushing Doom’s hands as a call back to Battle of the Baxter Building in FF # 40) warmed this old geek’s heart. I hope future creators carry on the characterization of Doom that ended this issue.

The ten page epilogue nearly brought a tear to my eye. I loved how it was told from the Future Foundation’s point of view, with significant differences from the similar epilogue in the main Fantastic Four # 16 book. A beautiful run.

I’ll miss this book, especially Darla Deering. She was my favourite!

I have never read a single issue of FF, but I always thought that Allred’s art was really fun. I might consider picking it up a collection of the entire series.

Sounds great, will try to pick this up some time.

For those complaining about the first two issues of FF being collected in the Fantastic Four trade, you really do need to read at least the first two issues of Fantastic Four in order to put FF in context. It sets up the series’ concept, introduces Darla Deering, features Reed asking Scott to take over the FF, etc. Definitely worth getting.

Doctor Doom skinned the love of his life to make a suit of armor. I am glad that Scott Lang called out Dr.Doom as a sociopath.

I don’t think it negates the nuance of characterization of Roger Stern, Gerry Conway, or Roy Thomas. He can still be read as a complex character with nuanced motivations. However, from the POV of Scott Lang, his accuser, that stuff doesn’t matter because when it comes down to it, Doctor Doom murdered his daughter without remorse or any other future consideration because she didn’t factor into his personal plans. It felt a bit like bullying but I did enjoy Lang’s verbal dismantling of all the lies Dr.Doom tells himself so that he can continue to think that he’s the true hero of civilization whereas the FF, Avengers, etc. are the villains for interfering with his plans. . Lang isn’t a psychologist so his diagnosis has no real weight and Doom’s reaction to the imagined death at the end counters Lang’s argument. Would Doom be so devastated if he truly were a complete sociopath?

Laurence J Sinclair

January 27, 2014 at 4:25 am

Doctor Doom killed Cassie Lang in self-defence. She attacked him, he instinctively lashed out. He happened to be hepped up on the Life Force at the time, and so he killed here. That same Life Force is the excuse being used to absolve the Scarlet Witch of any repsonsibility for House of M, because it drove her mad. The same courtesy should be extended to Doom.

I checked picked this book up by accident and fell in love. It was one of the few comics I looked forward to reading every month. It will be missed and I hope many of these characters, especially the students, I’ve grown quite fond of don’t end up in comic book limbo for years on end.

It will be interesting to see who uses Scott Lang next, and what they do with him. That ending for FF really amped him up power-wise, and the whole series established him as what should now be an A-list hero and team leader (albeit reluctantly at times). Add in the facts that Cassie might be coming back, he has a hot girlfriend now in Darla Deering, and a small little movie coming out next year, Scott Lang should be a hot character that hopefully Marvel has big plans for in the next two years.

And hopefully we see a written scene in a comic soon between Scott and Hank about the Pym Particles. Super-genius Hank should be quite humbled that it was Scott who really figured out how to use the particles. Should be an interesting conversation.

I feel CBR is trying to hype Matt Fraction too much in repentance for running multiple articles on how he was taken off inhumans.

Matt Macomber:

And Mark Waid also believed in a totally evil Doctor Doom….which is easy to prove when you write a story that does exactly that. Matt Fraction & the Allreds did the same by writing a mostly cardboard version of Doom throughout their FF/Fantastic Four.

Laurence J. Sinclair:

Totally in agreement with you about Doom’s actions in CC. He was attacked by about a dozen heroes as usual after offering to bring back some of their comrades who had died. When is Scott Summers going to get his beatdown for killing Charles? Namor probably killed hundreds when he sent a tidal wave over Wakanda. Both went more than a little off kilter from being possessed by the Phoenix force

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