Review by Frank Plowright
Over the course of a single night, the Fantastic Four come close to disintegration. Reed Richards has been secluded in his lab for days, Susan Richards consequently feels neglected and lonely, Johnny Storm is tiring of his celebrity status, and Ben Grimm reverts back to self-pity.
Grant Morrison’s consideration of the Fantastic Four’s personalities results in few interesting moments. The Invisible Woman choosing to remain invisible while in the company of Alicia Masters, who can’t see, is one, but he generally seems to have little empathy for the characters. The Human Torch has a minor part, the Thing re-runs old grumbles, and almost as much time is given to the FF’s villains as to the stars of the collection. The main plot concerns Doctor Doom playing a game and manipulating the FF, sometimes directly, sometimes via others, replaying his usual issues of validating his superiority to Reed.
Morrison compensates for not caring too much about the cast by ramping the atmosphere up to eleven. 1234 is drenched in the gothic. Jae Lee populates his backgrounds with baroque structures, most of the story is set in an extreme thunderstorm, enabling lightning flashes and silhouettes, and Doctor Doom is given his most pompous dialogue ever. That’s deliberate beyond the mood, Morrison’s little joke, commented on in-story near the end along with a diatribe about how the allegedly superior Doom is actually pitiful. There’s no doubt as to Lee’s technical virtuosity, but his limitations are also apparent, with a tendency to compose his panels as individual illustrations instead of a moving story, and a strange use of shadow for effect.
As the cast go through the motions, some of 1234 is plain dull, and there aren’t many Morrison projects about which that’s a valid comment. He pulls things together for the finale, a nice aspect of which is the FF’s utter faith in Reed Richards, but with little to say overall and a far from compelling plot, this isn’t a book to be read more than once.
The hardcover edition presents an additional short story unconnected by anything other than torrential rain and Morrison. Manuel Gutierrez illustrates a funny contemplation on what it is to be Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., via the attempts of enemy agents to create a replica. It’s a throwaway on Morrison’s part, but crafted well enough to be an actual bonus.