Review by Jamie McNeil
In years past Fantastic Four carried the hyperbolic tagline of ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ because it was the biggest selling title in the Marvel stable. That hadn’t been the case in recent decades, but something Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch wanted to change. The title is no empty boast. This is a page turner of outstanding quality showcasing Millar and Hitch’s talents at the highest level.
The central focus is the Fantastic Four themselves, individually and as a family. This was a revolutionary step in re-evaluating superhero comics when the FF were introduced, and Millar adheres to this concept. Every aspect of World’s Greatest is entirely relateable from individual personalities to group dynamics, whether dealing with another world-ending crisis or just getting on with normal life. Hitch’s finely detailed art adds layers of realism to FF’s world of epic science fiction and conspiracy theories. Character facial features and emotive expressions greatly enhance Millar’s dialogue, but there are also amazingly imaginative alternate dimensions, wonderfully coloured scenery and devastating punch-ups that fill big frames, even one or two whole pages.
The content has an old school Fantastic Four feel, imbued with the chaotic yet loving atmosphere that makes up modern family life. Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny are all utterly believable, as are the children Franklin and Valeria, each a bit like someone we might know. In fact, all the characters introduced feel very human.
Alyssa Moy-Castle (Reed’s intellectual equal dubbed ‘Mrs Fantastic’ by Sue) drips brilliance, arrogance and sex, but is she really there to enlist Reed’s scientific expertise for a well-illustrated project to save mankind, or to capitalise on Reed and Sue’s well publicised marriage problems? Johnny’s fling with Cindy the new super-baddie is like car-crash television. The craggy Ben finds love with teacher Deb, but Ben’s world is a whole new experience. Is Tabitha, the new nanny so well liked by the children, actually who she says she is? Why is she so familiar? And who are these people powerful enough to take down Doctor Doom in just a few minutes?
This is a book of utterly audacious themes: mysterious meta-humans, time-travelling refugees, elitist conspiracy theories, rampaging AI taking their security-keeping protocol to literally, shadowy philanthropists and bleak alternate futures. These are blended with relevant issues such as global-warming, world poverty, nuclear disarmament and a growing refugee crisis.
On the downside, grounding World’s Greatest in realism required many (frequently humorous) references to celebrity and pop culture of the time that provide a dated feel even a few years on. Experimentations with ideas from earlier Marvel stories are fun but contrived. Hitch’s attention to detail is sumptuous but can make it difficult to follow battle sequences while ironically giving them even more realism.
On the whole, Millar and Hitch make Fantastic Four feel fresh and modern, with well-paced and enjoyable character-centric stories. There are enough flashbacks to introduce the team to new readers and it still feels familiar enough for anyone becoming reacquainted with the Fantastic Four. The plot is well mapped out, small story arcs developing and slipping into place as the main tale unfolds, carefully interlocking and leading right into The Master of Doom.