Review by Frank Plowright
Rather than the Fantastic Four being involved in a central epic, which has been the case for the last few volumes, this is a collection of stories each spotlighting aspects of the Fantastic Four’s extended family, and so providing considerable variety. For starters, there are going to be plenty of readers happy to see Dan Slott reprise his time on She-Hulk as Jennifer Walters represents the FF in court.
The opener, though, concerns Johnny Storm, whose powers have been amplified to be constantly at maximum and he can no longer turn off the flames, that a piece of petty vengeance on the part of Doctor Doom in The Bride of Doom. Nico Leon’s sample art provides an indication of how he feels about things. In addition to the clever title, a nice aspect of Eternal Flame is how Slott ensures our sympathy for the Human Torch is moderated. The result is disproportionate, but there’s no glossing over Johnny’s poor behaviour, and his problems rumble on in the background during what follows.
Jennifer is required because the Wizard wants to reclaim his cloned son Bentley, who’s been touring the universe until his return in The Forever Gate. It’s a pleasing story for actually making use of the Wizard’s intellect for once, and the Thing’s adopted children going out for Halloween is by turn charming and shocking, with the way the circumstances are later used being smart. Shorter stories about more cast members are incorporated into other events, meaning the focus is shared. These include a concisely applied logic to Franklin Richards over the years.
The bulk of the art is handled by Nico Leon (sample left) and Francesco Manna (sample right), who take different approaches. Leon’s style is tighter and more inclined to detail, while Manna concentrates on posing the cast dramatically in order that background detail isn’t required. Both are viable approaches, but Leon’s is the richer art.
Because Slott’s next FF story Reckoning War is a multiple chapter epic, the breakdown of the monthly comic leaves this collection short of content without once again including stories by other creators. ‘Road Trip’ is set before the events of The Forever Gate, so the Human Torch’s powers are under control, and Franklin still has his. Christopher Cantwell and Filipe Andrade’s exploration is of a very clever trap, but it’s over-exaggerated and prolonged beyond its natural lifespan. ‘Grimm Noir’ is better, Gerry Duggan and Ron Garney involving the Thing in a noir crime mystery that turns out to involve the supernatural. Garney shines when illustrating what for most is the unimaginable, and Duggan provides a new interpretation of Ben’s life story and what motivates him. Neither back-up, though matches the quality of the ongoing adventures, and they drag down the overall rating.