Review by Frank Plowright
With First Family Joe Casey and Chris Weston return to the earliest days of the Fantastic Four, just after they arrived back on Earth having acquired their super powers in space. It dances around what was seen in the first couple of Fantastic Four comics, filling in gaps. The reaction of the authorities on seeing the returned FF is to confine them in a secret facility also housing other people who’ve been exposed to radiation. Reed Richards is eventually able to convince them of the good people could do with super powers, which is how the story continues with the FF in Manhattan and in their own premises.
It’s a clever continuity implant on Casey’s part, occuring over a matter of months during the Fantastic Four’s first adventures. These are referenced, with the occasional incident shown for the purposes of recontextualising it, but they’re largely incidental to Casey telling his own story about a new threat. Even before the Fantastic Four took their fateful space flight a research scientist acquired prodigious mental powers, and the FF’s subsequent conversion has prompted him to action, his beliefs underpinned by an attitude of superiority and a consequent dismissal of humanity as irrelevant.
Although Franz Stahl is a threat, the thrust of First Family is more character based, dealing with how the Fantastic Four adjust to having super powers, and how all the administrative obstacles to their functioning as a super team are overcome. It’s enlightening for the most part, with Casey capturing personality and doubt well among the FF’s male members, but he isn’t entirely successful because while they’re coming to terms with their changes and interacting with others, Susan Storm is only ever an appendage to Reed Richards. Because times have progressed since the early 1960s she’s given a slightly updated attitude, but her sole concern is how the changes have impacted on the relationship she has with Reed. It’s essential for the story’s climax, but unconvincing.
Weston’s art is hyper-detailed, with every crease on a piece of clothing visible and every button or bolt on a mechanical device on show. It’s an incredibly work intensive method, but one that produces consistently impressive looking pages, if sometimes with stiff figures. He includes subtle artistic touches. Most of the story occurs before Reed developed costumes for the team, and Weston has the Thing in shirt and tie, the seams ripping slightly as he becomes angry. He also develops new designs for the visual presentation of Susan and Johnny when using their powers, that of the Human Torch very impressive, seen fully as a person within his generated flame.
It’s nice that personality is key when the final showdown occurs, Casey establishing that the Fantastic Four do have a bond, they’re not just four people thrown together by circumstance. It reinforces what’s always made them unique as a team, and First Family is a generally enjoyable outing.