Fantastic Four 1234 TPB (2018 Marvel Knights edition) – Grant Morrison

3 out of 5

Grant has his ups, Grant has his downs, but interestingly, it can be his more average tales that indicate why he ultimately has stuck it out to succeed as one of the industry’s greats.  During his relatively short-lived revamp of Marvel (having spent much more time doing the same for DC), he had time to tackle Fantastic Four in a four issue mini.  Lacking the space of his X-Men run, and not being a fringe-ier set of characters that would allow for a more radical take as in his Marvel Boy mini, Grant smartly zeroed in on re-presenting FF’s strengths as opposed to tearing them all down and Morrison-branding them.  The result has moments of Grant’s top-down story-telling style – big ideas, big words, characters speaking of elusive concepts beyond our immediate comprehension – but it’s very much kept in line by staying Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Susan-centric, and by not rehashing too much of what we already know about them.  This is where the approach is an intelligent one, as FF is a misleadingly difficult book to “capture” in a one-off or mini, and so scoping it down prevents us from being disappointed by a payoff, or by the way things inevitably don’t change.  Logically, though, keeping things minimized also makes it underwhelming: your conclusion can only reach so high if, instead of building up to something explosive, you just maintain a pace.

In 1234, Doom plots to tear apart the family by plumbing at their insecurities and making them reality.  It initially seems like we’ll focus on this plan one character at a time, with Ben featuring heavily in the first issue, but Grant steps away from that thereafter to better juggle the tension level, and to leave room to bring in other FF stars like Namor and Mole Man.  He kind of sidelines Sue as a flighty, flirty girl, but mainlines her back in as, essentially, the one who saves the day.  Artist Jae Lee is bit too stately for how fast-moving Grant needs this to be, and misses the beats on some humor, but his page layouts have a graceful sense of scope and mood.

Grant is hardly the first writer to identify ‘family’ as FF’s uniting theme, nor is it particularly unique to poke at Sue’s Namor fling or Johnny’s shallowness and etcetera, but 1234 wasn’t an attempt to break the mold, so much as offer up an entertaining summary of the book and group, and the series does succeed at that.

Also packaged in the 2018 edition is Grant’s fast and furious Marvel Double Shots short featuring Nick Fury, which is exactly the kind of speedball, compressed, world-changing stuff he’s otherwise known for, and is a good comparison to the more laid back approach of the FF story.