The Karl Kesel era of Fantastic Four begins with an issue that, even though it’s mostly set in an alternate reality, refocuses the story and sets us up very nicely for the ending of what Fraction had planned.
We open with the team’s initial departure from Earth, leaving Ant-Man and the rest of the FF gang in charge. Only this time, as soon as the team leaves… Doom, Kang and Annihilus attack. Flash-forward a year, and those bad guys have taken over the world, leaving a rag-tag bunch to try and take them out. In this universe, the Fantastic Four are slightly different. Reed is bald and actually called Stevenson Storm, meaning he and Johnny are brothers. He is still married to Sue, but in this reality, she’s black. Ben Grimm is black as well, both as The Thing and as a human. Apart from this though, everyone else, Namor, Ant-Man, Bentley-23 (who gets the awesome codename ‘Wiz-Kid’ here, although he hates it), Dragon Man and time-transplanted Jean Grey, is the same. I thought it was pretty clever for Kesel to bring in OG Jean Grey here, and have her time-travel status be the reason Doom and the rest can’t track the FF.
The team mount an attack on Doom, but it fails, and we discover that this reality is the one that ‘Old John Storm’ comes from, and he wakes up from dreaming about it. Back in ‘the real world’, we see that Thing’s physical deterioration has continued, he’s now a hideous melting blob, and to top it all off, the other team-members powers are also fucking up even more. Old John tells them all that he knows how to save them, but even if they survive, they will still be… DOOMED! Which does sound pretty ominous doesn’t it?
As I said, this was a good issue, I’m a sucker for alternate realities, and even though the one here wasn’t a big departure, it was cool, and I’m guessing a lot of what we saw here will play into what happens to the real Fantastic Four before this story ends. Kesel has a great affinity for these characters, and he writes them well here, and thow in the usual consistent Bagley art, and I think this book is now moving in the right direction.
In retrospect, this book never reached the heights I thought it should have under Fraction, but now that the central ideas are well, becoming more central, I think we’re going to get a good ending, to set us up nicely for James Robinson’s run. It was also great to see this book and FF link up a bit closer once again, with Scott Lang playing a large role in this issue. Good stuff.