Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Fantastic Four: Full Circle’

“Never a moment passes by when I feel I’m not treading water in a sea of drifting souls”

Abrams ComicArts broke into Marvel’s offices, beat up C.B. Cebulski, and forced him to let them publish Fantastic Four: Full Circle, Alex Ross‘s love letter to the Lee/Kirby era. Poor C.B. Cebulski, getting bullied by a publisher like that!

I’ve been trying to catch up on my reviews because I got so far behind, and I’ve been skipping some of the “just decent” graphic novels I’ve been reading, even though I’m still not going to be able to get to all the graphic novels I got this year. Sigh. Too many comics!!! This came out on the last day of August, for instance, and I’m just now getting to it. But, as I pointed out, it must be better than “just decent,” right, because I’m reviewing it?

Well … to a degree. The reason you get an Alex Ross comic is to look at the art, and Ross has presumably been working on this for decades, if not centuries, so the art is amazing. He sends the group to the Negative Zone so he can engage in some physics-defying weirdness, and he gives us some weird-ass creatures, creepy villain types, and just plain old unusual buildings, because they can’t just build regular buildings in the Negative Zone! His FF are classic – no beard on Reed, for instance, because we all know that beards these days are just so racists can hide their identity when they’re out committing racist acts (didn’t you know that? I just learned it!!!!) – and he never tries to make them something they’re not. They’re just paragons of virtue, standing tall and resolute in the face of evil. Good for them! Ross knows how to construct a comics page, and his use of actual 3-D models (which I know he’s done in the past, although he could have moved to digital by now) means that his understanding of perspective is almost unmatched among comics artists. He is able to skew our view of things because he’s so good at keeping everything proportionally consistent, so when the FF are descending onto Negative Zone Earth, Ross can show us the view from above them and make sure the buildings don’t look out of whack but it’s still a breathtaking page. He uses diagonal panels very well throughout where regular, quadrilateral panels could do, but because he’s so good at constructing these pages, the diagonal panels give us a sense of momentum, of pushing the story forward quickly, that matches the tone of the book, as the team leaps into the unknown. There’s not a ton of fighting in the book, but Ross does well with that, too, giving us panels laid out across both pages to maximize the space of the fights, allowing him to show, for instance, Johnny leaving a trail of flame across the entire two pages, making the Torch’s fighting style more impressive. He also eschews gutters, so the panels slam against each other in a dynamic fusion of images, but Ross never allows the experience of following along become confusing. The double-page spreads are amazing – one in which the FF fall into the Negative Zone is so Kirby-esque it almost makes you cry, and one of Annihilus eating dinner is both hilarious and horrifying (yes, Annihilus eating dinner – deal with it). The team coming face-to-face with the main threat of the book is another astonishing double-page spread, as it gives us a superb idea of the scope of the problem. Ross colors the book beautifully, too – he uses a lot of lurid, Day-Glo hues to highlight the weirdness of the Negative Zone, and it provides a very neat contrast to the “positive” dimension of the Marvel Earth. He uses Kirby Krackle sparingly but effectively, and it’s always fun to see. This really is an artistic triumph, and it’s clear why Ross, despite not doing very much interior work anymore, is still such a popular artist.

As for the story … boy, Ross is a good artist, isn’t he? I kid, I kid – he’s definitely better as an artist, but the story works pretty well, too. It’s not brilliant, which is why this isn’t one of the best graphic novels of the year, but it’s a good platform on which Ross can build his artwork, and that’s all it needs to be, right? In this case, he wants to get the FF to the Negative Zone, so he does. A figure appears inside their headquarters, and when it collapses into Ben’s arms, they put it on the table and Ben recognizes him as the dude who replaced him in the classic Fantastic Four #51, the guy who eventually sacrificed himself in the Negative Zone so Reed could escape it. The dude appears dead (or … inert?), but then weird creatures burst out of his mouth, and after the team fights them off, Reed figures out that the body has a dimensional gateway inside it, so they need to close it from the other side. Off they go! They avoid Annihilus for the most part, meet an old enemy, and discover something strange on Neg-Earth, but Ross resists making this a big-punchin’ superhero story, which I appreciate. I do wish he had had them explore a place they hadn’t been to, but such is life. Far too often, writers come onto the book and claim they’re going to do the FF as explorers, but they always slide back into superhero fisticuffs, but because Ross only has a limited amount of space, he doesn’t do that. He even makes Reed far less of a dick than usual (writers always imply that geniuses are nudge-nudge-wink-wink “autistic” without coming out and saying it, which means their geniuses are all dicks, which is not how autism works), so that’s nice. He “defeats” the bad guy with logic, in other words, and the bad guy isn’t the entire point of the book anyway, so that’s keen, too. As a plot, the book leaves a bit to be desired, but Ross understands that the FF don’t need to punch everything, and for that, it’s better than a lot of FF stories.

Despite the fact that the story isn’t the greatest, it’s certainly not bad, and this is still a cool book. Ross wants to draw weird and wild things, and he figures out an interesting way to get the FF to the Negative Zone, one that ties into the team’s rich history. As always, I would love to see these kinds of books from Marvel and DC, where they let a talented creator go off and play in their toyboxes without worrying about what’s going on in the larger universe. Ross knows the FF’s history, and it’s fun to see him tie this to that, but it’s not necessary, really, to have read any FF comics prior to this one. It’s a gorgeous book, and it’s very cool that Ross got to do it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆


    1. Greg Burgas

      Hmmm … I don’t know, honestly. I ordered it from Previews, so it showed up at the comic book store and was handed to me! I would imagine it would be on a graphic novel shelf, though.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Renovations, the curse of the pack rat!!!!!

      It’s very nice right now – high 60s, low 70s, sunny. Usually Christmas week is the worst of the year, weather-wise, but so far, so good!

    1. Greg Burgas

      I was reading the latest Nate Powell book, and it’s about raising kids in the age of Trump, and he has a long section about beards and wrap-around sunglasses and how racists use them as “masks” to hide their identity while they do racist things. It’s a bit of a reach, honestly, but it was pretty fascinating!

  1. Peter

    Pretty much agree 100% here – I thought this was a great coffee table purchase. Great art unlike what you usually see from Ross, and unlike most of what you’ll see on the racks these days, with an inoffensive but just OK story. It was a little pricey in my opinion, but still a worthwhile purchase for the great art. I do think Ross nailed the voice of the characters and would say this is well-written comfort food, though the plot is pedestrian and a bit nonsensical at points.

  2. I’m not the biggest Alex Ross fan, but I do prefer his pencils to his paints, and the format of this book made me curious. I dig the oversize trim, and I like the art, especially the colors. The story is something of a nothingburger to me. It is pretty ballsy to do a sequel to everyone’s favorite Fantastic Four story, but I’m not sure it works.

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