Admittedly, I’ve been behind on my comic reading. There was Christmas (not to mention the shopping, wrapping, and delivering of Christmas goodies). There was getting work done so I could enjoy my Christmas vacation without school stuff to do. And then there was this little movie that came out a few weeks ago that I was a wee bit focused on. But now Christmas day’s over and I’m snowed in by the CRAZY HUGE SNOWSTORM hitting us here in Erie, PA. So I’ve plenty of time to delve into the comics waiting for me! One of the comics in my pile was Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung’s new Marvel 2 In One starring the Thing and the Human Torch. Annnnd I’m in love!
Maybe it’s the time of the year. I always enjoy Christmas. I love the challenge of trying to find gifts the people on my shopping list will really love. I enjoy getting to sit around with family and friends and just enjoy time together. And I certainly enjoy Christmas snacks :). I always look forward to this vacation too because I see it as a time to wrap myself in the presence of family and just be with each other. So maybe that’s why Marvel 2 In One has so resonated with me – because it’s really all about family and I’m just in a really good mood. Or maybe it resonated with me because it’s an exceptionally great comic book and it’s something I’ve been longing for since I returned to comic reading. Whatever the reason, I’ve read Marvel 2 In One three times since yesterday afternoon and I’m thinking of opening it again once I’m done with this post.
The comic begins with Johnny Storm racing a car (and a brilliant nod to Michael B. Jordan, Chris Evans, and Jay Underwood (who have all played the Human Torch in different films) with the other drivers on the track) and Ben Grimm attending the Center for Space and Dimensional Explorations’ gala as they award their new $100,000 grant, the Fantastic Award. Spidey shows up to tell Ben he’s worried about Johnny being on a self-destructive path and gives Ben keys to the warehouse where he stored all the FF’s stuff from the Baxter Building when “his boss” Peter Parker owned it. Ultimately Ben decides to go and find Johnny, remembering Sue’s request that he look out for her little brother should something happen to her. Both men are broken without Reed and Sue. They haven’t just lost their team and their identities as superheroes; they’ve lost their family. But out of the pain and the heartache, Zdarsky brings hope and the warmth of family finding each other again after too long apart.
Even without Reed, Sue, and the kids, Ben and Johnny are family. This comic does a beautiful job of portraying that and, in so doing, underscores what Fantastic Four has always been about. It’s a book about family. While the center of the family has been Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm, it’s grown to include a great many characters over the years. Many have worn the iconic FF logo and many have found themselves part of the team. In this approach to storytelling, the Fantastic Four have always underscored an important truth (a truth, I might add, that made Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 so moving) – our family is made up not of those we are tied to by blood, but of those we are bonded to in and through love. I felt that ringing from every page of Marvel 2 In One #1 – from the narrative descriptions of the Fantastic Four, to Ben’s conversation with Spider-Man, to his tension with Doom, to his lengthy conversation with Johnny. It reminded me why I was always so drawn to the Fantastic Four.
I haven’t written much about the Fantastic Four since I started this blog. In part, that’s because I haven’t really figured out how to do it. As a kid, they were ALWAYS my favorite team. I loved the New Warriors. I loved the X-Men. The Avengers were (sort of) on my radar too (at times). I had no idea who the Guardians of the Galaxy were…but I knew there was no team like the Fantastic Four! Reading comic books and not reading Fantastic Four seemed as impossible to young Michael as reading comics and not reading The Amazing Spider-Man did. They were everything that was brilliant, exciting, and important about comic books all in one title. However, I returned to a comic scene where the unthinkable had occurred…the Fantastic Four were gone. Johnny Storm was with the Inhumans. Ben Grimm was with the Guardians of the Galaxy. And Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and their children (Franklin and Valeria) had apparently died at the end the Secret Wars (2015). These characters I loved so much, this team that was the hallmark of my childhood, are all in comic book limbo. As such, I’ve struggled a bit with writing about them.
Granted, I’ve fallen in love with so many of the new titles and new characters that greeted me when I walked back into Books Galore after a seventeen year absence! There was nothing in my youth like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel and I fell in love with Jane Foster’s Thor and Sam Wilson’s Captain America even more than I loved their namesake’s. But, despite all the brilliance, nothing has felt quite like the Fantastic Four…until now.
I will always believe they are necessary. We need the Fantastic Four. They championed scientific advancement, exploration, and harmony. In an age of climate change deniers, xenophobia, and discord, their relevance can’t be overstated. They were models of inclusion and love and they showed us how often you can fight with those you love while loving them all the same. Yes, they fought. Sometimes they fought a lot! But they always made up, found a common ground, and came out stronger because of it. They didn’t just travel the multiverse defeating evil. They showed us how to live healthy, happy lives alongside those we love even when things aren’t always perfect. They were a model in so many ways and a welcoming warmth shone from their comics because of it.
Sure, they were superheroes and the protected those who needed it. But – long before 2008’s Iron Man and Tony Stark declaring, “I’m Iron Man” at a press conference made it en vogue – they had no secret identities. So their superheroics were simply a part of who they were, a clear and open extension of their personality. This taught readers you didn’t need a flashy hideout and secret identity to be a hero. You could just be a hero because it was the right thing to do and it’s who you are. They showed their readers we are stronger together and taught us there is no force in the universe more powerful than the love that bonds a family. It’s no coincidence the team which most clearly illustrated the point, purpose, and power of love was the one who always saved the Marvel Universe from the most dangerous threats.
So I’ll say it again. We need the Fantastic Four. Thankfully, Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung’s Marvel 2 In One is aware of this. They take seriously their job of lighting the fire and fanning the flames that will hopefully bring the Fantastic Four home. In an age of rising comic costs and other (lame) adult financial obligations, I always struggle with which comics make the cut for my monthly pull list. But there will always be a spot waiting for the Fantastic Four. As soon as I heard Ben and Johnny were getting back together I knew this one was going in my file! It will stay there as long as it feels like this, bringing me some of the sense of family and purpose only the Fantastic Four can bring.
My hope – my last Christmas wish if you will (and hey, c’mon, Christmas is twelve days liturgically so I’m still well within the window) – is this new Marvel 2 In One isn’t some sort of tease or bait-and-switch. My wish is that Chip Zdarsky’s brilliant new title finally leads to a full-on revival of Fantastic Four. And I hope Chip Zdarsky is the one at the helm of that title too. If reading Marvel 2 In One (three times) has taught me anything, it’s that I am still longing for the FF; we need them, now as much as we ever did; and Chip Zdarsky is the perfect person to bring Marvel’s foremost family back into the spotlight. He gets what Fantastic Four have always been about, why they matter. Those are lessons we can always stand to hear a little more of in our lives.