Wrtten by: Chip Zdarsky
Art by: Jim Cheung
Letters by: Joe Caramagna
When you think Fantastic Four you automatically think legacy; Marvel Two-in-One for a second month in a row brings us legacy and nostalgia turned all the way up to a hundred.
At this point in the game, we know Chip Zdarsky understands how to write humor, but if the first issue of Marvel Two-in-One didn’t convince you that he can write heart and family drama this issue will. This month, the remnants of Marvel’s first family take a trip down memory lane both figuratively and literally. In this issue, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm go back to where it all started: Monster Island. To add even more nostalgia they meet and fight their oldest foe: Mole Man. Our heroes mistakenly stumble upon Mole Man arguing with Googam for the supremacy of Monster Island while looking for the Multisect (a device used to travel the multiverse). Needless to say, they start fighting but find themselves on the losing end of the duel until Victor Von Doom shows up and saves them. Doom proceeds to inform our protagonists that their “trophy” is not on the island and leaves, but not without unknowingly giving Ben some crucial information.
The story moves on to a flashback sequence revealing that while they were all in school together Victor won a prize Reed should have won—by cheating. To get back at him Ben convinced Reed to prank Doom; they found a way to open the trophy case where they covered the last letter of Doom’s name with an F to spell out Victor Von Doof. This leads to Doom being mocked by the entire school and Reed calling this him and Ben’s first mission. It cuts back to the present day where we see Ben tell Johnny this story revealing that, when Reed was referring to their first mission, he was talking about him and Ben’s, not the Fantastic Four’s. Ben then breaks off the bottom part of the trophy revealing the Multisect.
There are many things to highlight about this issue so let’s start with the art. The cover is brilliant; it gives us this throwback to the first-ever Fantastic Four cover. This issue banks a lot on nostalgia so we need to get that feel through the cover, which it does perfectly with the speech bubbles on the cover which calls to an older era of comics.
The art in this book was okay. Jim Cheung doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the first part of the book. We have some nice visuals when Doom uses his magic and when Torch flames on, but I wasn’t too impressed with the art. This might have to do with the colors. They were a little dry; I would have wanted something a little more vibrant given the look of The Thing and that nice orange that catches the eye. The only color that really popped was Doom’s green magic, which maybe that was the point, but I don’t know if I would have gone that route. For the flashback sequence, though, the colors were on point; the sepia look was perfect giving us the right feel for the entire sequence. The chipped borders of the panels gave us the impression that they are old photographs who are depleting with time. It’s the perfect effect for the nostalgia this section of the book holds.
Finally, the thing that makes everything about this part of the book stand out without the reader noticing is the background of most of the panels. All the important elements in the panels are clear and crisp, but when you look behind things seem blurry and out of focus; this is done on purpose since this sequence is Ben recalling an event from his past. The art gives us only the important information clearly and the rest is noise. This simulates how people recall memories, which adds a sort of realism to the story. These kind of subtle things are where you can recognize a smart artist; this is why I can forgive the non-stellar art from the first part of the book because the artist makes it count where it matters the most.
Now, let’s get into the writing section of this comic. The humor in this book is present in the big brother/little brother dynamic between Ben and Johnny. It might not be for everyone, though. For example, the joke Torch does about not having to clean since he burns all the germs away made me chuckle a good bit, but I can understand why it might not hit home with everyone. It’s a typical Zdarsky type of joke, which I love, but not everyone enjoys these “immature” jabs. In this scenario it works really well because it fits Johnny Storm; this more immature and laid back attitude has the right feel for him. Something else I appreciate about the characterization Zdarsky brings to Johnny is, despite highlighting that he will forever be a man-child, he’s not stupid. When they get off on Monster Island Johnny asks Ben if Reed said what happened to them and Ben lies saying that it was essentially a mystery. Then, Johnny catches Ben off-guard and says it isn’t truly a mystery Reed left the device behind to allow them to keep exploring in case of his death so the Fantastic Four could live on. The fact that he says this is so important because that’s exactly what Reed told Ben in the previous issue. This moment shows that Zdarsky understands Johnny Storm’s character on a level not everyone does, and he delves deep in his psyche to show us something more. While it’s easy to write off Johnny as just a funny guy, he’s a layered character who shows off a carefree exterior to hide that he is a lot smarter than he leads on.
Another piece of characterization I felt was truly phenomenal was with Victor Von Doom. Bendis has explored this character in his solo series Infamous Iron Man, but my problem with all the work Bendis did with Victor was it never truly felt like Doom. There was an element missing because I am willing to believe he would take a turn to become a hero; I feel that it would not change the character on such a drastic level. I always felt that Doom would keep this arrogance and smugness even if he was saving lives, which Zdarsky hits smack on the head. You feel Doom is trying to do good, but through it all he’s still unlikeable, which speaks to the essence of his character and makes him so much more compelling as a hero than he previously was.
One negative for this book was how predictable the fight seemed. From the start I expected Torch to power down due to that being addressed in the previous issue, and Doom coming to save the day was expected. I don’t think there is any other way to approach that fight in terms of these two moments needing to happen, but they were predictable nonetheless. The fight itself also was not anything special and had no real stakes which maybe had something to do with it feeling so predictable to me. Mark my words, though: Doom now being leader of Monster Island will cause problems once he turns back to being evil, but that’s something for writers to explore down the line.
There’s also a flashback sequence that screams nostalgia; it was truly a beautiful moment that perfectly catches the essence of Reed Richards’ and Ben Grimm’s relationship. Everything about that moment is charming and respectful to Reed; the prank is so simple and feels just like something Mr. Fantastic would do. I love the whole “twist” of this being their actual first mission highlighting the great friendship that these two have. Despite Reed being gone it builds his character, even more, showing that Ben is his best friend and that their friendship transcends the Fantastic Four. This makes the moment even better. It feels nostalgic seeing these two characters interact again; this moment shows that something was missing at Marvel. While the Fantastic Four are gone Marvel isn’t truly whole; it’s probably the most important piece of the company’s identity that Zdarsky is bringing back to life slowly, but surely with this book.
All in all, this book with its second issue continues to bring us interesting character pieces that build on the legacy of Marvel’s first family. Zdarsky continues to play on his strength to highlight the most important aspect of these characters in a respectful and nostalgic tone that perfectly fits this kind of book. I cannot wait for the next issue to see where all of this will lead; hopefully, this continues being one of Marvel’s best ongoing series. Overall, I would give this issue of Marvel Two-in-One a strong 4/5 for the characterization, the tone, and the way a portion of the art was composed to bring us great storytelling. It does not hit this 4.5 or even 5 because of the predictability of the fight and the art didn’t strike me in the first half of the book.