Fantastic Four #23 Review

by Charles Martin on September 02, 2020

Fantastic Four #23 Review
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Paco Medina
Colourist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics

One of my recurring problems throughout this volume of the Fantastic Four has been the questionable integration of teenaged Val and Franklin into the family's adventures. Issue #23 puts the kids in the spotlight again and hands them a satisfying win -- which, to me, just emphasizes that they deserve to play a bigger role in the title now.

Their mission du jour is to retrieve their Kree orphan from the Priests of Pama and foil whatever nefarious schemes the baddies are cooking up with him. The Richards kids have capable support in the form of Wolverine and Spider-Man, which is more than enough to carry them through a battle with tree-loving ninjas.

"Guest-starring Spider-Man and Wolverine" is, in principle, one of the crassest ways to bolster a weak story. But I quite like the way this issue employs Marvel's two biggest names. They supply snikts and thwips and quips and moral support where necessary, but at no point do they overshadow Val and Franklin.

The kids are the planners and executors who get the job done here, and Dan Slott scripts them smoothly through a smart, heroic mission. They're not without their doubts, but in this installment, their angst derives from the story at hand rather than vague teenage existentialism. (What I'm saying is that Franklin seems to have grown out of his emo phase and I'm grateful for it.)

While this issue is pretty focused on the Fantastic Four (JV division), it spares a little attention for the larger cosmic war of Empyre. Franklin and Val's actions are not divorced from the bigger conflict; their success robs the Cotati of a potentially-winning advantage. And there are impressive cutaways to the ground level of the war. There's something brilliant about Kree and Skrull troops fighting together in the streets of New York.

Artist Paco Medina is once again a great fit with Dan Slott's scripting. His talent for integrating flashbacks into the background of contemporary panels gets a healthy workout here. Mr. Medina also makes the most of a large number of double-page spreads, filling them not with big splashes but with tight, productive panels. This counterbalances the decompressing effect of double-spreads and keeps the issue from feeling too short.

Jesus Aburtov employs a wide-ranging, high-intensity palette to bring the action to life. He's fully on board with Mr. Medina's flashback strategy, dialling back the intensity so that there's always a clear line between contemporary action and memories or distant events.

As I noted above, this issue's greatest strength might be that it doesn't feel like a sideshow. It is a sideshow to the bigger event, but Dan Slott and his artists invest it with meaning and engage the readers in the kids' challenges. What they're doing matters to them and easily winds up mattering to us.

In the end, the high point of this arc was Reed's message at the end of #22, urging his kids to go forth and be fantastic. This finale is a fitting and fulfilling payoff to that message, and Val and Franklin are indeed fantastic in action. This volume of the Fantastic Four has its weaknesses, but this issue proves that the kids aren't among their number.

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Charles Martin's picture
If I ever become Dictator of Marvel, one of the spectacles I'll put on is a cage match between Dan Slott and Mark Waid for the title of "world's cringiest pop-cultural joke-maker." Spidey makes a "Green New Deal" quip in this issue that could set a thousand eyes a-rolling.