The PopCult Comix Bookshelf
Fantastic Four: Full Circle
by Alex Ross
Harry N. Abrams/Marvel Arts
ISBN-13 : 978-1419761676
$24.99 (discounted at Amazon)
Fantastic Four: Full Circle is a stunning valentine to Jack Kirby and his brilliant late-1960s run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. With dialogue and editing by Stan Lee, Kirby told epic superhero tales of cosmic adventure that set the standard for the Marvel Universe.
Alex Ross has long been established as a master of telling dynamic superhero stories with a photorealistic style. Full Circle is the first time that he’s handled both the writing and the art solo, with no collaborators.
This is the first “Marvel Arts” book, a joint venture of Abrams Arts and Marvel, and it gets the imprint off to a strong start. Ross jumps right in, unburdoned by decades of complicated continuity, and tells a direct sequel to a couple of Kirby/Lee FF stories from the 1960s.
The end result is a spectacularly-illustrated 64 page story that reads like a lost classic Fantastic Four Annual from thecomic’s peak period. The artwork of Alex Ross is pure eye candy, and he shows off the strength of his layouts here as well. He perfectly recreates the fast pace of the classic comics and crams tons of action into a very short space.
Ross did not paint the art here. It’s drawn traditionally and colored by Ross with Josh Johnson in wild day-glo hues, with digital effects to lend the art the hand-separated dot-pattern look of old school comics. It’s got just the right touch of nostalgia, without turning it into a gimmick.
Another really nice touch is a fold-out dustcover that retells the origin of The Fantastic Four, just to bring new readers up to speed.
The story itself is an adventure in the Negative Zone, which spins out of dangling storylines left over from the Kirby days. It is everything a fan could want in a Fantastic Four story set in the Negative Zone. As with most of his projects, Ross has based his depictions of some of the characters on real people. In this case, Sue Storm and Reed Richards look remarkably like Deanna Lund and Gary Conway, from the 1968 TV series, Land of the Giants. This “casting” works remarkably well.
Ironically, despite its setting in the Negative Zone, the story is overwhelmingly upbeat and positive. Thematically it would fit right in with the treasury-sized specials that Ross did with Paul Dini at DC over twenty years ago. In fact, one of my two nit-picky criticisms of this book is that they didn’t print it in the tabloid-size of those books, rather than the magazine-size that they used. It is nice to have it in durable hardcover.
My other criticism is with the printing I think I know what happened here. I believe that Ross colored the deep black areas (and there are a lot in the Negative Zone) with a layer of red ink over top of the black ink. This gives you very deep, striking blacks on the page. Unfortunately (as I learned when we used this technique on the cover of CODA #4) when you do that on glossy paper, it takes much longer for the pages to dry.
A lot of the pages in Fantastic Four: Full Circle stick together. Some of them stubbornly so. Still, it’s worth prying them apart to see the incredible artwork, and with some patience I was able to do so without damaging the book.
Aside from that minor issue, Fantastic Four: Full Circle is probably the most beautiful book Marvel has published in years. Ross captures the feel of Kirby and Lee’s storytelling while offering his own artistic interpretation of the world of The Fantastic Four.
Fantastic Four: Full Circle should be available from most comic shops and any bookseller, using the ISBN code, or at a discount, from Amazon.