Marvel Two-in-One #1

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artists: Jim Cheung (penciller), John Dell & Walden Wong (inkers)
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover Artists: Jim Cheung & Justin Ponsor
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review by Nico Sprezzatura.

(Play for maximum two-ness.)

Well, this in interesting timing, huh? Less than a week after Disney made headlines for their planned acquisition of 20th Century Fox —which will notably include the X-Men and Fantastic Four film rights— Marvel Comics is publishing Marvel Two-in-One #1. You may be asking what the correlation between these events are, so I’ll go ahead and provide some context.

Ben Grimm —AKA The Thing— was one of Marvel’s most popular characters back in the 70s. Widely considered the emotional bedrock (ahem) of the Fantastic Four, his popularity was utilized to help promote other characters in the Marvel Universe through an anthology team-up comic called Marvel Two-in-One, which ran for over a hundred issues in its original form.

So why is that relevant here? Basically, Marvel Two-in-One #1 is setting the stage for the Fantastic Four’s much-anticipated return to the Marvel Universe. No pressure.

More context! Due to low sales of their comic, and Marvel’s inability (or unwillingness, depending on who you ask) to use the F4 in other media, Fantastic Four was canceled in early 2015. To be fair, all of Marvel’s comics at the time were shelved to make way for Secret Wars, but there was noticeably a lack of F4 presence when the main line resumed a few months later.

With the Richards family (Reed / Mr. Fantastic, Sue / Invisible Woman, Valeria, Franklin) and their Future Foundation taking it upon themselves to restore the ruined Marvel multiverse, everybody back on Earth—including Johnny Storm (Human Torch) and Ben—assumed that they perished in an unknown accident, but we True Believers knew the truth.

During the F4’s absence, Johnny and Ben’s paths diverged; the former joined the Uncanny Avengers and started dating Queen Medusa of the Inhumans, while the latter became a Guardian of the Galaxy. In September’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, we learned that Valeria was ready to come back home, but that was the extent of a potential F4 return.

So now that Disney is in the early stages of buying back the F4’s film rights, this week’s Marvel Two-in-One #1 is an exceptionally timely debut. There’s a weird amount of baggage saddled onto this one superhero comic saying the least, but hey, that’s the industry for you! Luckily for all involved, it’s is a pretty entertaining —and at times, poignant— experience.

Like I mentioned above, the Fantastic Four just aren’t a thing in the current state of the Marvel Universe, and many have attributed their absence as being the reason why it’s felt stale and cynical to them since they departed. I don’t completely agree that Marvel is bereft of quality at the moment, but something definitely feels missing. As the founding family of Marvel, a world without the F4 may not be one worth living in.

That’s why the premise of Marvel Two-in-One is so exciting. With Thing and Human Torch back together and seemingly about to go looking for their missing family members, there’s a certain sense of rightness we’ve been missing for the past several years. I almost wonder why Marvel didn’t just outright call this comic Fantastic Two, because it certainly reads that way for reasons I won’t spoil here, but it’s a small quibble.

On the writing front, Chip Zdarsky (most currently of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, who makes a cameo appearance here) delivers his reliably strong blend of humor and emotion. Considering how Johnny and Ben are the two F4 members who clash the most frequently, it makes a lot of sense to put them together for such a high-stakes mission, and Zdarsky clearly seems having fun with that dynamic.

But after just one issue, Marvel Two-in-One also seems to be one of his more overly dramatic projects yet. As we learn in the issue, Johnny’s flame powers are weakening, undoubtedly caused by having lost most of the only family he’s ever known. Zdarsky is one of the industry’s best humorists, but like any comedic voice worth their salt, he understands how humor is twice as effective when it serves to contrast sadness. I’m very, very interested to see how his story develops moving forward.

While penciller Jim Cheung isn’t one of my favorite artists, his house style-esque look fits this story. Especially since we’re working with such classic characters here, it’s hardly a bad thing for the visuals to match their level of prestige in the Marvel Universe. It’s very clean and appealing, with John Dell and Walden Wong’s heavy inks helping to lend a seriousness that boosts Zdarsky’s script.

Frank Martin’s colors are also very nice, lending a warmth to Cheung’s renderings with lots of yellow, red, and orange tones. It seems like an obvious choice, given Ben and Johnny skills sets and mutual color palette, but it’s effective nonetheless. There’s a flashback sequence I particularly love that uses warm colors to convey a nostalgic time gone by, while some occasional blues are utilized to express the coldness of outer space and technology. It’s all just very, very clever uses of color. And like always, good lettering work from Joe Caramagna.

The Verdict: Buy it.

That being said, it kind of depends on how you’d like to consume this story, I suppose. For my money, it’s well worth buying  Marvel Two-in-One on a monthly basis, especially if you’re in the market for a classic superhero mystery with half of Marvel’s first family. But, if you prefer to have your puzzle boxes resolved and done by the time you reach the end, you can probably afford to wait until it’s collected in full. Either way, you should definitely check this comic out.

Nico Sprezzatura
Nico Frank Sprezzatura, middle name optional. 24. Schrödinger's writer.

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