Missing in Fraction: Marvel’s Hidden Gem FF and Its Unlikely Breakout Character by DW

The year 2012 was a weird time for me in several ways. I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree, living with a partner for the first time, and I was hundreds of miles from where I had spent my entire life. I had moved to the Bay Area for school in fall of 2010 and while I had managed to gain some level of footing by 2012, I still felt very much at the beginning of a journey that I didn’t quite understand the trajectory of yet. I was reading comics pretty regularly again after a long break due to lack of income and time spent working on completing my undergrad. We were now living fairly close to a local comic shop we both really liked and my partner had started a pull list there. My partner was a huge Matt Fraction fan, so they were over the moon to hear he had taken over the Fantastic Four at the time. There was also a very strange book that accompanied Fraction’s Fantastic Four run: FF. The Future Foundation had been established previously, but the book that Fraction and Allred (and Quinones) created was very much unlike anything else I had ever read.

I already enjoyed a lot of Fraction’s work and I am a huge Mike and Laura Allred fan so that creative team, along with the premise of the book and characters, piqued my interest. One issue in and I was already hooked. I devoured every single issue I could the second they were in the apartment and when the series ended, I was devastated. I never really knew anyone else who read the book when it was being released, aside from my brother and a friend or two, and even in the nearly decade since, I have only encountered a handful of people who have read it. I always felt like FF was a very special book that was likely cut short by Marvel as a lot of the more experimental or odd books tend to be, but at least Fraction and Allred got to conclude their main story arc, which many in this industry do not get the chance to do.

When I went back to read this series near and dear to my heart, a lot of my suspicions that this book was intentionally cut short by Marvel seemed to be confirmed. Did you know that to read this series in full, you can’t just buy the two trades? You see, to get people into the series, they shoved the first three issues of FF into the Fraction Fantastic Four trades. So you either have to buy those and the FF trades, or buy the first three issues individually and then buy the FF trades. I did the latter as I unfortunately don’t own copies anymore. That this absolutely delightful oddball series is so difficult to own holistically is yet another frustration in the long history of problems Marvel has with supporting books like FF.

FF is mostly centered around the “found family” concept with a rag-tag group of weird super powered kids, a grieving father (Ant-Man), a powerful queen (Medusa), a millennial pop sensation (Darla Deering/Miss Thing), and the best super-powered lawyer (She-Hulk). The Fantastic Four’s plans have gone awry and in the meantime, these four characters have to take care of the school of kids indefinitely, as opposed to the mere minutes they agreed to. While most of the characters in FF had been established long ago, Fraction and Allred brought a new face to the Marvel universe with Darla Deering, aka Miss Thing.

One of the main reasons I immediately wanted to read this book was that She-Hulk is a lifelong favorite, so for me to sit here and say that Darla Deering truly stole the show means a lot. Although Darla’s story is nothing new or unique, the way Fraction handles it with such care really makes her stand out and feel fresh and relatable. Darla Deering is roped into becoming a member of FF because her boyfriend at the time, Johnny Storm, forgot to organize his replacement for the four minutes the Fantastic Four would be gone. He asks Darla to step in as she was already there with him right before he had to leave. Darla, an internationally beloved pop star with no powers of her own, begrudgingly agrees since the operation is only supposed to last minutes. When the Fantastic Four doesn’t come back on time, Darla understandably has an issue and begins to feel she has a level of pressure put on her that she cannot possibly ever live up to.

Since Darla doesn’t have superpowers of her own like her teammates, Dragon Man takes it upon himself to search the Baxter Building for things he can give her to help level the playing field. He eventually finds a Thing suit Reed Richards had previously made for a then-depowered Ben Grimm. However, the suit doesn’t have any head protection and after she feels way too out of her depth in a fight, she decides to quit the team. Scott Lang then manages to track her down and convince her to stay, despite an unwelcome visit from frequent Thing harassers, the Yancy Street Gang.

In an absolutely fantastic series of selfies drawn and colored by Mike and Laura Allred, Darla tries on multiple different types of headgear to help complete her Thing suit. Dragon Man hands her a collar that had been made to mimic Invisible Woman’s force field powers to use as a helmet, and Miss Thing’s superhero career officially begins.

Given that her love interest’s entire arc revolves around grieving and healing from trauma, Darla’s growth and story are both rich, relatable, and full of care and sincerity a lot of female characters are not often afforded. When Darla starts to publicly appear as Miss Thing, she also receives repeated online and in-person harassment. In an eerily similar parallel to the real life rise of Comicsgate, the Yancy Street Gang is unhappy about her trying to fill the beloved Ben Grimm’s shoes and want her to know it. Scott Lang eventually gets them to back off by beating them at their own game. 

Looking back at this comic and Darla’s arc in particular, I feel like I was subconsciously drawn to her story of feeling lost in a place full of established, impressive people. I hadn’t quite made a solid friend group in the Bay Area yet and a lot of what I was feeling at the time was the same. Dyed hair and a love for pop music certainly helped seal the relatability, but the sincerity and nuance given to Darla by Fraction’s words and Allred/Quinones’ art really made Darla Deering and Miss Thing feel special. In a book with so much heart and wholesomeness, it was nice to see female characters with care given to their stories and motivations in a mainstream Marvel title. With the introduction of a young trans character, coming of age stories for the Future Foundation students, the difficulties of grief and trauma over losing a loved one, and the ways in which children are able to forge their own paths in life despite their family history, FF was truly a rare gem in a very interesting time for Marvel comics. Marvel Now certainly had its ups and downs, as any company-wide universe refresh is bound to have, but FF has always stood out to me as the kind of book audiences were promised, but never quite got the push and support it deserved. 

While Darla has not been seen since her breakup with Scott and some moments in the Ant-Man book at the time, she has had quite the lasting impression on most people I’ve spoken to about this book. I’d love to see her incorporated into the marvel universe again sometime soon, but seeing as Marvel has done quite a lot to make this book difficult to read already, I don’t entirely have my hopes up.

Marvel Now was one of the first major cross-company shakeups in the 2010s and while much has changed since then and many titles during this time period are long forgotten, I hope that someday the stories of these Future Foundation members can be explored just a little bit further with the same earnestness and goofiness that those of us who have read it came to know and love.

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