Hello, faithful readers! Welcome to a special edition of COMFORT FOOD COMICS Presents: SPECIAL INGREDIENT. Normally, in SPECIAL INGREDIENT, I take a look at a new comic and identify something from it that made it extra good – the “special ingredient” that improved the flavor of the whole book, for me.
But today, in honor of COMFORT FOOD COMICS’ FF Week, I will be looking at that most amazing of Fantastic Four spinoff comics – FF vol 2 by Matt Fraction, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, Lee Allred, Joe Quinones, and Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles – and identifying some of the special ingredients therein.
Now, at this point, if you’ve read any of our other coverage on this series, or the series itself, I shouldn’t have to tell you why it’s awesome. Other writers are doing a great job of that already. I will say that I was so excited for its release after the initial announcement in 2012 that I went out and bought Mike Allred’s Madman Gargantua and Madman Atomica collections to familiarize myself with his work. I subscribed to FF at my local comic shop and pre-ordered every variant at a comic-shop 2 hours away because my own was too small to meet the order requirements. I was HYPE, and the series did not disappoint.
But this is a SPECIAL INGREDIENT article, so instead of talking about the series as a whole, I’ve decided for this piece to break it down, issue-by-issue, and identify the “special ingredients” of each one – that one page, moment, or element that stands out the most, to me.
And so, without further ado –
The first issue of FF is a great introduction to all of the characters that make up the Future Foundation, and, to me, the most special part is the Office-style talking-to-the-camera pages that introduce the children. Spread throughout the issue, each of these pages have their own humor and charm and do a great job of giving you a feel for how unique this ensemble cast is, and are only made funnier when you realize that all of these children are actually saying these things direct, face-to-face, to Scott Lang (Ant-Man). Highlights include Franklin making faces every time Val speaks, everything the Moloids say, and Alex Power explaining “Got my powers from a space horse.”
“Machine. Says ‘boop boop.’ Has room. Come see.”
Beyond how amazing the Allreds are at depicting Kirby-style machinery (which should be a must for any Fantastic Four or Fantastic Four-adjacent book), I love the simplicity of just calling it the “Machine that says ‘boop boop’ room.” Fraction leans into this series being about the children of the Future Foundation just as much as it is about the adult replacement-members, and this helps to expand their voices into the world-building aspect of the storytelling.
I love how Mike Allred draws a character in motion, moving through several poses within a larger environment in a panel, as a storytelling technique, as seen down the left and right sides of this page, where Scott Lang chases the Yancy Street Gang while Darla just takes the elevator (she has a towel to worry about dropping after all). There are many great examples of this throughout his work, although the best is definitely his record-holding “Longest Comic Book Panel Ever,” available to view, without lettering, here – http://aaapop.com/images/content/wbcbp.jpg – and originally published as Madman: Atomic Comics #9.
“A date is for mens and womens. Or mens and mens. And womens and womens. And dates are for smooching.”
First off – the inclusion. Although non-binary folks could be mentioned as well, this series is great for making the effort to recognize queer people and relationships as valid in a way other series don’t (or at least didn’t used to), and it’s wonderful.
Beyond that, romantic arcs and date issues are an art that has fallen by the wayside in American superhero comics over the last 20ish years, so it is great to see an entire issue where the main plot is focused around a date, and the efforts of the jealous Mole-kids to disrupt it. It used to be that a publisher’s goal was just to get a new issue out every month, to the point that Marvel would occasionally publish reprints with new issue numbers on them so as not to miss marketplace deadlines. Under that environment, writers could more easily plot out long romantic stories, or single issues dedicated solely to a date night, because there was no conversation to be had about how it would fit in the trade, or if the series might be cancelled or relaunched before or after that issue.
What could the Fantastic Four’s mailman, Willie Lumpkin, possibly be teaching the Future Foundation? The birds and the bees, of course!
Who’s a good boy? Lockjaw’s a good boy. Yes he is.
How could it not be this page?
Representation matters, y’all, and I won’t give the time of day to anyone who thinks differently. Matt Fraction would have been working on the development of his creator-owned book Sex Criminals (with Chip Zdarsky) at the same time as he was writing this, and despite being primarily about a cisgender heterosexual couple, that series is a great example of diversity and inclusion, especially in terms of sexuality and gender expression. The letters pages were often more entertaining than the comic itself because of the welcoming and inclusive environment Fraction and Zdarsky fostered. I love this moment, and I think it, alone, is proof that Fraction was the right writer at the right time for these characters.
Scott’s big speech.
This is a personal one. There are other great moments and pages in this issue, including an “It’s Clobberin’ Time” from Darla Deering. But Scott’s big speech, about how he worries about the kids, in the big and dangerous world, especially as he is traumatized and already trying to overcome the loss of a child, hits me hard. I have a couple of kids myself, and this speech really encapsulates a lot of what I’ve been feeling as we deal with a global pandemic and school reopening and crazy politics and just everything that threatens them. Although in our case, it will get safer if everyone lives safer for a while – wearing masks and staying in as much as possible; washing our hands and caring about other people.
Also, damn that’s a good “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” Clayton Cowles letters it perfectly with masterful use of the burst balloon, the bold font, and the pink coloring of it to match Darla’s hair. It’s just *chef’s kiss*.
A Mad Magazine style fold-in cover. Seriously, they did that.
In this age of collector’s comics and higher price points, these guys really said “fold this cover up. Crease it good. Value is an artificial construct of a late-stage capitalist society.” Or something like that.
AKA – the swimsuit issue.
The Marvel Swimsuit Special is a weird artifact of the 1990s, spawned by the popularity of the Sports Illustrated one and the idea that the audience for Marvel comics was overwhelmingly straight men. Nostalgia for these annual specials leads to regular conversations amongst fans and comic artists about bringing it back, but Marvel seemingly has no interest in that. In that spirit, creators will occasionally cheat and do a beach or pool-party issue in order to scratch that itch (although at other publishers proper Swimsuit Specials are still a thing).
This one is extra-enjoyable though, because it’s a bit of a misdirect. With the adult membership of the team being made up of three attractive women, one might expect a lot of exploitative cheesecake shots, but the closest we get is the one panel of Medusa removing her towel. The creators never lose focus on the main themes and story of the book, giving us way more pool party chaos with the kids than bikini pinups, and it is both what the book needs and the reason it shines so bright.
As far back as the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, creator cameos and the existence of a fictional Marvel Comics company have been parts of the larger Marvel Comics universe, so it is just terrifically fun in FF #10 that the creative team takes advantage of this to include humorous parodies of themselves in the comic, going on an adventure with the adult members of the FF, as well as Artie, Leech, and the tiger they stole from the zoo (later to be named Cargo Manshark).
Fraction swears too much. Allred says “Ginchy.” Brevoort keeps trying to figure out how to sell this book. Literally, the one we’re reading. It’s just really fun meta-parody while the B-plot advances the more serious main story, and I am here for it.
“Sometimes I hate myself. Sometimes I hate myself and everything scares me.”
Look, not everything can be happy all the time. Matt Fraction has been pretty open about his own mental health – depression, anxiety, a history of addiction, a suicide attempt. These are real things that affect people, and Matt has always tried to reflect that in his comics. And so, issue 11 is a story about the Impossible Man, and his son Adolf, The Impossible Boy.
Historically, the Impossible Man has always been wanting of attention, but the Impossible Boy is the answer to the question of “what else could that look like?” The Impossible Man wants attention as a form of stimulation, but the Impossible Boy is presented as a special needs child, suffering from depression and severe anxiety. He pushes the FF away, lashes out at them, and just doesn’t want attention in the same way his father does, and his father doesn’t understand him. It takes Medusa, playing the role of mother/teacher/support-worker, to get through to him.
At one point, Fraction has the Impossible Man say his son is “entirely too possible,” and that is what is great about the character. It is entirely too possible for there to be kids, pre-teens, and teens out there who feel the same way Adolf does – overwhelmed, scared, misunderstood – and who need someone or something, like Medusa, to be there for them and to validate what they are feeling and help them through it. Sometimes, that something can just be a comic like this that makes them feel seen and understood.
Continuing on with my love of Adolf Impossible, we have one of my favorite pages from the entire series as the special ingredient for issue 12.
Once again, Adolf is trying to push people away, although this time it is born of a disagreement and not anxiety. But he quickly becomes distracted from chasing the other children when he comes across Luna and her shojo anime. The ensuing moment as he sits, watches with her, asks to be friends, and they hold hands is purely sweet, and re-centers the series around the children and their behavior, even as the adults plan murder and mischief.
I do not think of myself as a mature man with a mature sense of humor. As such, this joke is the highlight of issue 13, for me.
“Scott! Scott! He’s not wearing any gloves, Scott! He’s not wearing any gloves!”
I laugh every time.
As the series approaches its climax and the main plot becomes more serious, it’s the moments of humor that really stand out to me at this point. The best one in this issue is Bentley’s hot-springs peep-hole, and the responses to it from the others.
Bentley is a frequent source of humor and joy throughout this series, as he was in Jonathan Hickman’s run as writer before this. A young clone of Fantastic Four-villain The Wizard, Bentley aspires to be a great super-villain like Dr. Doom, but his age and the positive environment he is being raised in often lead to his attempts at villainy being juvenile, funny, and just not well-thought-out instead of actually evil. Of all the Future Foundation kids, he’s probably the one who has had the most development outside of the main family, and it’s terribly disappointing he’s not still a regular character in the FF’s adventures.
There’s a lot going on in the penultimate issue of FF, and the special ingredient is the unique way that the Allreds illustrate one aspect of the big fight – by utilizing the bottom quarter of seven consecutive pages to depict the remote-controlled robot fight in all of its glory, rife with visual gags to delight the reader’s eye as they work through the more serious aspects of the story being told in the top portions of the pages. It’s just a fun way to show the highlights of this fight, and feels very uniquely Allred.
And so, we reach the end, which is, for most of the cast, a happy ending – the special ingredient of this issue, as happy endings can be quite rare in comic runs.
Scott gets his revenge, and he and Darla get together, and he makes a huge scientific discovery, and the Fantastic Four return home safe. Part of the charm of this ending is that it doesn’t feel like a status quo reset. It truly feels like the family has gotten bigger and significant changes have been made. Even though I know better, I can still enjoy that feeling while it lasts, every time I read this.
I hope you’ve enjoyed revisiting it with me, and I’d love to hear from our readers if there’s anything special I left out that they would have included instead.
If you enjoy this series, you can recapture some of its magic by following the characters or creators to other great runs – Scott Lang in this year’s Ant-Man: Worldhive by Zeb Wells and Dylan Burnett, the FF kids in Future Foundation by Jeremy Whitley and Will Robson, Matt Fraction’s writing in any number of great series but I’ll never not recommend his 12 issues (2 TPBs) of Defenders, and Mike Allred’s art in Madman, Silver Surfer, and iZombie, among many others.