The Thing has convinced the Human Torch that Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Franklin, and Valeria are still alive in another dimension, and the two go on an excursion to Monster Island, the site of the Fantastic Four's first adventure.
As is often the case with Monster Island, things get messy quickly, and an unexpected associate may be needed to save the day.
Like the case with the current Captain America run of Waid and Samnee, I was expecting a lot of my cynicism regarding Marvel Two-in-One to fade away by the second issue. It was expected that the Thing and Human Torch would be able to forget my frustrations with how Marvel has buried the Fantastic Four, and Zdarsky and Cheung would be able to just give me a fun time.
Don't get me wrong, I know complaining about corporate influence in a Big Two comic is like yelling at the sky for being above us instead of below. The delicate balance is struck when I can forget about that and just enjoy the comic without that overbearing feeling of being watched by the people upstairs at the House of Ideas. I can't shake that feeling while reading Marvel Two-in-One, at least not yet.
Unfortunately, the cynicism hasn't faded away, and Marvel Two-in-One #2 has plenty of odd little moments that keep me reminded that this is intended to be a stopgap for anyone hoping that the Fantastic Four may make a return in the near future.
It's not even the plot; the plot feels organic and keeps an emotional center. There is an argument to be made that the main thrust of this issue was made filler by its finale, but that could be pretty easily countered by the prominence of Doom in the Monster Island plot line.
It's moments like referencing a random Fantastic Four issue, having the Thing somehow oddly forget that Alicia Masters is blind, or the recreation of Fantastic Four #1 on the cover that have me leering at the comic. Zdarsky is known for something of an anarchic writing style that is undoubtedly subdued in this relatively conventional superhero title, but these moments feel like a rather naked attempt to appeal to the longtime readers by showing your homework.
Maybe that's not a shallow or malevolent act on the part of the writing and editing. Maybe it is just trying to genuinely show love toward Marvel's First Family of Heroes. Unfortunately, context is everything, and, in this context, it feels like further attempts to throw scraps out to an audience ready for the full course.
Like Marvel Two-in-One #1, it's a genuine shame, because this isn't a bad comic. It lacks in some regards compared to the previous installment, but it's still fun. There is still a heavy tone tempered by the charisma and one-liners of Ben and Johnny. You can still feel for the two heroes as they cling to what they believe to be lost. Even having the Thing essentially play with Johnny's emotions with a lie feels organic given the plot.
The plot manages to move forward at an appropriate pace. It has a succinctness and flow that many mainstream Big Two comics could only dream of. The only real flaws in the storytelling are the awkward moments like Ben forgetting Alicia's blindness or Johnny going on a bit long with a joke about how his flame powers keep him from having to brush his teeth.
That's before we even get to Jim Cheung's artwork, which continues to look great. He is one of the must underused artists on tap at Marvel in recent years, and it's good to see him stretch his legs with characters like the Thing, the Human Torch, Doctor Doom, and Mole Man. He has a way with Ben Grimm that is especially astonishing. The detail and emotion he is able to imbue in Ole' Blue Eyes is genuinely beautifu. Frank Martin follows it up with a delicate color balance which fits the conflicting atmospheres of the comic.
I want to love this comic so badly, and I may yet come around to it. I hope so; Zdarsky, Cheung, and company really do some great work. It is an objectively good comic; it's just the shallowness motivating the title that drags it down. In any case, I do recommend it. If you can get past the cynicism, you will probably enjoy it.