A major oversight in comicbook history is corrected with this week’s Fantastic Four: Antithesis #1, the first ever F4 story drawn entirely by industry legend Neal Adams. Could something so fabled possibly live up to the hype?
While comics released by Marvel at any given time are generally set in the period of “now,” sometimes they’ll do a throwback that harkens back to a “classic” era from the past. Former Marvel editor Ralph Macchio (no, not that one) has written a bunch of these in recent years; the target demographic for these is presumably an older reader, nostalgic for the past, who may feel alienated by newer material. Catering to such people isn’t necessarily a problem, but you do have to wonder why Marvel would publish new stories set in the past when the original (and more beloved) comics from that era are still widely available to read. In any event, Fantastic Four: Antithesis gives current F4 writer Mark Waid and the aforementioned Adams an opportunity to collaborate on this four-issue series, and YMMV on how successful it is.
Set sometime in “the past,” Antithesis #1 begins with the Fantastic Four battling Annihilus, ruler of the Negative Zone—so just another Tuesday for the F4. But then Silver Surfer crash-lands on Earth amid a cosmic meteor shower with an ominous message: Galactus is dead. (Incidentally, last week’s Thor #6 also featured the death of Galactus. Coincidence? Probably.) It seems like it’ll be up to the Fantastic Four to stop the destruction of Earth and figure out who (or what) killed the Devourer of Worlds in the coming issues. But because this story is set in “the past,” it robs Antithesis of stakes, because we know nothing that happens within it will impact the Fantastic Four or the Marvel Universe in any meaningful way (as always, I could be wrong, but that remains to be seen).
Giving Adams his first-ever F4 story with Antithesis kind of feels like a waste of his talents. While I’m not the biggest fan of his art style, it’s obvious why he gained such a following in his earlier career, so why not assign him something worthy of his reputation? Waid’s ongoing Fantastic Four has cycled through various artists since it began just over two years ago and getting Adams for a meaningful story arc on that title is something I would understand. Putting him on an ancillary throwback series makes as much sense as it doesn’t. He’s officially credited as a “storyteller” rather than an artist for this series, which suggests he’s more creatively involved than an artist would be, so it’s hard to know how much he contributed narratively in comparison to his collaborator Waid. The dialogue and action beats definitely feel more like Waid to me, but who knows.
Speaking of Waid’s contributions, his script isn’t especially good or riveting either. Aside from general plotting/pacing issues (e.g. the Galactus hook arrives as a final page cliffhanger) and gratuitous moments that feel outdated by today’s standards (do we really need Sue undressing for Reed’s attention in 2020?), Antithesis is almost too Waid-ish for its own good. He’s not that much younger than Adams, but there’s still enough of a gulf between their creative sensibilities that much of Antithesis really doesn’t work or make much sense.
For example, I mentioned that this story is set in “the past” (far enough ago that both of the Richards children are literally still children), yet Johnny makes a Twitter hashtag reference at one point. Why? Even if we’re accounting for the sliding timescale excuse, Valeria wasn’t a baby when Twitter became a “thing” in our culture. I realize using the ages of the Richards children as a yardstick for continuity is a fool’s errand—Franklin was born in 1968 and only just aged into a teen recently, but things like that take me out of the story and spoil the whole thing. If the concept for Antithesis requires us to understand that it’s a throwback to the past, allowing for modern references is just bad, lazy writing that shouldn’t have made it past an editor (I usually dislike super-topical references on principle, but at least when Waid name-dropped Baby Yoda in Fantastic Four a few months ago, it was timely).
All things considered, Fantastic Four: Antithesis #1 is an ill-advised blunder that wastes the veritable talents of its creators. Laura Martin’s colors are reliably good and letterer Joe Caramagna does what he can with such a verbose, dense script, but judging it just on this one issue alone, Antithesis simply doesn’t justify its existence.