Empyre: Fantastic Four #0
Written by Dan Slott
Art by R.B. Silva, Sean Izaaske, Marte Gracia, and Marcio Menyz
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Following Al Ewing's introduction in Empyre: Avengers #0, writer Dan Slott and artists R.B. Silva and Sean Izaaske fire off another shot in Empyre: Fantastic Four #0 — but whereas Ewing's story reintroduced Marvel cosmic history through the eyes of Tony Stark, Slott's follow-up with the Richards Family doesn't have quite as immediate or captivating of a hook.
When the Fantastic Four break down on the side of the interstellar highway, they find themselves watching a brutal history lesson at the Casino Cosmico, where the Profiteer has built a lucrative cottage industry on gladiator reenactments of the Kree/Skrull War. And to his credit, Slott introduces some smart wrinkles about the effect that conflict has had on the galaxy — not just as a source of xenophobic prejudice between the two races, but also as a driving force on the entire system's economic and technological advancement.
But while there's a big push to encapsulate that bit of Kree/Skrull history, the personal hook feels a little lacking this issue — perhaps it's because of the FF's recent jaunt into space in 'Point of Origin,' but there's little that feels specific to the Richards family, with even Reed's recollections of their Kree/Skrull encounters feeling more like a footnote than anything that speaks to these characters. There's some general heroic beats involving the Thing and the Human Torch diving into the gladiator ring to rescue enslaved children, but having these new characters be invented purely whole-cloth doesn't carry the same heft as Ewing's use of longer-running threads like the Swordsman and the Celestial Messiah in his story.
And unfortunately, what little spotlight the Richards Family does warrant feels like the weakest points of the story. For being a celestial powerhouse and a mathematical genius, Franklin and Valeria feel downright insufferable this issue, betting the family spaceship during some impulsive gambling. Meanwhile, an extended gag of the Invisible Woman rigging the bets feels perhaps a bit goofier than intended (you're telling me a space casino takes no precautions for cloaking?), particularly when Reed Richards sends her out of a heated battle to essentially discipline their kids.
Artwise, however, Silva and Izaaske deliver some solid work, even if at times the colors by Marte Gracia and Marcio Menyz threaten to drown them out. An opening shot of the Profiteer feels almost ripped out of a Russell Dauterman sketchbook — I say that as a huge compliment, by the way — while the opening reenactment of a Kree/Skrull battle feels really dynamic and interesting, with a mohawked Kree helmet being used as an improvised weapon. That said, some of the action choreography towards the end of the book — particularly featuring Reed, the Profiteer, and a horde of nondescript alien guards — feels particularly muddy and hard-to-follow, while the final battle featuring Ben, Johnny, and the Kree and Skrull children feels like a missed opportunity.
It feels unfair to keep comparing Empyre: Fantastic Four #0 to Empyre: Avengers #0, but reading them back-to-back, you can see how Tony Stark's almost religious awakening and the return of long-lost cast member the Swordsman brings a personal hook to a star-spanning conflict. And that's the secret ingredient that's missing here — if stopping children from being space gladiators is your central hook, you could have told a similar story featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy or the X-Men with a similar vibe. Because Slott has to spend so much time explaining the Kree/Skrull history, he doesn’t have enough page real estate to tailor this conflict to his central characters — and the pages he is able to use feel a bit wasted on Franklin and Valeria. Here’s hoping that once Empyre really takes off, the FF will find a more organic role in the coming conflict.