Fantastic Four: Full Circle: A psychedelic journey into the Negative Zone

Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex RossFantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross (writing, art, and coloring), Josh Johnson (coloring), and Ariana Maher (lettering)

I just finished reading the recently released Fantastic Four: Full Circle, and though the story itself is not riveting, it is a perfect vehicle for the true point of the graphic novel — the art. And the story is an interesting sequel to the previous Stan Lee-Jack Kirby production, “This Man . . . This Monster,” Issue #51 of the original run on the Fantastic Four (which is available via Amazon’s Comixology services).

In Stan Lee’s Issue #51, with excellent art by Jack Kirby, the Thing is taken in by a kindly stranger who turns out to be a mad scientist who wishes to harm him and ultimately Reed Richards, the leader of the Fantastic Four. After putting knock-out drops in the Thing’s coffee, the stranger-scientist uses an invention of his to transform into the Thing (and at the same time gains the Thing’s inhuman strength somehow). The process turns the Thing back into human form as Ben Grimm. The scientist, now posing as the Thing, infiltrates the Fantastic Four and ends up in a situation that puts him in the trippy Negative Zone with Reed Richards. This pseudo-Thing, in a crucial moment, saves Richards’ life and seemingly gives up his own, stuck, when we last see him, in the Negative Zone. At the moment the scientist is lost for good, on the other side of town, Ben Grimm turns back into the Thing. We never know the fate of the scientist.

In Fantastic Four: Full Circle, we finally find out what happened to him, and it is quite a story. The Thing is eating a late-night snack when Johnny surprises him. At that moment, the two of them encounter a strange being who has infiltrated the home of the Fantastic Four, somehow bypassing all the security measures put in place by the genius Reed Richards. It turns out to be the shell of the scientist from issue #51! I do not want to give away too many spoilers, but the body of this man leads all four of the teammates to take a trip to the Negative Zone. Sue Storm features prominently in the story, saving the whole team multiple times with her powers. And they find out what happened, not only to the scientist, but also what happened to another person in Reed Richards’ past. It is a fun story, and at about sixty-five pages in length, there is not room for much plot development than setting up an excuse to go into the Negative Zone and undertake an exciting journey.

But the real reason this volume exists is as a showcase for Alex Ross’s legendary art. Other than help with lettering and some of the coloring, Ross is fully-responsible for this excellent volume. And the art is absolutely amazing, which is saying something since Kirby’s art in #51 set a high level for him to match. But Ross outdoes Kirby while at the same time paying homage to his style through imitation. The art is trippy and psychedelic, and the scenes in the Negative Zone are amazing. As soon as I was done reading the book, I flipped back through the art several times to admire the style and the coloring. The colors are day-glow in the Negative Zone, but even outside in the “everyday” world, the colors look backlit with black light. The whole package is a tour-de-force.

The art is so good, I give this volume five stars, even though the story itself is not earth-shattering. The story is not bad at all, and it is a great sequel to Issue #51. I do wish they had republished Issue #51 in this volume; it would have completed the volume in my mind, but the story stands on its own. It is just that it would be nice to have it available to read in the same volume. I highly recommend this short graphic novel, even for those who are not fans of the Fantastic Four or superhero comics in general. The art is impressive enough that anybody with an interest in the arts will find it worth reading and looking at.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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4 comments

  1. Sandy Ferber /

    The “reddish picture” of Reed Richards stuck in the Negative Zone might be my favorite single panel in comics…. http://www.sneakpeek.ca/2019/10/fantastic-four-negative-zone.html?m=1

  2. Same here. I even included my response to Richards in the Negative Zone in an essay I wrote

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