Fantastic Four: Full Circle [Comic Review]
Fantastic Four: Full Circle aka The Marvelous Return of Alex Ross
Alex Ross almost needs no introduction, but if you are not familiar with the artist’s output allow me to enlighten you. Alex Ross is a comic artist that specializes in painted art styles and extensive use of reference models. Think Norman Rockwell. It’s a visually distinct style that you cannot miss.
Today’s younger comic readers may know Ross as primarily a cover artist for Marvel and DC. His covers tend to be stunning and eye-catching. However, Ross’s first came on to the scene supplying gorgeous painted interior and sequential art to Marvel’s Marvels and DC’s Kingdom Come. In a sea of Image influenced art teams, Ross was a breath of fresh air.
In 2022, Alex Ross returned to sequential storytelling with the release of the original graphic novel Fantastic Four: Full Circle. Full Circle is the largest page count of interior art that Ross has produced in nearly two decades. Ross wasted no time making the impact of his return felt because Full Circle is one hell of a book and, frankly, his finest comic work to date.
Fantastic Four: Full Circle
Written and illustrated by Alex Ross
Colors by Alex Ross with Josh Johnson
Lettering by Ariana Maher
Synopsis: Fantastic Four Bring It Full Circle
The story begins as a mysterious, strange man walks into the Baxter Building (Home of the Fantastic Four) and unleashes an onslaught of other worldly creatures onto Marvel’s First Family. Following the attack, the Fantastic Four begin a journey into the Negative Zone to get to the bottom of the mystery only to find their past is about to come full circle.
“The Best Alex Ross Comic?”
I know, this is a comic book hot take that may rile my fellow comic critics. “How can this be better than the visually stunning retelling of Marvel’s silver age in ‘The Marvels’ or the influential rebuke of 90’s excess in ‘Kingdom Come’?” You may find yourself asking and to that I say this: this is the strongest overall product, meaning: scripting, plotting, and art, that Alex Ross has ever put together. See, with Ross’s other notable works he was often paired with a writer to help develop the plot, script dialog, or even do the pencils.
Ross’s writing was never his strong suit, at least for me. His scripts often felt stilted and lacked any sense of modernity that one would expect to find in a comic released after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His concepts often were simple and engaging in their conceit, but his follow through scripting left me wanting. Full Circle countered all of my perceived notions of an Alex Ross scripted tale.
I approached Full Circle with trepidation because of these shortcomings. I knew the art would look great, but it may not tell the best sequential story. I knew the pitch would be enticing, but I feared the script would be borderline dull. I knew nothing, and I was blown away as a result.
Alex Ross Finds His Voice
Ross captures the tone and voice of the Fantastic Four. He particularly favors the more classic Stan Lee era but without the problematic sexism and misogyny that comic legend had an unfortunate penchant of using. It gives the book a condensed and essential take.
The Four are very much a family and their interpersonal dynamics are on display from Ben and Johnny’s back and forth banter, Sue’s strong determination to protect her family, and Reed’s leadership. It feels classic without being steeped in the baggage of the classic eras. It is a great update to the Silver Age. This plays into Alex Ross’s sensibilities as a creator and a contrast to someone like Geoff Johns who updates Silver Age but often by bringing it down with the baggage of the modern era (over the top violence and edgy for edgy sake).
While the characterizations are critical for a Fantastic Four story, I argue the plot is equally important. Fantastic Four works best as an adventure comic that features Super Heroes and Ross delivers that here. The adventure is a wild journey through the ins and outs of the Negative Zone.
You have to appreciate a creator willing to make a sequel to one of the most famous Fantastic Four Comics and resolves what actually happened to the man who stole Ben Grimm’s identity. Heck Janus, yes Janus, actually plays a critical role in the plot which is wild deep cut.
The Art of Alex Ross
At glance, the art in Full Circle appears to be basic Alex Ross art, by which I mean a highly realistic take on super heroes. Nothing wrong with that, though. Through the use of high photo reference Ross gives a unique look to his comics. Unlike some artists, such as Greg Land, Ross uses models in a more traditional sense to give his character model form and lighting. His hyper realistic style often lends itself to giving a sense of realism to the fantastical.
Yet, Ross finds another level to his art in full circle. The line work varies from pencils to clean inks. The way he illustrates The Thing is phenomenal with the naturalistic look to the crags and stones. Ross’s rendition of The Thing is often glossy in places and just a bit too perfect in the rocks.
Here it is a lot messier and chaotic but in the best of ways. This isn’t exclusive to The Thing. Human Torch has different take than Ross’s usual treatment and while the Richards do follow the typical Ross styling, they are presented with a more natural look that fits a sequential story in ways that cover art just cannot capture.
At lot of that comes from Ross’s use of multimedia art. The art isn’t solely painted, nor is it solely inked or colored. It is a combination of various art styles that gives the book this different look that is unlike Ross’s earlier comic projects. The colors alone make this book a magnificent sight to behold. Josh Johnson carried out color assists here and I want to say it may be done in digital effects. The things they manage to complete with the vibrant use of colors to set the tone of a scene is nothing short of amazing
Especially with the contrast employed on the Negative Zone pages. The Negative Zone is ethereal and bizarre universe, and Ross and Johnson capture that perfectly with their coloring and effects.
One thing I wish I did was read this comic in print instead of digital. I think the printed page would further cement my love for this book. The book is presented in a different aspect ratio online and I feel some of it is lose but the impact is still grand on the iPad.
Fantastic Four: Full Circle Final Verdict
This is easily Alex Ross’s best comic work in decades and I’d argue it is his finest work overall. The draftsmanship combined with the improved writing skills makes this one of the most enjoyable comic experiences I have had this year. It even encouraged me to go back and revisit those old Lee/Kirby/Buscema era Fantastic Four comics. Fantastic Four: Full Circle gets my highest recommendations. You will find beauty in its craft and if you are Fantastic Four fan you will find even more enjoyment in its use of continuity.
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Do you want to read more about the Fantastic Four? Well I did just talk about their Ultimate Universe counterparts’ 1st Zombie Adventure.
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