Title: Fantastic Four: Road Trip
Release Date: 2020
Writer: Christopher Cantwell
Artist: Filipe Andrade
I’ll admit it before we begin, I’ve never really cared for The Fantastic Four. I’ve read a few stories and enjoyed the terrible two films in my younger years, but they always seemed like a bit of a boring side note in the Marvel canon. But when I read about this one-off story, I just had to check it out. It’s so strange and so gross that I’m surprised it even exists. I can only assume it was a Halloween special, delayed due to COVID. Which makes slightly more sense, because Road Trip is often horrifying.
After stopping to investigate the weird crater, the family begin their vacation anew, while Reed toils away in his lab (“It’s casual. A vacation lab.”). The next morning, the family begins to fall apart. And for the majority of them, I mean that quite literally. Ben “The Thing” Grimm is the first to notice, as his rocky exterior begins to scab off, in the first of many toe-curling moments. Sue starts disappearing, first her eyelids and skin, then her internal organs. Johnny is literally burning himself to death, screaming in agony yet somehow not dying. Reed’s is the worst, as he begins to melt, reaching the point where he looks more like a Junji Ito drawing.
The kids suffer too. Child genius Valeria regresses and begins babbling incoherently like a toddler. Franklin’s ill-defined yet immensely powerful abilities go haywire, leaving him inhabiting every space at one (even filling the Grand Canyon with thousands of Franklin’s).
It all sounds pretty bleak, and some of the imagery is quite uncomfortable – but overall it’s very firmly a blackly comic tale. Even when the family is forced together into a giant, gooey, sentient blob – with some of the nastiest body horror in the whole comic – Ben declares “I was really looking forward ta some family bonding time.” Writer Christopher Cantwell makes the whole thing very enjoyable, and you never feel particularly worried for the family, even when you’re feeling a bit queasy.
The art from Filipe Andrade is exceptional. At first it took me back, because many of the character were drawn almost as caricatures, with Reed being spindly and tall. But as it went on, I fell in love with the style, with the way it conveyed each character’s different traits and abilities. And the gruesome body-horror? Well it takes talent to be that gross.
Overall, I highly recommend this comic. It fits firmly in the current FF chronology, but aside from one reference to a previous issue, it could be a standalone What If…? story. Plus, the Fantastic Four are perhaps the only characters that this could happen to who could just bounce back like it never happened – this isn’t the first time they’ve been irrevocably changed on a genetic level.
I can’t recommend it enough. There are loads of issues online, on eBay for example, check it out.