Today’s Super Comics — Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules #1-4 (2003)

Fantastic_Four_Unstable_Molecules_Vol_1_1Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules is not a typical Marvel comic, nor is it even a superhero story.

The covers bill it as “The True Story of Comics’ Greatest Foursome,” but it’s based on a true story in the same way the movie Fargo is based on a true story—not actually, but it commits to pretending it is.

So this miniseries pretends that the members of the Fantastic Four are based on real people from 1950s America, and it presents them in all their dysfunctional glory. We meet a Reed who’s trying to stretch his mind to achieve a scientific breakthrough, a Sue who feels invisible, a Johnny who’s a hotheaded angry kid, and a Ben who can be a bit of a jerk. Each one corresponds to their FF counterpart, but none are heroes. They’re just deeply flawed people going about their lives and getting caught up with the Cold War, societal expectations, Beatniks, or their own worst impulses.

And it’s all fascinating, particularly the second part, which focuses primarily on Sue. She’s 26, orphaned, struggling to raise her teenage brother, dating a much older scientist who’s too wrapped up in his work to notice her, and subjected to the judgment of the older women in her neighborhood. A comic within the comic that Johnny reads depicts a ‘50s-style super-heroine, and its panels convey Sue’s state of mind as she endures a rough day in a generally unhappy life.

James Sturm, the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, has written a truly unique Fantastic Four book, one that feels much more indie than Marvel. And it’s a nice change of pace indeed.

This is a comic that has things to say, and it’s worth a look even if you couldn’t care less about the Fantastic Four.

Writer/Layouts: James Sturm

Artist: Guy Davis

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 17 and up