FANTASTIC FOUR: FULL CIRCLE – Accentuating the Negative (Zone)

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Written as well as it’s illustrated, ALEX ROSS’ new project is a tour de force…


Let’s all admit it: When assessing any Alex Ross project, you focus on the art. That’s what I did when I plunged into the new Ross graphic novel, Fantastic Four: Full Circle, at least.

Being known primarily as an artist, it’s not unexpected that a lot of talk and a lot of judging is going to occur over his visuals, but in this new work of his, he flexes muscles he doesn’t always get to, namely his skills as a writer. And I’m here to tell you, happily, there are no bumps in Full Circle on that score.

While on this journey, you might forget Ross is juggling words and pictures all by himself. You may think writers like Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek are on the trip with him, handling the wordsmithing, but no, the artist can adeptly fill both roles, Kirby and Lee.

And that’s an important note here, I think: This is a Fantastic Four cut from the Silver Age cloth of the House of Ideas curtains. Though there are references to more modern FF wrinkles, the overall tone is Stan and Jack, and I’m glad to say it works.

The art is not the fully painted Alex Ross style we’re used to. This isn’t Marvels or Kingdom Come. That’s not to say it doesn’t measure up to those legendary books, but rather that the art herein is just different. It’s more line work than anything, with the addition of a groovy color palette to flesh it all out. There are also panels of what looks like the traditional full-paint Ross style to accentuate moments here and there. At one point I realized he was going for a “black light poster” look, and the moment I did my ol’ buddy Ben Grimm chimed in with the same thought, creating one of my favorite small moments in the story.

Ross’ characterizations of our foursome are spot-on if you’re observing them through a Silver Age lens. Reed’s the Big Brain, Ben’s the grumbly gruesome, Johnny’s the eager hothead (though somewhat subdued here), and Sue’s the soul of the team. Ross had his work cut out for him with Sue, I believe, because he had to endow her with some Silver Age sensibility while also holding her up as a modern, strong woman. He succeeded.

The Negative Zone comes alive in the story, and somehow Ross manages to add new facets to it despite our many decades of exploration through the comics. He also throws a few curveballs with guest-stars — that’s one of the pluses of the graphic novel. Face it, True Believers: It’s hard to surprise us anymore, isn’t it?

If I had any caveat to my review, it may be that I would have wished for a bit more conflict in the tale. A grand ol’ round  of FF fisticuffs would have been just the ticket; even though the team normally promotes itself as explorers and travelers, we all know how that usually works out.

I also sense a sequel. There are doors that are now open after the narrative and I’m betting Ross would love to step through them with the Fantastic Four at his side. I’m positive he’d love to accentuate the negative again.

Fantastic Four: Full Circle, published by Marvel and Abrams ComicArts, is available now.


— ALEX ROSS Ranks the TOP 13 JACK KIRBY FANTASTIC FOUR Covers. Click here.

— INSIDE LOOK: How ALEX ROSS Wanted to Reboot FANTASTIC FOUR. Click here.

JIM BEARD has pounded out adventure fiction since he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. He’s gone on to write official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comics stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. His prose work includes his own creations, but also licensed properties such as Planet of the Apes, X-Files, Spider-Man, Kolchak the Night Stalker and Captain Action. In addition, Jim provided regular content for, the official Marvel Comics website, for 17 years.

Check out his latest releases, a Green Hornet novella How Sweet the Sting, his first epic fantasy novel The Nine Nations Book One: The Sliding World, and the most recent Batman ’66 books of essays he’s edited: Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season OneBiff! Bam! Ee-Yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Two and Oooff! Boff! Splatt! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Three.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Ross’s painting work has always felt flat and lifeless to me, as if we’re looking at wax sculptures. His technical skill as a painter is without question. I liked this lineart better and he did show us he is able to tell a story sequentially rather than just pinup after pinup but at $22 for 64 pages I felt like there wasn’t enough story.

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    • I completely agree with your assessment of Ross. I have always thought that he’s a great artist, but not much of a cartoonist (unlike say Hal Foster, who was a great artist and cartoonist). However, I saw his in a bookstore the other day and it really impressed me. I’m going to grab a copy.

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  2. That double-page Negative Zone is a worthy homage to the Kirby Kollage!

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  3. Even though I was expecting the usual, painting technique Alex Ross is reknowned for, this collage-like mixture of paint and line art just may earn him all kinds of industry awards! In a word: FANTASTIC!

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  4. I’ve always said throw the idea of canon out the window. Let the creators create good stories. If it’s a one-off or a run of 100 issues, who cares, if the story is great. Don’t tie the artist/writers down. Here’s Ross’ FF. Tomorrow it can be Byrne’s FF.

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  5. He really outdid himself with this one, getting out of his comfort zone while also giving a great homage to the classic FF adventures. Really interesting to see him still growing and taking risks when he could just do fancy covers for the rest of his life.

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