"Fantastic Four" #5 is an odd comic, the sort that makes you wonder at first if the comic is stalling for time, but the further you read, the more it becomes evident that Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley and Mark Farmer have a little bit extra up their sleeves to keep this from becoming a throw-away plot.
The initial story -- the Fantastic Four travel back in time to right before Julius Caesar's assassination -- seems a little too pat and simple, after all. The group shows up, gets to interact with a doomed historical figure, and has to figure out how to react to the inevitability of what's going to happen next. With that in mind, I found myself appreciating "Fantastic Four" #5 much more than I'd initially imagined thanks to two little plot twists. What's nice is that each of them carries a different weight to their shift in the re-assessment of the story. The first one lets the here-and-now of the issue have some heft in the immediate reading of the story; the second one helps set things up still to come and gives it an additional burst of importance.
Putting all that aside, the issue itself contains some cute parts, like Franklin and Valeria acting out the early life of Julius Caesar for the amusement of their parents and uncles, or Valeria being perplexed by the idea of "mommy-daddy time." For a secret that's been kept since the first issue, it's nice to see Fraction unafraid to have other characters learn about what Reed's real plans are as part of this big trip, but a lot of it feels very safe. A lot of the turns of events feel predictable, and the random fight scene near the end feels almost appended into the book for the sake of a fight scene.
Bagley and Farmer's art is a little underwhelming in places. Sue's perturbed face this issue feels almost frozen as it's echoed from one panel to the next, and likewise her worried face. After a fun first page (I loved as much of how the kids moved across the page as their dialogue), it felt like Bagley and Farmer's hearts just weren't in this is issue. A lot of very stilted panels and missing backgrounds; I don't see any sort of inventiveness on display here.
With all the fun that Fraction and Michael Allred are serving up in "FF," it's a little disappointing to see "Fantastic Four" getting a bit lackluster. There's still a lot of time to turn things around, and I did appreciate the plot starting to move forward. But the writing in general could use a bit more of a burst of energy, and the art even more so. Here's to hoping the fun returns next month in greater numbers.