A team – and a family – of adventurers, explorers, and imaginauts, the Fantastic Four lead lives both ordinary – and extraordinary!
And we’re back with week 2 of our brisk jog through the Jonathan Hickman-era of “Fantastic Four”/”FF” as part of the Multiversity Summer Comics Binge. This is Hick-F4M.
Last week I talked a little bit about my reasons for wanting to read this run, and it having been highly recommended multiple times, by multiple people. All of those folks mentioned something along the lines of what the book did, and it putting the family (and themselves) through the emotional ringer. We get the beginnings of that emotionally daunting journey here.
We began our read-through with the sort-of prequel to this run “Dark Reign: Fantastic Four.” As part of the ‘Dark Reign’ event, Marvel put out a five-issue miniseries that sets the stage for the first arc of this book and Reed Richards’ mental space going forward. This week we dive right in with “Fantastic Four” #570-578, which covers the first two arcs of the book. ‘Solve Everything’ runs through the first three issues with Dale Eaglesham on art, followed by Neil Edwards on two one-shot issues, and then Eaglesham again for ‘Prime Elements’ which finishes out in #578. If you’re following along, I encourage you to check out those issues, which you can find on Marvel Unlimited under “Fantastic Four” 1998-2012, or on comiXology where in fact the first five issues here are in comiXology Unlimited.
But now you need to shell out the cost. It’s time to solve everything.
“Fantastic Four” #570-578
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Dale Eaglesham (#570-2, #575-8); Neil Edwards and Andrew Currie(#573-4)
Colored by Paul Mounts
Lettered by VC’s Rus Wooten (#570, #572-8); VC’s Clayton Cowles (#571)
Covers by Eaglesham and Mounts (#570); Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Dave McCaig (#571); Davis, Farmer, and John Rauch (#572-3); Davis, Farmer, and Javier Rodriguez (#574-8)
First off, I just want to say that all of these comics are extremely well designed, in the sense that the covers, the title logo, the letter pages, and the recap pages really caught my eye in these first few issues in ways often times I don’t think about. I loved the way everything was designed, and I have to think it was well-planned and well-executed. Rus Wooten is credited as “letterer and production” in all issues, and I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I have to think some of it is the design work of the comic. My favorite thing is all the quotes above the title logo on the covers.
It might be stupid, and I might be a sucker, but when titles of things are spoken allowed in issues I get a good chuckle and thrill. Cue that Family Guy sketch about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. It helps call attention to themes and ideas better and allows me to pull in other thematic-related things from other sources as I’m reading, which in getting through the first three issues had me swirling with philosophical and theological thoughts.
Hickman is also clearly playing the long game, and it’s on full display in these nine issues. While ‘Solve Everything’ is clearly dealing with the immediate aftermath of the ‘Dark Reign’ story, it sets up high-concept ideas that are sure to continue to play out. ‘Prime Elements’ sets up the arc that is coming after, but also establishes more large ideas that the ramifications of are still playing out a decade later in the Marvel Universe. I had no idea the Universal Inhumans debuted in “Fantastic Four,” and while the Inhumans are slowly fading from prominence, the idea of more than just the Earth Inhumans were both large parts of “Royals” and “Death of the Inhumans.” Hickman is absolutely trying to be additive to the universe and mimic that Lee/Kirby spirit of “Fantastic Four” being the book that creates concepts.
This book is building on and bringing back continuity, sometimes in ways that can be confusing or complicated. While all the emotional beats for these characters are there, the larger parts of the universe are on full display. The one-shot issue #573 was the only issue that I struggled through a little bit thanks to not knowing much about Nu-World. I understand that the issue was more about Valeria and Franklin and us seeing them on display, there was no coaxing, and you’re definitely dropped into a world you may or may not know. But again, I think that’s the point. I think you’re supposed to be thrown into the worlds and left to wonder, left to explore, left to figure it out, just like the “Fantastic Four.”Continued below
Alright so first things first: ‘Solve Everything.’ Of the three different sections I read this week, this was definitely my favorite. These three issues focus almost entirely on Reed, while the others branch out to the rest of the family. This arc is a full-on what-if equation, a philosophical quandary into playing God and what it costs. And it costs everything. Reed’s creation of the Bridge garners him the attention of the Council of Reeds, a parliament of Reed Richards from other Earths working together to solve all the multiverse’s problems. The way that issue #570 ends with the three Reeds who have Infinity Gauntlets is wide and perfect. I was surprised that this arc was only three issues because the ideas are so massive, but what Hickman and Eaglesham are able to do in a compacted amount of time is nothing less than extraordinary.
Speaking of Eaglesham, his art has never looked more like Kirby’s. Especially in the faces of every character. There’s something in the way he draws eyes and face structure that looks very similar. He also draws the bulkiest Reed Richards that I’ve seen, which took a bit to get used to. Reed isn’t a character I usually think of with the build of Superman, but that’s barely a nitpick. This issue continues what Hickman and Chen did with ‘Dark Reign’ where there is more silence during the action, and full-page splashes where the art is allowed to speak entirely for itself. Eaglesham and Mounts together do just great work on such a wide conceptual scale from drawing Celestials to the quieter flashbacks with Reed and his dad. It’s very good.
This short arc is a case study into humanity, anxiety, and intelligence. Reed is struggling with saving everyone, and unlike Spider-Man he thinks he can do it. When he meets the Council he’s at first optimistic that they have it figured out, but all of them have nothing else but these multiversal antics. They have dedicated themselves to the eradication of human suffering, and they are all just miserable.
And that’s what Reed re-learns again. The price of being human is dissatisfaction. Suffering is. Those are facts, and no amount of genius can change that. Now that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying, but not at the expense of totally losing yourself, your humanity, and what makes you you in the process. No one by themselves can save everyone, but individually we can do something, and together we can do many somethings. Reed finally gets rid of the Bridge, and goes back home, which ends these issues on an optimistic note. This arc is so much heavier than what comes after, but it’s this heaviness that allows the levity of the next issues to really shine, and the more exploratory spirit of ‘Prime Element’ to shine.
The next two one-shots left me a little wanting however. I mentioned above that ‘Adventures in Nu-World’ had me somewhat confused, but also Neil Edwards and Andrew Currie in these two issues left me lacking in the art department. Especially in the birthday issue, #574. Edwards seems to be doing a Bryan Hitch-esque impression (Currie being one of Hitch’s regular inkers), and it fares less well in comparison to Eaglesham. Mounts switches to an odd more muted and pastel color pallet too that I found weird. Still, the birthday issue was a ton of fun. I will never not laugh at Bentley (the child clone the team rescued from issue #570) saying “Thirty-Two wants the corner piece.” And having said I disliked Edwards’ work here above, the pages where future Franklin is talking to Valeria and there are the crayon drawings in the background are really good, and redeem some of what comes before.
The birthday sets up ‘Prime Elements,’ with the future Franklin warning Valeria of the war of four cities, and her starting to take notes about what’s happening the team. The reveal in the final issue that the iPad notes at the end of every issue were Valiera’s I thought was really cool, and interesting that she was interviewing everyone. Such a smart child that one. The spirit in these issues too is much more optimistic, adventurous, excited and so forth, and marries the forward-facing sci-fi ideas with adding more to the Marvel Universe. These issues are like the best of Star Trek and still very much grounded in current continuity.Continued below
Anyway, ‘Prime Elements’ is clearly laying the groundwork for something way larger, but it does so in a way that gives every family member a spotlight issue, which is good because while Johnny and Ben had a solo issue, Sue has been in the background of a lot of these issues. Putting her at the fore to deal with Atlantis things, to have her “speak for mankind” without batting an eyelash seems very her. I hope she has more big moments in the future.
Ben gets the Moloids issue, Sue gets the Atlantis things, Reed has the Inhumans, and Johnny almost hooks up with bugs from the Negative Zone hiding in a human body. It’s serious, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s got all the bits. Johnny’s in the arctic dressed like a male sex worker. It’s great. The silent issue segments in #576 were really stellar, and helped add to the entrapment of possibly dying in the middle of a body of water. While good issues on their own, they are clearly pointing to more things on the horizon, which I am eager to get to next week.
Overall, this run busts out of the gate really, really proudly and strong, and then maintains for a few issues in interesting and intelligent ways. It’s slow, but not in a way that’s at all off-putting, and really, if you can set up a whole believable war in four issues, that’s fantastic.
Sound off in the comments below and tell us what you think about these issues, and be sure to come back next week as we read through “Fantastic Four” #579-#588!