Comic Picks By The Glick

Jonathan Hickman’s “Fantastic” Climax

February 26, 2013

Why?  Because putting “Fantastic Four vol. 5:  Forever and FF vol. 3:  All Hope Lies In Doom” would not only exceed the character limit for titles here but is also quite unwieldy on a visual level.  Whereas this title... well, you’re reading it now aren’t you?  That being said, these two volumes effectively represent the culmination of Hickman’s multi-year “Fantastic Four” epic as all hell breaks loose across the world.  The Kree armada shows up in Earthspace to take out Attilan and the rest of the Universal Inhumans while the Annihilation Wave spews forth from the portal inside the Baxter Building.  You’ve also got the machinations of the surviving Reed Richards of the Council as he, his prisoner Doom, and Nathaniel Richards meet up with Franklin, Valeria and the other kids of the Future Foundation in Latveria.  Then when it seems like things can’t get any worse, Galactus and the Celestials show up.  So the stakes here are about as high as they can get do we get a satisfying wrap up?  Yes we do.

Before reading either of these volumes (and you will need to read them both to get the full effect of this story) I recommend that you either go back and re-read all of Hickman’s run to this point, or at least the first two volumes of “FF.”  That’s because EVERYTHING that he has been setting up since the beginning comes to fruition here.  Quite frankly, it’s impressive to see him pull it off here since Marvel’s history is littered with runs by writers who had big plans for the series they were working on but weren’t able to see them through for one reason or another.  As Hickman has actually delivered a complete story with his take on the characters, I’d say it’s worth reading just to witness that alone.

Though the story keeps getting bigger and bigger even after Galactus throws down with the Celestials, it also doesn’t forget the sense of family that is at the core of the series.  We’re told late in the game that all this is happening because the Reed Richards of this universe got involved with the Council of Reeds back at the beginning of Hickman’s run.  For that, he was supposed to pay the ultimate price (minor spoilers, I know, but ultimately irrelevant in the grand scheme of the story).  Yet he’s ultimately able to circumvent this not through his own ingenuity but by simply being a father to Franklin and Valeria, and pitching in to help his dad when he needed it most.  It’s not a surprise that this universe’s Nathaniel Richards is now the only one in the multiverse as he was the only one with the sense to go back in time and ask his son (and Ben and Victor) for help in the “great game” he was involved in.  It’s immensely satisfying to see all of these things tie together now that the meat of the story is over.  Hickman’s not done yet, but the final volumes of both series would have to be utterly terrible in order to get me to rescind my recommendation at this point.

While all of this is nice, it would’ve been even better if reading the two volumes had been a more seamless experience.  Both “Fantastic Four vol. 5” and “FF vol. 3” are telling the same story from two different perspectives and you’re not going to get the full experience without reading both of them.  (That said, it was weird reading “FF vol. 3” first as it came out before vol. 5 of “Fantastic Four.”  What was up with that scheduling, Marvel?  Anyhow, it’s irrelevant now.)  However, reading them one after the other gives a weird start-stop feel to the narrative at certain points, particularly in “FF.”  Trying to read one issue from one volume and then the next one from another works up to a certain point then falls apart.  It almost feels like Hickman was going for the same thing Geoff Johns pulled off really well a while back by having the tie-in issues of “Green Lantern” fill in the between-the-issues action of “Blackest Night.”   Those issues were clearly written with the intent of being read in a specific order and that just doesn’t quite work here.

Still, if there’s one issue to be had with these two volumes, it’s the art.  Specifically:  the art from Juan Bobillo in the first three issues of “FF vol. 3.”  I’d heard terrible things about it going in so I was prepared for the worst.  Upon actually seeing it, I could understand why people were so put off by it but I couldn’t quite bring myself to agree.  Bobillo’s stylized, cartoonish-yet-detailed work is a jarring shift from a series that has had the likes of Steve Epting and Barry Kitson as its primary artists and there’s also a certain creepiness to the characters’ (particularly the kids) eyes.  Yet his style grew on me throughout those three issues.  Compared to Epting’s grounded sterileness and Kitson’s competent “house style,” Bobillo’s is distinctive, immensely expressive and thoroughly well-suited to illustrating all of the weirdness on display in his issues.  He’s replaced in the last two issues by Nick Dragotta, whose Kirby-esque leanings still work well here but aren’t quite as distinctive.

Speaking of Epting and Kitson, I still think they do good work here in spite of my above-mentioned criticism.  While I continue to maintain that the former is a poor fit for a series that is founded on the awe and wonder of adventuring, he does manage to pull off some impressive scenes here particularly in the opening chapter of the main series as the War of the Four Cities reaches its climax on Earth.   Epting also gives us some great splash pages spotlighting the not-very-surprising-return of a certain cast member and gives his all to make the final confrontation a battle for the ages.  Hell, if he had been working at this level since the start of his run I wouldn’t have complained so much!  Though this does lessen Kitson’s advantage by “not being Epting” his more conventional style still feels more suited to the material and he even gets some great moments of his own -- particularly the “all hope is lost” moment close to the end of the fourth issue.

As “Fantastic Four vol. 5” also collects the extra-sized issue #600 we get some additional stories from different artists here as well.  “Whatever Happened to Johnny Storm?” fills in the gaps on one of the least suspenseful character deaths in recent memory, showing us what the character was up to in the Negative Zone.  It’s a brutal tale, showing us the suffering and hardening of the character in the time that he was gone and while it threatens to get too grim at times, the “Everything lives” bit at the end goes a ways towards offsetting that.  The story also features the strongest art I’ve seen yet from Carmine Di Giandomenico as drawing brutal battles between humans, bugs, and aliens apparently agrees quite well with him.

“Black Queen” features art that’s distinct enough to do the likes of Black Bolt, Medusa and the other Universal Inhumans justice as the story tries to smooth over one of the sillier parts of Hickman’s run.  Personally, I thought the best part of the “five wives for Black Bolt” was Spider-Man saying how weird it was to everyone in the room.  This story, though, gives us a telepathic conversation between Black Bolt and his real wife Medusa as they try to work through this new situation themselves.  I think this is the first extended conversation I’ve seen from Black Bolt EVER and it’s a good one as he and Medusa work through their issues in a sensible manner.

Lenil Yu gives us a nice take on Galactus as “The Arc” sets up the “devourer of worlds’” role in the storyline.  I appreciated the nods to make this work in continuity, but it’s more of a blatant bit of foreshadowing than an actual story here.  Things do finish strongly with Farel Dalrymple showing us what happened to that baby universe Franklin created several volumes back.  It turns out that he really did create a whole universe that he can escape to when things get bad.  Fortunately for him, he has his biggest fan on hand to keep things from getting too self-indulgent.  Dalrymple’s style almost feels antithetical to superheroics, as its grounded nature makes you feel that he should be off telling real stories about real people instead of wasting his time with this.  Yet that’s part of the appeal of this story as he gives the action scenes a weird freshness that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

While I haven’t really read a whole lot of stories specifically about the “Fantastic Four” over the years, this has turned into a run that I would recommend to anyone interested in good superhero stories.  Well-defined and interesting characters, an impressively thought-out story with escalating stakes, new takes on old ideas, this run pretty much has it all.  The art could’ve been more consistent over this run, but it’s by no means a dealbreaker.  Now that the main story has wrapped up, we’re going to be getting two volumes of “falling action” as Hickman wraps up loose ends and sets things up for Matt Fraction’s run.  Based on what I’ve read here, I’m willing to bet those two volumes will take us down from the highs of these in the best way possible.

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