Page 45 Review by Stephen
Second bumper book of brilliance from one of the best runs ever on this sporadically functional family containing volumes 3 and 4 plus the first volume of companion title FF (Future Foundation). I've hardly had to change a word since my original reviews at the start of the decade, just find you the appropriate pretty pictures. Strap yourselves in and slap on the cosmic sunscreen
Fantastic Four vol 3 by Jonathan Hickman & Neil Edwards.
"It's not the scientific method that got us here
"Take this, Mr. Whitman."
God, but this is some damn fine writing and you will need your dictionary which is a very fine thing indeed. So yes, providence provided by Reed Richards to his former rival, the Wizard, now being cared for in a metahuman psychiatric facility. He's singularly interested in the creation of life, specifically through mitosis. There's a lot of that this volume from some unexpected sources:
"And now for knowledge. The coming days are going to be dark
Dark and full of loss. It will feel like everything is going to break apart
that it will shatter and everything will end. Only you can hold us together. Can you be strong, mother? Stronger than you've ever been before? There will be a moment when you're going to want to give up. You're going to want to let go
"When you reach that point, look into the sky. Look up
and remember the price that was paid."
Looks like I was on the money and all of the previous volumes' little chapters are converging - the past and the future - in an ominous way as evidenced by the super-evolved Molemen now in residence at the Baxter Building. They've just taught themselves to read, and swiftly moved onto the computer system:
"Did you know that a curved axis runs from the Forever City, through a place called Old Atlantis, to an Inhuman city-ship on the moon? The radius of that axis happens to mirror the frequency at which a portal to the Negative Zone opens."
Reed Richards has seen the light as well as the possible darkness ahead, and it's expanded his ambition considerably. He's here to educate, to provide the planet with a limitlessly positive future, and he won't accept apathy, resignation or second-best. Quite right too. Class is now in session - but what's the previously primitive Dragon Man doing at the back?! He's been rewired by Reed's daughter Valeria and together Reed's new students have already thought well outside the box:
"So can I assume you have a new way of attacking a problem that I've personally failed to solve over the years?"
"Uh-huh. It deals with rejecting a binary endgame. The on/off nature of the problem that's tripped you up in the past
I think we can win and lose at the same time, sir."
The problem they've solved is Ben Grimm.
In addition Neil Edwards has now flowered into a worthy substitute for Bryan Hitch, particularly when it comes to the children's faces, there's a delightful trip out to a decidedly different toy store and Franklin's learning judo!
Hickman's work in this is completely accessible to newcomers yet conversely it's also steeped in Marvel history and will reward any long-term fan with a modicum of intelligence by moving that history on substantially: by embracing it, extrapolating from it, and upgrading it in such a fashion that you'd think that Hickman was actually Warren Ellis. He might be, actually, only there's no filthy swearing just a great deal of fun.
Fantastic Four vol 4 by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting with Nick Dragotta, Mark Brooks.
"Since the birth of everything, all life writhes in anguish
The suffering of billions of years of prolonged decay - the scars sit deep within us. You know this is true, because the pain resonates
We all share that core dread
that small, still voice coming from the older, primal place in our minds
We are all dying."
Well, he's a glass-half-full kinda guy!
This final book in the first phase of Jonathan Hickman's FANTASTIC FOUR ends in catastrophe for the family with the loss of one of their members. Knowing that as you read this makes for quite the poignant experience.
So many threads set up not just by Hickman but by Mark Millar in his own excellent run (WORLD'S GREATEST and THE MASTER OF DOOM) come back to haunt them whilst one remains far from resolved and is only now becoming clear in the start of the second phase under the title FF (Future Foundation). Steve Epting has long been one of my favourite Marvel pencillers and his kids in particular are a just-so joy, though perhaps the finest panel is Sue Storm's eyes rolling to the heavens under Namor's admiration only after she shouts him down in public. He's thrilling, subtle and his expressions carry weight. Quite why the final silent issue, the denouement, is given to someone else, I cannot comprehend.
Without giving too much away, Sue's role as emissary between the old and new Atlantean factions takes a substantial turn for the unexpected, Galactus' dead body which Reed Richards decided to bury is finally discovered, Ben swallows the serum Valeria and co. concocted to give him one week a year in his old human body
and that bloody Negative Zone portal never did anyone any good, did it?
Hickman, however, is master of the unexpected
like young prodigy Valeria casually teleporting into the throne room of Victor Von Doom who sits brooding about what he has lost.
Showing up unannounced is rash, unsuitable behaviour
even for a child. Does your father know where you are, Valeria?"
"Actually, he's why I'm here."
"And what has he done now?"
"Daddy went and built a very bad machine and forgot to tell anyone
Guess who just found it."
Includes the script to silent issue #588.
FF vol 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson.
"And then I began to wonder why exactly all those villains are in my house. What would scare them as much as it would scare us
? What have you been hiding from me?"
"What's happened, Reed?"
"I've done something terrible."
So many secrets. So much left half-said!
The curtain rises for a fresh start, but in so many ways it's merely the second act of a carefully orchestrated piece of theatre whose first four books were bursting with dramatic irony which now plays itself out as each family member finally comes clean, but only when they're finally found out! By that time, of course, it's a little too late to mend as four familiar forces have been unleashed upon this world and set about acquiring the resources they need to leave it - not in one piece, either.
The Fantastic Four are no more. The family is one man down, and some of them are coping better than others. Wracked with guilt, Ben Grimm has shut himself inside his room, cradling Johnny Storm's nephew and niece against his orange-rocked hide. But as the famous '4' emblem is taken solemnly from their wall, Reed Richards takes Johnny's holographic Last Will & Testament to heart and asks Spider-Man to join their endless quest to build a better world.
It's Johnny's sister Sue who beckons Peter inside and shows him around. Things have changed. For a start they're now called The Future Foundation with an extended family of waifs and strays, some more clever than others, studying under Reed Richards and brainstorming to solve problems with their fresh new perspectives. For that Peter's perfect, and Reed's child-prodigy daughter Valeria has a knack of not only finding solutions but identifying the problems in the first place. And then she just causes some more. She's discovered what her bad Dad's been up to and promptly exacerbated his mistake and so made a deal with the devil, Victor von D himself. Doom can't resist either her singular challenge (once more, the irony!) nor her offer of assistance for he has lost a part of his mind. Fortunately his brain is at least structurally sound, so what they need is a backup.
I can't tell you how cleverly that's played - Valeria and 'Uncle' Doom are an exquisite double-act; she fearless, he constantly surprised - because it requires Steve Epting's superb, deadpan comedic timing. His art is a considered joy. The enormous gargoyle Dragon Man cross-legged on a comfy sofa and studying a book, spectacles perched on his purple beak looking like Sage The Owl, is an absolute hoot.
Also, the costumes have changed and change further still, third-generation unstable molecules creating variations on a black and white theme of three honeycomb hexagons or, in Peter's case, a spider. He's very much a guest. He's not the only guest, either. Richards' father has resurfaced from the timestream thereby altering the family dynamic further still, and then there are those invited by Reed to Doctor Doom's unprecedented symposium in the Baxter building. Each attendee has been psychologically enhanced by Hickman, one for example with a born-again fervour and another, the Mad Thinker, finally living up to his name. Here he is doing Spider-Man's nut in:
"An invitation. An invitation! It's the opening move of the greatest of games - Ask yourself, who's the opponent, what does he want? Is this his first move, or simply an orchestration to reveal who his opponents are
Oh, so very tricky. An invitation
what could it possibly mean?"
"I think it means you're invited."
"Mmmmmaahhhh! No. No. No. No! Foolish pawn. Foolish pawn that doesn't even know that he's a piece
Or maybe you're something more. Maybe so. Yes, maybe I can use this. You're probably not even aware of how much he's given away by sending you
So, reveal all. Tell me - and don't try and think it over, as I need an untainted, primary response - tell me, what should I do?"
I would prefer that you stay at home. Maybe take a bath
Maybe brush your teeth."
"That's it! That's it - I accept the invitation!!"
Of course you do."
Now it's your turn.