Fantastic Four is one of those concepts that has limitless potential that doesn’t always get reached. I’ve only gotten a few issues into the series’ original run in my Fantastic Voyage posts, but I do have some on-again-off-again experience with the book. I started reading with Heroes Reborn and then moved over to the Heroes Return Chris Claremont stuff which I could only stand for about five issues or so. It wouldn’t be until I got my hands on Mark Waid’s run of the book until I really experienced how good this team could be. That is one of my favorite Marvel runs of all time and I hope to get back to it in the relative future. For me, the key to good FF stories is emphasizing both the fantastic elements while also dealing with the family drama at the same time.
And that’s exactly what Hickman does in his first volume of Fantastic Four stories. I read most, if not all, of these issues while I was still working at Wizard, so this was more of a revisiting, but I had just as good of a time the second time around as I did the first.
So, what does the book contain? Three stories, actually, which is impressive considering the collection only contains five comics. First and foremost, we see Reed join a pan-dimensional group of Reeds who have banned together to help change all of the universes. The question he’s posed with–and one that’s central to our version of Reed–is whether he’s willing to risk his humanity (read: family) and fully embrace his world-changing brilliance. After that, Johnny and Ben (with tagalongs Franklin and Valeria) head to their own alternate world and help save the day. I believe this was the location featured in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on the book which I could not bring myself to read after about half the first issue. Finally, we end with Franklin’s birthday party which is a fun family and friend moment followed by a mysterious traveler essentially laying out the next year or so of Hickman’s story (cryptically, of course).
As I said, Hickman does a great job balancing the family and fantastic elements, but he also balances one of the other difficult things about the FF: continuity. These guys have been around consistently for 50 years. That’s a helluva lot of stories for writers to borrow from or base their own stories off of. Sometimes–as in the case of the Claremont issues–the continuity is just too deep and confusing. Other times, writers go on and do their own thing. Again, Hickman balances these elements very well. The history and continuity are there, but they’re not primary to the story. As long as you know the basics of the FF–and maybe not even that, I’d absolutely hand this book to someone who knows nothing about the team–you’re good to go.
Dale Eaglesham matches Hickman perfectly on this book. He’s been one of my all-time favorites for years because his figures always look big and iconic, even when they’re doing something small, like talking to a loved one. He’s the perfect match for this book and you can feel when he’s not drawing the issues. They’re still good, but not as good as you know they could have been. It’s a small complaint, but I want me more Eaglesham!