After having written about volumes one, two and three of Jonathan Hickman’s run of Fantastic Four, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t actually written about the fourth which I read towards the end of last year I believe. I planned to write about the first two volumes of FF this week (and I will, look for that post on Friday), but wanted to complete the series, so I went back and re-read the fourth volume.
In all my previous reviews, I’ve noted how well Hickman balances the variety of different elements inherent in the Fantastic Four concept. You’ve got action and family. Drama of all kinds. Bleeding edge science and galactic heralds. Spider-Man and Mole Man. Basically, there’s a lot of toys in the FF toy box and Hickman’s great at creating stories that use all the best parts in all the best ways.
Take this collection for example, in one issue we actually get to see the ball-busting-yet-truly-affectionate Johnny/Ben relationship which warms the cockles and then a page later Hickman introduces a new version of the Yancy Street Gang made up of white collar dudes who lost their jobs in the economic decline. Humanity, humor and drama seamlessly woven together in seven pages. That’s good stuff.
At the same time, some really heavy, over-arcing elements are at play. Valeria makes a deal with Dr. Doom. The four cities are behaving erratically. Namor makes a play against the Atlanteans. Reed has to explain why there’s a Galactus corpse in the middle of the Earth…to Galactus. A new Annihilation Wave is trying to invade our dimension. And, of course, a team member dies. If you don’t want to hear who it was — even though it was a fairly poorly kept secret — don’t read the next paragraph. In other words SPOILERS AHOY!
Alright, so as you probably know, the Human Torch supposedly bought it in the second-to-last issue of this collection, though we’re never shown a body. On one hand, it’s a comic book death so you know it’s not going to stick (and has probably already come unstuck). On the other hand, Hickman handles the death in such a way that you actually feel it. The whole last issue is silent and drawn by Nick Dragotta who looks like a combination of John Paul Leon and Tim Sale which is an interesting combo. It’s a pretty moving issue capped off by a Max Brooks-drawn conversation between Spider-Man and Franklin Richards about what the death of an uncle can mean to a kid. Basically, Hickman knew that many readers would be dubious of the whole thing, so he went the heartfelt route and it really worked, in part because he never dipped into melodrama too much. Death in comics is kind of a joke, but that’s because most of them seem to be used to show how badass a villain is or let you know that a big event is in the offing. In this case, a hero seemingly sacrificed his life to save, to some extent, the world, but to a larger one, his family. That’s the heart of the moment and it’s an earned one.
Okay, out of spoiler territory. I mentioned Brooks and Dragotta above, but Steve Epting handled most of the art in these issues. I love Epting from his run on Captain America with Ed Brubaker. When I first opened the book I thought, “Ooh, his art worked in Cap because it’s something of a street-based espionage story;. Will that fit in the sweeping cosmic setting of FF?” And the answer was, “Of course.” He’s got the chops to draw everything Hickman throws at him, but there’s also a darker feel to this arc that lends itself well to Epting’s style. My only problem? Johnny looks a little more square than he probably should. I noticed how old he seemed in one scene and it didn’t completely jive with my idea of the character. I realized that he’s often shown with short cropped hair, but, in general, he’s a young, cool, hip guy and should look that way. But hey, that’s an incredibly minor quibble, the kind of thing you only notice when everything else is so spot on.
From what I can tell, there’s two more volumes of Fantastic Four by Hickman and then a total of four FF volumes (I’ve got the first two). As much as I enjoy this run, I’m actually glad that it has an end point and that all or most of the pieces are out there for me to grab and read. For what it’s worth, I’m also pretty thankful that Marvel numbered these trades in a very simple way. Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Vol. 1-6 is super easy to remember. As much as I love Brubaker’s run on Captain America, there’s no way for me to remember which books I have and which ones I need. It doesn’t help that after a read-through of the entire run, I put those books in a box that’s under at least two other boxes. Simple numbering, you guys, it’s important!