Fantastic Voyage: FF By Jonathan Hickman Vol. 1 & 2

ff vol 1 FF By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting & Barry Kitson
Collects FF #1-5

Right off that bat, I’ve got to throw out a minor complaint about FF. I know it stands for Future Foundation and is an obvious visual and phonic connection to the the Fantastic Four name, but it kind of drives me crazy. This book replaced Fantastic Four for a bit and then both were going at the same time — and I believe still are — but not being able to shorten the title Fantastic Four to FF without causing confusion with this newer title is kind of annoying.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what’s actually in this comic instead of what’s on the cover. If you didn’t read Jonathan Hickman’s fourth volume of Fantastic Four and don’t want anything spoiled, you might want to stop reading here. If you did read it, or just know about comics in general, you’ll remember that Johnny Storm seemingly died protecting his family in order to close the portal to the Negative Zone from the other side, thus stopping a huge invading horde. The idea behind the rebranding of this book is that they’re going by the Future Foundation to not only go along with the ideas Reed has been preaching to the world, but also as a way to deal with the passing of a friend, brother and hero.

As the story unfolds it becomes very clear that, even though this book has a different name than its predecessor, it’s very much a continuation of Hickman’s Fantastic Four story. All kinds of previous threads are picked up and spun together in ways I didn’t see coming. For instance, back in the fourth volume of Fantastic Four, Val went through the portal that lead to the place where some of  the interdimesnional Reeds still survived. What we didn’t see at that point was that four of them made their way to the main Marvel Universe and have since been using aspects of the four cities that have played such important parts in the series to this point as a way to supposedly get back to their interdimensional hangout. As a way to figure out the best way to stop these Reeds, our Reed and Val have agreed to bring in a bunch of villains including Dr. Doom, The Mad Thinker, Diablo, The Wizard and The Hight Evolutionary to figure out the best way to deal with their mutual enemies. This doesn’t sit well with Sue and Ben as you might expect.

Unlike the previous Hickman-penned trades I’ve read to this point, this one definitely felt like more of one story told over several issues. That’s not a dig by any means, just something I noticed. Previous volumes felt like they could be given to someone without much FF knowledge and they’d be fine and that might be the case with this one, but Hickman’s kicking his story into high gear and surging towards whatever the conclusion will be. The only real thing that separates the issues aside from the obvious breaks and interstitial pages is the shift from Steve Epting to Barry Kitson on art. Epting definitely retains the dark, gritty style that made a lot of sense in the previous volume and still makes sense here. Then, Kitson takes over and it’s a little alarming just because it’s so big and old and bright. Again, this isn’t a complaint about Kitson’s art, I think it’s fantastic (puns!), just a bit of a jarring transition.

ff vol 2 FF By Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Greg Tocchini, Steve Epting & Barry Kitson
Collects FF #6-11

You might expect from the  paragraph I wrote above that this second volume of Hickman’s FF picks up directly where the last one left off and it does after a fashion, but also spends two issues explaining what’s been up with Black Bolt, the Inhumans and a few other characters who got their start in Fantastic Four, but played big parts in the cosmic books since Annihilation (like Ronan and Crystal and a few others). Specifically, they pick up where War of Kings left off and establish a reason for the Inhumans to return to Earth which makes sense and made for enjoyable stories even though I didn’t read most of WOK. My only complaint about those two issues is that Tocchini’s art is super loose and not very appealing. He gets better by the second issue, but that first one was pretty rough. Oh, one more quick complaint, we’re not all Inhumans experts, so it would have been nice to see a few floating boxes introducing them, just saying. It worked when Geoff Johns wrote the Legion Of Super Heroes in Action Comics, I think it would have worked here too.

After all that, we’re back with the alterna-Reeds, a Future Foundation packed with villains and an impending war between, well, everyone. In this case, the Inhumans arrive just in time to square off against the remaining three bad Reeds who are attacking the Atlanteans while using the High Evolutionary’s machine. As you might expect, many of the villains find their way out of the Future Foundation in this battle thanks to betrayal, capture or both. Reed reunites with Black Bolt for a brief time, he doesn’t learn a whole lot about their plans, but while he, Spider-Man and Nathan Richards are inside, the Inhumans capture two of the bad Reeds and the third makes off with an intellectually castrated Dr. Doom. Essentially, this is but one battle in a much larger war.

And that’s what I love about this whole series. It’s not just a point A to point B and then C story. It takes place in a universe of characters who all have varying levels of history together and each have their own trajectories. Events aren’t simple, they are complicated and even when they seem to end, they don’t. The last arc ensconced in this trade is post-battle, but still does all kinds of heavy lifting for the much larger story at work here. Ronan sneaks into the Inhumans’ stronghold, kidnaps their two Reeds and uses them to rebirth the Supreme Intelligence (I love how the Reeds are considered such intergalactic hot commodities). Meanwhile, Nathan finds himself with the last alterna-Reed and his pet Dr. Doom for unknown reasons. Back at the Baxter Building, Val and the crew are working on what she says will be a giant escape plan for all the people living there. If that’s not a gun waiting to be fired (and better explained) I don’t know what is. And lastly, Spider-Man returned to the house with not only The Thing — who was absent for a few issues — but also a whole crew of Avengers who are offering their services in taking care of this Inhumans problem.

My friends who are more active in the industry and read comics on a far more regular basis make fun of me because I’m so behind in books, but I’m cool with it. I get to mainline whole arcs of quality comics like this while knowing that there are still four more volumes out there for me to devour (two more FFs and two more Fantastic Fours all of which I need to get my hands on). That’s perfect for me. I’ve avoided all talk of what happens in this book and am completely on board for the ride. Knowing that there’s an end to that ride actually makes it better for me because I’m looking forward to seeing how Hickman brings everything to a close. Now I just need those last few comics to find their way to Sequential Swap or become significantly discounted on Amazon because, yes, I am very cheap.

Fantastic Voyage: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Vol. 4

hickman fantastic four volume 4 Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 4 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting with Nick Dragotta & Mark Brooks
Collects Fantastic Four #583-588

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!

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 3

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 3 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Neil Edwards
Collects Fantastic Four #579-582

As I said at the end of my review for the second volume of Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the third volume without having the fourth because that trade seemed to be leading up to this big huge war. I decided to go ahead and take it with me on a trip to New Hampshire last weekend and I was pleased because it’s a great continuiation of the story, but it also didn’t do what I expected it to. The war has been put off, but the magic of Hickman’s FF run is that you almost don’t even realize it. Instead of moving in the direction I expected, it takes a different angle, by picking up a thread first sewn in back in the first volume.

There are several stories being told here while also sticking with the overarching story, but there are some really interesting bits here. You’ve got Franklin Richards and Johnny Storm running up against Arcade with the Impossible Man making an appearance as well as Reed, Ben and Victor Von Doom traveling back in time to their college days with Reed’s dad to battle an alternate reality version of his dad. That lead into a larger part of the story that references the oncoming war and, I’ll be honest, I don’t think I quite picked up everything Hickman was laying down because there’s some pocket universe stuff going on as well as some tampering with time, but I’m excited to see what happens in the next volume and how it continues on into FF. I don’t have those volumes yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a good deal.

I spent a lot of time praising Dale Eaglesham in my previous posts and wasn’t as much of a fan of Neil Edwards on his fill-in issues, but I think he definitely stepped his game up as he took over the regular art chores. He’s still no Eaglesham, but he’s a lot more solid and tight this time around. He’s kind of in the same vein as Bryan Hitch, an artist I think is alright but not as awesome as seemingly everyone else in the world. Anyway, his storytelling and action are both up to par with Hickman’s words, so it’s a nice synthesis.

The interesting thing I just realized about this book is that, I believe you could give just this volume to someone and it would be a fun ride. You’ve got Mr. Fantastic starting the Future Foundation, some classic elements being toyed with like the problem of the Thing’s rock form and some other fun vignettes along with overall storytelling blocks. There might be a few questionable moments or references, but overall, I think that a basic knowledge of the FF would allow you to enjoy even this third volume in a series on its own.

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 2

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Dale Eaglesham
Collects Fantastic Four #575-578

As I mentioned in my review of Jonathan Hickman’s first volume of  Fantastic Four stories, he does an excellent job of melding the classic bigness of the team with a down-to-earth family side that is the center of what makes this comic tick. His collaborator Dale Eaglesham does the same with his pencils, so it’s truly a match made in comic book heaven.

While the first volume had some really interesting ideas that grabbed me as ar reader, I think this second one really shows what Hickman is/was building towards. At the end of the previous volume Val Richards was paid a visit by a future version of her brother who gave her a carefully worded though seemingly vague prophecy about a coming war between various cities. In this volume we’re actually presented with those cities. It was something that I didn’t quite catch on to immediately, but once I did, I realized how well paced and plotted this comic was. Plus, even though it’s very clearly building towards the third and fourth volumes and into the relaunch as FF (Future Foundation) later on down the line, it still feels like its own complete thing.

Sometimes, when you read comics or watch shows that are clearly building towards something larger, some of the installments feel like wheel-spinning or world building without much substance. That’s not the case here. Actually, I think one of the reasons I wasn’t paying as much attention to the prophecy stuff is because I was drawn into the mysteries or drama that surrounded each of the cities. Hickman makes sure that each issue has enough going on that you’re absorbed while also collecting pieces of the bigger puzzle which is no small task.

And once again, Dale Eaglesham shows why he’s one of my favorite pencilers in comics. This dude just knows how to draw everything and does it well. It helps that Hickman threw in so many fun settings for the artist to explore. You’ve got underwater stuff, scenes on the moon, underground cities, aliens, monsters, the Mole Man, HERBIE, the Negative Zone and a giant Galactus corpse among other things.

I was really bummed when I finished this volume and realized I had missed my opportunity to get all of the Hickman trades on the cheap from Thwipster. I tweeted as such and was clued in that there would be more available during a Black Friday sale. It was only the third volume, which I now have in my possession. I really want to jump in, but a few things are holding me back. First, I’d rather get my hands on the fourth volume and maybe even FF before heading back into the waters, just to make sure I have as much of the story as possible. The second reason is that Eaglesham didn’t draw anything in the next volume and that bums me out. The guy they got to cover is named Neil Edwards, he did some stuff in the previous volume and he’s not bad, but he suffers from not being Eaglesham and also has a style similar to Bryan Hitch, an artist whose popularity befuddles me. Anyway, with Christmas not too far away, maybe I’ll add the missing volumes to my Amazon wish list and have a post-holiday reading marathon. That sounds pretty fun, actually!

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 1

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Dale Eaglesham & Neil Edwards
Collects Fantastic Four #570-574

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!

Fantastic Voayage: Fantastic Four #6 (1962)

FANTASTIC FOUR #6 (1962)
Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby

Much like the first appearance of Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #5, the supposedly epic team-up between big bads Doctor Doom and Namor came off less awesome than I hoped. First off, Doctor Doom comes across Namor as he’s swimming with dolphins. Soon after the pair decide to team up and you can see Doc Doom rubbing Namor’s shoulders, consoling him like they’re both battered women in a Lifetime movie. So what’s the nefarious plan? Destroy small continent with the Fantastic Four at the epicenter? Nope. Flood New York City and hope to get the FF? Nope. Plant a device in the Baxter Building that will shoot it and all inside into space.

ToyFare fans might remember this gag as being Doctor Doom’s go-to trick in the pages of Twisted ToyFare Theater. That’s where I first experienced the story element. I thought it was pretty funny and figured it was based on maybe an aspect of one of Doom’s plots, but never imagined it was lifted directly from an issue of FF. For that, the issue was fun to read.

I also enjoyed a few of the smaller moments. You see a few guys who don’t believe that FF actually exist. I think these kinds of moments are dumb when done in big shared superhero universes today (how could anyone not know that Batman exists, he’s on the friggin’ JLA), but it makes sense in the early days of the growing Marvel Universe. I also liked seeing a full building schematic of the FF headquarters as well as Sue using a special belt device to gain entrance. I think my favorite moment, though, was when Mr. Fantastic stretched from their HQ across NYC to pop in and talk with a sick fan who asks him about their costumes! This is probably the first explanation of Unstable Molecules and I like how fanboyish the set-up is. The kid isn’t being Comic Book Guy and trying to poke holes in things, he’s just curious. I like that. Aside from those moments, there’s more sad sack Ben Grimm and the usual Silver Age goofiness.

The one thing that bums me out a bit about reading these stories is that Jack Kirby hasn’t come into his distinct, kinetic, amazing style, the one I’ve come to know and love over the past few years. You can see little bits of pieces of what’s to come in some of the inventions and machinery, but Thing still looks like a lump of rock and Doom’s no where near as cool as my idea of Kirby in his prime drawing that villain. I can’t wait to see him really come into his own on this book, though I hear it doesn’t happen still for a little while. Ah well, I can stick around.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #5 (1962)

FANTASTIC FOUR #4 (1962)
Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby

Sorry for the incredible gap between Fantastic Voyage posts. I was shocked to discover that it had been about six months since I talked about Fantastic Four #4. Thanks to a new app I downloaded called Bookman Lite, I can now read PDFs on my iPhone. I just transferred over a few I had on my desktop from the awesome DVD I own that contains every FF and Silver Surfer comic from 1961 to 2005. The experience was actually pretty awesome. I’ve read plenty of comics in PDF form, but this was cool because they’re high res scans of issues that you can really zoom in on and look at, maybe even better than you could with a hard copy.

So, I got back into the game with a pretty landmark issue: the first appearance of Doctor Doom. I assumed he’d be behind some insanely complicated plot for taking over the world, but not so much. Instead he puts an electrified net around the FF headquarters, asks for (and is given) Sue, then takes the male FFers to his headquarters where he reveals his nefarious plan: the send them back in time to steal Blackbeard’s treasure chest. Huh? Really? So, that’s what they do, only Mr. Fantastic pulls some verbal trickery, noting that Doom only asked for the CHEST not the treasure itself. Oh that Reed, so sneaky.

Yes it’s got a good deal of Silver Age goofiness (Doom’s helicopter is alternately painted bright blue or pink with a shark face on it), but it’s also kind of fun seeing Mr. Fantastic, Thing and Human Torch using their powers while dressed up like pirates at the end. Also, as with the previous four issues, poor Ben Grimm has a hard time of things, first with Johnny comparing him to a comic book starring something called The Hulk (see the slideshow below) and then in the past when it turns out that he’s actually Blackbeard and he wants to stay there as a pirate only to get foiled by a storm (he even had his men restrain his teammates in ways that don’t actually make any sense).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All in all, this was a really fun issue. I especially liked seeing the early building blocks that would go into making Dr. Doom one of the greatest villains around. The addition of the pirate setting was fun to see through the pencil of Jack Kirby, but I just keep thinking about how much better they would look if Kirby in his prime was drawing them. Ah well, we’ll get there!