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.

Books Of Oa: Ion Vol. 1 & 2

ION THE TORCHBEARER (DC)
Written by Ron Marz, drawn by Greg Tocchini & Tom Grindberg
Collects Ion #1-6
After Rann-Thanagar War, Green Lantern Corps Recharge and Infinite Crisis, Kyle Rayner became even more powerful thanks to regaining some of the power he bestowed to the now-dead Jade (who gave it back when she died in space). Going by Ion once again, Kyle was left to decide what to do with himself and figure out his place in the universe. Launching a month after the line-wide One Year Later jump instituted in IC, the book opens with what looks like Kyle attacking some fellow Green Lanterns and then hanging out at an artists’ retreat on Earth. I remember being really confused by this story at first because, as was clearly intended, you’re not supposed to know whether Kyle’s really losing it Hal-style or if it’s someone else masquerading as him. For whatever reason, I didn’t even think of the latter and the former didn’t make a lot of sense, so I was definitely in the dark. Well after Kyle spends some more time with Mogo in a therapy session where he talks to many of his dead girlfriends (similar to what we saw in Recharge) he teams up with Hal to stop his mad doppelganger who turns out to be none other than insane foe Nero, a man who was messed with by the Weaponers of Qward and given a ring much like Sinestro’s during Judd Winick’s run on the book.

Like many of the other OYL books, we’re not really given a lot of information about what Kyle did during the missing year, but we do find some interesting bits out here and there. First off, the Guardians won’t allow anyone to help the seemingly mad Kyle, nor will they explain what’s happening to him which of course raises some eyebrows. As it turns out, Kyle now has direct access to the GL power battery as well as the Starheart which was the Guardians’ collection of magic and also fuels Alan Scott’s powers, so now he’s doubly powerful. The Guardians seem to think that Hal and Kyle are very similar in that they will both be the savior and bane of them, which is an interesting assessment. Kyle is also told that with the Ion power he can literally restart the GLC again on his own if it gets decimated like it did in the past.

Overall, I think this is a pretty important installment in the overall GLC mythos. It’s good to see Ron Marz writing the character he invented and brought to prominence while also throwing in some of Kyle’s villains that long-time fans remember like Nero. There’s even more in the next volume. We also get a solid idea of what Kyle’s role is to some extent when the Guardians tell him that he will be their agent. It’s also nice to see Hal and Kyle getting along so well and Kyle’s optimistic viewpoint is a refreshing one in comics. Much like me as a reader, he just wants to see what will be happening next. My only real beef with these issues is that the art isn’t so great. I’m not really familiar with Tocchini, but his art seems really inconsistent with some really great looking pages mixed in with some really sloppy looking ones. If you can get past that though, I’d recommend giving his book a read.

ION THE DYING FLAME (DC)
Written by Ron Marz, drawn by Greg Tocchini, Paco Diaz, Yvel Guichet & Fernando Pasarin
Collects Ion #7-12
I can’t, however, recommend the second volume of Ion, though, unless you’re a huge fan of Kyle Rayner like I am. And even then, this volume reeks of editorial interference, plans being changed mid-run and elements getting shoehorned in. Things start off interesting enough with the return of another Kyle villain, this time Effigy who was changed by the Controllers, but, much like Nero, has no idea why he’s attacking Kyle. There’s a mystery as to who has been messing with Kyle’ rogues but we don’t get an answer in this collection as to who’s doing what The early issues also bring Kyle’s old landlord and confidant Radu into the story which is nice to see. From there, Kyle heads to an alien world to help out in the wake of Nero’s destruction. The idea that Kyle needs to help fix things that someone else did dressed as him seems a little weird to me, but I guess it works. This story doesn’t really do much of anything and could have been tossed out. From there we find out Kyle’s mom is dying and no one knows what’s wrong with her. The Guardians call him away, but instead of immediately heeding their call he winds up running into The Atom and Flash from the Tangent universe. If you’re not familiar with Tangent, it was a series of one-shots DC published in an alternate universe in which the Cuban Missile Crisis actually happened with heroes and villains based in name only on existing DC characters. For some reason, DC decided it would be a good idea to bring them back into the consciousness at this time. As they don’t actually serve any purpose aside from sending Kyle into the Bleed where he meets Captain Atom dressed as Monarch none of which has any bearing on this series and only hints at Countdown which was a continuity mess that wound up ruining aspects of Sinestro Corps War and comics in general.

After all that useless nonsense, Kyle winds up teaming up with no longer dead girlfriend Donna Troy against yet another Kyle villain, this time Grayven, Darkseid’s bastard son. It’s a fun fight, but gets cut short when Kyle has to return to his dying mom who’s being looked at my the GLC’s resident doctor Soranik Natu. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done and Kyle’s mom passes away. There’s a really creepy moment where Kyle uses the Ion power to actually bring her back to life, but soon realizes the error of his ways and undoes that. That whole scene is handled really well, though it smacks a little of that Buffy episode where they wisher their mom back from the dead.

I’d say that if you find yourself in possession of this book, just ignore everything with a Monitor, Tangent character or anything that has to do with Countdown and mostly stick to the first and last two issues and then anything with other GLs or the Guardians. Everything else feels like filler. I probably should have read the second volume in more of a chronological order with the rest of the GL books I’m reading, but after really enjoying the first one, I wanted to find answers in the second. Unfortunately there just aren’t any. A few of the questions are answered in the Sinestro Corps War story, but as a story in and of itself, Ion winds up not really working, which is too bad. I’d like to see Marz get another chance to write Kyle and this time just let him run with the character and do his thing.