Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four…You know, I liked the first three issues, but after that the book just toned down and lost my interest. Hickman’s opening story was well-written and forward thinking. It took Reed Richards, a character I usually find terribly boring, in a direction that seemed natural yet surprising. Richards gained a conflict and a new found depth. The questions of work and family came to the forefront. A father, Nathaniel Richards, was found.
Four issues in though and a bullshit birthday party was the focus as artist Dale Eaglesham took a month off. Granted, it was a one issue downer, but I remember being so surprised by the poor quality of that birthday issue. “We went from that great opener to THIS?” I remember saying to a friend. I dropped the book and soon paid no further attention to Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four.
Recent occurrences have caused me to look at the book again. The death of Johnny Storm (Human Torch) to some degree, but more of my revived interested is due to the book’s re-launch and “Future Foundation” concept. I like that name -Future Foundation – and the ideas it implies. They relate back to some of what was happening in Hickman’s opener: Reed Richard’s concern for the future and how far man can possibly go. I like that approach and how it takes the Fantastic Four from being just another set of super-heroes to now some form of super-activists. After all, they were scientists before the powers. Scientists who made it their job to improve the world. The idea of a Future Foundation gets back to that, and it gets to the idea of super-heroes making a difference. Not that the book is actually showing Reed Richards combat deforestation or anything, there is the traditional comic book villainy, but the idea is implied that the FF are about combating the world’s larger problems rather then chasing down the Impossible Man. Nothing new of course, The Authority went after a similar vibe, but I still like that direction for Marvel’s first family. It feels right; it feels progressive.
Now, concept aside, this actual issue, as a first issue, does not hit all the marks it should. I feel it is a well paced and well structured issue, but I do need feel like it sells the audience on why this is a re-launched title. You know, the “why” in “why change to the Future Foundation?” There is a brief opening with Johnny Storm – a holographic Johnny Storm – where he tells Reed that the team must continue on and take the next step, but that seems to be the only inspiration. I guess it is a fine enough inspiration. The character did die, and that would certainly pull a strong reaction from the other characters. I just feel that the scene, as in the way it was written, was lacking, and it felt pretty cliche. How many times have we seen the holographic message from beyond the grave? How many times has the deceased expressed a wish for his family and friends to venture on? The “done before” nature made the origin of the “Future Foundation” feel weak, and the death angle actually takes you out of it for a moment. The call back to comic book death reminds you that Johnny Storm will probably be back in a year, and the Future Foundation direction will revert back to the classic Fantastic Four. The hologram scene is a weird case where the origin feels like the end, and it doesn’t give the reader much faith in the longevity of the approach.
Also, I did not feel much excitement in this issue. First issues always seem to vamp everything up. They put across to the readers the series’ idea of a status quo and direction. This kind of does that, but it feels like those factors are very second-string. In a way, it is kind of a refreshing thing to see in a world where comic books seem to live and die by the first issue. You know, Hickman sort of just leans back and lets the idea of hype go while focusing only on writing a solid issue. My lack of enthusiasm seems to speak, though. Granted, I will be buying the next issue as this is a well written comic that sports a cool approach. It just felt like another issue of Hickman’s FF though and not what a first issue should be. It was not that attention grabber.
I am interested in where Hickman wants to go with the FF, and I have to say Steve Epting really adds a lot to this comic. An artist with a good sense of page layout and style, Epting gives this book the look that a Hickman comic can work and thrive with. I wish I were better at writing when it comes to art because honestly there is more I would like to say about Steve Epting. His line and look just feel very classic to me. The only thing that takes away from it is the notorious muddy Marvel coloring. With Epting drawing this comic, I would love to see a brighter more stylish palette, but instead Paul Mounts keeps everything gloomy and dirty. Even Spider-man looks dull whipping around New York City. It’s the FF. They are super-scientists. Brighten things up a little with some energetic colors.