blahflowers: (Jiving Girl)
The Fantastic Four are much like DC's Wonder Woman; horribly dated, much better when they are guests in other people's titles than in their own, still being published due to the cloying conservative nostalgia of the comic genre and no-one can ever remember any of their stories. Except that time they fought Galactus. Every other issue, no-one can remember any of the stories. People claim they can remember stories but you'll find they are probably on drugs. Or having too much promiscuous sex. Mmmm, promiscuous sexy drugs....

Anyway, say you wake up one morning with an unaccountable desire to read some Fantastic Four comics and, what's worse, you want to read good Fantastic Four comics. Where on earth would you go to find such things? Luckily, it does indeed exist. Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four finished last year and was extremely good. Luckily, most of the important issues are in trades. Hickman makes the sensible choice that the two things that are key to the Fantastic Four is that they are a family and there are never four of them. Oh, and huge space opera. OK, three things... The important storyline opens and closes on a scene between a father and a son. The first time it's the young Reed Richards with his father Nathaniel in the past, the second it's present day Reed and his son Franklin. And the lesson being taught? Well, that's what the story is all about.

Hickman's run started with Fantastic Four: Dark Reign. The series dips in and out of then current events in the Marvel universe. The variety and importance of these vary, but especially as events march towards the climax, keep your internet on standby to help explain things. Anyway, by the time of Dark Reign Reed has had something of a crisis of faith in his intelligence and the team's ability to stop bad things from happening in the Marvel Universe, such as the Green Goblin becoming the most powerful man in America because the public and President Obama are massive dicks. So he builds a universe-skipping machine to try and see how future actions he might or might not take will play out. It's a rather throwaway book that can be ignored but it does lead nicely into his run on the title, which starts properly with the issues contained in Fantastic Four Volume 1. Reed is contacted by a Council comprising of Reed Richards from other universes who have banded together to do good for all creation. Problems with famine? One Reed Richards cultivates entire planets of all the food you could want? Galactus wanting to eat you? There's a Reed for that. And they want Reed, they want Reed as a new recruit. Unfortunately barely have they made the offer before everything starts going wrong.

The early volumes do contain some weak stories, there are several issues to do with something called 'Nu-World' which some writer previous to Hickman was obviously very pleased with but which is such an incomprehensible mess that I couldn't even summon the enthusiasm to go look at the internet to try and make sense of it. Hickman is moving so many dominoes in to place that at one point he blatantly gives up all pretence of showing and just tells the reader important facts in the form of an essay that the Richards children, Franklin and Valeria, super-geniuses both, are writing. But Hickman never loses sight of characterisation, volume 4 contains issue #587, where one of the main cast dies and the Fantastic Four are changed FOREVERS!!1! Even though we know that the character would be back, even though we know that the title, about to become 'FF #1', would also return, Hickman manages to sell us on the 'death' as being a big thing, the final chapter, issue #588, being an issue of grief and mourning for this loss, comes off as exceptionally well-crafted even when we genre-savvy cynical readers know it'll all be undone in a year It's done entirely without dialogue and is one of the times the art, in this case by Nick Dragotta, rises above the average.

The Fantastic Four become the 'Future Foundation', not so much a superhero team as, um, a superhero team with a youth wing attached. Spider-man joins them, because heaven knows he's not over-exposed in the Marvel Universe already, and also lots of junior characters, both those created by Hickman in the course of his run and also existing MU beings like Dragon-Man and Alex Powers from Power Pack. The volumes of FF run on their own for volumes 1 and 2 before, in volume 3, becoming a companion book to the returned Fantastic Four as Hickman starts drawing threads together for the epic conclusion to his main story. FF volume 1 contains some of my favourite writing of Hickman's entire run. Two issues are devoted to a summit of villains that, through contrivances of plot, Doctor Doom gets to hold at the Four's HQ on the subject of how to defeat Reed Richards. He is forced to chair a meeting where a number of his foes bitch and argue with each other on how they would defeat him while Sue Richards and Spider-man wait outside. When Spidey asks her why she's not worried about this she coolly points out she has no reason to be afraid, she has personally defeated every villain in that room more times than she can count, she knows it and they know it.

So, we have a story of mad Gods, a pissed-off Galactus, the dangers of unchecked intellect and how to handle it if your brother might grow up to be the most powerful being in the universe. You do have to be patient as, like I said, there is often a lot of build-up and in places the ongoing story pauses for several issues to explain some other point of back-story, though this is less annoying if you're reading several collections than when you had to wait another thirty days for a comic only to find it was more stuff about Black Bolt and the history of the Kree Empire. The art ranges from workmanlike to decent, some of the other species of alien or mutant look unfortunately goofy but then I've been introduced today to the WTF, Evolution? tumblr so I suppose real-life is sometimes no better. The sub-plot with the Future Foundation curing the Thing of his rocky ever-loving appearance adds some drama and the conclusion of the story is genuinely tense and full of 'fuck yeah!' air punching moments.

Hickman did continue to write both Fantastic Four and FF for a year or so after the main story finished but, while some of them do address dangling plot threads, although they may well be collected they aren't vitally important, the key stuff is available now. Go get it!

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