Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fantastic Four #570-578

I don't read a lot of new Marvel comics these days, but I was intrigued when I heard there was considerable buzz attached to the current work being done on Fantastic Four by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Dale Eaglesham. Fantastic Four was the first superhero comic I followed regularly, and although I haven't read any new issues in several years, the idea of a really good Fantastic Four series definitely appealed to me. The first five issues were recently collected in a nice hardcover, giving me the perfect opportunity to get caught up and see what all the fuss is about.

I gotta say: I liked it. Hickman kicked off his run with a bang, with a three-part arc wherein Reed Richards discovers a parallel dimension populated by multiple versions of himself, dedicated to the goal of solving all the problems of the multiverse. This great concept was enhanced by the creative designs of the various Mr. Fantastics, and Hickman's inventive twists on familiar concepts like the Infinity Gauntlet, Galactus, and the Celestials. The crux of the story involves Reed's decision whether to remain with the multiversal collective or return to his family. While the outcome of this story is never really in doubt, it was nevertheless a nice showcase for the character and a good opening salvo to Hickman's run. The following two issues weren't as good. Featuring guest-art by Neil Edwards, these one-offs focused on an issue wrapping up some plot threads from I think Mark Millar's recent run on the title (which I didn't read), and an issue built around young Franklin Richards' birthday party. Hickman planted a lot of seeds for future storylines in this issue, including a prophecy from the future delivered by an adult Franklin to his little sister, Valeria. While these stories may not have packed the punch of the initial storyline, I was entertained enough to want to keep reading.

I bought the next four issues in single issues. Each of these is a self-contained story that add up to a larger arc wherein the Fantastic Four discover and explore different super-cities around the Marvel Universe. This all ties into the prophecy from the birthday party issue. These issues were pretty great. I liked seeing the team act less like superheroes and more like explorers, and the new locales and characters Hickman introduced here again provided unique spins on familiar concepts. There were some nice character moments for the individual team members, particularly the Invisible Woman in issues 576 and 577. On the whole, Hickman seems to have a good handle on these characters, although the Thing seems thus far somewhat lethargic and underutilized.

I haven't really talked about Dale Eaglesham's artwork. He does fine work on the series. The covers are by Alan Davis, and Eaglesham has a similar style to that artist. His drawings are very clean and polished, with clearly defined characters and dynamic action sequences. It's not the kind of artwork I tend to get really excited about, but it looks great on the page and is a good fit for Hickman's writing. I hate to fall into the cliche of the comics reviewer who spends multiple paragraphs on the story and only one on the artwork, but I'm not sure there's much more to say about Eaglesham's contribution at this point. It seems to me like a very writer-driven book, but I may be completely underestimating Eaglesham's contributions, I don't know. It looks nice. Kirby he ain't, although that's, of course, a ridiculously unfair comparison.

You know another thing I like about this comic? It has letters pages! They get pretty good letters, too, and Hickman himself answers them in a very forthright and honest voice. Okay, sometimes he answers in the voice of Franklin and Valeria, which is kind of annoying, but still...letters pages! Just like in olden times.

So, I'm going to keep following this series in single issues, something I don't do a lot of these days. I'm genuinely really excited to read the next issue, even though it has a guest artist. There's a real sense of exploration to this book that I enjoy. It's not in the same league as Lee and Kirby's legendary run, of course, and not even as good as John Byrne's work with the characters from the eighties, at least not yet. It's been a great entertainment so far though, and has a lot of potential. I think Hickman says he has plans through at least issue 600, so I'm looking forward to seeing his master plan unfold. Like, you know he's got something great planned for Doctor Doom. It's been great fun spending time with these characters again, in the company of a creative team who is doing right by them. So, um, make mine Marvel, I guess. Excelsior?


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