Well, color me stupefied. Or perhaps just gullible.
I completely believed the hype that FF writer Jonathan Hickman spun back at Comic-Con about the fate of the Human Torch. Back then, he said that Johnny Storm would remain dead for as long as he was writing the title, and we would “see the body” in Fantastic Four #600. In a technical sense, he may have been telling the truth. But if the Human Torch we see in this celebretory issue is dead, it sure ain’t as a doornail.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, whose first issue was published back in 1961. Neatly, that coincides with the massive 100-page 600th issue of Fantastic Four, which has been cleverly retitled FF for the last year, which also conveniently stands for the Future Foundation. The latter, of course, is an enterprise by Reed Richards, the former Mr. Fantastic, to project hope and optimism into the bleak outlook for the future of humanity, determined to shepherd in the wonderful technological paradise positively. This includes a slick new black-and-white style and bringing Spider-Man into the fold officially in the aftermath of the tragedy which struck Marvel’s First Family with the death of their founding member Johnny Storm.
The apparent death, that is. Hickman led us to believe we’d get the story of his actual death as opposed to the implied one we got back in Fantastic Four #587, when he was sealed off in the Negative Zone and left to face an army of billions of bug monsters under the thrall of Annihilus. Technically, we do get that. But more on that later.
Part One of the story, featuring Steve Epting art, is a confluence of events that Hickman has been building to for the whole run of FF so far, including a sudden full-scale Earth invasion by the Kree. Some of it has been confusing, such as the return of Black Bolt and the inexplicable summoning of extra wives beyond Medusa, but overall, it’s been a font of pure science fiction storytelling ideas that is refreshing in the current ‘gritty edgy’ tendency of many comics today. It showcases the limitless imagination allowed in the comic book medium, which is one of the 6 Things To Be Thankful For in Comics this holiday season.
The FF and the Avengers have gathered together in preparation to go fight the Evil Alternate Reed RIchardses – one of whom has basically cowed Dr. Doom to his will and is up to something with the Real Reed’s father Nathaniel – only to find the Kree Armada wrecking house (which happens to be happening in Attilan as well). Ronan the Accusar and his Inhuman beloved Crystal have resurrected the Kree Supreme Intelligence, who has immediately declared that the Earth and Inhuman city of Attilan be destroyed, because the extinction of the Inhumans is an imperative. This, after the Inhumans have been the Kree Royal Family in the Supremor’s absence. There is an apparent anomaly among them which has manifested – ostensibly with the return of Black Bolt from the dead and all these sudden, abrupt changes – and the S.I. believes it should be wiped out. However, Crystal is a former Avenger and Ronan has served on the interstellar team of heroes known (lamentably) as the Annihilators, and how they respond to the Supremor’s murderous intent will be key.
We know how our heroes respond, though. By kicking some space invasion ass. We see just how immensely powerful Susan Storm Richards, the Invisible Woman, truly is as she protects the entirety of Manhattan Island with her mental force fields (with a little boost from Iron Man’s armor thanks to a device devised by the brilliantly agile mind of her husband). We also see the stalwart nobility of Aunt Petunia’s Favorite Nephew Benjamin J. Grimm A.K.A. The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing as he faces down a platoon of powerful Kree Sentries to protect the love of his life, Alicia Masters.
Unfortunately for the heroes, this invasion also coincides with an impending incursion from Annihilus and those bug monsters, thanks to the efforts of the Anti-Priest of the Cult of the Negative Zone. Ground Zero of that incursion is set to be the FF’s home, the Baxter Building. Thankfully, the Future Foundation is home to a bunch of brilliant children, and they’ve rigged up a device that will transport the top three floors of the building to the moon in case of emergency. Which they do once the bugs start to spill in, prompting Spider-Man to investigate and discover that, wouldn’t ya know it, Johnny Storm is standing there with a jacked up arm and Annihilus in chains. What the hey?
That’s just in Part One. This one’s a biggie. 100 pages is a lot for a comic book, you know.
In the second part, with art from Carmine Di Giandomenico, we get the Whatever Happened to Johnny Storm? story, featuring some significant ass-kicking from the Human Torch, including the much-beloved “going nova,” which is how we all wanted to see him go out the first time, when he was first swarmed by billions of bug monsters. That’s the trouble with ‘billions.’ You can murder one thousand million bugs in one blast, and there are still several other thousand-millions to go. So they swarm him. And the fresh young new Annihilus murders him.
And then stitches him back together with worms. Because everything in the Negative Zone is creepy and disgusting. And the dead continually resurrect – which contributes to how badly Annihilus wants to kill everything and die. Johnny wakes up skeeved out, gets an info dump from the “Universal Inhuman Light Brigade” kept as gladiator slaves by Annihilus (and who seem to correspond to Black Bolt’s new Inhuman brides, but we’ll get to that). Apparently, the bug lord likes to watch people die repeatedly, and it’s also a part of his torture of Storm to try to get him to open the sealed gate into the Positive Universe so they can start their Annihilation Wave all over again. Johnny, of course, won’t give up the goods, but his hand is forced when one of the Evil Alternate Reeds makes a deal with Annihilus that will re-open it and leave it open for that murderin’ to start up again. Damn those Evil Alternate Reeds! Plus, the Kree invasion accelerates the Wave’s plans. Cue the rebellion, because Annihilus has gotten cocky about his Cosmic Control Rod, and cue the coolest the Human Torch has been in a long while. The fight is intense, and it seems like hot-headed young Earthmen with “nova” schticks just have Annihilus’ number.
Part Three switches to Attilan before the Kree attack and to interesting and odd Ming Doyle art. This is where things get confusing again – but they always are when it comes to the enigmatic and voiceless Black Bolt. Here, however, Hickman decides to allow Mr. Boltagon that voice he’s always lacked, showing us a telepathic connection in the astral plane wherein Blackagar can speak with his beloved Medusa (drawn somewhat scaly in a weird resemblance to Aquaman’s wife Mera) plainly without the fear of shattering mountains. And he still remains enigmatic. Medusa’s not thrilled with these “new wives,” but it’s clear that something new and different is going on with Black Bolt. We can be pretty sure he’s not a Skrull this time, but whatever it is, it looks like Attilan’s on its way to Earth soon. And that proper iris placement is not Doyle’s strong suit.
Part Four is an “oh, by the way, we hung out with Galactus the other day” tale rendered by Lenil Francis Yu. Everybody loves Galactus. He’s the go-to cosmic entity in he Marvel Universe, the Devourer of Worlds, and one more reason that Fantastic Four is so unique – Reed Richards has an almost casual relationship with this eternal constant force of devastation in the giant purple hat. The Big G drops the science about what’s been going on in The Mighty Thor, and suggests that there’s a new Galactus Seed on Earth, and if it ever hatches, we’ll get a new, more immature Galactus who would kill everything sooner. Thus, Galactus has a vested interest in keeping the Earth around. G gives Reed a device to summon him if needed, much like the big red button Captain Carl Majors had on his belt for whenever he needed to summon Godzilla, and he also hammers home the ‘death-rebirth’ notion that the Johnny Storm story in the Negative Zone hit hard. And that the Phoenix Force implied in Point One. Hmmmmmm. Oh, and he also scolds Reed for not paying enough attention to his son.
That might seem off, a cosmic entity harshing on lackluster parenting, but when that son is Franklin Richards, with the power to shape reality to his whim, it makes much more sense. In the final portion of this giant-sized issue, we get a story about that young man featuring the child-geared artwork of Farel Dalrymple. We see that he has a pocket universe in his closet, and there’s some sort of spectral being – perhaps some form of Nathaniel Richards – that is actually training Franklin in his universe creation powers. This last chapter shows just how much in the way of balls Hickman has. Franklin Richards and his ridiculous power levels have long been nothing but a plot device and something smacking so much of the deus ex machina that writers have tried to suppress the kid’s memory of his powers and find ways to write around them as if they didn’t exist. Hickman is tackling them head-on and actually doing something with them. Will he actually have Franklin Richards, the bellwether of stretched-out “Marvel Time,” start to grow up? Many writers treat the kids of heroes like afterthoughts and distractions, but Hickman has had a whale of a time giving them plenty of things to do on their own.
In short, Hickman is the perfect guy to be writing the Fantastic Four. That’s why Marvel’s letting him write them twice a month now. FF will continue with #12 next week, while next month, Fantastic Four returns with a #601. All of this, including the return of Johnny Storm, is welcome news, provided we get to keep that slick and snazzy Future Foundation look – and Spider-Man in the mix.
In case you couldn’t tell by the verbosity of this review, Fantastic Four #600 is a big fat jam-packed celebration of the high-minded concepts that that make this team a unique and hard-to-quantify facet of the Marvel Universe, while also reveling in its history of great characters from the Inhumans to Galactus. Of course, Hickman gives us a taste of Doom, a cameo from occasional FFer She-Hulk and even a moment of Namor being a sleaze towards Sue. Hickman seems to be a student of the FF, and he is boldly taking on the huge ideas rather than trying to write down to an ‘average comic’ level, and kudos to him for being different and Marvel for letting him be different.
This 100-page extravaganza is a big, deliciously meaty feast of storytelling, just in time for Thanksgiving. Dig in.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10