The Fantastic Four is “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” as long as there is a top-flight creative team behind it. Unfortunately, this often is not the case. Marvel’s first family has been struggling for relevance for years. Ever since the famous Waid/Wieringo run of a decade ago, the title had been floundering about, with creative teams unable to decide what exactly to do with Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch came close to pushing the title back to prominence with their run starting in 2008, but while they were able to work The Authority style widescreen action and big-picture plots into the title, their run didn’t make this team stand out from any of their previous collaborations.
In 2009 Jonathan Hickman took over writing duties on the title after working with the Fantastic Four in a Dark Reign spin-off miniseries. Not counting the Dark Reign mini, Hickman wrote Fantastic Four and it’s renamed version (and eventual sister title) FF for 55 consecutive issues. Hickman had a history of writing dense, well researched and well designed books for Image, often either as science fiction tinged alternate histories or near future tales told in the past tense, all focusing their narrator’s gaze backward on the most important moments that made their world stand out from our own. Hickman carried these themes on to his early work at Marvel, weaving together Shield’s rogues and backstory into a sweeping tale of superpowered sleeper agents from a pair of dead empires waging an underground terrorist war against the world in Secret Warriors, and giving the Marvel Universe an Assassin’s Creed style pre-history in S.H.I.E.L.D.
In his Fantastic Four run, Jonathan Hickman has once again merged many disparate parts of the FF’s backstory and rogues gallery into an epic space opera that rivals in scope both Jim Starlin’s and Abnett and Lanning’s forays into the cosmic side of Marvel. But more importantly, he managed to pull together this grand sci-fi epic while also making the Fantastic Four a family first and foremost. In his hands, Valeria becomes one of the great characters in the Marvel stable, and he is able to portray Franklin as both a realistic child AND a deus ex machina as the same time, when previous writers found that the character was only viable as one or the other. And with the Future Foundation, the Fantastic Four have a new cast of supporting character who each have a unique voice and a distinct look, so important for such a visual medium (the business scenes in Matt Fraction’s Iron Man run might have been a bit easier to follow visually if Stark Resilient had a giant grey dragon-man or a floating moloid head on staff.)
Now that Hickman’s run is finished, I’m going to go through the issues one by one. These aren’t reviews per se, and I’m not aiming to break things down panel by panel like Jess Nevins or David Uzumeri. I’ll simply be sharing my thoughts and observations with you as I re-read the run. So stay tuned as we read our way though 55 of the best issues of The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.