Review: Fantastic Four #600 By Jonathan Hickman

Fantastic Four #600

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Pencils by Steve Epting, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Mike Doyle, Leinil Francis Yu, and Farel Dalrymple

Inks by Rick Magyar, Steve Epting, and Gerry Alanguilan

Colors by Paul Mounts, Andy Troy, Jordie Bellaire, Javier Tartaglia, and Jose Villarrubia

 

I came into this issue expecting to slag Marvel for price gouging with the first family of comics. I foresaw no way in which I would read this issue and feel as if I got my eight bucks worth, not given how anniversary issues are treated, or how books with inflated price tags tend to go. Promoted at a hundred pages, I anticipated that we’d get maybe forty of original content, and the rest would be the general bullshit. Reprints, cover galleries, a page of Stan Lee trying to remember what he was thinking when he created the book, etc. In other words, a four dollar issue going for eight because they know the number six-hundred on the cover is going to get extra sales out of customers who might not normally check it out. Really, I expected them to be Marvel about it.

Instead Jon Hickman gives us the impossible and improbable, and aside from six pages of ads, the issue is entirely original content. There are three, if not four, issues worth of material in this one volume. I’ve read trade paperbacks that have contained less story. And with no reprint material or other bullshit to buffer length, this massive anniversary tome not only continues the story Hickman has been telling in FF, but takes us back to the last issue of Fantastic Four earlier this year, and in the process gives us a book that feels very much like a Fantastic Four title. He does a lot of things right in this issue, and it wouldn’t be fair to not go over the parts individually, but I need to give a warning out to all the readers.

There are going to be spoilers in this review, going forward. The first story in the book goes well without them, but it’s cliffhanger immediately triggers the second, and that story is impossible to talk around without spoiling. Now, Marvel has made it easy to get those spoilers, as the Associated Press had up an article with images before most people could even get into the comic shops to pick up the issue for themselves. Not surprising, right? That’s how they killed Johnny, after all, with spoilers delivered before readers could see for themselves. So are you ready?

Spoiler Ahoy!

 

 

The first story is the culmination of the last several issues of FF, with the Kree invading Earth intent on destroying it, Doom the forced servant of an evil Reed, the Inhumans under attack by the Kree, and, of course, followers of Annihilus seeking to open the Negative Zone portal in the Baxter Building. That’s a LOT of things going on all at once, and Hickman manages to balance all but the Inhumans plot in this issue. Sure, they get some time in one of the extra stories at the end of the book, but in the lead off story they get a few pages and are quickly forgotten. The gathering of heroes is greatly handled, and when it’s shown just what exactly Sue is doing throughout the scene we’re reminded just who exactly the powerhouse is on the team. Namor steals the scene though with the combination of poorly timed hitting on Sue and a call to battle that only he could manage, and really, it makes me want to see him in this book more. He’s fine in X-Men, but Hickman does a great job with him. The heroes manage to push the Kree out of New York, and then a combination of Reed’s thinking, Sue’s powers, and Iron Man’s armor keeps them at bay, but the fight isn’t over by any means. A crashed Kree ship send Ben to save Alicia and the rest of Soho with a few Hulks by his side.

Unfortunately, this attempted doomsday scenario against the Earth has only sped up the plans of Annihilus, who would have his own forces wipe out humanity before giving it to the Kree. This means they need a Negative Zone portal, which means that his Church attacks the Baxter Building and the children that make up the Future Foundation. I’ll admit that prior to Hickman bringing him in, I have no priory experience with Alex Power, but he’s growing on me, and I’ve become accustomed to him using powers I don’t pretend to understand to get the job done. Honestly, what happens with this FF I can’t help but wonder if it’s setting up the books new status quo now that it will be running alongside Fantastic Four.

The cliffhanger features Spider-Man, and really, his is the best reaction you can have to end a story. It’s something I’m going to be spoiling in just a moment, but it makes me absolutely unable to wait for the next issue. Hickman did a fantastic job pacing this story, and he keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. He handles the oversized cast of heroes well, and it leads to great moments from not only Namor but from Dr. Strange and a few Hulks as well. Steve Epting handles the art for this story, and he does big time action amazingly. Really, it’s fantastic looking, from the hero designs, to the Kree Sentries, all the way down to the Negative Zone bugs. Epting goes all out and it pays off.

The second story is the explanation of the cliffhanger, and its name is very clear about the purpose.

“Whatever happened to Johnny Storm?”

By now everyone knows that Johnny made his return in this issue, and while Hickman easily could have just ended on that cliffhanger and saved the hows and whys for a future issue, instead we’re treated to that right here. Johnny’s time in the Negative Zone from his last stand against Annihilus all the way until his return just pages earlier. We witness the death of Johnny Storm, just as we witness the rebirth. The rules of the Negative Zone are the story here, with death being seemingly impossible, and no matter how brutal the deaths suffered there are worms they can use to put you back together and bring you back to life. Kept in a prison with a group of Universal Inhumans, Johnny Storm has been used as a gladiator. Sent to battle to his death, and then revived to do it again. It’s the nature of the zone, where dying is what matters, and it’s just a step towards what comes next.

The story all rolls back into what Hickman has been doing in FF though, as Johnny comes to know of Annihilus’s deal with one of the evil Reed’s. It’s enough to get him proactive and ready to go to war to save the Earth, after all, what’s the worst that could happen? They kill him again? The fight is brief but epic, and our heroes fight as if they have nothing to lose. If nothing else, Jon has found success in utilizing Johnny Storm as a serious character. He looks absolutely badass at times in this issue

Carmine Di Giandomenico isn’t someone I tend to think of for heavy action, but his gritty style is perfect for this story. The Negative Zone feels like a dirty place, Annihilus is downright creepy, and the worms that pull dead bodies back together are positively nasty. There’s a lot of great visuals, and despite the gritty nature there’s a nice degree of clarity. Faces and characters don’t run together, and the Universal Inhumans are all treated to not only good design work, but their own unique showcases of action. Really, it looks great on top of everything else, and it just makes the story flow that much better.

After the two main stories we’re treated to three smaller ones; one featuring Black Bolt and Medusa, another with Reed and Sue talking to Galactus, and finally, the adventures of Franklin Richards and Leech. They’re all brief, but each does a nice job setting up the pieces on the board for things to come soon. The Inhumans story is a much needed one for a reader like me who never understood how Medusa could take to polygamy so quickly. It’s not a perfect story, but it does rectify that little problem in my eyes by actually telling us the thoughts of both of the Inhuman monarchs. The Franklin and Leech story is…it’s there, it’s not horrible, but I didn’t really get into it. The Galactus story may very well be my favorite part of the issue, which isn’t to knock anything else, but to put over how much I love the Big G, and how great of a job Hickman does with him. It all ties back to his recent appearances in Thor, but long story short he does not want to risk the creation of a second Galactus, and to insure that he understands that he must protect the Earth. Galactus is always an interesting character when handled by an intelligent writer, because for as easy as it may be to cast him in the epic bad guy light, he is so far beyond good and evil that it feels weird to shoehorn him into either. The words he leaves off on are perfect as well, because when Galactus has noticed something that has escape the notice of Reed and Sue… Leinil Yu draws a freaking awesome Galactus, just need to add that in there.

So what’s the final verdict here? The issue is promoted at a hundred pages, the lead off story is twenty-eight pages, the second is forty-eight, the Inhumans gets seven pages, Galactus gets six, and Franklin and Leech get seven. That’s ninety-six pages there. Six pages of ads, one for a letters page, one for the opening credits. This book is stocked to the brim with original content in a way that I’ve come to expect Marvel to do anything but. For any regular reader of this title it’s a fantastic deal, at least four issues worth of content for less than the price of three issues. Sure, it’s all at one, but had this been released in parts I still would have bought all of them, and enjoyed all of them, and I’m not the only one. It’s a rare case where Marvel doesn’t use a big anniversary to shovel bullshit content onto us with a half-assed story attached for a premium price. Sure, this price is the definition of premium, but given what you actually are going to get for your eight bucks, this is a Fantastic deal.

I don’t think it’s too early to say this anymore, but Jon Hickman is probably one of the top three writers to ever tackle the World’s Greatest Comic Maganize.

Also, a big congratulations are in order to the one and only Paul Mounts, who, with this issue, breaks the consecutive issues streak on Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. 103 issues, from number sixty, to the renumbered five-hundred, every issue of FF, and now this. He’s a fantastic colorist, and a hell of a guy, and I’m happy to congratulate him here. Keep up the fantastic work!

 

Overall: 10/10

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