FF by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 2, Marvel Comics.
By Sam Hurwitt
For anyone following Hickman’s story from Fantastic Four to FF, issues 6 and 7 of the latter title go on a curious tangent. So far one of the less explored elements that Hickman introduced into his Fantastic Four arc early on was the idea that Earth’s Inhumans were not the only products of genetic tampering by the Kree Empire from outer space; four other alien races had their own Inhumans that were therefore cousins to the Inhumans we know, and their queens count themselves as additional wives of Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans. (I say additional because he’s had a wife all along, Medusa—and no, not the Greek gorgon, though in comics that wouldn’t be all that surprising.)
Now we finally get a bit of back story, learning that in fact the Kree experimented on a lot of alien races “hundreds of thousands of years ago,” but the Supreme Intelligence, the giant brain-in-a-tank leader of the Kree, learned of a prophecy that in the distant future a product of these experiments would defy him and destroy him. So the Supreme Intelligence did the only reasonable thing, having all the scientists who worked on the project slaughtered and exterminating all life on the worlds where the experiments took place—or at least the worlds that he knew about. Five survived, including Earth. And yeah, if you’re up on your scripture, that essentially makes Black Bolt Space Jesus and the Supreme Intelligence Space Herod. We also learn that the Supremor entrusted the Accuser of his day (a dead ringer for today’s Ronan the Accuser) with a seed that could restore the Supreme Intelligence someday, and you can bet that will be coming into play later, especially because Ronan had to put the Supremor out of its misery back in the Annihilation miniseries.
Like most of the characters and races that Hickman is weaving together in his epic arc on the FF books, the Inhumans have long been a recurring part of the group’s world, first introduced in 1965’s Fantastic Four #45 (though Medusa had appeared as early as #36 before we found out what her story was). The Kree also first appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four, #65 to be exact, but like others who could make that claim—Black Panther comes to mind—they haven’t really been FF characters for the most part afterward, being much more associated with other teams and other series.
Anyway, these two issues are pretty Kree-heavy, because not only do we get these flashbacks to the distant genesis and failed extinction of the Inhumans lo these many millennia ago, but we catch up with Earth’s Inhumans on the Kree homeworld of Hala, where they’re apparently ruling the Kree Empire now. This is one of the few points in Hickman’s run where it would be really helpful to know about what’s been going on in other comics lately.
One of those big crossover events that nobody really likes but that both Marvel and DC keep churning in out lieu of self-contained stories was War of Kings, which featured a war between the Kree and Inhumans on one side and the X-Men’s old allies the Shi’ar Empire on the other, with various interstellar adventurers caught in the middle. It was notorious more than anything for a particularly booty-centric and anatomically implausible cover.
I didn’t read that one at all, but apparently one thing that happened early on is that Black Bolt and the Inhumans seized control of the Kree Empire, a reign that survives even though Black Bolt apparently died at the end of that story. So now Medusa is ruler of the Kree Empire. But now, of course, it turns out that Black Bolt isn’t dead at all. He returns to his throne just in time to say that he and the other Inhumans have to go to Earth because they have a meeting with destiny—and, as we know, rulers in the Marvel Universe never actually spend any time at the seat of government doing any actual governing anyway. So he turns things over to Ronan the Accuser, the guy he overthrew in the first place (who’s now married to the Inhuman Crystal), and heads off to meet all his new wives.
These issues are illustrated by Greg Tocchini, and his style is jarring to say the least after Steve Epting’s clean, vibrant and realistic art in the previous issues. Tocchini’s style is more painterly, relying more on shading than on crisp lines. His figures and faces can be on the blocky side, and yet his minimal approach creates some attractive women’s faces, especially in the case of Medusa. At times his work is reminiscent of a very rough Gene Colan sketch, with a touch of early Kyle Baker, back when he was working in a less cartoony style more obviously influenced by Bill Seinkiewicz. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s an odd choice for FF, which is why perhaps it’s appropriate that it’s limited to the two successive issues in which no members of the FF or their extended family appear at all. These issues are devoted entirely to the Inhumans and the Kree, with nary a nod to any of the other ongoing subplots.
Just as my response to the first trade collection of FF was basically, “Holy shit, all those plot threads that Hickman’s been weaving are finally coming together,” my reaction to this volume is more like, “Holy shit, I do not even know what’s going on.” Black Bolt leads the Inhumans, new and old, to earth to conquer the Forever City of the High Evolutionary, which had been taken over by three megalomaniacal alternate-universe Reed Richardses and the Mole Man. Mr. Fantastic, Spider-Man and Nathaniel Richards go to join the fight, and all the evil geniuses who have been hanging around the Baxter Building to help figure out how to defeat all those other Reeds (Dr. Doom, the Wizard, the Mad Thinker, Diablo, the High Evolutionary, a couple of A.I.M. goons) insist on tagging along—and sure, that’s a good idea.
Reed wonders what on Earth the Inhumans are doing…um, on Earth, and I wonder the same thing. Something to do with destiny, though, and I’m sure their agenda will turn out to be just hunky dory with our heroes’. Speaking of agendas, Nathaniel is preparing for a war that he refuses to explain, seeing as how he has special information from living in the distant future.
Reed is particularly shocked about the identity of one of the other Reeds, whose presence makes him reconsider, but we don’t yet understand why. There’s some backstabbing (who woulda thunk?) and a lot of mad scientist babble—the Wizard about his newfound religion, the Thinker about variables. The Inhumans put the smack down with a fiery vengeance. A couple of Reeds get captured, and whatever you might think would be done with them, the punishment for their hubris is waaay weirder than that.
The third Reed has a face-off with Doom, and when you think about it there’s really no scenario in which that particular meeting goes well. Whatever happens, it’s going to be horrible for pretty much everybody. And—spoiler warning about the lack of spoilers—we don’t really get to know exactly what happens in this particular volume anyway. (In fact, because I haven’t read the third installment at the time of this writing, I still don’t know.)
Artist Steve Epting comes back for issues 8 and 9, and his sharp realistic faces and moody lighting are perfect for the various face-offs involved. Barry Kitson finishes up the volume with issues 10 and 11, and his visual style continues smoothly from Epting’s even though his faces are softer and the use of contrast and shadow not as heavy. It’s not quite as strikingly dynamic as the previous couple of issues, but it’s a handsome volume all around.
The Invisible Woman and the Thing basically do nothing in this volume, but Ben finally comes home, and Sue finally draws the line at having all these villains in the house. So the family’s finally coming back together, which is good because everyone’s basically been doing their own thing for most of Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF run, and as cool as that’s been, I’m looking forward to them acting more like a team again. Also, Reed’s assembling an army of super-heroes to help deal with whatever’s going on with the Inhumans and the other hims, so it’s a relief to see that he seems to have as much faith in his old pal Black Bolt as I do at this point. As Spidey rightly points out when Reed asks Black Bolt if he’s well, “Uh, probably not…I mean, who in their right mind has five wives?”
Valeria finally gets a much-deserved timeout, and Bentley (the child clone of the Wizard, whom the FF is trying to raise to be less villainous than his template) comes bearing snacks. As for Franklin…I think there’s a page of him playing a game with Leech or something. There’s a brief glimpse into the Negative Zone to remind us that yep, there’s still a threat there, but nary a mention of the Atlantis and Nu-Earth/Galactus subplots for the moment. Not to worry, though—I’m sure they’ll be back. The Inhumans subplot had long seemed like the least developed thread of whatever crazy quilt Hickman’s weaving, and so it seems fair enough that this whole collection is focused almost entirely on that. What’s surprising is how deeply the Kree seem to be involved—and judging from the last issue (this one goes to 11) that’s about to get a whole lot deeper.
And what on earth or elsewhere is this all building up to? I guess we’ll find out in the next volume next Friday! Seeing as how I haven’t even read it yet but it’s just arrived in the mail, I for one can’t wait.