Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 3, Marvel Comics.
By Sam Hurwitt
Collecting issues 579 through 582, the third volume of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four (subtitled “The Future Foundation”) starts with Reed Richards, the super-stretching scientist occasionally known as Mr. Fantastic, being a huge dick. At Singularity, one of those huge inspirational conferences where scientists present big-idea speeches, Reed closes the conference with a speech in which he matter-of-factly calls out each of the event’s speakers for intellectual cowardice. Saying they’re all afraid of the future and all its possibilities, he announces his resignation to go start his own group of forward thinkers. He doesn’t appear to be the least bit angry as he says it, but the fact that he makes a point of telling these scientists, one by one, why they’re fools and cowards in front of everyone is a masterstroke of douchiness.
It turns out that Reed’s new group, the Future Foundation, is a brain trust of children: Valeria, Alex Power of Power Pack, a few Moloids, a couple of fish people, Artie, Dragon Man, and Bentley, the young clone of the Wizard. Franklin and Leech aren’t included, presumably because they’re not especially bright. The Moloids are pretty amusing, especially in their near-worship of “the Ben” for reasons that are never stated but no doubt because he’s the one who saved their lives in book two. There are occasional “interludes” checking in on what’s happening on Earth-Nu for no apparent reason, although I suppose they help us understand what’s going on when Earth-Nu actually becomes relevant again in book four—in case we care, about that planet’s current status, which I don’t.
Meanwhile, the Wizard’s gone crazy and seems to be turning into some kind of religious fanatic, which is probably the most baffling and least interesting new development in the run, which has yet to have any payoff that I’ve seen. His clone Bentley, on the other hand, is a great character, because he’s totally part of the Baxter Building kid gang, but at the same time happily and so far harmlessly evil, a supervillain in training who happens to be on the good guys’ side.
Edwards takes over art duties for this volume, and his faces aren’t nearly as bad here as they were in book one. They’re certainly not attractive, but they’re definitely expressive and not grotesque, although they’re still pretty disturbing whenever someone’s mouth is gaping open.
Speaking of which, the second story is a toy-store trifle featuring everyone’s favorite extraterrestrial imp, the Impossible Man (speaking of very old FF antagonists) and death-trap aficionado Arcade (more of an X-Men foe, really). This story’s an outing for Johnny, Franklin and Leech, so it features plenty of Edwards’s trademark terrifying children. It’s a nice little interlude that has nothing in particular to do with the overall arc, except as another reminder that Franklin has his godlike, reality-rewriting powers back that he doesn’t really know what to do with, and we all should be very afraid.
Oh, and as an epilogue, the children’s brain trust decides that its class project would be giving Ben Grimm a “cure” that he can take to be human a few days out of the year. As you might imagine, that’ll be important later. And yeah, the figured out how to do something that Reed’s been trying and failing to do for decades. That’s why he’s only hiring child labor to do all his work for him from now on.
Then comes the story behind the misleading cover of the collection: a mind-bending team-up between Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, Doctor Doom, and some old guy! First of all, the old guy is Nathaniel Richards, Reed’s long-lost, time-traveling dad. But more to the point, the team-up happens back when Reed, Ben and Victor were all college classmates, not in the later days when they’d become heroes and villain. Nathaniel comes back in time to report that he’s been engaged with a war with every Nathaniel Richards from every other parallel universe, who were all pulled into the same reality by some kind of science accident. Immortus, the guardian of time, couldn’t abide this kind of anomaly and decreed that only one would be allowed to live, setting all the Nathaniels to killing each other like a grandfatherly version of Battle Royale. Like the alternate Reeds in book one, some of the alternate Nathaniels look very familiar; there’s Thor Nathaniel, Captain America Nathaniel, and one dressed like DC’s Steel.
Now Nathaniel—Reed’s own dad from his own timeline (or so he says, anyway—I’d think it’d be a pretty easy thing to fake)—needs the college guys’ help to stop the one who’s killed every other Nathaniel except him. Amusingly enough, both Ben and Victor are equipped with armor that approximates how they’ll look as their super-selves later in life.
This whole adventure has some great relevance to the future—the immediate future as well as the far-flung one—enough so that future Franklin and future Valeria are monitoring carefully to make sure everything goes well. It’s a little confusing that Edwards’s bearded guys all look a lot alike—grown-up Franklin from the future, Nathaniel, and Ted from Nu Earth—and grown-up Valeria looks exactly like her mom.
In the short term, it’s an amusing little time travel/alternate reality adventure, although the alternate Nathaniels idea does feel like a retread of the alternate Reeds story, and indeed will no doubt tie into that storyline in the future. Even here the point is made that our Reed is now the only one who has a dad, so the hope is that he’ll be the least screwed up of all possible Reeds. I guess we’ll see, won’t we? But first, let’s see what happens in book four!