FF by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 3, Marvel Comics.
By Sam Hurwitt
The first time I read this book, I read it right after FF vol. 2 and before vol. 5 of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four, which came out in hardcover a couple weeks later. And seriously, do not do that. Because the long story arc that Hickman’s been telling for four volumes of Fantastic Four went directly into the first two volumes of FF while the former title “ended” and went on hiatus for eleven issues, the natural course would seem to be to go right from FF volume 2 to volume 3. But no. That would be unwise. Because this is when Fantastic Four resumed publication with issue 600 (having left off with #588 and counting the first 11 issues of FF as the missing issues), and the main storyline resumes over in the flagship title, with its artists in tow.
Meanwhile, FF becomes strictly a spinoff focusing on the kids living in the Baxter Building, Valeria and Franklin Richards and the various other members of the Future Foundation: mutants Leech and Artie Maddicks; Alex Power of Power Pack; the fiendish Wizard’s child clone Bentley; a couple of fish-faced Atlanteans; the giant, newly pacifist robot Dragon Man; and a few of the Mole Man’s Moloids with advanced intelligence, including a floating disembodied head. All the stories in this volume are tied in to the main story told in Fantastic Four vol. 5, but they won’t make any sense if you don’t know what happened in the other series first. And there are some serious spoilers for the dramatic conclusion of the main arc that are happening in Fantastic Four that here are offered simply as stuff that’s already happened, like the return of the Human Torch, whose death caused the end of Fantastic Four and the launch of FF in the first place.
So, read the other one first, but I’d recommend reading this one too, because it does fill in some important pieces of the puzzle, such as: Whatever happened to the last of the megalomaniacal alternate-universe Reed Richardses? Where’d Doctor Doom go? And how did the insane Celestials from another universe suddenly show up in the main Marvel universe? That’s all in here.
This volume collects issue 12 through 16, and coming straight from 11 to 12, the art looks suddenly, distractingly unsuitable. Not bad per se, but all wrong for the series. I suppose it’s supposed to be more cartoony and playful because it’s about kids, but it makes everyone look kind of grotesque and ugly. Penciller Juan Bobillo doesn’t seem to have bothered to check what Dragon Man looks like and just draws a giant purple gargoyle. Leech is now half Franklin’s height, when they’ve typically been depicted as about the same size until now. The kids, the human ones anyway, are hard to tell apart, so maybe that’s why colorist Chris Sotomayor (“with Sotocolor”!) suddenly makes both Alex Power and Franklin brunets on some pages instead of blond—presumably because he can’t tell them apart from the Wizard’s child clone Bentley. And of course editors at Marvel don’t check this stuff, because they’re too busy mandating absurd retcons to wipe away happy superhero marriages.
Speaking of pet peeves, the mute mutant Artie Maddicks manages to get through the entire book without accidentally saying something, which is good after all the slip-ups in past volumes, but he also manages to get through the entire book without doing anything, which after eight volumes of do-nothingism makes you wonder why Hickman even brought him aboard.
Generally speaking, the art looks so much like a graffiti mural rather than a superhero comic that it doesn’t feel like the same series anymore—and fair enough, it’s not the same series, not really. This look would be all right if one of the characters were on a peyote trip or something, but it makes it very hard to continue reading the story as if nothing’s horribly amiss.
The story itself becomes a little more lighthearted in general because of the cast of kids, but the business they’re up to couldn’t be more serious. The first issue (that is, the twelfth) takes up with the kids right after Valeria has teleported the top three floors of the Baxter Building away to escape an army of cultists trying to open a portal to the Negative Zone to make way for Annihilus and the Annihilation Horde, as shown in Fantastic Four #600. Mind you, they’ve left the portal behind, so someone else is going to have to take care of that mess while the kids save their skins. It turns out that Valeria has transported them all to the snowy peaks of Latveria, home of her godfather Doctor Doom.
Already there is the last surviving alternate Reed, who’s taken Doom prisoner with an obedience collar that he and the other Reeds have used to lobotomize the Dooms of many other universes already, turning them into a room full of catatonic people who can only say “Doom. Doom. Doom.” With them is “our” Reed’s father Nathaniel Richards, a time-traveling genius who’s the last surviving version of himself from anywhere in the multiverse, the others all having killed each other off already. Nathaniel’s spent a lot of time in the future, and he’s already seen all of these events play out over and over in many variations, all to the same end, one that he’s desperately trying to manipulate things to prevent. After all, he comes not just from the future but from all futures. “It’s an important point,” he says. Suddenly Nathaniel’s calling the shots here and no one seems to question that, which is especially interesting in the case of evil Reed—who’s not so much evil as Machiavellian in his quest to solve everything, without the encumbrances of any family or personal ties.
Here we learn that Valeria is in cahoots with her grandfather and has been ever since he came back. Although she’s only about four years old, the little supergenius has been actively plotting with Nathaniel to engineer things to keep things from ending horribly. That involves them teaming up with the other Reed, amusingly called “evil dad” by Valeria, her favorite uncle Doctor Doom, his heir and all-purpose stand-in Kristoff—something they fortunately seem quite agreeable to. For once Doom doesn’t even seem to have much of a hidden agenda in helping to save the world, aside from getting that damn collar off.
Why they all go back to the alternate universe where the Council of Reeds was based before they were all massacred by mad Celestials is not exactly clear, because of course that’s what opens the gate to allow those Celestials to escape in the first place, and it seems like they’re actually causing the very events that Nathaniel’s trying to prevent, but maybe it would have happened somehow anyway. The Celestials were always going to chase the last Reed to “our” universe, so they just have to try to hold them off long enough to let other things happen back in the main comic, such as Galactus coming to the rescue and keeping the Kree from destroying the earth.
As Nathaniel explains this, we find out some other things too. While talking about the things that always happen in every timeline, he refers to Black Bolt as the “celestial redeemer,” which means I was pretty much right on the money when I said that apparently he’s Space Jesus now. We’re also reminded that Val’s brother Franklin is awesome. He might not be any kind of genius, but he’s an insanely powerful reality-altering mutant who has even the Celestials and Galactus worried. I should say here, by the way, that Bobillo draws some terrific Celestials. I may not be wild about his humans, but the guy does right by those Kirby-designed space gods.
The kids escape back to their home universe through the portal—which is jammed open by Celestial fingers—while Doom and Evil Reed hold off the Celestials on the other side. I won’t say what happens to them, but suffice it to say they don’t come back. And the postscript showing what Doom finds over there, with typically terrific art by regular Fantastic Four penciller Steve Epting, makes an awesome end to this volume that’s more resonant even than the end of the parallel volume of Fantastic Four—yet another reason to read this one last.
After Doom’s last stand against the Celestials, Nick Dragotta steps in as penciller for the last couple of issues, and the art’s still a bit uneven but simmers down considerably. Everyone looks much more like themselves (with the exception of a still highly distorted Leech), and it becomes much easier to tell the kids apart. Dragotta brings in a cartoony style that works and at least seems like the same world that the rest of Hickman’s story takes place in.
Franklin’s seen talking to an empty white silhouette of an adult male that’s pretty clearly the him of the future, seen in previous volumes of Hickman’s run on the two titles, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be as obvious as it is.
Some other stuff happens, and there’s a cool moment with the Moloids meeting up with another evolved tribe of their people, also seen earlier in Hickman’s run, but this issue seems a little like spinning wheels waiting for everyone to meet back up again—the Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation—in time for the big finale.
And in the next issue, the big finale has already happened. There’s a very short recap in which we learn little except that Franklin saved the day (but hey, all that’s in the other book, and it’s awesome). It’s all over but the chitchat, and some of the chitchat here is pretty funny, especially with future Valeria and kid Valeria glaring at each other. We also learn that someday in the future, Franklin and Galactus are going to be best friends forever. So they’ve got that going on for them, which is nice. I kid, but it’s actually pretty cool and greatly enriches the big finish in the other series. This may just be the aftermath, but it’s a pretty cool aftermath.
Hickman’s still writing FF through issue 23 and Fantastic Four through number 611, so this isn’t the end, really, but it definitely feels like the end of something. The arc he’s been building for eight volumes of the two titles has come to a dramatic, universe-shaking conclusion, and now it’s a matter of seeing which loose ends he’ll tie up, which he’ll leave loose, and what other stories he wants to tell before he goes. Whatever it is, I’m on board.