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“World’s Greatest” — Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch’s Fantastic Four

After re-reading Jonathan Hickman’s run on The Fantastic Four, I decided to continue — moving back a step, actually — to re-read Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 12-issue run on FF that immediately preceded Mr. Hickman’s taking over the series.  I didn’t follow Mr. Hickman’s run when it was originally published monthly, but I did buy all 12 issues of Millar/Hitch’s run when it came out.  I went into their run with high hopes — the two men had each worked on some of my favorite super-hero comics of the prior few years, and they had collaborated on the incredible first two series of “The Ultimates,” the Ultimate Universe re-boot of The Avengers that wound up proving so influential to the Marvel movie universe.  (It was in Millar/Hitch’s Ultimates that they began to use Samuel L. Jackson as the visual model for Nick Fury, which eventually became incredible reality when the real Samuel L. Jackson took on that role at the end of 2008’s Iron Man.)  But my recollection is that, in the end, I had wound up being very disappointed with Millar/Hitch’s run on FF.  I was eager to re-read their story to see what I thought of it, with a little distance.

Their twelve-issue run was divided into four four-issue story-lines:

World’s Greatest — FF #554-557 — This was a very strong beginning to Millar/Hitch’s run.  Their first issue, FF #554, was a bold statement of tone for their run.  Mr. Hitch’s jaw-dropping, incredible artwork took center stage, and Mr. Millar gave Mr. Hitch some incredible sequences to illustrate.  Mr. Hitch gave each of the FF characters his own individual stamp, making slight tweaks to everyone’s look.  I really liked his versions of the FF uniforms, adding some little touches here and there (some ribbing and seams on the costumes; finger-less gloves worn by Reed and Sue) to make their costumes look just a little more realistic and a little less like spandex leotards.  Mr. Millar also gave each of the FF characters a slight tweak of characterization.  His versions of the classic FF four-some are faithful to their history, but Mr. Millar is able to spin everything just a little bit in order to give the characters a unique feel under his authorship.  I was most taken by his version of Reed Richards.  Reed is sometimes depicted a a nerdy, awkward almost-recluse.  But Mr. Millar writes Reed as, basically, one of the coolest men in the Marvel Universe.  He’s got an incredible intellect, amazing tech, a gorgeous wife, and a self-confidence that makes him a leader of men without tipping over into being an arrogant jerk.  This is a great version of Reed.

In this first … [continued]

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Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Epic Part II

Writer Jonathan Hickman recently wrapped up a very well-received run on the Fantastic Four, which I am reading in collected editions.  Click here for my thoughts on the beginning of Mr. Hickman’s run.

Volume 2 — Prime Elements — FF #575-578 — This story collects four stand-alone issues, each of which focus on a different city, clearly picking up onthe mysterious reference to a coming War of Four Cities in volume one (specifically, FF #574).  In FF #575, the Mole Man returns and, in classic Mole Man fashion, smashes into the Baxter Building with his weird, huge, subterranean beasts, only to ask the FF for help against another adversary: in this case, the High Evolutionary.  Seems that machines left over in an abandoned former base of the High Evolutionary are having a mutating effect on some of the Mole Man’s moloids (the creatures that serve him).  There are some extraordinary images in this issue, wonderfully illustrated by Dale Eaglesham.  The full-page image of the Mole Man after he emerges in the Baxter Building, bowing down before the FF while standing on the tongue of a huge creature, is worthy of being made into a poster.  And the full-page spread of the corpse of Galactus from the future is also a stunning, haunting image.  (Though also one that caused me some confusion.  That corpse plays a big part in volume 3’s story.  I assumed, when reading this originally, that this was the corpse of the huge Galactus that we saw the Council of Reeds fighting in another universe, in volume 1.  But I later figured out that in fact this is the Galactus from the future that we saw in Mark Millar’s run, that the super-team from the future used to power their time-machine.  That wasn’t at all clear to me at first, and since we saw an alternate-universe Galactus right at the beginning of Mr. Hickman’s run, I think it was a reasonable assumption that it was THAT Galactus whose corpse we were seeing here.)

In FF #576, the team discovers a lost city of Atlantis.  This kingdom is different from the under-water realm ruled by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and has apparently been hidden for countless years.  In FF #577, an enormous alien city-spaceship lands on the moon, in response to a summoning by Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans.  We, along with the FF, learn that the Inhumans (who have been recurring FF characters since Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s original run) are but one group of a larger circle of Inhumans, all genetically altered by the alien Kree millennia ago.  Finally, in FF #578, we see our fourth and final new city.  Johnny Storm stumbles into the … [continued]

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“Solve Everything” — Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Epic Part I

I’ve been a huge fan of the Fantastic Four since I was a little kid.  One of the first comic books I ever read was John Byrne’s FF # 277, published in 1985.  I read it in a doctor’s office, and since I wasn’t finished reading the issue by the time I was called in, my mom — in an extraordinarily rare example of my mom breaking a rule — allowed me to swipe the comic and take it home.  The comic blew my mind.  Each page of the issue was divided in half, with one story running through the issue on the top of each page, and a separate story running through the issue on the bottom.  Both stories were crazy.  In the top-of-the-page story, Ben Grimm returns to Earth to find Johnny Storm  shacked up with his girlfriend.  This personal crisis is happening in the shadow of some sort of apocalyptic alien invasion that threatens to destroy the planet, with all sorts of craziness erupting all over New York City.  Meanwhile, on the bottom half of each page, we see that Reed and Sue have apparently died, and are in hell being tortured by the devil (or at least Marvel Comics’ version of the devil, Mephisto).  I’d never read anything like this before.  The story was incredibly mature and sophisticated, and I was hooked.  I read that issue over and over again for years.

But at the time I was too young to buy comics or even to really understand that I could nudge my parents into buying them for me.  So it was several years before I started reading comics regularly.  When that started to happen, Fantastic Four was one of the first comics that I ever followed monthly.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, I started reading about a year after the end of John Byrne’s lengthy run (which I have come to consider the greatest run on FF since Stan and Jack’s original 106 issues).  In that first issue I read (issue #307, published in 1987), Reed and Sue had left the team to raise their son, Franklin, and Ben and Johnny were left to form a new FF.  I was hugely taken by the series right away, and I continued to read the series every month for years and years.  I followed FF right up until the series was cancelled and rebooted by Jim Lee & co. under the “Heroes Reborn” banner in the nineties.  I read Heroes Reborn, but my enthusiasm for the FF had dimmed by several years of weaker stories, and though Heroes Reborn started out with great promise, I ultimately found it to be a huge disappointment.

After … [continued]