Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fantastic Four Volume 1 by Jonathan Hickman

The Fantastic Four really haven't gotten a fair shake in the 2000s. Some might say that their basic premise, that of an oddball adventuring family, is simply out of date and way behind the times. I disagree. Clearly, very few writers have been able to handle the FF in the modern age of comics. John Byrne was one. Heck, Byrne is one of the main reasons why I read comics at all. His efforts on the Fantastic Four in the 80s were dead on perfect and unfortunately over before they should have been (blame creative differences - always the bane of Mr. Byrne).

There have been glimmers of hope since then, of course. Alan Davis tried, but didn't stick with the FF long enough. Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo (R.I.P.) had a spectacular run focusing on the four as imaginauts, but again it wasn't nearly long enough to re-establish the Fantastic Four as the preeminent team in the Marvel Universe (thank Marvel's ever-destructive editorial policies for that one).

And then there were the movies. leave it at that.

In recent years the Fantastic Four have been vehicles for Marvel's so-called "event" books, but the team and its core humanity has taken a back seat to plot-driven crossovers. My friends, that time is over. The FF are back and better than they have ever been, and it's all because of Jonathan Hickman.

If you're unfamiliar with Hickman's writing credentials, you've got some great reading to catch up on. One of his major projects before turning his attention to Marvel was Pax Romana, about the Catholic church sending a group back in time to right the wrongs of the church throughout history. Hickman is also systematically rewriting the Marvel Universe with his audacious S.H.I.E.L.D. series. But his Fantastic Four work is truly inspired and is a welcome return to the real meat of the series and the characters at the heart of it.

Volume one of Hickman's work has recently been released and I encourage anyone who once loved, still loves or possibly could love the Fantastic Four to read it. This arc primarily involves Reed Richards' attempts to solve every problem imaginable, which brings him into contact with a cohort of like-minded individuals. The ideas are big - monstrously big - but Hickman grounds them in an understanding of the characters that honestly has not been seen since Byrne or Waid. The focus of the series is now on family, first and foremost, and while that may seem cheesy and cornball to some, read the book before you make so many snap judgments. The FF has ALWAYS been about a dysfunctional, yet loving, family, albeit with superpowers. By drawing on that inspiration, Hickman has crafted a book that is thought-provoking and darn fun to read. I can't remember when I've enjoyed reading a comic book story as much as this.

After Civil Wars, Final Crises and every kind of Blackest Night you could imagine, it's refreshing to read a comic that inspires this much awe and wonder.

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