Review: Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman (Volume One)

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FF Hickman Omnibus Vol 1

During Jonathan Hickman’s original 2009-12 tenure on Fantastic Four¸ everyone was raving about it. I was sceptical. I’d read them on and off, and they seemed generally great to look at but otherwise a bit of an unfinished muddle.

I was wrong.

The true beauty of Hickman’s style can’t be grasped in a few issues picked up intermittently. You need to have faith in the writer. This story is a long, but ultimately rewarding, one. He’s playing with the core foundations of the FF, and drawing threads throughout. This much should be evident from the very first storyline, The Bridge – not technically part of the main title, but essential if you’re to get to grips with why the following events take place.

It’s tied into Dark Reign, in which Norman Osborn is in charge of – well, essentially world security, and unlike many tie-ins, doesn’t suffer from this tether. There’s a heightened tension as Osborn and co. storm the Baxter Building, while the actual FF are otherwise engaged. That means it’s down to Franklin and Valeria, Reed and Sue’s children, to fend them off.

In order to do so, Valeria uses all her wits, and Franklin dresses like a cowboy.

The Bridge doesn’t entirely work as a narrative because it may be fun, but it also appears pretty pointless, at least what’s happening to Sue, Ben, and Johnny. Yet in hindsight, it sets up the rest of this omnibus surprisingly well. First off, we get to see how capable the kids are, and how they can be relied upon. Franklin may seem like he’s messing about, but you shouldn’t underestimate him. Valeria, meanwhile, is arguably smarter than her father. These two are absolute joys to read about, not just in The Bridge but in the omnibus as a whole.

FF Dark Reign Franklin Richards

Otherwise, there’s Reed’s hopelessness at facing the future, a major motivation throughout, and foreshadowing an uneasy feeling that all that’s about to happen is his fault, especially the direct consequences on the rest of his family.

After a brief interlude focusing on the secret intentions of both Namor and Dr Doom (both of whom get up to some interesting things later on in the book), we come to Idea #101: Solve Everything, also the title of the second storyline (or the debut of Hickman on the proper Fantastic Four series).

That the writer’s plans are ambitious should be immediately obvious. Reed meets the Council, an interfering bunch of arrogant know-it-alls with God complexes. They’re all Reed. That is, they’re all different versions of Mr Fantastic from alternating universes. It’s an exceptionally intriguing idea, one that ends by re-establishing a key part in FF lore: that each member is an oddity, but that their sense of family will always draw them back together.

Interestingly, it may seem that ‘our’ Reed proves himself a superior being because he can let the rest of the multiverse get on with whatever it’s doing, that he can leave behind his ambition to solve everything, to come back, as ever, to his loving family and friends. But it’s not all it appears: Reed is indulging in his own God complex, fulfilling that same desire through different means to be “a better man.” Needless to say, this isn’t fully wrapped up: the Council remains an undercurrent, as does Richards’ connection with his father.

This omnibus collects six graphic novels (the Dark Reign prelude, debut arc of FF aka the Future Foundation, and four of the core title), but it feels like more than that and, paradoxically, only one. That’s because it’s one ongoing narrative, separated into loose parts, and further segmented into chapters. Prime Elements, the third collection, sets up many principle ideas, but, let’s face it, is also a bit of a mess.

FF Mole Man Eaglesham

Certainly, if I’d have picked it up as a lone graphic novel, I would’ve been disappointed. It feels like samplers: small notional injections, not full explorations. They’re typically-single issues used to remind you of particular sections of the FF mythology.

They draw on the bases of the team, established by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in those early years: Mole Man and Subterranea; Atlantis; the Inhumans; Annihilus and the Negative Zone; space exploration; and evolution. Hickman has looked back at the successes and said to himself, ‘how can we move these on?’ On the whole, this has been a very positive idea, but some, at least with this initial omnibus, come across as half-baked. The potential return of the Inhumans, in particular, seems like a pointless thread. The final page of this omnibus (the storyline, rather, not the extra cover gallery, and script – both excellent inclusions) hammers this home. It’s such a strange place to leave the readers. But then, with Hickman’s intricate storytelling technique, where else would be appropriate?

Some may argue it should’ve concluded with Three, the tale that hit the headlines upon its initial release. One of the Fantastic Four, we were promised, would die. It would change the series forever. Even if the inclusion of Tomorrow (the first volume of the FF) feels like a jolt, it’s nice to see the further shockwaves of this death. I won’t spoil that revelation – although a quote on the book’s back cover does so regardless.

FF Galactus Silver Surfer

Three, it initially seems, is the storyline in which all these dangling tales come together. Indeed, it’s masterfully done. The team are separated and each member faces a huge threat. All are in danger. The actual death is done beautifully. Really, you can’t fault it.

It’s plotted sublimely, and Steve Epting’s art just heightens the experience. It looks so lifelike and rich. The small moments are as important as the big. In fact, seeing the Silver Surfer again, combined with a truly breathtaking cliffhanger to the opening part of Three – “unacceptable” – is spine-tingling.

Elsewhere, much of the art is the same, largely provided by Dale Eaglesham and Neil Edwards, two artists whose work is always solid and nice to look at, but are nonetheless similar. Maybe that’s to its advantage, but it comes as a shock when the more stylised visuals of Nick Dragotta, Sean Chen, and Barry Kitson are thrown into the mix. It admittedly is a beautiful omnibus to flick through – and nothing important is lost to the gutter – and this is aided by the colours used to maintain the same tone, no matter where the action takes us.

There’s a cinematic, landscape look from start to finish, and the artists make appealing directorial choices. Edwards especially plays with page layouts in the fourth volume, Future Foundation: he explores great vistas before cropping close to the central characters for reaction shots and body language.

This storyline follows Prime Elements and acts best as a prelude to what happens after Three. It celebrates what makes Fantastic Four so special in the comic book world, encompassing a jovial interlude with Arcade, a time-travelling twisting tale taking us back to Reed and Ben’s college days, and wrestling with the Thing’s problematic appearance.

FF Thing Three

Aside from that, Reed actually sets up the Future Foundation, perhaps as a reaction to seeing distorted versions of himself. Instead, he realises that the children are the future.

The Foundation plays a huge part in what’s to come, but we only get a taste of this with the final collected story, Tomorrow. The good news is: Spider-man’s part of the team! That’s awesome. Spidey is a much-loved character who’s always been on the periphery of the FF; to have him right in amongst it all bodes well for the second volume.

And that’s the biggest problem with this book: it’s incomplete. Threads are left hanging. The future is uncertain. There are still so many imminent threats. Mind you, if you’ve read this omnibus, you’ll definitely want to pick up volume two.

Jonathan Hickman’s run is perfect for this omnibus range. You need to read it in one go (or rather, in two volumes) to get the full impact and to properly see what he’s doing. Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman: Volume One is a great read; certainly not one you’ll want to miss out on.

And a large part of this fascination is the magnetism of the phrase, “all hope lies with Doom.”

FF Hickman Omnibus Vol 1 Rating

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Hickman’s FF: Vol 2 in November

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Fantastic Four Vol 2

Good news for fans of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four: a follow-up to last year’s omnibus is on the way!

The second book picks up where Volume 1, released in October, left off, with the newly-formed FF after – SPOILERS – the death of Johnny Storm. Here’s the synopsis:

Superstar writer Jonathan Hickman revamps and redefines Marvel’s First Family! The War of Four Cities escalates, with the Future Foundation caught in the middle! But as the Inhumans return to Earth, and Annihilus’ forces and the Kree armada lay siege to the planet, will the coming of Galactus turn the tide — or doom us all? When the Future Foundation contends with the Council of Reeds and the Mad Celestials, Valeria turns to their greatest foe! Find out why all hope lies in Doom! And in the aftermath of an endgame beyond imagination, the FF explore the furthest reaches of the Marvel Universe — from Wakanda to the Negative Zone, from the past to the future!

Collects FF (2011) #6- 23, and Fantastic Four #600- 611 and #605.1.

It comes with a great cover by Gabriele Dell’Otto and a bevy of interior artists including Steve Epting, Greg Tocchini, Barry Kitson, Nick Dragotta and Ron Garney.

The 832-page HC is released in November 2014.

“Solve Everything”: 40% Off Hickman’s FF!

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Get 40% off Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 1 when you pre-order before Wednesday 1st May!

Hickman's FF

The 736-page book is due out in October 2013, priced £55.99 – but if you go to ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk now, you can get 40% off that RRP, bringing it down to just £33.59.

The newly-announced omnibus collects together the first part of Hickman’s critically-acclaimed run that includes the ground-breaking Three storyline – in which a lead member of the Fantastic Four dies! – and launches the new FF series (that’s the Future Foundation). Here’s the full synopsis:

Superstar writer Jonathan Hickman revamps and redefines Marvel’s First Family in a sweeping and epic saga across time, space and reality! And it all begins when Mr. Fantastic decides to solve everything! As the team contends with Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, an older Franklin arrives from the future with an ominous warning! And as the Fantastic Four fight the War of the Four Cities, Mr. Fantastic assembles a band of genius youngsters.

But when Nathaniel Richards returns, Galactus rises and a new Annihilation Wave threatens to invade from the Negative Zone, tragedy suddenly strikes. Grieving, the surviving members of the Fantastic Four dissolve the team — but from its ashes rises the Future Foundation! Guest-starring Spider-Man, Dr. Doom, Sub-Mariner and the Inhumans!

Collects Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #1-5, Fantastic Four #570-588, FF #1-5 and material from Dark Reign: The Cabal #1; written by Jonathan Hickman; pencilled by Sean Chen, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta and Barry Kitson, with cover artwork by Alan Davis.

I expect fp.co.uk’s price to increase to about £38 after this promotion, and anyone who wants to explore the team that kick-started the Marvel Universe is well-advised to pick the book.

Hickman's FF 2

I particularly like this run as one of its titles quotes my favourite band, The Killers: ‘When Everything’s Lost, the Battle is Won… Because of All These Things I’ve Done.’

Pre-order before Wednesday 1st May 2013 here.

(Thanks to Rubèn.)

Death of Spider-man Omnibus Announced!

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Following on from Ultimate Comics: Avengers By Mark Millar and next month’s Ultimate Spider-man, November sees the release of Ultimate Comics Spider-man: Death of Spider-man Omnibus. Here’s the blurb, thanks to CBR:

ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN: DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN OMNIBUS HC

Cover art by Joe Quesada

Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS, MARK MILLAR, JONATHAN HICKMAN & NICK SPENCER

Penciled by SARA PICHELLI, DAVID LAFUENTE, JOELLE JONES, JAMIE MCKELVIE, SKOTTIE YOUNG, LAN MEDINA, ELENA CASAGRANDE, CHRIS SAMNEE, MARK BAGLEY, LEINIL FRANCIS YU, STEPHEN SEGOVIA, GABRIEL HARDMAN, BRYAN HITCH, LEE GARBETT, STEVEN KURTH, ERIC NGUYEN, CARLO PAGULAYAN, SALVADOR LARROCA, CLAYTON CRAIN, LUKE ROSS, BILLY TAN & MITCH BREITWEISER

Cover by JOE QUESADA
For more than ten years, Eisner Award-winning writer Brian Michael Bendis has spun the tale of young Peter Parker. Under his pen, the neophyte Spider-Man blossomed from an awkward and gangly schoolboy into a tried-and-true hero, an inspiration to a world of ultimate wonder. But all stories must come to an end. And as shadows gather, villains plot and heroes clash, Peter’s final story will unfold. It’s the death of Spider-Man — and the ending will shock you.

Collecting ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN (2009) #15 and #150-160, ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS VS. NEW ULTIMATES #1-6, and ULTIMATE COMICS FALLOUT #1-6.
600 PGS./Rated T+ …$75.00
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6464-7
Trim size: oversized

Bit of a shame to see that Ultimate Comics Avengers vs. New Ultimates is being included in this omnibus as well as the Ultimate Comics Avengers By Mark Millar one, but I guess it’s fitting. Still, this omnibus will be a must-read.

“Wake the beast”: 40% off Secret Warriors!

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You can get the Secret Warriors for just £45, a 40% saving off its £75 RRP.

The 904-page omnibus is due for release in July 2012, and collects Mighty Avengers #13 and 18; Secret Warriors #1-28; Dark Reign: The List – Secret Warriors; Siege: Secret Warriors; and material from Dark Reign: New Nation.

You can save £30 if you get to forbiddenplanet.co.uk before Wednesday 15th February.

The book is written by Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman, with art by Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Alessandro Vitti, Mirko Colak, Ed McGuinness, Gianluca Gugliotta and David Marquez. The cover is provided by Jim Cheung.

Daisy Johnson: Quake.

While forbiddenplanet.com doesn’t even have it listed, Amazon.co.uk has it for a pre-order price of £47.47.

I expect the omnibus to go up to £50.25 on fp.co.uk once the offer ends, so it’s worth pre-ordering now – or getting it from Amazon if you miss the discount!

Secret Warriors available for pre-order!

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Forbidden Planet.co.uk has just made the Secret Warriors omnibus available for pre-order.

Though the book has an RRP of £75, you can buy it from fp.co.uk for just £49.01.

Amazon.co.uk also has the 904-page HC for £49.01. Which is pretty wierd.

My advice would be to wait maybe just for a week, as fp.co.uk normally offer these £75 books with a 40% discount for two weeks only – bringing it down to £45 – as part of their ‘STOP THE PRESS!’ offer. I reckon next week’s graphic novel newsletter wil include the deal, as the latest one was for The Incredible Hulk: Past Perfect – which looks really cool!

Here’s the synopsis for the Secret Warriors omnibus:

Former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury and his newly minted team of Secret Warriors uncover a conspiracy that reaches from the Oval Office to Japan — and even beyond death. When a shadow war breaks out between Leviathan and Hydra, it’s up to Fury and his Warriors to take them both out.

The reconstituted Howling Commandos join Fury’s ranks, but tragedy waits in the wings as the conflict blossoms into an all-out war on three fronts. As Hydra and Leviathan ready for their final strikes — on each other and the world — Fury will have to make some of the grittiest life-and-death choices of his long life!

Collecting Mighty Avengers #13 and 18, Secret Warriors #1-28, Dark Reign: The List – Secret Warriors, Siege: Secret Warriors, and material from Dark Reign: New Nation. Written By Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman; and pencilled by Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Alessandro Vitti, Gianluca Gugliotta, Mirko Colak, David Marquez and Ed McGuinness, with cover artwork by Jim Cheung.

The book is expected to be released in July 2012.

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