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

“The Underneath”: 40% Off Alias!

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Forbidden Planet International is offering the Alias omnibus at a very special pre-order price of just £45.00 – that’s a saving of 40% off the £75 RRP!

But you have to get there fast – that price ends this Wednesday 14th May 2014.

As previously reported, the reprint, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos, is released in September, and centres around Jessica Jones, superhero-turned-detective. She’s now best-known for marrying Luke Cage and featuring in the Avengers books.But she also grew up in High School with one Peter Parker. You may know the name…

Alias Interior Art

I expect the price to go up to about £50.25 once the promotion is over.

Oh, and this might not be one for younger fans: there’s a lot of swearing and some sexual references too. Nonetheless, Alias is a much-loved series by one of Marvel’s biggest writers!

Check out FP.co.uk for that price.

“Legacy”: 40% Off Ultimate Spidey!

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In 2000, Marvel launched the Ultimate universe with a single comic.

That comic was Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-man.

Cover by Joe Quesada.

The line – a modern telling of the normal MU – has expanded dramatically since, but Ultimate Spider-man has remained the constant, shocking readers with brand-new takes on the wallcrawler’s most infamous villains and storylines.

Just in time for The Amazing Spider-man movie, Marvel is releasing an omnibus collecting the first 39 (and ½!) issues of Bendis and Bagley’s modern classic, with an RRP of £75.

But if you go to ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk before Wednesday 4th January 2012, you can save 40%, bringing the price down to just £45!

Just go here.

Though this offer only applies to one of two covers, the other can be found for just £50.25.

The 1000-page book is due for release in June, and sees Peter Parker gain his webslinging abilities and battle the Green Goblin, Electro, the Kingpin, Venom and many more.

Art by Mark Bagley.

As I’ve been on the lookout for those early issues in the Hardcover format, I’m really looking forward to this omnibus.

Let me know if you’ll be picking it up below.

The Greatest Stories Ever Told?

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Comic Book Resources have recently run a number of ‘Best Stories’ polls, as voted for by readers. You can find the homepage of these here:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/10/25/the-return-of-the-greatest-stories-ever-told/

As I write this, a few more have gone up, but it’s a work in progress.

And for you Marvel Omnibus fans, there are quite a few that may be of interest.

Daredevil

 

Daredevil #32

 

There are some fantastic surprises here, especially – for me –at number one. But such a great surprise…

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/11/01/the-greatest-daredevil-stories-ever-told/

Jason Aaron

 

Ghost Rider #34

 

There are a few Marvel titles in this writer’s best work, but only a couple are collected in omnibus format. I’m busy reading PunisherMax at the moment, and it’s a fantastic run so far. Oh, and in amongst the results is Ghost Rider. Fighting a Demon Truck Driver. Oh yes.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/11/10/the-greatest-jason-aaron-stories-ever-told/

Matt Fraction

 

The Sensational Spider-man Annual #01

 

Matt’s stories are a bit like Marmite, but I’m a fan of much of his work. Here, we have a bit of The Immortal Iron Fist, as well as some Invincible Iron Man stuff. And The Sensational Spider-man Annual #01 was just amazing. Seriously; read it!

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/11/16/the-greatest-matt-fraction-stories-ever-told/

And finally…

Iron Fist

 

The Immortal Iron Fist #16

 

Even more Immortal goodness here, with Brubaker and Fraction’s run peppered among the Top Five. As a follow-up, Duane Swierzynski’s The Mortal Iron Fist is also on the list, available as both a TPB and HC.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/11/17/the-greatest-iron-fist-stories-ever-told/

So what do you think? Which other stories would you have put in the lists? And which definitely shouldn’t be there? Let me know below!

“O, Bitter Victory!”: 40% off Amazing Spider-man!

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Art for ASM #49 by John Romita.

Stan Lee and John Romita’s run on Amazing Spider-man is a legendary must-read. And from April 2012, you can get ASM #39- 67, Annual #3- 5, Spectacular Spider-man Magazine (1968) #1- 2, and material from Not Brand Echh #2, 6 and 11 in a 968- page omnibus.

With an RRP of £75, the HC also features the art of Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jim Mooney and Marie Severin, with alternate covers by Romita and Humberto Ramos.

And until Wednesday 23rd November, the Romita cover is available from forbiddenplanet.co.uk for just £45, a saving of 40%! You can get your copy here:

http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&products_id=67242

The Humberto Ramos cover – a homage to ASM #39 – can be pre-ordered from fp.co.uk for £50.25; the Romita cover is expected to  increase to this price once the promotion is over.

While Amazon.co.uk hasn’t even listed it yet, forbiddenplanet.com has the two covers for £51.74 each.

Though it’s a continuation of 2007’s first ASM omnibus – with the art of Steve Ditko – this second hardcover can be read in isolation, with such milestone issues as “How Green Was My Goblin!” – in which the Green Goblin’s true identity is first revealed – “The Sinister Shocker!” (which introduces one of my favourite villains) and “Spider-man No More!” The latter, in ASM #50, introduced the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, a major criminal in the Marvel Universe, and partly inspired the film, Spider-man 2.

Cover art by John Romita.

Personally, it includes some of my favourite issues, so I will definitely have the omnibus in pride of place.  One of the first Spider-man comic storylines I remember is, in fact, from ASM #48- 49, a grim but thrilling tale of a very ill Spider-man facing off against Kraven the Hunter and the new (-ish) Vulture, Brackie Drago.

Coming July 2012...

Of course, the omnibus comes just in time for the release of The Amazing Spider-man film in July 2012, a reboot starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans.

Andrew Garfiled on set with Emma Stone.

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