Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review # 134: "Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Omnibus Vol. 1"

Reed Richards has gone through the ringer lately, with several writers suggesting that Mr. Fantastic is not so fantastic after all. From the horrific zombie Reed Richards in "Marvel Zombies" to the fate of Ultimate Universe Reed to nefarious "Planetary" analogue Randall Dowling, there is potential for great evil in the leader of the Fantastic Four.

But while his many counterparts have gone down the wicked path, the mainstream universe original never really has. Actually, that's not exactly true. He's come close. There's the general neglect of his own wife and children (who, incidentally, have grown into fine individuals over time which suggests Reed isn't as bad of a husband or father as depicted,) his Thor clone who killed one of the Goliaths, and his continual withholding of information from his team. But it's impossible to declare Mr. Fantastic as a villain.

Really, he never should be. If there is one character who should never be converted, it's Reed Richards. Because it would undermine the work of Jonathan Hickman, whose run on the title is like an essay on why he would never walk along that dark road. Frustrated by his own mistakes and recent history in the Marvel U, Reed sets out in his lab to single-handedly "solve everything." He investigates alternate realities to see how events like Civil War played out, attracting the attention of multiple Reeds from multiple universes. Peaceful at first, the council made up of his own counterparts becomes increasingly unsettling. This is where we learn, once and for all, that what keeps Mr. Fantastic a hero is his family; something all his distorted reflections had rejected.

That concept is the heart and soul of Hickman's "Fantastic Four." While he intersperses elements involving the other characters - including the Invisible Woman becoming an ambassador to a second Atlantis, The Thing gaining the ability to turn human one day a year, the "death" of the Human Torch, an Inhumans expansion, and the formation of the Future Foundation - all points travel back in this first omnibus to Reed. It highlights his positives - his desire to do good, his undying curiousity and his limitless capacity to forgive. It's quite remarkable how many times Mr. Fantastic has forgiven Doctor Doom, but he recognizes that - at times - Victor's knowledge is too great an asset to ignore. When the Council of Reeds begin to orchestrate war on Earth-616, Mr. Fantastic tries to orchestrate peace between his greatest enemies. It's quite the dynamic. And damn Marvel's editors for cutting this omnibus short with that story unresolved.

This is a gem. Hickman has a knack for painting his characters of small parts of a gigantic universe, which is a perfect tone for this title. Artists like Sean Chen and Steve Epting match that vision well. It emphasizes the best of what makes the Fantastic Four a premiere team, and is - through part one - an excellent addition to their mythos.

Rating: 9/10

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