Continuing my FF reading campaign, I’ve reached the conclusion of Volume Six – Fantastic Four Foundation, and with it the end of Jonathan Hickman’s run on the fabled series.
This graphic novel was more of a story collection than a collected storyline, with nothing tying the editions together. I enjoyed nearly all of them.
As a conclusion to a major writer’s tenure, it was curious, as it did not give us a great story or sense of finality like in Volume Five. Instead, it served to tie up loose ends.
We begin with an ever-curious Reed Richards confiding in his time-traveling father, Nathaniel, that he’d like to see the future of the team. We are treated to different versions of the FF which introduce new, never-before-seen members, who often partner with Franklin, Reed’s son. However, the one constant of the team is not Franklin, but rather Ben Grimm, the Thing.
Reed deduces that Thing’s extended lifespan is due to his rock biology, and the fact that he only lives in his human form for one week each year. As this is the only time Thing ages, it allows the original FF member to live far into the future, seeing Franklin grow up, overseeing graduating classes of the Future Foundation, but also outliving his loved ones. Although this is sad in parts, as we even visit Thing’s funeral which takes place in the distant future, it is almost worth it to see him with his rocky, chest-length beard, looking like a dignified orange Merlin.
Next we witness an awful (and awfully good) alternate history tale where the Fantastic Four are members of the Nazi Party. Jewish Ben Grimm turns on Hitler, but Reed turns mad. What follows is a series of events that leads Richards to take a piece of the brain of Viktor Von Doom, collect the Infinity Gauntlet, and create the bridge leading to the Council of Reeds. I think of this as the Council of Reeds origin story, our first loose end. It goes a long way to explain why the Council is shady at its core, and oversteps its authority.
A well-written homage to Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage comes next, when the team has to shrink down in order to remove a tumor from the brain of Willie Lumpkin. It really is as straightforward as that, but I admit to enjoying this much more than the Asimov novel, or the film.
I suppose the book’s main story comes to us next, what is more the story of Black Panther and his kingdom, a loose end explaining how he becomes King of the Dead.
T’Challa summons Reed to Wakanda because he is “the only brain that can keep up” with him, and they endeavor to travel beneath Wakanda’s wall of knowledge, together to the city of the dead, following the images of Panther’s visions. As T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, Storm, and Invisible Woman battle an ancient threat, Reed and the Panther descend into the catacombs. What they find are answers to the mysterious deity attacking the nation, and T’Challa’s wish to become king of his people once again denied. Instead, he is imbued with the talents and experience of every past king, taking on a new title as King of the Dead. He leaves the Necropolis a very different Black Panther. Reed, meanwhile, is warned that his and the Panther’s fate will forever be intertwined. All told, this is a fine story about barbarians at the gate, and how great nations will inevitably fall. Yet, I was disappointed that, for a Fantastic Four story, it didn’t much focus on the Fantastic Four.
The final stories are ones that did not speak to me in the same way, or tickle my fancy. They include the FF battling the Wizard in a fairly mundane political episode, and the team aiding a far-future group which is trying to find a new planet to call home. This latter story is difficult to follow. I’ve come to expect that Hickman will lay out clues, show us familiar scenery, and let the reader solve puzzles on his or her own. What’s usually a very rewarding experience is spoiled when we’re expected to care about a brand new group we don’t know, and the one beloved character who does appear, Galactus, appears to be dead, and is being used as a spaceship. The trick of leaving familiar clues in imagery also fails in this story, as we’re given a far-future offspring of the Hulk whom everyone would assume is, and is not to mention a dead ringer for, the Maestro, but isn’t actually the Maestro at all.
In any event, the book ends in the right way, with a Doctor Doom story—a Doctor Doom rescue, in fact—but I wouldn’t want to spoil the conclusion. Suffice it to say, that it is true to the nature of Doom, and true to the nature of Reed. And we tie up the final loose end.
Despite my criticism of this book, I’d like to thank Jonathan Hickman for a fantastic run on a fantastic series.
Join me for more comic reviews, and all the best,