In place of the usual quoted snippet of dialogue, each cover to “Three,” the latest story arc of Fantastic Four, has featured a numeric countdown–presumably to the issue where an as yet unnamed member of the team will die. It’s an appropriate visual representation of the storyline thus far, which has been strategically laying down a number of disparate plot threads and gradually nudging them in the direction of convergence. Fans of writer Jonathan Hickman should be well accustomed to staying patient while he plants the seeds of things to come, but even his biggest critics should be pleased to see signs in this most recent issue of it all coming together.
Hickman utilizes an assortment of situations involving a variety of classic FF foes to split the team apart, leaving each of them seemingly vulnerable to the untimely demise that has been foreshadowed. Reed departs with Galactus on a mission off-world while Sue accompanies the hot-tempered Namor to an undersea political summit, leaving Johnny and Ben (who has temporarily lost his powers) to watch over the children at the Baxter Building. When it comes to predicting which of these scenarios will prove to be the crux of the upcoming climax, your guess is as good as mine. Hickman links each one to elements from earlier in his run, meaning that any of the three could be the payoff to which he has been building.
Furthermore, each piece of the story also references concepts from prior to Hickman’s tenure, stretching out to touch nearly all corners of the Four’s rich publication history. From Lee to Millar and many in between, the past is alive and well in the pages of issue #585. The fact that Hickman is able to pull so much from his predecessors is a testament to the respect he carries for this franchise as well as to the vast treasure trove of great stories that exists for these characters. As a relative newcomer to Fantastic Four lore, I am eager to seek out some of the classic material for a first time read after experiencing Hickman’s treatment of it.
As an artist, Steve Epting is well suited as a partner for Hickman in this endeavor. Though he’s perfectly capable when it comes to rendering the imposing stature of Galactus or the odd collection of beings at the Atlantean council, he brings a no-frills approach that keeps this modern rendition of the FF grounded in its history. This isn’t a forced diet of the top-heavy women and absurdly musclebound men that are found in many comics these days. Instead, the characters here look just like the normal folks you’d expect them to be after reading their earliest Marvel adventures.
As is often said of a Hickman book, the true value of this issue won’t be properly ascertained until the revelations of the grand finale. Even so, it’s already plain to see that “Three” is yet another carefully considered entry in the Fantastic Four canon. Hickman is a writer who clearly understands the value of the franchise entrusted to him.