SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Fantastic Four #600A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Danny Djeljosevic, Jamil Scalese
Chris: Well, here we are -- the long-awaited 600th issue of Fantastic Four. Kinda. Given all the marketing tricks DC and Marvel play with numbering nowadays, I think it's fair to say that we've entered an era where the digits on a book's cover are essentially meaningless. What does matter is the fact that this is a huge comic -- both metaphorically with regard to its significance and literally in terms of its actual page count. And all of its hundred pages are absolutely amazing. I've been following Hickman's Fantastic Four/FF run since the beginning, and I would propose that this issue is one of the best two or three of the bunch.
Danny: The $7.99 price tag is pretty daunting, but damn if Fantastic Four #600 isn't the best eight bucks you'll spend on a comic book this year. Often these anniversary issues are full of borderline fill-in BS by creators who just happened to be available to write a story about whatever iconic character is having an arbitrary anniversary, but here all the stories are relevant, and the talent in this book is staggering.
Jamil: Agreed, this book is chock full of great content. My first surprise came on the credits page when I discovered Hickman was the lone writer of these 100 pages. As you said, Danny, too many times nonessentials and reprints litter these numerical celebration issues, but Fantastic Four #600 breaks an ugly trend with a pair of phenomenal full-length stories and a host of backup stories that actually tied into the writer's overall vision.
Chris: A couple of the shorter chapters toward the end of the issue aren't quite as crucial as the longer segments, but they're still pretty solid, and chances are that they're setting up for major developments yet to come. Of course, given that this is Hickman, it could take a while (I'm still not sure we've seen any planted seeds come to fruition yet in S.H.I.E.L.D.). But the fact that Hickman plays the long game is exactly what I loved about this issue -- it's the payoff for a whole Fantasticar load of plot threads that have been sewn throughout the past year.
Danny: I love how Hickman never half-asses his stories. He writes big and he has a confidence that keeps himself from blowing his wad too early. This issue has pretty much everything Hickman's been working with so far in his Fantastic Four/FF run: the Inhumans, the Kree, the Future Foundation kids, Doctor Doom, Nathaniel Richards, the Reeds, Annihilus and even Galactus. Appropriately, a lot of those elements are ingrained in the Fantastic Four mythos, and thus perfect fodder for a 50th Anniversary issue.
Jamil: Personally, this is my first foray into Fantastic Four. I've always respected them and enjoy the individual characters, but it took the hoopla of Hickman's intense scripts and busy subplots to get me on board. I only began reading with FF #1 and have sometimes complained that there was a little too much going on for a new reader. However, this issue takes all of the swirling threads and weaves them into something magical. It kind of sucks when something is so good it immediately makes everything around it pale by comparison. There is no excuse our favorite comics and heroes can't exist in more a plot-heavy, cohesive format.
Chris: The way in which all of that comes together is reminiscent of one of the other great issues of the Hickman tenure -- the one where Johnny Storm died. In that story, a bunch of disparate subplots all came to a simultaneous climax that created an enormous, nearly crushing threat to the team. And I have to think that it's no coincidence that Hickman is referencing that moment here because… well, do either of you want to be the one to bring it up first?
Danny: Johnny's baaaaack! The return of the Human Torch is probably eliciting groans from readers who forget about the inherent cyclical nature of life and death that dominates superhero comics (yeah, of course he's coming back), but Hickman takes what seemed like a publicity stunt (thanks to slow news days and black polybags) and made it an actual story. And the gruesome details of Johnny Storm's resurrection, depicted in the Carmine Di Giandomenico-illustrated second story of the book, definitely earn the return in a way that few resurrection stories can achieve.
Jamil: The death of Johnny lit the figurative fire under my ass to get me into Marvel's First Family, and his return serves as one of the best rebirths I've ever read. Let me put it this way -- when I finished "Whatever Happened to Johnny Storm," I wasn't left thinking about the convenience of his return, I was fascinated of the utility of it. The story took the now formulaic "hero's death and return" and made an extremely enthralling tale out of it.
Chris: I'm pretty much ready to anoint Johnny as one of my favorite superheroes after all this. The story of his self-sacrificial death was truly touching, and this tale of his steely resolve amidst the hells of the Negative Zone made me want to stand up and cheer by the end. Di Giandomenico's depiction of Johnny's ordeals caused me to squirm more than once, so he deserves his share of the credit along with Hickman. For decades, the default characterization of the Human Torch has been as the immature, irresponsible member of the team, and I'm not sure writers are going to be able to get away with portraying him that way anymore.
Danny: Johnny's always been a fun and welcome part of the team, but after this story I'm really excited to see how Hickman writes him. I'm expecting the rest of the FF to be really surprised at how the Human Torch acts from here on in. Di Giandomenico killed it in this chapter, by the way. He nails the horror of Johnny's constant resurrections and the chaotic atmosphere of the Negative Zone. And, my god, those ominous fade-ins and hallucinations? Dude's getting better every time he shows up in a Marvel comic.
Jamil: In terms of art and story it was definitely my favorite piece in the book and I also am excited to see how the new Torch functions in the new FF. I've always been a bit annoyed by the prankster version of the character and have really enjoyed the recent maturity over the past decade or so. Still, you can definitely perceive even more change in Mr. Storm during the course of the Di Giandomenico story. I've never questioned his heroism, but certain warrior qualities rose to the surface and climaxed with his scrambling battle with Annihilus for the Cosmic Control Rod (another great scene by the art team, by the way). I also really enjoyed the way the armored bug looked too, since Epting's version kind of looks like a mini-Ultron.
Chris: We've all focused on Di Giandomenico, probably because he's the "guest" artist who gets the highest page count, but I definitely don't want to take Steve Epting for granted. After being initially unsure whether his grounded style was well suited to such a sci-fi heavy series, I actually find myself getting pretty disappointed whenever an issue comes out that he's not on. The art is pretty solid in the shorter segments as well, the most notable of which is Farel Dalrymple's storybook-like illustrations in the quirky feature starring Franklin and Leech. That segment is a fun, non-literal series recap/sneak peek at things to come, and it's a great way to end the book.
Danny: Steve Epting gets overshadowed because his style isn't particularly "in your face," but he should be about as beloved as his style-cousin Bryan Hitch if there was any justice in the world. Hickman and the editors of the book (Jon Dening, Lauren Sankovitch and Tom Brevoort) lined up some amazing talent for this issue. Leinil Francis Yu, who did the Galactus story, has really turned into someone to watch in the ten years since I saw his art in the New X-Men 2001 Annual. I'm begging to see him take on a really weird project one of these days. I think he could draw some amazing images, if that naked Galactus sequence is any indication. For me the big winner of the backup stories is Ming Doyle, whose style is awesomely expressive. I'm enamored with the bottom panel from the first page of the story, where Medusa's eyes are just darting to her left. Doyle's figure work isn't photorealistic by any stretch, but she captures a truthful perfection in that moment in particular. Then there's the telepathic conversation sequence, holy crap -- the photonegative-esque image of Black Bolt is just lovely. To cap the issue off, the Farel Dalrymple story does an amazing job of tapping into that bizarre childlike territory of Dalyrmple's Omega the Unknown 2007 while still working as a Fantastic Four-related piece. Kudos to Marvel for not just relegating awesome artists to low-selling fringe comics.
Jamil: The art across the board is fantastic and extremely diverse. I thought the FF-central story "Forever" was some of Epting's best in the run, and I also loved the scratchy vision of the Inhumans from Doyle. "Black Queen" was possibly the weakest of a very strong gathering of stories, but I loved Hickman's ongoing depiction of Black Bolt. His portrayal of the character as a straight shooter jives nicely with the fact that the man has had to choose his words very carefully throughout his life. I also ate up the Galactus story and how it nicely tied into Matt Fraction's first arc in The Mighty Thor. Pretty cool for a backup story. Plus, Reed gets a machine that can summon Galuctus on command. That's like the equivalent of getting a free Mighty Eagle in Angry Birds. Mr. Fantastic can basically end any disagreement with anyone from Doom to Sue with a brandishing of the Arc and a stern look. Awesomeness.
Chris: I liked the Inhumans short if for no other reason than that it served to confirm that Black Bolt isn't going to be a total D-bag to Medusa with regard to the whole multiple wives thing. I guess I'm just a romantic at heart. I'm sure I'm falling short in describing exactly how much I loved this comic, but I'll keep trying to do my best. It's absurd how excited I am to read the next part of this epic Hickman has been constructing, so it's a good thing that FF #12 comes out this week. Too bad my shop isn't getting its books until Thursday.
Danny: Fantastic Four #600 is seriously the best 100 pages of superhero comics you'll read this year. Hell, it's probably one of the best anniversary issues ever -- one that looks to the future instead of wallowing in its prior achievements. If I were on the fence about Hickman or his Fantastic Four run thus far (both won me over long ago), this would have destroyed the fence by crashing a spaceship into it.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.
Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.