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Sunday Slugfest: Fantastic Four #583

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010
By: Thom Young

Jonathan Hickman
Steve Epting (with Paul Mounts, colors)
Marvel Comics
While the Fantastic Four are away in the continually distracting Negative Zone, Valeria goes exploring where she's not supposed to.

Ross Haralson:
Shawn Hill:
Chris Kiser:

Ross Haralson:

Fantastic Four has proved an extremely compelling title under Jonathan Hickman’s direction. While his writing is often ambitious and peppered with items of intentional obscurity, it is difficult to read any single issue of his run without appreciating his multi-layered vision.

Issue #583 begins by establishing that the Fantastic Four are on a mission to the Neutral Zone--an absence that affords Valeria the opportunity to explore her father’s laboratory where she soon stumbles across a machine that Reed used in Hickman’s opening arc, “Solve Everything,” to interact with the “Council of Reed” (alternate reality versions of himself joined as a team).

The issue closes with the Silver Surfer making a startling discovery deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

What’s most intriguing about the content of this issue is that Hickman draws together elements from so many separate places and eras of the Marvel universe--including:
  • The recent “Fall of the Hulks” crossover event in which the Fantastic Four title did not participate.

  • Doom’s summoning of Kristoff Vernard from exile--a reference to the character’s original replacement of Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #278 (1985), and a clear sign as to the desperation Doom feels to again attempt such measures.

  • Though it has not been explicitly stated, the discovery that the Silver Surfer makes at the issue’s conclusion is most likely connected to Mark Millar’s run on the title.
It is fairly rare in the modern comic book landscape to see elements from such a recent parallel storyline (‘Fall of the Hulks”) used so pivotally by a writer who played no creative role in the source event, and it is equally a treat for fans of Millar’s oft-criticized run as write--which I thoroughly enjoyed--to see that his contributions to the Fantastic Four mythos will not be uniformly dismissed. Hickman references his own plot points with equal frequency, of course.

Steve Epting joins Hickman as the illustrator from this issue forward, and he brings a level of visual fidelity to the title that fully conveys the supposedly monumental nature of this storyline’s events.

Epting has been a strong talent in the industry for two decades now, and it seems as if the quality of his output has increased exponentially in recent years--beginning with his career-defining tenure as artist on Ed Brubaker’s Captain America--and he is once again in top form for his Fantastic Four debut.

While some might have feared that Epting would make a poor choice for the title--given the general acknowledgement of his strengths in “grounding” the characters and universe of such super heroic characters as Captain America--all fears can and should be laid to rest. Epting excels at presenting the high-concept space-faring exploits of Hickman’s Fantastic Four, and it doesn’t seem a bit too early to declare that the man was simply born to draw Doctor Doom.

With the strength of this creative team and the overall quality of this issue, Fantastic Four has once again moved to the top of my reading list.

Shawn Hill

I'm not sure if I've gotten more used to Jonathan Hickman’s work or if this latest issue is really more coherent. I sort of almost know what is going on this issue. I like that Hickman is approaching the series from a cosmic standpoint. I like my FF inter-dimensional, inter-galactic, and filled with aliens, gizmos, and quasi-Kirbytech.

However, Hickman’s storytelling is so odd. He makes assumptions, and stages dialogue-free passages, that I have the feeling are supposed to be crystal clear, but when you're dealing with new characters (even oddly familiar ones) in fantastic sci-fi situations, not even a reliable draftsman like Steve Epting can always make that happen.

And he really gives it his all. The shadows are epic in this issue; everything seems lit with an eerie glow. There are cool effects when needed from Mounts, but they don't overshadow Epting's convincing verisimilitude. He is one of Marvel's more reliable down-to-earth talents, in the Ron Garney or Ron Franz arena of believable human anatomy and emotions; but he also possesses a rare ability to place these humans in cosmic contexts. So his Eternals, his Silver Surfer and his Galactus, and especially his Victor Von Doom look as good as his Valeria and Reed and Sue.

It's just that all the multiple versions of everyone (especially all the infinite Reeds), plus the flashbacks from Doom and Valeria (who are the main characters this issue, never mind the Four fighting so valiantly for--or against?--the High Evolutionary), make this tale hard to follow. I have no idea what happens to Valeria as she takes Reed's inter-dimensional Bridge for a spin, though it looks pretty awe-inspiring, with lots of explosions and mysterious beings brooding over her.

The real core of the issue, thankfully, is familial dynamics. While Ben deals stoically with further mutation, Valeria takes action to correct a failing she finds in Reed, and takes it all the way to Latveria. Hickman seems to have a strong handle on who Doom is (even in his current reduced state), and his Valeria is one of those charming child savants. But I don't think we get hint one of who might be killed to make Three happen, and I can only hope Epting sticks around to make sense of it when it does.

Chris Kiser:

The mighty Marvel marketing machine has made much ado about “Three,” the Fantastic Four arc that kicks off in this month’s issue. With an ominous title and cover images to match, the story looks to involve the (likely temporary) demise of one of the members of comicdom’s First Family.

In light of such hype, it would be easy for the casual fan to assume that “Three” marks some kind of climactic moment in writer Jonathan Hickman’s run. Just one chapter in, it’s certainly possible for that to still end up being the case, at least to a degree.

But faithful followers of Hickman’s Four will know that no mere four-parter alone holds the potential to serve as capper to the tale unfurling in this resurgent Marvel mainstay. From day one, this has been a sprawling saga, with numerous new ideas and plot threads bursting onto the scene in rapid-fire fashion every issue.

That said, Fantastic Four #583 is a bit more retrospective than we’ve come to expect, casting its eye more on the recent past than on what’s ahead. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from a writer who is amping up to tie it all together.

However, the way in which Hickman addresses his dangling plot threads feels less like an act of culmination than it does a statement of “hey, remember this?” So, when the team returns to the Forgotten City of the High Evolutionary or when we once again peer through Reed’s inter-dimensional Bridge, it’s hard to deny that the book might be spinning its wheels.

Thankfully, Hickman relies on one of his other strengths to make up for this issue’s reduced rate of plot advancement--namely, his characterization of Valeria Richards. It’s no easy task to convincingly illustrate her unique mixture of intellect and childlike social sensibilities, but these are exactly the traits on display when the three-year-old genius daughter of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman seeks an audience with one of her parents’ deadliest foes.

This issue also heralds the FF debut of Steve Epting on art, whose earthy style marks a slight aesthetic shift for this sci-fi heavy series. Most notable, though, is the way in which Paul Mounts adjusts his coloring style in order to accommodate the arrival of his new partner. In place of the bright hues of previous issues, Mounts conjures up a muted, chalky color scheme that matches Epting quite well.

While I certainly can’t fault Marvel execs for wanting to publicize a story that threatens to kill off one of their central characters, it’s hard for me to envision this arc ultimately standing out as an epic among Hickman’s other work. The real epic has been the writer’s entire run, a continuous unified story of which “Three” will comprise only a single part.

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