Current Reviews


Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #2

Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009
By: Matthew J. Brady/Paul Brian McCoy

Jonathan Hickman
Sean Chen (p), Lorenzo Ruggiero (i)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 1.

"The Bridge, Chapter Two"

Matthew J. Brady:
Paul Brian McCoy:

Matthew J. Brady

In this second installment of the mini-series that ties into Marvel's over-plot, Jonathan Hickman demonstrates a few possibilities of what we might see on his upcoming run on the main Fantastic Four title, and the chief one is: Fun! That's right, in the early pages of this issue, Johnny, Sue, and Ben go up against some dinosaurs, a bunch of mutants, and a Celestial, and later, they bounce through several alternate realities, including a "knights in shining armor" riff. But at the same time, Hickman is examining the circumstances that brought the team, and the Marvel Universe at large, to its current "Dark Reign" state.

This introspection comes courtesy of Reed Richards, who has built a device to search through other realities and see how they dealt with the events of the superhero Civil War and its resulting complications. What could have been done differently? It's an interesting question, and Hickman does seem interested in exploring the implications of all the choices the characters have made over the last few years. So that's the other possibility of what might be in store: moral self-examination!

But maybe the theme sums itself up in an interaction between Franklin and Valeria, in which the latter has doubts about whether turning the power to the building back on (after H.A.M.M.E.R. goons disabled it last issue, causing Ben, Sue, and Johnny's predicament) is the right thing to do, or if it will make things worse. She doesn't have all the information to know exactly what to do, so she has to just make the best decision she can. And isn't that what Reed needs to realize? He might have made the wrong decision, and thus should alter his path in the future, but agonizing over the past isn't going to help anybody, especially when he should be rescuing the rest of the team instead.

We'll see what else Hickman has in store for us in the rest of the miniseries, but he's got a decent story going for now. Sean Chen seems to be doing his best to bring it to life, but while he manages action and technology pretty well, his character art leaves something to be desired, especially in the area of facial expressions. But it's nothing that should cause readers to shun the comic, especially if they're into Hickman's writing. And if they are, they're probably enjoying it pretty well. Let's hope they can do so for the rest of the issues to come.

Paul Brian McCoy:

So, a few months from now, rising star Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News, Transhuman, and the awesome Secret Warriors) will be taking over Fantastic Four as Millar and Hitch move on to other projects. Until then, Dark Reign: Fantastic Four serves as an introduction to Hickman's take on the characters, and hopefully gives us a preview of the sort of imagination that's about to take hold of my favorite almost-always-misused characters.

Oh, there have been some good runs, but nothing since Byrne's run has been worth giving much attention to, if you ask me. And yes, I dipped into the Waid run, finding it goofy and pointless, and read the entire JMS run, finding it dreadfully boring and poorly executed.

Now, two issues into Hickman's opening salvo, things look like they might become very promising.

Don't let the title fool you; so far this isn't much of a Dark Reign tie-in. Osborn's H.A.M.M.E.R. (does this stand for anything yet?) goons really only serve a singular plot function, setting off the separate threads of this story, before quietly moving out of the narrative and, hopefully, never being seen again. Which means the rest of the story can be spent focusing on what's important: the characters and the ideas.

We've got three narrative threads to follow and as the story progresses, one of those threads gets a little more convoluted. In a good way.

First up, Franklin and Valeria are home alone, thanks to the poor timing of H.A.M.M.E.R.'s shutting down of the power to the Baxter Building. I guess I haven't been paying attention, but this is the first time I can remember the kids getting actual speaking parts in forever. I'd also forgotten that they're pretty darned smart (or at least Valeria is, anyway). Their dialogue was a little off-putting last time, but this issue Hickman seems to have found his groove with them. They actually seem interesting and worth paying attention to in a story that isn't just aimed for children and for laughs, so that's a win.

The second and third threads span a myriad of alternate realities. The difference? While Reed is outside of the worlds he is observing, Sue, Johnny, and Ben find themselves first thrust into other realities, then woven into their fabric as though they belong.

I'm interested in Hickman's idea to have Reed examine other possible outcomes of the Registration Act, and the results he finds are both intriguing and disturbing. Although the number of outcomes that didn't involve Civil War were relatively few, none of them were really ideal. Reed doesn't seem to acknowledge that yet, instead focusing in on the common denominator and becoming distracted by that. Where this leads could be very interesting and have long-range consequences on Hickman's future Fantastic Four plans. Or it could just make the rest of this mini, very, very exciting.

The rest of the team's story takes off just moments after the tight spot we left them in last issue. It's a nice transition from that two-page spread (in a prehistoric-looking world, with humans, monsters, dinosaurs, flying beings, and, in the distance, Celestials). We open this time with another two-page spread of the team in combat with all of the previously mentioned inhabitants.

This changes dramatically in the next reality jump, as the team is repositioned as the ruling family of an Elizabethan-type Marvel Universe, about to deal with their own Civil War. The only thing that's missing is Reed. Then, as we wrap the issue with another reality "compression" we close on a full-page splash of Sue, Johnny, and Ben as 18th Century Mariners ready to turn the "seas red with Colonial blood." But the real twist is the surprise visitor who finds himself in the scene as well.

It's a nice touch, and I really want to see what happens next. In all three story lines.

The art, by Chen and Ruggiero is effective, but a little stiff in spots. The inking doesn't do the art any favors with the shading lines making the art seem a little too unfinished at times. Also, there are just too many lines used on some characters' faces to create age lines, shading, and just to delineate features. That sounds like a strange complaint, I'm sure, and it may look better in black and white, but with the colors added, the linework makes the art seem busy, and at times, a little messy.

It's not a deal-breaker, though, as the story is interesting enough and the art does an okay job of keeping things moving. The layouts aren't great, and the use of the white page is a good idea, but it kind of overpowers the scenes where it plays a part. All in all, I'd prefer a more dynamic art team, but for a tie-in to an event I can't stand, it's more than worth a look.

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