Four issues ago, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch launched their take on the Fantastic Four by revealing “Nu-World,” the duplicate Earth created by Reed Richards’s ex-girlfriend. It was a perfect copy of our planet except more pristine, less corrupted by decades of environmental damage and invading super-hordes. “Fantastic Four” #557 reveals that this whole “Nu-World” plan was a scheme of the Republicans! Sure enough, there’s George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice trying to figure out how best to cover it all up, right there in the Oval Office.
Then, seven pages later, Hitch gives us a page of foreplay between Johnny Storm and a naked (except for the piles of stolen money covering her body) super-villain.
Those two one-page scenes capture everything that doesn’t quite work about Millar and Hitch’s “Fantastic Four.” The politics and the sex feel out-of-place in a Fantastic Four comic, and they even feel out of place in this particular Fantastic Four comic. Out of all the teams in the Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four is still the most innocent, the most wide-eyed. Even grumpy old Ben Grimm is a child at heart. And Millar knows that, or at least he seems to, since he emphasizes those aspects of this team. But he also seems to want to sully the comic with a bit of naughtiness, maybe to attract readers, or maybe to make the team seem more contemporary, more sophisticated. The problem is that the tone is inconsistent — discordant, even. Maybe politics and sex and genius superheroes with gigantic suits of robot armor belong together, but they don’t seem to belong together here.
With that said, those moments of tonal inconsistency are fewer in “Fantastic Four” #557 than in the first couple of Millar/Hitch issues. And this issue is full of interesting bits that make the comic worth reading. Set aside the creepy sex and creepier politics, and you’re left with a book that’s actually pretty good.
Hitch’s art works well here, as he mostly avoids the wide-angle-lens-close-up effect that he sometimes uses, to the detriment of the storytelling. (Because, really, it’s just a big face most of the time.) When he uses the technique in this issue — as Reed Richard’s Anti-Galactus mecha costume punches through the giant evil robot Captain America — it’s as if we’re getting punched in the face by the comic. A fist, instead of a face, gets the close-up, and while most artists would pull back to show the awesome power of the super-mecha-Anti-Galactus punch, the immediacy of Hitch’s composition packs a stronger wallop.
Millar gives Reed Richards all the hero moments in this issue. Not only does Reed get to pilot his “billion dollar a second” super robot armor, but he also gets to reject the gorgeous and brilliant ex-girlfriend and take his wife on a time travel getaway. It’s that last scene that works best, as Reed and Sue Richards watch, through a restaurant window, as they bumped into each other for the first time, thirteen years earlier. There’s a simplicity, a sense of wonder, and a sweetness to this comic that shine through the veil of sleaze. Maybe that’s the point.