If you missed “Dark Reign: Fantastic Four,” you missed the lead in to Jonathan Hickman’s run on “Fantastic Four,” but don’t worry — I missed it too, and it wasn’t difficult to get caught up on events within the first couple of pages of this issue. It seems that the cosmic insanity of the end of the Millar/Aherne/Hitch/Immonen run have mattered very little in the grand scheme of the Hickman “Fantastic Four.” Sure, there’s a gag about vacationing on Nu-Earth, and there’s a reference to Ben Grimm having his heart broken (though since he’s the one who ditched the wedding in issue #569, he seems like the one doing to heart breaking), but the super-extreme Dr. Doom and rise and fall of Clyde Wyncham have faded into the past. They are distant memories by the time this issue begins.
But Hickman seems to be operating on a parallel track with Millar — or taking inspiration from his more DC-ish ideas. Because this is an issue about parallel worlds, and about Reed Richards taking the 100 Ideas that Would Change The World and turning them up to eleven. Or, um, 101. Though I haven’t read it, I assume. based on the opening text crawl and the allusions in this issue, that Hickman’s “Dark Reign: Fantastic Four” explored the Marvel Multiverse. This comic continues in that direction, ultimately bringing in ideas that seem like something from the Silver Age, or — more precisely — like something out of Alan Moore’s pastiche of the Silver Age in “Supreme.”
Hickman plays it straight, though, giving us a Reed Richards who is tormented by his own genius. He knows he should be able to solve every problem, and yet he also knows that he’s doomed to failure. And to amp up the pathos in this issue, Hickman gives us the bizarre case of the Wizard — a goofy villain who has been defeated a bazillion times by the Fantastic Four — and the Wizard’s creepy clone army. It sounds like something out of the height of the Lee and Kirby FF days, but here it has a darker resonance. It’s presented not as an insane, bombastic confrontation, but as a twisted funhouse mirror as the Wizard talks about fatherhood to the number one family man in the Marvel Universe.
It’s quite a good issue — a strong start to Hickman’s run on the series — even if Dale Eaglesham draws Reed Richards as if his head has suddenly been grafted on the body of Wyatt Wingfoot. Eaglesham makes up for such a strange endomorphic choice by creating such haunting imagery with the normally absurd Wizard, and by telling this story clearly, even when things get complicated in the final pages.
This is Hickman’s first shot at a core Marvel series, and he plays it relatively safe, but it’s a promising start, and I’m curious to see how far he’ll push the boundaries of this historically conservative series.